A star reborn? Or maybe just repositioned.
Penn baseball’s Tim Graul burst onto the scene last year, posting career numbers and earning Ivy League Player of the Year honors while being one of the top defensive catchers in the league.
But if you want to watch Graul this season, you better bring some binoculars — the senior will regularly be playing outfield for the Red and Blue instead of his familiar position behind the plate. Although it may seem counterintuitive to adjust a player’s role after such a successful season, this is a move that suits both Graul and the Quakers in a variety of ways.
First, and most directly, moving Graul to the outfield gives Penn more lineup flexibility. Last year, while Graul was busy cementing himself as the best player in the Ivy League, freshman catcher Matt O’Neill was likewise establishing himself as one of the better hitters on the Penn squad. This left head coach John Yurkow with a dilemma, albeit a good one — which of the two would suit up at catcher on a regular basis? The answer, as it turned out, was to essentially split the time, with the player who was not catching filling the designated hitter spot in the batting order.
And although this strategy worked for the time being, Yurkow knew that he did not want the DH spot to be as limited this season. While Yurkow was talking to Graul after the season, Graul suggested the switch to outfield so that O’Neill could catch more regularly and Yurkow could utilize another player as the DH.
“It was actually my own suggestion to move to the outfield,” Graul said. “I would play some outfield during batting practice last year and I think a couple coaches saw me and recommended I take more reps out there.“
Secondly, the move improves Graul’s MLB draft stock. Professional teams put a high value on versatility. Almost every Major League Baseball team has a utility player, or someone who can play several positions. If Graul shows that he can excel at both catcher and outfield, he proves that he can be an effective utility player at the next level. Also notably, playing in the outfield gives Graul a bigger stage to exhibit his speed, arm strength and other athletic attributes which can be restricted as a catcher.
“I think it will get me a few more looks,” Graul said. “Not many catchers get to show off their athleticism, so this is a pretty unique opportunity.”
All these factors combined mean that it makes sense personally for Graul to undertake the challenge of playing outfield.
However, it must be pointed out that the switch is only being made because Graul has past experience at the position. The East Greenwich, Rhode Island native played outfield in high school and throughout his childhood, giving him a good enough understanding of the position to be able to re-train himself this offseason.
“I played a bunch of positions growing up,” Graul said. “No matter where I play I just want to go out there and show that I’m a good all-around baseball player.”
“I wouldn’t have put him out there if I didn’t think he could do it,” Yurkow added. “I have the utmost confidence that he’ll do a good job for us out in left field.”
No matter the position, Graul’s goal remains the same — helping a perennially competitive Penn team get over the hump to win the Ivy League while, as he put it, limiting the pressure he places on himself.
“I know that I can repeat what I did last year,” Graul said.
"It’s just a matter of staying within myself and producing, whether that’s behind the plate, in the outfield or as the DH.”