Chris Owings and the Uncertain Arizona Shortstop Situation

The Diamondbacks recalled shortstop Chris Owings to the big leagues a few days ago as part of the September roster expansion, and any time you get an infielder in his age-21 season who just won both the Rookie of the Year and the Most Valuable Player awards in the Pacific Coast League, it stands that you should take notice.

Of course, the Diamondbacks already have Didi Gregorius at shortstop, and he’s just 23 himself. So as I try to parse the long-term situation in Arizona at the position, I keep coming back to these three thoughts: 

  1. Gregorius is pretty terrible offensively, because after a very obviously BABIP-fueled run during his first six weeks or so in the bigs (319/.374 /.521 with a .354 BABIP from his recall on April 18 through the end of May), he’s been atrocious since, hitting .227/.310/.290 from June 1 through yesterday. He’s also attempted just one stolen base (unsuccessfully), and while he was never a burner in the minors, it’s shocking that a no-hit shortstop offers so little speed. So, he shouldn’t really stand in the way of Owings, except…
  2. Kevin Towers gave up Trevor Bauer to get Gregorius last winter, and while Bauer’s issues in Arizona were well-known (as well as the fact that he’s struggled with Cleveland), it’s still a hefty price to pay for a young shortstop. One might think that the amount of faith Towers must have in Gregorius would earn him another chance, except…
  3. Gregorius has started just two of the last eight games, with the playing time going to Cliff Pennington (one) and Willie Bloomquist (five!)

So it’s anything but clear about what Gregorius’ future is in Arizona, and it may only get more unsettled as the Diamondbacks get officially eliminated from the playoff hunt. (They entered Thursday night’s game at just two games over .500.)

Back to Owings, he made a nice step forward with his .330/.359/.482 line for Triple-A Reno (warning: PCL grain of salt not included) as well as 12 homers and 20 steals, and manager Kirk Gibson indicated that he’d like to see what his young shortstop can do:

“We’re going to use him,” D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said. “We’ve got to see what he can do. He’s earned it, he’s played well. I want to find out what he can do, for sure, I don’t want him to just sit there.”

“Just the lineup, overall, we play a lot of the same guys and we haven’t been successful, so why wouldn’t I utilize some of the new guys who are up?” Gibson said.

Owings was’s #3 Arizona prospect in their latest update, behind only Archie Bradley & Matt Davidson, and that’s up from #6 prior to the season. He has the potential to be at least an average offensive infielder, thanks to his ability to hit for average with some pop and speed, but he may be held back by his poor walk rate, which was just 3.8% in Triple-A this year and only 3.5% for Double-A Mobile in 2012. The bar for offense at shortstop is pretty low, of course, which would help make him look better, and it’s certainly not as though Gregorius is setting untouchable standards in the desert.

With Gregorius ahead and Nick Ahmed behind, there’s also been some talk that Owings could see time at second base, where he played in 11 games this season for Reno. If so, that would likely be with another team, since Aaron Hill is firmly entrenched at the keystone for the Diamondbacks for the next few seasons. Either way, Gibson sounds like he’d like to see what Owings can do, potentially making him an interesting long-term keeper option for fantasy owners in deep leagues.

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Mike Petriello lives in New York and writes about the Dodgers daily at Dodgers Digest, as well as contributing to ESPN Insider. He wrote two chapters in the 2014 Hardball Times Annual as well as building The Hardball Times and TechGraphs, and was an editorial producer at Sports on Earth. Find him at @mike_petriello.

4 Responses to “Chris Owings and the Uncertain Arizona Shortstop Situation”

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  1. Anon says:

    At least by reputation, Gregorius is the far superior defender so it becomes the age-old glove vs. bat question. Given Gibson and management’s penchant for glove guys in recent years, I’m kind of guessing Gregorius has the edge.

    Of course that’s reputation – advanced defensive stats are not too common in the minors but Owings actually has slightly better RF/G numbers in the minors. Of course Owings has also played most of his minor league games in 2 hugely offensive leagues – the PCL and the California League so take it FWIW

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    • Cliff says:

      Gregorious ranks 17th out of 23 qualified SS this year in UZR. I know he had a reputation for having a plus (maybe plus plus) glove in the minors, but the defensive metrics clearly don’t agree this year.

      Also, what does playing in a hugely offensive league have to do with defensive metrics?

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  2. 1azsportsfan says:

    Didi definitely passes the eye test defensively, but I’m surprised the metrics don’t back it up at all. I’m not incredibly familiar with defensive stats, but being ranked in the back half of the league (according to UZR) doesn’t sound like the defensive magician that he appears to be when I watch him.

    Didi can’t be as bad as his current hitting indicates (can he?), but if Chris Owings is a .275ish hitter with homers in the teens (or possibly more), that should be enough to give him a shot, even if his defense is only below average.

    In the end, I think that the FO feels that they have too much (a problem child No. 3 SP) invested in Didi to give up on him this soon. Maybe they push Owings on to the field this last month and hope that he improves his trade value. I don’t think they’ll waiver from their penchant for sticking with gloves over bats, and Didi will be a shoe-in for the No. 8 spot in the DBacks lineup for the next couple seasons.

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  3. Dan Greer says:

    Based on the glowing reviews of Didi’s glove (though, as mentioned in the comments, unsupported by the metrics), I sort of figured Owings would get a shot at playing 3B, and the D-Backs would continue to move Prado around, but that may be something for next season. Also, Owings is only 5’9″, and old-school organizations probably see him as a future secondbaseman.

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