SURPRISE, Ariz. -- When Scott Servais, former Rangers senior director of player development, told Matt West the club wanted him to switch from third base to pitcher, the request wasn't met with much hesitation.
"At that time, I knew it was kind of like the end of my road as a position player," said the 23-year-old right-hander from Houston, taken in the second round of the 2007 draft. "Everyone that’s been there gets the feel. People start passing you. When they approached me, I took it as another chance. I knew I could throw. I knew I had the velo because I had it in high school. That was the last time I pitched."
West went to work. He had to get used to the mound again, since he hadn't pitched in five years. He had to learn about holding runners on and get a feel for the baseball again.
"It was just experience and getting out on the mound and between the lines and learning on my own what work and what doesn't," West said. "When I started I had a big leg kick, now I’ve shortened that drastically. The running game is a big thing, especially for a reliever. If a guy gets on, you’ve got to try to hold him and have a good feel of holding him at first.
"I had to get a feel for my pitches too. When I first came out, I had the spin of the off-speed stuff, but couldn’t throw it the way I wanted to. That was a big thing to learn and it took a couple of months."
West is now in big league camp and throwing to hitters as part of the club's early spring routine. Several Rangers scouts watched West throw on Wednesday and were pleased with how he approached pitching to David Murphy, Nelson Cruz and Mitch Moreland.
"He's got pretty electric stuff that looks like it's hitting the mid-90s," one scout said. "He's got a plus changeup and breaking ball, which he calls a slurve. I think it's more of a curve ball and it's got good movement and depth. He can throw all three pitches for strikes. The curve comes out of hand flat, so it's a bit deceptive and tougher for the hitter to pick up."
Murphy didn't disagree, saying he'd never seen West before facing him Wednesday.
"I was impressed," Murphy said. "His fastball had good life and he can throw his secondary stuff. Someone told me he used to be an outfielder, but I would have never known that."
West said he has no temptations to pick up a bat and try his hand at third base again right now.
"Pitching fits my personality better than hitting did," West said. "Hitting is more of a waiting game. On defense you’re taking your pre-step a hundred times getting ready for a ground ball that could possibly be hit to you. Hitting is offense, but it’s also defense in that you’re waiting for someone to throw you the ball. As the pitcher, I now have the ball in my hand and I dictate the tempo of the game. I like to get all amped up, fuel off adrenaline and I can do that better as a pitcher."
The Rangers see West as a reliever that could possibly end up helping the big league club at some point in the future, assuming he keeps improving. But they don't want to rush West, either, knowing it's still be less than a year since he switched to the mound. He was 1-2 with a 3.12 ERA in Spokane in 26 innings (23 games) in 2011. It will be interesting to see where he ends up this year and what kind of steps he takes in 2012.