Stephen Bruno has been a Chicago Cub for only a few months, but he's shown just how versatile he can be in that short amount of time.
During his summer debut with Boise in the short-season Northwest League, Bruno played all over the field. Most of his action came in the infield, spread fairly evenly at second base, shortstop and third base. But the University of Virginia product also started getting some reps in the outfield.
The Cubs thought, "Why stop there?" While in Arizona this fall for instructional league play that concluded last weekend, they asked Bruno to slide behind the plate and do some catching. Bruno wasn't seeing any game action, but was getting some time catching bullpens and side sessions.
"It's going pretty well," Bruno said. "I've been improving a lot. I've been doing it [for a couple of weeks] here and there, learning the basics. I'm moving well behind the plate, though I don't know where to set up yet. I feel pretty athletic back there.
"So far, so good. I'm enjoying it and it's a great opportunity for me to expand my horizons. I like learning. It makes me more valuable to an organization."
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"We talked about it in the Draft room," said senior vice president of scouting and player development Jason McLeod, who took Bruno in the seventh round of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft. "We even asked him if he'd be open to trying it. He's one of those kids who said, 'I'll do whatever you want me to do.'"
One thing Bruno has definitely done is hit. The 21-year-old won the Northwest League batting title with a .361 average, 20 points higher than the No. 2 hitter in a season where only four players finished with an average over .300. This shouldn't come as too big of a surprise from a guy who hit .370 as a junior in college, playing in a very tough Atlantic Coast Conference in one of the worst hitter's parks in the country. His bat and his plus makeup have the Cubs excited about his future.
"I hate to throw out the term scrappy, but he's a really good baseball player," McLeod said. "We were going in to see Chris Taylor and Branden Kline, and [Bruno] caught our eye with the way he plays the game. He's a throwback.
"But on top of that, he can really hit. From a statistics standpoint, he was one of the top hitters in the ACC. Figure in the ballpark, he had a heck of a year there. We thought he could swing the bat, drive the gaps. We thought because of his size, he'd probably have to play second, third [and shortstop], and that's what he did this summer. He played a little outfield, too, and the guy just raked."
"I love hitting; it's my favorite thing to do," Bruno said. "I've always been able to hit. I love going up there, love the competition, pitcher vs. batter, battling at the plate. I like to hit the ball hard, have quality at-bats."
He's even able to see the offensive benefits to him catching. Clearly a student of the game, Bruno is the type to take any experience and learn from it. He's sure that seeing the game from this new perspective will only help him be a better hitter.
"As a hitter, you go up with an approach, what you may face from a pitcher," Bruno said. "Calling pitches behind the plate, you learn pitchers' tendencies more. If you learn that perspective, you'll go up with a better approach at the plate as a hitter. Knowing location, tendencies, I think it's a great advantage as a hitter."
Bruno is more than willing to continue being a "jack of all gloves" if that's what it takes to get to Chicago. But he certainly doesn't want to limit or pigeonhole himself as a utility man.
The 2013 season should go a long way to deciding just what kind of future he has. Bruno will likely be challenged with a somewhat advanced assignment. If he continues to swing the bat the way he did in his debut, he could prove to the Cubs that he deserves a permanent spot defensively.
"Ideally, my goal is to be an everyday second baseman," Bruno said. "But I've shown I'm able to be versatile and play every position. I hope to be at second, but it's up to the Cubs what they feel is in my best interests or the organization's best interests."
It definitely will be in Bruno's best interests to shut it down for a while. Bruno was hurt his sophomore year and wasn't a regular as a freshman, so 2012 was the first full college season he played. He played every day for Boise before heading to the instructional league but he's not complaining, knowing that's the kind of workload that lies ahead for him in his chosen career path.
"It's been a long year. My body is tired," Bruno said. "This is the longest I've ever played. My body is pretty much shot, but that's a part of Minor League baseball.
"Maybe I played 140 games between college and pro, and that's a full season. It's a great start and a great learning experience for me to learn to prepare myself physically and mentally for the full year."