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Know Your Orioles 40-man: Chris Owings

The Orioles tried to shore up their infield a little with a veteran utility infielder.

Milwaukee Brewers v Baltimore Orioles
There must always be a utility infielder. Right now for the Orioles, that’s Chris Owings.
Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Over the offseason, Camden Chat published an article about each member of the Orioles 40-man roster. During the 2022 season, we will update on new arrivals after they make it to the roster.

When he arrived: Minor league signing 3/14/22, contract selected 4/6/22

Who left: Tanner Scott/Cole Sulser (traded to Marlins 4/3/22)

There must always be a utility infielder on an MLB team’s roster. If a team does not have someone who can make the occasional start at second base, shortstop, and third base, while fielding competently and probably hitting poorly, the world may stop turning. Even a team as bad as the Orioles have been and still seem to be needs a guy like this. The Orioles chose veteran infielder Chris Owings to be their utility guy at the end of spring training.

The 30-year-old Owings was originally drafted by the Diamondbacks with a compensation pick after the first round in 2009. He was only 17 years old on draft day and made a fairly standard “one level per year” ascension through the minors. Owings’s 2013 batting line at Triple-A was .330/.359/.482, impressive enough performance for Arizona to make Owings a September call-up that year.

Owings responded with a .291/.361/.382 batting line in 20 games. The prospect world at the time noticed. Owings, still a prospect after that limited September action, cracked the major top 100 lists before the following season, checking in as high as the #28 ranked minor leaguer by Baseball Prospectus. Another outlet, MLB Pipeline, summarized his potential in this way:

The tools are there for Owings to be an everyday middle infielder in the big leagues. He has the ability to hit for average, but he needs to work on his plate discipline to get there - there’s too much swing and miss to his game. His power started to show up in games in 2012 and that could become a regularity. He has solid average speed and should be able to steal some bases in the future and he’s capable of being a solid, though unspectacular shortstop defensively.

As we all look hopefully at the collection of Orioles prospects, it is always worth remembering the unfortunate reality that a number of these guys just aren’t going to reach the most optimistic level, or even an average level, suggested by their scouting capsules. The only good thing in this paragraph that came true is that he did have the speed to steal bases. Hit for average was a no. Plate discipline stayed a no. Power did not become a regularity.

Now that he’s gotten into games in the 2022 season, Owings is a 10-year MLB veteran. This sets him apart from the scrub tier of players. He has not been a total washout or bust or anything like that. He’s just kind of... been there.

Owings’s career to date has generated 2.8 bWAR and 0.9 fWAR. The only seasons where he was an above-average hitter were 2013 and 2021, when he respectively had 61 and 50 plate appearances. His defense as he has bounced around the diamond in his career has, at least as far as public metrics are concerned, been fine. His weakest position by Defensive Runs Saved is -9 at shortstop, which isn’t great for a utility guy, but -9 over about 2,000 innings in the field isn’t really that bad. Actual bad defenders like Derek Jeter was get to negative double digits in 1,300 innings per season.

If Owings had indisputable value to offer to a big league team, he would not have had to settle for a minor league contract. If he had value to offer to a contender, he would not have had to settle for a minor league contract with the Orioles. Here he is nonetheless, beating out Richie Martin for the utility spot.

I would have rather seen Martin after he was scorching this spring, but it probably doesn’t matter that much. Perhaps the Orioles want Martin to get regular at-bats at Triple-A Norfolk, or perhaps they’re just not that excited by their former Rule 5 pick. The thing that matters the most for the future of the Orioles infield is when the prospects start arriving to displace the placeholders.

Owings has played in three of the first six Orioles games, though he’s only accumulated five plate appearances in the same time. That is probably about as often as we’ll see him, unless somebody gets hurt. He has yet to pick up a hit in an Orioles uniform and he committed an error during the lone start that he has made. There are better ways to make a first impression.

Still to come: Spenser Watkins