CHICAGO | Fortunate that Marcus Semien and Leury Garcia probably haven’t heard of Satchel Paige’s most famous homily:
“Don’t look back. Someone may be gaining on you.”
Rookies Semien and Garcia have some urgency in making a good impression throughout September. There are jobs to be gained in the White Sox infield, given the instability at third base and the possibility of shortstop Alexei Ramirez becoming trade bait. All under the mandate from general manager Rick Hahn that his lineup become speedier and more athletic, not to mention tighter defensively.
But Semien and Garcia can’t dally in trying to wow Hahn and manager Robin Ventura. Behind them in the Sox organization, and well-regarded, are Triple-A infielder Carlos Sanchez and stolen-base whiz Micah Johnson, who swiped 85 bases at two minor-league levels.
Organizational depth is nice. Yet those who hold the high ground of jobs in the majors have the edge in fending off competition. Sanchez and Johnson also fit Hahn’s to-do list to raise the Sox from the dead.
The recently-recalled pair had their chance together to impress the brass Wednesday night during a 1-0 loss to the Detroit Tigers. Garcia led off and played second in his eighth start. Semien played third and batted ninth in his third start.
Priding himself on his speed, Garcia beat out two infield hits and stole a base. He also slashed another single to right. His quickness also helped in two sparking plays at second to end the seventh and kick off the eighth. Held hitless, Semien flawlessly started an around-the-horn double play in the fourth.
“I’m not really worried about who I’m competing with, ever,” said Semien, a sixth-round Sox draft pick in 2011 named most valuable player of the Southern League this season.
“You can’t focus on other people. You can’t focus on the competition aspect. You just need to focus on your game, because this game is hard enough as it is, and you don’t want to make things too complicated.”
Said Garcia, who came to the Sox on Aug. 11 as part of the Alex Rios trade: “I don’t ever think about who is coming behind me. I’m just concentrating and spending my energies on my (game).”
Semien and Garcia are natural shortstops. The Sox are trying them all over the field. Garcia played in six games at second, three each at short and center field, and two at third. Semien has played all at third, a position which he began learning earlier in the season at Double-A Birmingham.
You’d figure shortstops, with their innate athleticism, could play anywhere. Gordon Beckham was a college shortstop, broke in with the Sox at third and now is a Gold Glove-caliber second baseman. Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg was a minor-league shortstop who started with the Cubs at third, shifted to second and was mentioned as a possible center fielder.
Not all shortstops, though, can make such transitions. But Ventura feels fortunate both Semien and Garcia appear versatile.
“There are some guys that play short that don’t feel that comfortable either on the other side of the field or at third base,” he said. “You just kind have to have a feel for it. So far they look pretty good at being able to (shift around).”
Anywhere but pitcher and catcher, Semien and Garcia better be ready. Baseball waits for no one to leisurely adjust.