Super utility Policelli earns look by playing everywhere

February 19th, 2020

LAKELAND, Fla. -- was off to a nice start to the 2018 season at Class A West Michigan when then-manager Lance Parrish came to his backup catcher with a question.

Can you play anywhere else?

“I wanted to get his bat in the lineup,” Parrish recalled.

Policelli was batting .295 with a .925 OPS through 14 games, but he was playing sparingly. The primary catcher at the time, , was a third-round pick and second-team All-American out of Washington. Policelli was a 13th-rounder from Towson, whose only Major Leaguer in the last 30 years is ex-Tiger .

But Policelli also played second and third base at Towson.

“During batting practice for the first month or two of the season, I would take ground balls, just hop in there with the infielders during BP,” Policelli said. “And one day [Parrish] just pulled me aside and said, ‘Hey, I want to get you in the lineup more.’

“About a week later, I was playing second base.”

A few weeks later, the Tigers drafted All-American second baseman Kody Clemens. By the Fourth of July, Clemens was playing second every day at West Michigan.

“Lance asked, ‘Hey, have you ever played outfield before?’ Next day, I was out in right field,’” Policelli said.

Since then, Policelli has played everywhere but first base and pitcher. He was just trying to stay in the lineup. He might have found his path to the Majors.

Policelli has yet to play a game above Class A ball, but he's in big-league camp. If he was a couple levels more advanced, he might be a Tiger.

Even before Major League Baseball expanded rosters to 26 players for this season, Ron Gardenhire knew his ideal player for an extra spot.

“My goal right away, when I first thought about it, was, ‘Boy, that’d be that third catcher, a third catcher that could play the outfield, infield, wherever,’” Gardenhire said last week. “That would be wonderful.”

He was essentially describing Policelli.

“That’s why I’ve mentioned his name more than once over here,” Gardenhire said, “because he can play the outfield, he can do some things. We can develop guys like that, and that would be a nice thing. Because with this roster going like it is, that’s a valuable thing, to have a guy that can play multiple positions and catch.”

It’s not crazy, certainly not in Detroit. became a cult hero in that kind of role, though he only caught once. played all nine positions in a game in 2017, just as did in 2000. did everything but catch and pitch the last two years before getting his chance at shortstop.

Policelli doesn’t pitch. But unlike those guys, he has a catching background. Even with 25-man rosters, Gardenhire had such players in Minnesota, from to .

As more roster spots go to relievers and more positions become platoons, players like Policelli might have a future. He’ll have to raise his .244 career average, but with 11 home runs, 54 RBIs and 18 stolen bases at Class A Advanced Lakeland last year, the 24-year-old was a Florida State League All-Star.

It isn’t an easy role, especially in the Minors, where the backup catcher has to catch bullpen sessions and side work. Add in batting practice, infield grounders and fly balls, and the prep work is taxing.

“It’s awesome,” Policelli said. “I love the change. It’s a blast. It’s fun for sure. But now I’m at the point where I want to keep perfecting every single position as much as I can and try to get my reps in.”

What he doesn’t have to work in much yet are gloves. Kelly had nearly a dozen gloves once he became established in the big leagues with a glove deal. Policelli has less than half that.

“I’ve got an infield, two catchers, outfield,” he said. “The glove that I use for the middle infield is in my truck.”