CHICAGO – Kyle Farmer was a four-year starter at the University of Georgia and he set school fielding records at shortstop.
It still took him five years before he received another opportunity at the position. He was drafted as a catcher by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the eighth round of the 2013 MLB Draft, a position he never played.
It wasn’t just the Dodgers, either. All teams wanted to move him to catcher after his senior season at Georgia.
“Every single team wanted me to catch, Farmer said. “After our season was done at Georgia, I went back home to wait on the draft. (Teams) wanted me to come out and workout with them, the Dodgers, a bunch of the other teams, and I had to go back to Georgia, steal catcher’s gear, and come back and wear catcher’s gear for the first time for a tryout.”
Nobody is questioning whether Farmer can play shortstop anymore. He’s been above-average defensively all year and now he’s beginning to break out at the plate.
Farmer, playing with a sports hernia injury, has a .394 batting average and .463 on-base percentage in 20 games this month. He had 10 hits in 16 at-bats during the four-game series against the Chicago Cubs this week.
“These are the sort of things that you think about when you’re 10 and 15 years old in bed and dream about,” Joey Votto said. “Kyle Farmer came into spring training anticipating playing shortstop, lost his job, got his job back and now he’s playing fantastic on both sides of the ball.
“(Thursday) was an example of what he can do. Solid defense, of course, but hitting the ball all over the field, tough at-bats. He gets hit by pitches, you never see him gripe. He doesn’t get rattled. He gets in for the next at-bat and competes and doesn’t play scared. It’s that sort of personality and demeanor, that style of play that is, in my opinion, infectious.”
So, how did the entire industry miss on Farmer’s ability to play shortstop?
Farmer didn’t receive an opportunity to play shortstop regularly until he met with Reds manager David Bell in spring training before the 2020 season and told him that he could do it. Farmer always felt most comfortable at shortstop and his wife, Courtney, urged him to tell Bell.
Deven Marrero and Nolan Fontana were the top collegiate shortstops in Farmer’s draft class in 2012.
“Guys like that who all kind of projected better than me at shortstop,” Farmer said. “I’d always make the routine play, the basic plays. They’d make the extravagant plays and they had more of a shortstop body, I guess you could say. They looked better in a uniform than me.
“You know what’s funny, I got a call my junior year (in 2012) by the Reds in the fifth round. They said they wanted to take me and they might have taken me as an infielder. I’m not sure. I had such a chip on my shoulder that I said no.”
Farmer exclusively played catcher in the Dodgers’ farm system in 2013 and ‘14, but he always took ground balls in the infield during batting practice.
In High-A, Farmer’s manager, Bill Haselman, asked him if he wanted to play some third base. It turned into a routine where he caught two games, played third for one game and then had a day off.
His first Major League start, in Sept, 2017, came at first base.
“Chris Woodward, who was our third-base coach at the time, now the manager for the Rangers, he would always say that I looked really good at shortstop,” Farmer said. “He would always work me out at shortstop and stuff like that. It was around, just no one would really take a chance on it.”
After four seasons in the Major Leagues, Farmer finally received his chance at not only shortstop, but everyday playing time.
He requested a trade from the Dodgers in Sept. 2018 after another conversation with his wife – “She’s very straight forward,” he said – knowing he likely wouldn’t have a prominent role on their big-league team.
“Man, he’s a ballplayer,” catcher Tucker Barnhart said. “In my opinion, that’s the best compliment that you can get. The guy just is a ballplayer, no matter what he’s doing. Whether it’s out at shortstop, whether it’s at the plate, whether it’s on the bases, the guy just plays baseball. He does everything and anything that you ask of him and he’s a hell of a teammate.
“I’m really, really, really, really, really happy for him. He’s worked so hard. It’s just been really cool to watch.”
Farmer says he pinches himself because he’s grateful his opportunity finally arrived. But Farmer always believed he was capable of being a big-league shortstop and he isn’t surprised by how he’s played this year.
“My dad said it best,” he said, “when back home in Atlanta, when his friends say, ‘man, it’s so cool, Kyle is doing this, Kyle is doing that. Are you pumped?’ He was like, ‘not really. I mean, it’s expected it. I expect him to do that.’
“I would be more shocked if I was doing really well at catcher, but I have a lot of confidence at shortstop to where I expect to do this. I expect to make the routine play, make some good plays and defensively do well.”