Veteran middle infielder Chris Owings could have a path to cracking the team's Opening Day roster as a backup middle infielder
Compared to recent offseasons, it has been a busy offseason for general manager Ben Cherington and the Pittsburgh Pirates. Overall, it's been an offseason that has seen the Pirates improve the overall talent level of their roster and adding to the intrigue surrounding their 2023 season.
One position that still needed to be addressed was the need for backup middle infield help. Preferably, a right-handed hitting middle infielder to help protect Oneil Cruz against tough lefties and from falling into extended slumps against lefties.
This past Thursday the Pittsburgh Pirates signed veteran middle infielder Chris Owings. The right-handed hitting Owings can play third base, shortstop, and second base. While it may not be something that many fans would expect, Owings likely has a good chance at cracking the team's Opening Day roster.
Last season, Owings had 68 plate appearances with the Baltimore Orioles. He hit for a .107/.254/.143 slash line, with a 27 wRC+ and an OPS+ of 17. While Owings has never been a great hitter, he's always been a much better hitter than that in his MLB career.
Prior to last season, Owings hit for a .243/.288/.372 slash line with a wRC+ of 70 in 2396 career PAs. These are not great offensive numbers by any means, but they are numbers that teams will take from a backup middle infielder that is not expected to play a big offensive role.
In his career, Owings has 2041.1 innings at shortstop, 1647.2 at second base, and 191.1 at third base. He also has 1235.1 career MLB innings in the outfield. He owns a lifetime +13 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) at second base, +3 at third base, and -11 at shortstop. While these numbers leave soemthing to be desired at shorstop, he would still be a better defensive shortstop than other backup shortstop options such as Tucupita Marcano and Ji-Hwan Bae. Additionally, the Pirates may be set on having Bae play a full-time role in the outfield this season.
Could the Pittsburgh Pirates do better than Owings as a backup middle infielder? In theory - yes. However, that's in theory. Cruz will be the every day shortstop, and at seocnd base that will be Rodolfo Castro. If Castro is struggling a month or two into the season, the Pirates will likley turn to former first-round pick Nick Gonzales or top 100 prospect Liover Peguero.
The presence of these four young players will make the Pirates a less than appealing place for veteran middle infielders due to a lack of playing time available. Odds are, someone like the 31-year-old Owings is about the best the Pirates are going to do for backup middle infielder.
Owings can play both shortstop and second base. He is also a right-handed hitter which, as we discussed above, the Pirates will value in their backup middle infielder. There is certainly a path to Owings cracking the team's Opening Day roster.