Cole Lankford has been willing to play any position throughout his baseball career.
He was a catcher growing up. He was a standout first baseman and roamed the outfield at Texas A&M. He manned third base, left field and first base in his first season of professional baseball with the Rookie-level Johnson City Cardinals in 2014. And he’s added right field and second base to his pro resume this year with the State College Spikes.
Lankford has embraced each new position, putting in extra work with coaches in college and the pros.
“Being able to play good defense will keep you in the lineup,” said Lankford, who had played four positions in 18 games for the Spikes going into Saturday.
Lankford’s versatility has been valuable to State College manager Johnny Rodriguez as the Spikes have tried to overcome an injury to third baseman Ronnierd Garcia. Lankford has started nine straight games at third base after Garcia suffered an injury June 30. Garcia played in 10 of the team’s first 11 games at third, hitting .406 with a home run and six RBIs.
Lankford had played in 11 games at third base and three at second base going into Saturday’s game against Tri-City. He also played right field in two games and made the mid-game position switch to first base in three games this season.
Rodriguez said Lankford has worked to learn each position.
“He pays attention to detail and does it right,” Rodriguez said.
Lankford said his experience at Texas A&M prepared him for his first two years in the St. Louis Cardinals’ organization.
He arrived in College Station, Texas, after earning all-state honors as a catcher his final two years at Lamar High School in Houston.
Lankford made his Aggies’ debut behind the plate in the 2012 season opener, catching pitcher Michael Wacha against Illinois-Chicago.
Wacha was drafted by the Cardinals in the first round of the MLB Draft after that season and made his major league debut in 2013. Lankford spent that offseason preparing to play first base for the first time in his career and earned SEC All-Defensive Team honors at the position in 2013.
Lankford credits then-Texas A&M assistant coach Austin Knight for the smooth transition from catcher to first.
“We made a vow to take 10,000 ground balls, so we did that all fall and hard work paid off,” Lankford said. “All the credit goes to him for helping me and getting me out there and pushing me.
“And some days maybe I didn’t want to get out there, but it didn’t matter what the attitude was, I was always out there taking ground balls.”
Lankford was ready to put in extra work again after being drafted by St. Louis in the 27th round of the 2014 MLB Draft.
He honed his fielding at different positions with Rodriguez and the Johnson City staff.
Lankford played 25 games in left field, 19 at third base and two at first base in his rookie season. He made six errors, all at third.
This season, he’s committed two errors — one at second and one at third.
“He makes every play at second, at third, right or left or first, which is his best position — at first,” Rodriguez said. “He’s learned to play second and does a good job there; learned to play right, never played it before this year.”
Rodriguez said Lankford is a reliable outfielder at the lower levels of professional baseball, but his future is in the infield.
The Spikes manager thinks Lankford has the talent to develop at the plate.
Lankford was hitting .167 in 18 games going into Saturday, but Rodriguez knows he’ll get quality at bats from the left-handed hitter.
“I never look at Lankford’s average,” Rodriguez said after Lankford went 0 for 3 Friday night. “What I’m looking at is his at bats. I mean, today he hit another two hard balls right at somebody. He is that type of hitter. He doesn’t have (Casey) Grayson’s knack of finding a hole.
“I know what I get every day. When he feels a little tired, he’ll have his day off, but he’s very loose mentally. I just love him, love the way he plays.”
Lankford is just aiming to be consistent in the field and at the plate whenever he’s in the lineup.
“There’s going to be a lot of ups, there’s going to be a lot of downs,” Lankford said. “But staying positive and staying happy because it’s a blessing to be able to play this game.”