CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Shortstop-by-trade Eric Bruntlett barely sniffed a big league lineup with Houston in 2003 when his new manager made a strong suggestion. Add to your trade, then Astros manager Jimy Williams told him. "Jimy thought learning other positions might serve me well down the line in case," Bruntlett said. "It's easier to contribute when you can help out in many different ways."
Each day for about two weeks, Bruntlett schooled with Williams at a different position, learning the nuances of each spot. By the end of that season, he ended up playing in 31 games -- at five different places. Another utility player had been born. "I felt he could be more than just a shortstop/second baseman," Williams said. "He's such an important part of our club, and he plays well at all those different spots." "If I didn't have that versatility, I wouldn't be in the big leagues for as long as I have," Bruntlett said. "I take pride in being able to play a lot of different positions well." With all due respect to "the other guy" landed in the November trade for closer Brad Lidge, the Phillies hope they don't see much of Bruntlett this season, for no other reason than it means a key infield starter suffered a serious injury. But there is security in knowing the Phillies have a player with versatility, speed, defense and an effective bat. In a career that spanned parts of five seasons, the 29-year-old has played everywhere but catcher and pitcher. "If you want a utility player, I'd say that's the kind of guy that you'd want," manager Charlie Manuel said. "He's also a much better hitter than I anticipated." Bruntlett owns four gloves, though he doesn't expect to use his leather at first base or catcher this season. The righty logged 63 games at shortstop in 2007 -- mostly to replace injured Adam Everett -- and made 10 combined appearances at third base and all three outfield spots.
After more than a week of Grapefruit League games, Bruntlett is hitting .391.Bruntlett's assets help strengthen a bench that also includes outfielders So Taguchi and Jayson Werth, backup catcher Chris Coste and left-handed bat Greg Dobbs. Wes Helms is still in camp, though he'll likely be dealt before Opening Day. That flexibility will help Manuel manage in the late innings. The manager can pinch-hit for anyone and still field a good defensive team with Bruntlett taking over. Bruntlett, who for trivia's sake shares a birthday with Cy Young, will be ready no matter what, since he knows Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins won't miss many games. That's fine. He understands his role. "I'm not going to see a lot of time at either one of those spots," he said. "I'm just going to do whatever I can, pinch-hit, play everywhere. I can do a lot of different things and I'm proud of that ability. "[Someone getting hurt], especially the guys we have here, isn't how you want to get on the field. At the same time, every year a team has a guy who takes advantage of the opportunity he gets, and at some point, the manager turns to you to help out."
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.