You know how the team is up there; they expect guys to be able to play different positions ... that's something I've been able to do so far. So I think the organization is a good fit for me. —Bees outfielder Matt Long
Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr. and Torii Hunter were all electrifying, exciting players in the baseball world.
Especially in Matt Long's baseball world.
The Salt Lake Bees outfielder grew up playing baseball and watching these three, among many others. They served as heroes in Long's adolescent eyes. Somewhere along the way in his youth he decided to set his sights on a major league career, and the dream still thrives in him today.
“When I got drafted it wasn't my goal to play minor league baseball; it was to make it up there and stay,” Long said.
The Los Angeles Angels drafted Long in 2009, and since then he's bounced between six different minor league teams within the organization. Salt Lake is his latest stop, and in his second year with the Bees he's getting closer to finding his comfort zone.
“This year's been kind of up and down so far,” Long said. “But hopefully I can find some consistency here in the second half and finish strong like I have in the past.”
Last season served as one of the toughest in his professional career to date, but Long rallied to complete the season as potent as ever before. When he joined the Bees early in the 2012 season, the managers handed him an infielder's glove and asked him to learn a new position.
“I met the team in Vegas and I went into (manager Keith Johnson's) office,” Long recalled. “He told me I was going to be playing second base every day. It surprised me, I wasn't really sure what was going to happen.”
That was the first time Long had played that position since high school. Playing an unfamiliar role while also adjusting to a new team was difficult, to say the least. His batting percentage dropped to .244 as he adjusted into his new role, but midway through the season it was on the rise. In July he strung together a 10-game hitting streak, and by the end of the season his impressive batting line read .338/.404/.585.
“It was a long process, but luckily I had (shortstop Andrew) Romine over there to help me out,” Long said. “After about a month and a half I started getting more comfortable and everything started coming around.”
Although he learned a new position on the fly, something Johnson admitted carried a lot of pressure at the Triple-A level, he hardly showed it after the initial month. Finishing the season with a .968 fielding percentage and turning 63 double plays proved a quality performance, some might even say excellent, given the circumstances.
Long played second base 84 times last year and finally by the end of the year was no longer intimidated by the position. So far this season, Long is a registered outfielder again but ready to jump into the infielder hot seat when called upon.
“When I do bounce back in there I feel comfortable, which is reassuring,” Long said. “Last year when I did that I was all over, my mind was spinning, the game sped up on me. But now when I go in after playing enough games last year, I'm more comfortable.”
Despite the struggles and brief setback in his confidence, the 26-year-old might have made himself a future in the majors. He is now among the most versatile players in the Angels' farm teams, which he knows is the only way the Angels will ever take a gamble on him.
“Not only does it make me stronger, it makes me more valuable too — being able to play multiple positions.
“You know how the team is up there; they expect guys to be able to play different positions ... that's something I've been able to do so far. So I think the organization is a good fit for me.”
As Long's stock continues to rise, he is coming closer to fulfilling his major league dream. People are taking notice. Angelswin.com, a website dedicated to the Angels, produced a midseason top-50 list of the Angels' best minor league prospects, and Long ranked at No. 15. The article praised the depth he could provide for a team, and Long is just hoping that some other people are taking note as well, namely the Angels organization.
“It's not really up to me,” Long said. “So all I can control is just going out there and performing, doing the best I can wherever I'm playing. Hopefully I perform and execute and it doesn't go unnoticed.”
If Long continues on in the path he's paving, he just might see some time under the bright lights in Los Angeles. Long is hoping that comes sooner rather than later, though.
Whitney O'Bannon is a new media sports writer for the Deseret News. Follow on Twitter at @whitney_oban.