45 Prospects In 45 Days: Arizona’s Chris Owings
Over the next 45 days the staff here at The Fix will profile and predict the fantasy fates of prospects that could – should, in some cases – be closely monitored on the waiver wire or even in the draft room.
For the projection portion of the article, we will try our best to give you projections from all three major projection systems. Those projection systems are: ZiPS, Steamer, and Oliver. Oliver varies from the other two by projecting what a player would accomplish over 600 PA. Obviously, most prospects won’t reach 600 PA, due to various reasons. It can help to pay more attention to the rate stats that are included in order to get a clearer idea of what you’re dealing with in a particular player.
Chris Owings’ offensive tools are very good, but they don’t really jump off the page. What makes him a great prospect is that he features those tools alongside the ability to play shortstop. He has typical size for his position at 5’10”, 180 with excellent hands, feet, and arm strength as a defender.
He has above average skill in both power and speed, but neither tool qualifies as elite. He has plus power for his position, but his numbers have been a bit inflated by hitting in favorable environments. He has some speed, but he’s far from an elite base stealer.
His hit tool is perhaps his best quality, but its positive impact is mitigated by a staunch unwillingness to take walks. Owings has hit better than .300 at three of the seven stops along his minor league journey; he’s registered a walk rate better than 5% exactly once. Last season, he drew just 22 unintentional walks in 546 plate appearances at Triple-A. It’s worth noting that he hit for a .330 batting average in those same 546 plate appearances, but whether he can maintain that same production against big league pitching remains a question. He was called up last season, but only made 61 plate appearances for the Diamondbacks.
Owings profiles as a solid fantasy middle infielder; his long term upside is something in the neighborhood of a rich man’s Asdrubal Cabrera.
Jason Parks is by far the highest on Owings, ranking him 28th overall and grading his hit tool as a 6 on the 2-8 scouting scale, better than higher touted prospects like Kris Bryant and Jackie Bradley, Jr. Fangraphs’ Marc Hulet has him ranked 64th, Baseball America has him 66th overall.
ESPN’s Keith Law is the least optimistic, slotting Owings in at 72nd overall:
His 2013 line was boosted by playing in hitter-friendly Triple-A Reno, but Owings’ bat speed is undeniable and his swing is simple and direct. I don’t see loft in the swing for home-run power, but he’s an above-average runner and I think he’ll hit plenty of line-drives to the gaps for 30-40 doubles a year. At shortstop, he has great instincts, quick feet, and a plus arm, everything required to be at least a 60-grade defender there — very much what Didi Gregorius was supposed to be, but with better hit and run tools.
Owings’ bat speed and plate coverage are unquestionably solid and he certainly has the defensive chops to stick at short. The question is whether his poor plate discipline will inhibit his development as a hitter.
Minor League Production
Owings’ numbers look strong at first glance; they’ve even better when you consider that he started his professional career as a 17-year old. Even as he’s spent a full season at almost every level, he’s poised to start his big league career at the still-young age of 22. His offensive numbers at Triple-A were inflated by the zero-gravity conditions in Reno, but the .152 ISO is certainly not out of line with his previous performance.
The big issue will be whether Owings can keep his strikeouts down and get himself on base. He hasn’t displayed good plate discipline at any level of the minor leagues. It’s possible that’s a result of not being challenged by minor league pitching, but it’s just as possible that major league pitchers will find that they can get young Owings out without ever giving him anything he can drive.
There’s good and bad here. The projection systems are all lukewarm on Owings’ batting average, which has a cascading negative effect on his run scoring as well. They are all relatively bullish, however, on his stolen base totals; the consensus is that he’ll chip in somewhere around 15 steals, given a full season’s worth of playing time.
And there’s the rub…
Owings is certainly a very good player, but projecting his role for 2014 is next to impossible at this point.
The Diamondbacks are certainly willing to trade either one of Owings or Didi Gregorius, but the glut of shortstops atop most prospect rankings, along with the D’Backs’ high, specific demands have cooled the market a bit. Kevin Towers is one of the more aggressive GMs in the league, but unfortunately the asset he’s looking to acquire (a young, offensively-skilled catcher) isn’t exactly one that other teams have in abundance, nor is it one they’re in a hurry to part with. Towers is rumored to have been firmly shut down by the Mets when he asked for Travis D’Arnaud in exchange for Owings.
That said, a trade would probably be a good thing for Owings. Though he’d likely move to a less favorable park for offense, he’d be very likely to move into a full-time gig, something that’s far from guaranteed in Arizona.
Though many evaluators believe that Owings is already a better all-around player, Gregorius has the advantage of major league experience, as well as the fact that the organization just recently gave up its former top prospect to get him. Manager Kirk Gibson is trying Owings out at second base, but it’s extremely unlikely that he’ll pass Aaron Hill. If Owings isn’t able to win the shortstop gig, don’t be surprised if Arizona sends him back down to Triple-A. He’s still only 22; it just doesn’t make sense to give him a big league bench role.
If I had to make a call, I’d say Owings beats out Gregorius, but there’s just not enough information available to be sure at this point. For now, the best thing to do is keep your ear to the ground. If Owings has a great spring, he can win the job outright and immediately become an NL-only value and mixed league option for an MI spot. But if you’re drafting before Owings’ future is decided, I’d stay away. There’s upside, but it’s not enough to warrant the risk that he ends up back in Triple-A.