Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Micah Owings' long odds

Micah Owings has long been a favorite of this site. He had a cool name and was one of those rare birds as a pitcher who could hit. The trouble was that despite the constant cheering, he never was much of a pitcher. As a right-handed pitcher, he could get some right-handed batters out, but left-handed batters bashed him to the tune of an .830 OPS against for his career. But he was different because he could hit. In fact, he has sent to the plate as a pinch hitter 48 times in his career. How many pitchers can say that? Now, Micah Owings wants to ditch his pitching career and is in the Nationals' camp hoping to be a first baseman.

We've been down this road before with Rick Ankiel. In fact, Owings has spoken with Ankiel about making the switch. But there are several differences between the two cases. Ankiel was a prodigious pitching talent who flamed out when he suddenly suffered from an inability to throw the ball anywhere near the strike zone. Ankiel was still very young when his pitching career ended. Owings is 30.

Another difference is that Ankiel worked his way back to the majors by spending time in the minor leagues as a batter and fielder after making the switch. Owings is trying to make the Nationals without any such re-training. Since Owings was drafted in 2005, he has all of 316 professional plate appearances, 219 of those in the majors.

By all appearances, Owings is a more talented hitter than Rick Ankiel ever was. Owings owns a major league slugging percentage of .502 and an OPS of .813. He had an .845 OPS in the minors. Perhaps that might be a misstatement. Ankiel did put together an .876 OPS in the minors. But with the exception of one decent season with the Cardinals, Ankiel has not been a good major league hitter with a .729 career OPS.

But also, Ankiel offered at least some value in the field. Perhaps misplaced in center field, Ankiel has at least held his own as a major league fielder with career fielding numbers in the slightly better than average category. And, of course, Ankiel's ability to gun out runners from the outfield is legendary.

Owings wants to be a first baseman. That position is one not considered to have a need for great fielding prowess (though good fielding first basemen have long been undervalued). Owings choice of position shows that he has little to offer as a fielder and will have to make a living as a hitter.

With Ankiel as his model, the odds are not favorable. Will Owings go to the minors if he doesn't make the Nationals and prove he can hit and field? Or will the Nationals simply cut him and end the experiment before it can get started?

It would have been much more fun for Micah Owings to be a fringe starter in the National League and show off his bat every fifth day. That was a fun story. That, we rooted for. But, while interesting, his current project seems to have little odds of success. He is a 30 year old hitting prospect in a young man's game. If some miracle happened and he caught on, that would be cool. I would lay the odds of that happening as the same of finding a warm beach in Maine in February.

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