Archive for March, 2009

2009 Impact Rookie: Chris Getz

With incumbent second baseman Alexei Ramirez shifting to shortstop for 2009, the keystone will be home to rookie Chris Getz this season. The 25-year-old prospect will not offer as much power at the position as Ramirez did, but he still brings a lot to the table.

In 2008, Getz hit .302/.366/.448 with 11 homers and 11 stolen bases in 404 Triple-A at-bats. He also posted rates of 9.2 BB% and 13.1 K%. In 10 games with the White Sox, Getz hit .286. Originally selected out of the University of Michigan in the fourth round of the 2005 draft, the left-handed hitter put together a career minor league average of .286. This spring, he held off challenges for the position from Brent Lillibridge (acquired from Atlanta) and Jayson Nix (a former Colorado prospect). Getz has hit well with a line of .317/.388/.433 with six walks, six strikeouts and four stolen bases in 60 at-bats.

The White Sox system does not have a surefire second base prospect coming up behind Getz, so the job should be his for awhile, unless he struggles mightily. Long term, though, he projects as more of a utility player who can play all over the infield and even in the outfield.

Lillibridge could see time at second base as well this season. The White Sox club may also rely on him as a utility player who can fill in all over the field, including the outfield. He’s done OK this spring by hitting .275 but he’s walked just once in 69 at-bats. Lillibridge has also accumulated 23 strikeouts, so his approach does not really work with his skill set, which is based on speed.

Nix had a good shot at the second base job for Chicago, after opening 2008 as the Rockies’ starting second baseman. Unfortunately he hit just .125 in 22 games and was demoted to the minors. Nix signed on with White Sox as a free agent this past off-season and was hitting .462 in 13 at-bats before straining his quad. Once he comes of the DL, he’ll have to work his way back into the picture by playing well in Triple-A.

Back-End Bucco Starter: Ross Ohlendorf

For an organization that has made a concerted effort to develop young pitching talent, the Pittsburgh Pirates have little to show for it. Barring a miracle rivaling the whole…turning water into wine deal, the Bucs will break the most ignoble record in baseball this year, passing the 1933-1948 Phillies for the most consecutive losing seasons in history.

The path to 17 years of futility necessarily entails a confluence of poor decisions, but an alarming number of high-round pitching prospects have flamed out spectacularly. We know that pitchers are in general a more volatile lot than hitters, but this list is very telling.

Paul Maholm stands happily as an exception to the rule, but Kris Benson, Bobby Bradley, Sean Burnett, John Van Benschoten and Bryan Bullington have more scars than major league victories.

The major league staff offers little comfort either. Maholm is a solid mid-rotation starter, but Ian Snell and especially Tom Gorzelanny regressed in 2008. Zach Duke is a pitch-to-contact lefty on a team with serious issues converting balls put in play into outs.

Noting a severe lack of depth, GM Neal Huntington acquired three-fifths of the New York Yankees’ AAA rotation last July in the Nady/Marte swap: Ross Ohlendorf, Jeff Karstens and Daniel McCutchen. Let’s meet the trio, starting with Ohlendorf.

For a 2004 fourth-round pick with 69 big league frames to his name, Ohlendorf has certainly had an eventful career. Originally popped out of Princeton by the Diamondbacks, the big right-hander was shipped to the Yankees as part of the Randy Johnson barter in January of 2007 and was again on the move at least year’s trade dealine.

The strapping 6-4, 235 pounder looks like a power pitcher, and he can indeed dial up his fastball to the 93-94 MPH range when needed, while supplementing the gas with a low-80’s slider. While the stuff suggests potential dominance, Ohlendorf’s K rate in the minors (7.4 per nine innings) is more sturdy than flashy. Combine that with above-average control (2.3 BB/9), however, and Ohlendorf starts to look pretty interesting.

While fairing quite well at the upper levels of the minors (including a 117/37 K/BB in 140.1 IP at AAA), Ohlendorf has posted a 5.01 FIP in the big leagues. He has missed some bats (7.57 K/9), but has also been a bit too liberal with the base on balls (4.3 BB/9) and homers (1.43 per nine).

The 26 year-old is currently locked in to the fourth slot in an adrift Pittsburgh rotation, but it remains to be seen whether or not Ohlendorf might project better as a two-pitch hurler out of the ‘pen (a role he experimented with at AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in ’07 and with the Bombers last season). He rarely utilizes his low-80’s changeup (thrown 6.5% in the majors), which might explain why southpaw hitters have gone all Chipper Jones against him in an admittedly small sample: .359/.428/.608 in 173 PA.

Of course, having two offerings of note gives the Ivy Leaguer two more weapons than some among a collection of C/C+ prospects and waiver-wire flotsam tossing their respective hats into the starting picture.

In terms of 2009 projections, PECOTA is none too impressed (5.01 ERA, 6.6 K/9, 3.0 BB/9 in 110 IP, with the majority of those innings coming in relief). CHONE is bullish on Ohlendorf the reliever, with a 3.65 FIP, 8.02 K/9 and 2.95 BB/9 in 64 innings out of the ‘pen. Bill James has Ohlendorf making 13 starts while doing his best Yoslan Herrera (who?) impersonation (5.66 ERA), though his FIP is a less-grisly 4.47. Zips also has Ross with an ERA (5.60) far surpassing his FIP (4.42) while splitting his time between the rotation and relief work.

The reason? Pittsburgh again projects to be among the worst defensive squads in the majors. Pirate leather took on plenty of water in ’08, ranking 28th in the majors in Defensive Efficiency, and nearly the same cast of statuesque characters returns this spring. A guy with ordinary whiff rates like Ohlendorf is going to be subject to the quality of his fielders, an unpleasant thought given the personnel on hand. James projects a .355 BABIP for Ohlendorf, while Zips comes in at .344.

The Pirates will understandably give Ohlendorf the opportunity to prove one way or another which role he should fill at the major league level. This is, after all, a club that gave 5 starts in 2008 to the guy with the highest ERA in major league history.

Until the Rinku and Dinesh era commences, the Bucs will try to find some useful low-cost arms at the back of the rotation and hope that a likely reliever like Ohlendorf can find something that dips or fades against southpaws. In this organization, Million Dollar Arms are in short supply.

Minor Fantasy News: More Prospects on the Move

The transaction wire is going crazy now with Major League Baseball opening day less than a week away. Teams are busy sending down top prospects right now – some of the moves surprising, others… not so much.

Two top catchers received bus tickets to Triple-A this week. Baltimore’s superstar-in-the-making Matt Wieters will begin the year in the minors, which will help delay his arbitration eligibility for the ever-cost-conscious Orioles. He certainly did not hurt his case to begin the year in the Majors with a .333 average. Former Blue Jay Gregg Zaun should be the everyday catcher until Wieters returns, possibly in May. The back-up job will probably go to former Diamondback Robby Hammock.

Seattle demoted Jeff Clement to the minors, as well. The 25-year-old appeared in 66 games for the Mariners last season, so he’s technically no longer a rookie. He really doesn’t have anything left to prove in Triple-A, but the club signed veteran Kenji Johjima to a ridiculous extension so it’s stuck with him for now. The back-up catcher will likely be Rob Johnson, who is hitting .400 this spring and plays good defense. Veterans Ken Griffey, Russell Branyan, and Mike Sweeney are also stealing time from Clement at the designated hitter or first base positions.

Oakland demoted outfielder Aaron Cunningham, who was obtained from Arizona last season in the Dan Haren trade. Cunningham batted .295 with two homers but ultimately fell victim to the club’s impressive outfield depth. Pittsburgh sent its top outfield prospect to the minors. Andrew McCutchen will start his second straight year in Triple-A. He could not have hit much better with a line of .318/.423/.561 in 66 at-bats, but the organization appears to favor veteran Craig Monroe for the opening day roster.

San Francisco demoted John Bowker, who entered spring with a good shot at winning the first-base job. He was significantly out-played by Travis Ishikawa. In Cincinnati, right-handed starter Daryl Thompson will continue to polish his game in Triple-A. Phillies’ starting-pitcher prospect Carlos Carrasco was another victim of the roster crunch. Outfielder John Mayberry Jr., obtained from Texas in the off-season for fellow former first rounder Greg Golson, was also demoted by Philly.

Some prospects also received good news this week, as former sixth-overall draft pick Ricky Romero won the No. 4 spot in the Toronto Blue Jays rotation. He was not even being considered for the role two weeks ago. The fifth spot is now down to either Scott Richmond or Brad Mills.

Brett Gardner won the center field job in in New York and the Yankees are now actively shopping Melky Cabrera. Gardner should be a great source of steals for fantasy owners. He should also score a ton of runs if he stays at the top of the batting order. James McDonald has reportedly won a spot in the Los Angeles Dodgers rotation and could be a real sleeper in the National League Rookie of the Year race.

2009 Impact Rookie: Elvis Andrus

In recent seasons hitting has not been an issue for the Texas Rangers ball club. Pitching and defense, though, have been a different stories. The club has been unable to obtain top free agent pitchers to the club, so it must continue to wait for some of the impressive, young pitchers that are currently being developed on the farm (And there are quite a few of them).

As for defense, the club is looking to improve in that area ASAP. Incumbent shortstop Michael Young has been moved to third base, where his lack of range will be less of an issue and he should continue to benefit from good hands and strong throws from the hot corner. The shortstop position has been handed to rookie Elvis Andrus, who was originally obtained from the Atlanta Braves in the Mark Teixeira trade in 2007.

There are some good reasons to be concerned about Andrus this season. He is just 20 years of age and has only 482 at-bats above A-ball and zero experience at the Major League level. On the plus side, though, he did hit .295/.350/.367 with 53 stolen bases. His career line in just under 1,600 at-bats is .275/.343/.361. So far this spring, Andrus is batting .267/.308/.317 with three stolen bases.

The Venezuela native is obviously not going to hit for much power in the Majors with 25 extra bases hits and an ISO of .073 in Double-A, so he’ll have to contribute offensively by playing small ball and using his speed. The good news is that Andrus won’t need to chip in significantly with the bat with the likes of Chris Davis, Josh Hamilton, and Ian Kinsler in the everyday line-up.

Defensively, Andrus has solid actions and excellent range. He still makes too many errors (more than 30 in each of the past three years) but many of those were careless. The club brought in defensive whiz Omar Vizquel as a non-roster invitee as insurance for Andrus, but the veteran could spend the year schooling the youngster on defensive consistency.

From a fantasy perspective, Andrus is not likely to have a huge impact in 2009, although he could be the source of some cheap steals. His value will come on the field – and especially in future seasons – for the Rangers.

Morrow: Closer of Today

Seattle Mariners’ right-hander Brandon Morrow has endured a rather bizarre professional career to this point. A high-octane starter at Cal, Morrow was selected 5th overall by the M’s in the 2006 amateur draft. Baseball America dubbed him “owner of perhaps the best pure arm in the draft”, noting his ability to sit in the mid-90’s with his heat while supplementing it with a sharp mid-80’s slider and a work-in-progress changeup.

In most organizations, such a talent would have been sent to A-Ball in order to develop those secondary offerings and gradually build the arm strength and stamina necessary to become a complete starting pitcher. However, with the always inscrutable Bill Bavasi running the show, Morrow scarcely saw the minors at all. Rather, he was pigeonholed in the major league bullpen to begin the 2007 season.

The move was about as enlightened as giving the Mariner Moose an on-field ATV. The 22 year-old did what you would expect a green-as-grass rookie to do when shoved to the bigs: he pumped 95 MPH fastball after fastball (thrown 80% of the time), while displaying control that only Bob Uecker could spin-doctor. In 63.1 frames, Morrow managed to whiff 9.38 batters per nine on the basis of his immense raw talent, but he handed out free passes like Aquafina, with 7.11 BB/9.

The 6-3, 180 pounder was again relegated to relief work to begin the 2008 campaign. In 36.2 frames out of the ‘pen, Morrow singed opposing batters with 47 K’s (11.5 per nine), with modest improvement in the walk department (15, or 3.7 BB/9). Just over two years after expending such a high draft pick on Morrow and then devaluing their asset by rushing him, the M’s decided to transition the former Golden Bear ace to the rotation in early August. Morrow was sent to AAA Tacoma to get stretched out, where he punched out 10.03 batters per nine with 4.24 BB/9.

Recalled in early September, Morrow made five starts for Seattle down the stretch. The results were uneven, but occasionally dazzling. He gave up six earned runs versus offensive weaklings Oakland and Kansas City, but also turned in an absolute gem versus the Yankees on September 5th (7.2 IP, 1 H, 1R, 3BB, 8K) in which he showcased a devastating arsenal. Overall, Morrow the starter struck out a batter per inning (28 K in 28 IP), while showing characteristic control hiccups (19 BB).

The Mariners (now mercifully under the care of player development guru Jack Zduriencik) seemed intent on making Morrow a permanent member of the rotation in 2009, but circumstances have changed. After dealing with forearm tightness earlier this spring, Morrow has claimed to be more comfortable in the ‘pen, and the M’s will apparently acquiesce.

Whether this is a good thing for the long-term prospects of the franchise is certainly debatable: even the most talented, highly-leveraged relievers don’t produce the same level of value as a starter does (a large quantity of good innings trumps a small quantity of great frames). However, between Morrow’s forearm issues, diabetic condition and comfort in the bullpen, perhaps the choice was not so straightforward.

Morrow obviously becomes the top man in a bullpen that figures to be a consortium of trade acquisitions, waiver claims and home-grown hopefuls. His wicked fastball/slider combo should sufficiently eviscerate right-handers, and the development of a reliable third offering (he threw a splitter/changeup about 10% of the time in ’08) becomes less of an issue while only having to deal with lefties one time through the order. Morrow still has some kinks to work out in terms of catching the plate on a more regular basis, but he comes equipped with the tools to shipwreck opposing batters in the late innings.

Nats Name Two Prospects to Rotation

It should be pretty clear to just about everyone that the Washington Nationals are not going to be a good club in 2009. The team might win a few more games this year thanks to the addition of players such as Adam Dunn, Scott Olsen, and Josh Willingham, but there are still a lot of holes remaining and depth continues to be an issue.

The starting rotation will have an interesting look to it this season, though, as the team recently announced that top pitching prospect Jordan Zimmermann and former Giants prospect Shairon Martis have both made the club as starters. The pair joins starters John Lannan, Olsen, and Daniel Cabrera in making up the starting five to begin the 2009 season. Another promising young starter, Collin Balester, will begin the year in Triple-A Syracuse.

Zimmermann, 22, has flown through the minor leagues after being a second-round draft pick of the Nationals out of a small college in 2007. The organization has deemed him big-league ready after just 37 regular season pro appearances. Last season in Double-A, Zimmermann allowed just 89 hits in 106.2 innings of work, while posting rates of 3.29 BB/9 and 8.69 K/9. This spring, he threw up some flashy numbers with 20 strikeouts in 14 innings of work. Zimmermann allowed just 13 hits, two walks and zero home runs. He can dial his fastball up to 95 mph, although it sits in the low 90s with good sink. He also features a slider, curveball and change-up.

Martis, a Curacao native, was obtained from San Francisco in 2006 for veteran reliever Mike Stanton. Only 22 (tomorrow, March 30), the right-hander received attention after winning 14 games in High-A ball in 2007. He played at three levels in 2008, which included five games (four starts) for the Nationals. In those games, Martis allowed 18 hits in 20.2 innings and posted rates of 5.23 BB/9 and 10.02 K/9. He pitched well at both Double-A and Triple-A. This spring, Martis earned his opportunity to begin the season in the Majors by allowing just 10 hits and four walks in 19 innings. He struck out 11. Martis’ repertoire includes a low-90s fastball, a plus change-up, a curveball and a slider.

Both pitchers should be on a tight pitch count this season given their youth and relatively inexperience, which will prevent them from putting up huge numbers. As mentioned, 2009 will likely be a lost season for the Nationals in terms of wins and a playoff berth, so the team might as well take some chances on some young pitching. It could benefit the club down the line. It’s also nice to see a club resist the temptation to go cheap by delaying prospects’ arbitration clock (I’m talking to you, Baltimore and Tampa Bay).

2009 Impact Rookie: Jose Tabata

We’ve all sifted through Jose Tabata’s dirty laundry this week thanks to his wife. But that story should not diminish the fact that the former Yankees prospect has the potential to have an impact at the MLB level in 2009.

We’ve been hearing a lot about Tabata for a while now and the gifted outfielder is beginning his fifth pro season, but he’s still just 20 years old. He came to North America as a 16 year old in 2006. In his first four pro seasons, Tabata accumulated 1,280 at-bats and hit .296/.366/.401. He had a rough start to the 2008 season with the Yankees’ Double-A affiliate at the age of 19. He hit .248/.320/.310 with three home runs and 10 stolen bases in 294 at-bats.

Then the trade came. Tabata was shipped to the Pittsburgh Pirates as part of the loot for fellow outfielder Xavier Nady. In Double-A for Pittsburgh, the Venezuelan hit .348/.402/.562 with eight steals in 89 at-bats. This spring, while also dealing with shoulder soreness, Tabata has hit .407/.500/.556 in 27 at-bats.

The Pirates club is loaded with outfielders, which all but guarantees Tabata will begin the year in Triple-A. That would not be a bad thing given his age, inexperience and the ‘media incident’ that he had to deal with this spring. If he gets his feet underneath him quickly in Indianapolis, though, Tabata has the skill to best the likes of Nyjer Morgan, Eric Hinske and even fellow outfield prospect Brandon Moss.

Tabata has been filling out so he’s becoming less and less of a stolen base threat at this point and his power has yet to fully develop, which will hinder him offensively as a Major League right-fielder. With that said, he could still provide eight to 10 home runs, as well as 10-15 stolen bases, along with a decent average if given 400 at-bats during his first MLB season.

Minor Fantasy News: More Demotions

As spring training slowly inches towards an end with the regular season looming on the horizon, Major League Baseball teams have begun to make difficult roster decisions.

The Cleveland Indians organization had a number of big moves this past week, giving starting rotation spots to two young hurlers: Scott Lewis and Anthony Reyes, who was obtained late last season from St. Louis. Lewis made four starts for Cleveland in 2008. Reyes appeared in 16 games (six starts) between his two MLB clubs last year with an ERA of 2.76 (4.15 FIP). The club demoted two other young, left-handed pitchers: Jeremy Sowers and Aaron Laffey. Sowers made 22 starts for the Indians last season, with an ERA of 5.58 (5.05 FIP). Laffey made 16 starts at the MLB level with an ERA of 4.23 (4.88 FIP). The organization also demoted outfielders Matt LaPorta and Michael Brantley, as well as first baseman Michael Aubrey.

In Tampa Bay, the organization demoted a number of its top prospects, including pitcher David Price and hitters Reid Brignac, John Jaso and Justin Ruggiano. Price, the top prospect in baseball, was considered the favorite for the No. 5 spot in the rotation, but the club will delay his arbitration eligibility by keeping him in the minors until May. The club will likely go with either Jeff Niemann or Jason Hammel in the No. 5 spot to begin the season. Brignac is the club’s shortstop of the future, but he needs to play everyday at Triple-A.

Atlanta sent down a pair of young pitchers: Tommy Hanson and Jo-Jo Reyes. Hanson has yet to appear in the Majors but he had a breakout 2008 season and is considered the club’s top pitching prospect. Reyes has appeared in 33 games over two seasons with the Braves, but he owns a career ERA of 5.94 (5.60 FIP).

A number of catching prospects received demotions. Texas optioned Max Ramirez to Triple-A, with Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Taylor Teagarden likely splitting the catching chores to begin the season. Houston sent J.R. Towles down. The club recently inked veteran Ivan Rodriguez to a 2009 contract, which sealed Towles’ fate. In Pittsburgh, former Phillies prospect Jason Jaramillo has apparently won the back-up job despite being out-hit by former Toronto prospect Robinzon Diaz. Jaramillo hit .143 in 28 at-bats, while Diaz hit .423 in 26 at-bats. Ryan Doumit will get the bulk of the MLB at-bats. After acquiring Ronny Paulino, Florida demoted two catchers: Mike Rabelo and Brett Hayes.

Milwaukee sent two key offensive prospects to the minors in third baseman Mat Gamel and catcher Angel Salome. Both players need to continue to work on their defense at the minor league level. Kansas City demoted first baseman Kila Ka’aihue, whose dream of playing regularly in 2009 was squashed when the club obtained Mike Jacobs from the Marlins during the off-season.

Ronny Paulino: Freed Fish, Or Fried Prospect?

As far as rookie seasons go, Ronny Paulino couldn’t have asked for much more back in 2006. The then-Pirate catcher batted .310/.360/.394 in 481 PA. He posted 2.6 Value Wins as a 25 year-old, and with fellow youngster Ryan Doumit seemingly always afflicted with one malady or another, his future job security looked solid in the Steel City.

Paulino’s line was batting average-fueled (.367 BABIP), but he had gradually shown more thump as he climbed the minor league ladder to the ‘Burgh. He slugged in the high-.400’s between AA Altoona and AAA Indianapolis over the 2004 and 2005 seasons, and at 6-2, 240, some hoped that the big-bodied backstop would learn to put more of a charge into the ball (fun fact: Paulino is the third-heaviest player to have 50% or more of his defensive innings come at catcher, per Baseball-Reference; Carlos Maldonado is first and Shanty Hogan is second).

Instead of building upon his initial success, Paulino turned in a very mild sophomore campaign in ’07. The bottom fell out of his batting average spike, and his wOBA declined from .330 to .309. Little changed in his plate discipline (he walked about 7% and whiffed near 17% in both seasons), but his BABIP fell to .297, and with it, his average (.263). He displayed a little more pop, but we’re speaking in very relative terms: his ISO increased from .084 to .127.

2008 saw Paulino fall completely out of favor with the Bucco organization. His commitment and conditioning were questioned, and he posted a wretched .260 wOBA in 130 PA. As Doumit was establishing himself as the long-term answer behind the dish (health permitting), Paulino was unceremoniously whisked away to AAA Indianapolis, where he at least took out his anger on International League hurlers (.306/.373/.550 in 126 PA) after recovering from a sprained right ankle.

Feeling that Paulino was no longer worth the trouble and a 40-man roster spot, the Pirates shipped the 27 year-old to the Phillies this past offseason in exchange for another tepid-hitting catcher, Jason Jaramillo. Paulino didn’t stay Philly property for long, however, as he was recently sent on his way to San Francisco (for Jack Taschner) only to be flipped to the catching-starved Marlins for pitching prospect Hector Correa.

Paulino will have a greater opportunity to soak up some playing time (and some sun) with the Marlins, who were planning on marching forward with John Baker. Baker possesses a dose of on-base ability and didn’t embarrass himself in limited play last season, but a platoon certainly suggests itself: Baker is a career .277/.350/.433 minor league hitter versus right-handers, with a patient-but-punchless .263/.356/.333 line versus southpaws.

Conversely, Paulino has licked lefties in the majors (.355/.417/.498) while floundering against righties (.252/.301/.343). The Dominican Republic native takes some truly painful AB’s versus northpaws: he’s easily baited into chasing the slider off the dish, which only compounds the plate coverage issues caused by his very open batting stance. According to his ESPN player page, Paulino hit .128 versus pitches thrown down and away last year.

With only Baker in his way and Florida’s prized catching prospect (Kyle Skipworth) in the nascent stages of his pro career, Ronny Paulino has the opportunity to re-establish himself as a guy capable of donning the tools of ignorance on a daily basis. However, he’s going to have to stop looking like a fish out of water versus right-handers if he wishes to become more than the lefty-bashing side of a platoon.

Owings Aims For Pitching Accolades

Cincinnati Reds right-hander/quasi clean-up hitter Micah Owings would like to be recognized more for his accomplishments on the hill than for his abnormal slugging exploits in the batter’s box. On that front, Tulane’s former two-way threat has some work to do. In fact, Owings’ career OPS+ of 126 (based off a Vladimir Guerrero-like .319/.355/.552 in 126 PA) eclipses his career ERA+ (94) by a considerable margin. Can Owings make his mark on the mound, or is he destined to be viewed as a Brooks Kieschnick reincarnate?

By the time Owings signed on the dotted line with the Arizona Diamondbacks following his third-round selection in the 2005 draft, he was intimately familiar with the process. A highly-touted prep prospect from Georgia, Micah was plucked by the Colorado Rockies in the second round back in 2002, but declined to sign and instead attended Georgia Tech. Owings was again available as a draft-eligible sophomore (the Cubs came calling in round 19), but the club couldn’t meet his demands: with eligibility remaining, Owings had leverage. He transferred to Tulane for his junior season, where he led the Green Wave in dingers and pitching whiffs.

Much like the ill-fated John Van Benschoten four years before him, Owings’ future (pitcher? first baseman?) was subject to scouting debate. As Baseball America noted in its draft coverage, the consensus pictured the 6-5, 225 pounder as a strike-tossing reliever instead of a bomb-hitting position player:

“Clubs continue to prefer him as a pitcher. His aggressive approach plays better on the mound than at the plate, where he’s prone to strikeouts and causes scouts to question how he’d fare against better pitching… He goes right after hitters on the mound with an 89-91 mph fastball that tops out at 95 and a changeup that can be a plus pitch at times…Owings throws a below-average slider and may have to scrap it for a cutter. He doesn’t have a dominant out pitch and projects more as a set-up man with a bulldog attitude.”

Because of his polish, Owings made a brief pit stop in the High-A California League as a reliever to begin his career (30/4 K/BB in 22 innings). BA noted that while in the ‘pen, Owings’ velocity soared to the 94-97 MPH range. However, the D-Backs were intent on keeping him in the rotation, concluding that a league-average or better starter is more scarce than a quality reliever.

Owings made his full-season debut at AA Tennessee in 2006. In 74.1 frames for the Smokies, he smoked 69 batters (8.35 K/9) while playing to his reputation by painting the corners (2.06 BB/9). Owings’ FIP was an impressive 2.97.

He ascended to AAA Tucson during the second half of the year, where he compiled a fair 3.74 FIP. His ratios fell off (6.26 K/9, 3.49 BB/9 in 87.2 IP), but it’s hard to complain when your third-rounder from the previous year is on the cusp of the major leagues.

That work in ’06 is practically all we have on Owings in the minors. In Arizona’s rotation from the get-go in 2007, Owings posted a 4.30 ERA in 152.2 innings. His FIP (4.81) was less impressive: he struck out 6.25 per nine and kept his walks at an adequate level (2.95 BB/9), but the flyball-centric hurler was burned by the gopher ball (1.18 HR/9) and benefitted somewhat from a .280 BABIP. Owings’ 90 MPH fastball and 83 MPH slider held same-side batters quiet (.238/.311/.375), but a lefties didn’t blink when he pulled the string on an inconsistent changeup, and they managed a healthy .267/.340/.497 line.

Owings got off to a good start in 2008, posting a 28/9 K/BB and a .195/.276/.363 opponent line in April. However, things would quickly go south from there. He was adequate in May (33/11 K/BB, .265/.319/.424), but hitters turned into Nick Johnson against Owings in June, with a .337/.400/.480 line. He would scarcely pitch again after that point, making two starts and four relief appearances in July with grisly results (11.37 ERA). He was optioned to the minors in late July, only to be shipped to Cincy as a PTBNL in the Adam Dunn proceedings (his acquisition was likely delayed due to concern over the state of his shoulder).

Ironically, Owings made his Reds debut against Arizona in mid-September, as a pinch hitter. He smacked an RBI double in the 10th to best the D-Backs 3-2 (ah, sweet revenge). So much for being remembered as a pitcher.

Overall, Owings’ work in ’08 wasn’t too terribly different from his rookie showing. His ERA was over a run and a half higher, but his FIP was actually slightly lower than ’07, with a 4.73 mark. He both whiffed and walked more batters, with 7.48 K/9 and 3.53 BB/9. Homers continued to be a bugaboo, with 1.2 per nine surrendered.

Apparently healthy, Owings has turned in a solid performance this spring. While the relative importance of that performance can be debated, it does matter in the sense that it factors heavily into Dusty Baker’s choice for Cincinnati’s fifth starter. The Owings that we have seen thus fair is essentially a good fifth starter with an interesting novelty act at the plate. Such a level may be all he ever ascends to, but that still entails more fame than is bestowed upon your average final cog in the rotation.