Seattle Mariners prospect Shed Long has the versatility to play almost any position on the baseball field.
He was drafted out of high school as a catcher by the Cincinnati Reds in 2013. Two years later, he was converted to a second baseman, and has played some third in his minor-league career, too.
Through seven games with Triple-A Tacoma this season, Long has even played some left field, in addition to more regularly appearing at second and third.
He’s confident playing anywhere on the field, he said, but certainly knows where he feels most comfortable right now.
“My most comfortable position is that batter’s box,” Long said, smiling.
The 23-year-old, who is the No. 12 prospect in Seattle’s organization, put his smooth left-handed swing on display Wednesday night in Tacoma, finishing 4 for 4, and crushing the walk-off two-run homer in the Rainiers’ 6-4 win over El Paso.
“You saw a little bit tonight of the power he’s got,” Rainiers manager Daren Brown said. “He’s a solid, all-around player.”
Long’s long ball exited his bat at 104 mph, and soared over the Cheney Stadium scoreboard in right center by several feet. It likely would have cleared the wall in dead center, which is 425 feet from home plate.
The home run was the 51st of his seven-year minor-league career, and his first at the Triple-A level.
“I was just looking for a good pitch to hit,” Long said. “I got a pitch I could drive, and I didn’t do too much. I just stayed within myself.”
Long gave Brown an emphatic high-five as he rounded third, and tossed his helmet into the air as he jumped on home plate. A swarm of teammates and two Gatorade baths were waiting for him, as the Rainiers posted their second ninth-inning walk-off in as many days.
“Obviously it was a big hit for us,” Brown said. “He had a nice night. Four hits. ... I think there’s an easier way to win ‘em, but we’ll take it.”
Long drove in the first of his team-high three RBIs in the first frame, knocking a two-out single to right that scored shortstop J.P. Crawford.
After El Paso took a 2-1 lead in the second on back-to-back doubles, Long contributed to Tacoma’s three-run third to grab it back.
The Rainiers added another run in the fourth, and held on to their 5-2 advantage until the Chihuahuas rallied to tie the game in the eighth.
Long’s game-winning home run came on a 1-1 curveball with two outs in the ninth. Jose Lobaton, who singled ahead of Long and finished 4 for 5, also scored on the play.
Long singled in three of his five plate appearances and walked once before launching the homer.
“All the time, hitting is such a game of failure,” Long said. “But, we’re always striving for perfection, so when you have that perfect swing, it’s a great feeling.”
Long has posted a .407/.467/.556 slash line in his first seven games this season, hitting 11 of 27 with eight runs scored.
“The ball is getting places where there’s no one at,” Long said. “I’m just trying to put together good at-bats, and trying to put the barrel on the ball.”
Long has steadily climbed the minor-league ranks since he was drafted by the Reds out of Jacksonville High School in Alabama. He played much of the past two seasons with Double-A Penascola before he was acquired by the Mariners in January.
While in Tacoma, Long said he wants to show consistency at the plate, be ready to play anywhere on the field, and let the rest take care of itself.
“More than anything, he’s getting a taste of the Triple-A level, and he’s doing what he needs to be doing,” Brown said.
Right-handed Mariners reliever Shawn Armstrong, who is on a short rehab stint with Tacoma while recovering from an oblique injury, tossed the opening inning of Wednesday’s win.
Brown said Armstrong was scheduled to come out of the bullpen, as usual, but the weather forecast altered the Rainiers’ game plan.
“In a perfect world you’d like for him to come out of the bullpen just like he’s used to doing,” Brown said before the game. “But, in a perfect world, it wouldn’t be the chance of rain that we have.”
It didn’t end up raining significantly, and Armstrong still pitched efficiently in the peculiar situation. He faced four batters, allowed a single and struck out one in a scoreless frame. He threw 17 pitches, including 13 for strikes, and his fastball reached as high as 94 mph.
Brown said Armstrong looked good in the outing, and — more importantly — felt good on the mound.
“That’s the most positive thing we can have come out of the night,” Brown said.
Mariners manager Scott Servais has said he hopes to have Armstrong back by Seattle’s next homestand, which begins Friday.
Reliever David McKay earned the win, tossing two scoreless innings, while striking out three and walking two. ... Left-hander Tommy Milone, who was originally scheduled to start, worked five innings for the Rainiers, allowing two earned runs on three hits while striking out six and walking two. ... Reliever Dan Altavilla was tagged with three earned runs in the eighth, after striking out the side in the seventh. He was optioned to Tacoma when the Mariners returned from Japan. Servais said at the time he wanted Altavilla to work on throwing strikes with Tacoma. Wednesday, Altavilla threw 27 pitches, including 13 for strikes. He walked one batter and gave up a pair of hits during El Paso’s eighth-inning rally. ... Richland native Eric Yardley pitched four scoreless innings of relief for the Chihuahuas, allowing three hits, striking out two and walking one.
Tacoma (3-4) wraps up its series against El Paso (1-6) at 7:05 p.m. at Cheney Stadium. Right-hander Tyler Danish (0-1, 38.57 ERA) is scheduled to take the mound for the Rainiers. He’ll face Chihuahuas right-hander Cal Quantrill (0-1, 18.00). The game will be broadcast on 850-AM.