Drumming up interest for their 11th season, the Lexington Legends did something at their annual publicity "caravan" Thursday that they'd never been able to do before — introduce a Kentucky Wildcat who very well could be on their opening-day roster.
"That would be a cool thing," Marcus Nidiffer said. "I'm ready to be the first."
A three-year starter as catcher for UK, Nidiffer joined the Houston Astros organization last summer and moved to first base.
"I would say it's a lot easier to go from catcher to first than it is to go from first to catcher, that's for sure," Nidiffer said. "But it is an adjustment. It's a lot easier on my body, I'll tell you that.
"I get a lot more 'ABs' but I'm still working at it. I still need work at first with groundballs and just learning the position. ... I've got a wood bat in my hands now, but it's still the same deal."
Nidiffer hit .284 with 25 homers over 153 games at UK. His last at-bat was an eighth-inning, go-ahead grand slam to cap a sweep of defending NCAA champ LSU.
Yet, he wound up going pro as a non-drafted free agent.
"It was a pretty humbling experience," Nidiffer said. "I was really surprised not to be drafted, but that's how it goes. I kind of sat on the computer all day and watched every single name go through."
When the Astros picked him up, he made good.
Assigned to Greeneville (Tenn.) of the Appalachian League, he went 50-for-165 (.303) over 48 games, with 10 doubles, two triples, 11 homers, 24 RBI and six stolen bases. He finished third in the league with a .588 slugging percentage, second with a .981 OPS (combined on-base and slugging percentages).
He was promoted to Tri-City for 21 games in the New York-Penn League, adding three homers and 12 RBI.
There, he hit well for the first few games, then went 0-for-20.
"My confidence dropped," he said. "But I found it in the playoffs and got back to where I needed to be."
Whether it's changing positions or solving a slump, baseball is a game of adjusting on the fly.
"The adjustments that you make between college and pro ball are a lot quicker because you play every day," Nidiffer said. "You don't have that kind of 'dead time' to gather yourself and work on some things as you would in college.
"Pro ball, you 'do this' and then you're done. Then you'd better wake up and you do it again. You can't dwell on anything. ... You've just got to go do it and make those adjustments quick because you're going to play the next day and, after that day, you're going to play again."
Nidiffer, from Bristol, Tenn., has been preparing in Lexington for his first full season of pro ball. He is rooming with Chicago Cubs prospect and former UK pitcher Chris Rusin. Former Lexington Christian, UK and big-league infielder Andy Green, now a coach in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization, helps with batting practice and hitting grounders.
Nidiffer has one more week of workouts. Then he'll visit family in Tennessee for a week before reporting to mini-camp in Kissimmee, Fla.
That may lead him back to Lexington. The Legends make their home debut April 7.
Said Nidiffer: "That would be pretty special."