Every year, there is a player on the Royals roster who seems to get into the lineup an inordinate amount of time relative to his abilities. Sure, you need the reserves to step in once in awhile to give the starters a break, maybe once or twice a week. But there always seems to be that one guy that Ned Yost pencils in the lineup enough to make fans shake their head and grit their teeth.
Last year, for example, Ryan Goins was a spring training invitee on a minor league deal who, if he even made the team, was probably going to backup the best player on the team, Whit Merrifield. Yet he started 27 of the first 76 games before the Royals finally decided a guy batting .226/.252/.313 shouldn’t start 36% of the time, and released him.
But the prototype of this trope was Willie Bloomquist. The light-hitting utility player signed a two-year, $3.1 million deal in 2009. He was 31 years old with a career OPS of .645 up to that point, a perfectly fine veteran to stash on your bench to rest some younger players once in awhile.
He started 105 games.
His numbers hadn’t improved - he hit .265/.308/.355 that year. But the Royals loved him because he could play everywhere - 33 starts in right field, 29 at shortstop, 20 in center, 12 at second, 9 in left, and 2 at third.
Well the Royals may have Bloomie’s heir in Chris Owings. When the Royals first signed Owings this fall to a one-year, $3 million deal, it seemed like a reasonable enough move to give the Royals some depth. Although the 27-year old was coming off a poor season - he hit .260/.272/.302 last year - he had showed some pop and speed in the past.
But if you were expecting to see Owings in the lineup two, maybe three times a week, you’re in for a surprise. Here’s what Ned Yost told Rustin Dodd of The Athletic.
“So we’re going to play him a lot. We’re going to play him a lot — like almost everyday a lot.”
That’s a lot! And it seems a bit curious too, since the Royals seem pretty set with regulars at every position except maybe right field. How will they find playing time for him? Dodd lays it out:
For now, the role likely will include starts at third base, second base and an occasional day at shortstop when Adalberto Mondesi needs a day off. Owings can also play all three outfield positions. Yet for the moment, Yost said that second baseman Whit Merrifield is more likely to move to the outfield when not starting at second, offering more flexibility to the lineup and opportunity for Owings.
Owings will get some starts at third, to allow Hunter Dozier to have a “loose platoon” with Ryan O’Hearn so O’Hearn can sit against tough lefties. O’Hearn did struggle against lefties in the big leagues last year, but it came in all of 41 plate appearances. And he didn’t have a big split in the minors. Some might argue that the best way to learn how to hit big league lefties is...to face big league lefties.
Owings can make a fine outfielder once in awhile, although it seems like the Royals already have a pretty crowded outfield situation. Playing Owings at short once in awhile is understandable considering Adalberto Mondesi’s injury history and concerns he could break down over a 162-game schedule. Having Owings at second to move Whit Merrifield to the outfield is a bit puzzling considering (a) Whit Merrifield is your best player; (b) Whit Merrifield is a very good defensive second baseman; and (c) Chris Owings is a better defensive outfielder than infielder.
It also makes me wonder - what exactly is the plan with Nicky Lopez? If Owings’ big selling point is that he can play both second base and shortstop, well, Lopez can do that too. Owings offers versatility enough to play third and outfield too, but if you’re willing to move Whit Merrifield around the field for Owings, couldn’t you do that for Lopez?
I like Chris Owings as a player, and he’s not so old that he doesn’t have any upside left. Dodd explains how Owings’ numbers have suffered due to injuries, although that may also be a reason why he shouldn’t be playing on a regular basis. But this should really be a season for getting a good long look at as many young players as possible. Is Chris Owings part of the next contending Royals team?
Look, I’m not going to freak out about Ned Yost before the first lineup is even written. But I am bracing myself for the possibility that we’ll be seeing a lot of Chris Owings this year, perhaps a lot more than I really want.