Friday, March 15, 2013

Owings enjoying surprise ride

USA Today Sports Images
Former pitcher Micah Owings is hitting .368 with two homers this spring.
VIERA, Fla. -- When he made the decision over the winter to sign with the Nationals strictly as a position player after six big-league seasons as a pitcher, Micah Owings didn't know what exactly to expect of himself.

Only a handful of ballplayers have ever made that transition successfully, and the chance of everything clicking immediately would seem to be minimal.

So Owings doesn't want to let himself get too excited about the results he's experienced so far in Nationals camp.

"I feel like I'm up for the task," he said. "I know it's going to take a lot of continued work. I don't want to get into a mode where I feel comfortable. So I want to continue to work, learn from these guys and see what happens."

What's happened so far is nothing short of remarkable. In nine Grapefruit League games, the pitcher-turned-outfielder is hitting .368 (7-for-19) with three doubles, two homers and eight RBI. His 1.211 OPS thus far has been bested only by top prospect Anthony Rendon and stars Ryan Zimmerman and Bryce Harper.

Not bad for a guy who only a few months ago remained committed to his pitching career.

"He's impressing some people," manager Davey Johnson said. "He's been OK in the field and aggressive at the plate. I like his approach. He's had a great spring."

Owings always had the ability to hit, and he still holds the Georgia high school record with 69 career home runs, 25 of them coming during his senior season. But he was drafted by the Diamondbacks -- whose scouting director at the time was none other than Mike Rizzo -- as a pitcher, and he proceeded to post a 4.86 ERA in 138 career appearances (68 of them as a starter) with Arizona, Cincinnati and San Diego.

An elbow injury last season with the Padres, though, left Owings to contemplate his future. Rather than try to bounce back from surgery, he decided to forgo pitching altogether and signed a minor-league contract with the Nationals as a first baseman/outfielder.

All he's done since is rake at the plate and give everyone reason to believe he can make it back to the majors as an offensive force. Each of his homers to date have been hit to the opposite field, including a grand slam yesterday that helped carry the Nationals to a 6-3 victory over the Astros.

Barring a surprising turn of events that would probably have to include an injury or two, Owings has no chance of making the Nats' Opening Day roster. But the organization would like for him to go to Class AAA Syracuse, continue working on both his swing and his defensive play both in left field and at first base and perhaps be waiting in the wings in case of emergency.

"Coming off [the NL East title], we're not at that point to have the luxury to give him opportunities in that role up here right now," Johnson said. "He's going to have to continue during the season showing that he's capable. Of course, he may open some eyes from some other clubs: a veteran, right-handed bat coming off the bench. He's certainly got the power and he's certainly shown that he'll make more contact than you'd normally think for a pitcher-turned-hitter. So he's interesting. "

Though he knows this is a long-term career transition, Owings is more focused on the moment than whatever may await him down the road.

"Right now, it's kind of been my approach in my career not to think too long-term at all," he said. "Come in each day and get ready for whatever I can do to help the team that day and whatever I can do to get better. I'm going to continue to keep that focus and enjoy it. I'm having fun being in there getting the opportunities I've been given. ...

"You're going to have good days and bad days. But if you can come back to that, and enjoy the ride, you only get to enjoy the ride so long, so enjoy it while we can."


sjm308 said...

Good morning all!

This really is a nice story and I am glad we are not hearing about a release date in his contract. It seems like Chris Young will be scooped up by someone so that elusive #6 starter is still out there waiting to be discovered. If Rizzo can turn Owings into prospects (sort of like a magic trick don't you think?), I am fine with that. If he continues to improve and god forbid Tracy gets hurt again then maybe that works but I hate to think he blocks someone like Marrero.

One thing I am constantly impressed with is how Rizzo has to stock so many teams at so many levels. Does anyone here have an idea of how large his staff is? Does he have people scanning the waiver wires as well as the obvious scouts of both major and minor league talent, and of course there is the draft as well. Seems like his job is never ending.

I commented at the end of the game post about people being impatient with LaRoche and wanting Rendon up sooner than later. I am not in either of those camps. I am fine with LaRoche & Rendon will hopefully turn out to be a wonderful major league player but lets win the World Series this year with the guys we have and let this young man continue to learn his craft. Yes, he is already a polished hitter but he needs learn so much more and he needs to play, not sit.

Go Nats!!

sjm308 said...

Oh, got an email from Fex Ex that my Nationals Season Ticket package is on the way. Wondering why it is coming from Alberta Canada? Hope it is actually baseball and not ice skates or snowshoes.

NatsLady said...

hmmm, I didn't get that email... do you have a full or partial plan, sjm? Should I be panicking and calling my rep?

Positively Half St. said...


I hope that if Owings and Marrero both have great seasons that neither is really blocking the other. That is, I hope it could result in that trade for prospects you describe. I guess it depends on one of them being able to play more than just first.

I have a hard time imagining that Owings becomes more that Rick Ankiel, which is good but not good enough. I am not sure I see Marrero becoming even that.

I hope I am selling them short, for sure.

Joe Seamhead said...

That's the trouble when you get to a point of having an organization with a ton of depth. The Nats have a small village worth of guys that would've been starting for them in 2010, but now there's no room at the inn for them.
The misses and I have had two great days at Space Coast. Had a delightful day yesterday hanging out with the nefarious Nats Jack and his partner in crime Gator. Mike Rizzo spent some time next to us talking with a few folks and then returned after the game and autographed my wife's hat.So now I have Davey's autograph on my # 5 Johnson jersey and she's got Rizzo's on the top of her bill.

NatsNut said...

I would give them a call. When I got mine and went into my account, they said to send invitations to my partners by 3/20 for them to recieve their cards by the 3/29 exhibition game. Makes me think everyone should have their packages well before 3/20 and it took 2 days from the first email that it was shipping to receiving it.
I'm a partial plan holder.

NatsNut said...

And as for Owings, I'm thinking he wants the opportunity to spend a year in AAA to get his position-player bearings rather than the major league level. It sounds like he's grateful for that opportunity.

sjm308 said...

Natslady - I agree with natsnut that you should give them a call. I also am a partial package and the email led me to a link with fed ex that shows while it was shipped from their yesterday, it won't arrive in Silver Spring until Monday.

1/2 Street, I don't think you are selling either player short compared to the talent we now have but I do think Marrero will help someone on the major league level at sometime in his career. Owings is still a work in progress but his age will factor into that just a bit.

sjm308 said...

Well, while some would agree with my last statement that I am a partial package, what I meant was that I also have a partial season ticket package.

Theophilus T. S. said...

The only injury I could see forcing an Owings recall would be if something happens to Werth, because there is a shortage of RH-hitting OFs. At the same time I don't know how you throw a novice OF (other than a Harper) into a pennant race. Regrettably, I think he's just something for the fans in Syracuse to enjoy during the otherwise dismal season foretold by their pitching staff (term used loosely).

SonnyG10 said...

hey sjm308, I'm a partial package also. Haven't received an email though. :)

NatsLady said...

I think I'll wait until Monday before I panic. There is still mail-delivery on Saturdays, so that gives me two chances (and, of course, an email could come any day).

Tcostant said...

FRom listen to Nats Talk the last few weeks with Phil Wood on MASN, I do think there is an outside chance for Owings to on the opening day roster and for Tyler Moore to be sent to AAA. Likely no, but if Owings keeps hitting like this, don't rule it out. Rizzo thinks Moore is a future starter and getting 400-500AB this season, might be important to him, plus holding back the arbitration and Free agency clock back, is never bad for a GM either.

I'm just staying.

NatsLady said...

Can Owings still pitch? If you had to throw someone out there in a 17-inning game, you have your man. I wanna see the WBC go to 13 innings with the crazy rules they have, start with men already on 1B and 2B.

Sec. 3, My Sofa said...

hey sjm308, I'm a partial package also.

Whoa whoa whoa ... waaay too much information.

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

Tcostant, interesting points on Moore vs. Owings.

I still am waiting for the one big Rizzo surprise. Last year it was Lannan to AAA after Davey made several comments about Lannan being his guy.

Chris Young isn't making the starting rotation but could he make the bullpen? Could Rizzo be working on a trade? Is Lohse waiting on Rizzo [wink]?

Biggest weakness is the 6th starter. Chris Young appears to be the best option of a very questionable group.

Mac said...

Tickets are shipped FedEx. No delivery Sat or Sun. Also, signature required. If you're not home, they don't leave at your door. You gotta go to their facility and pick up.

Faraz Shaikh said...

Only if lohse would sign a minor league deal with us.

by the way, FG is doing a series of positional rankings. Interesting stuff!

Drew said...

I glanced at Rizzo after the game and he appeared to be in such a good mood that there was literally a bounce in his step.

It's no wonder. In addition to the no-drama camp, he's got a right to be pleased with his staff's supplemental signings -- guys like Young, Owings and Abad.

Of all the "final cuts" guys who finished Thursday's game -- Snyder, Marrero, Rivero, Owings, Brown -- the guy who intrigues me is Zach Walters.

He seems to be in the Nats' plans. They have given him two coveted slots in the Arizona Fall League. They have promoted him aggressively and he hit AAA last August. They're giving him a long look here -- 30 at bats so far -- and he's done nicely.

Walters is 23. He'll be ready by September. If the Nats think Walters can be a utility infielder with pop, and with Rendon on the fast track, I wonder whether Danny or Lombo will be on the move next offseason.

Remember, Haren is on a one-year deal. Rizzo could make another splash for a starter next offseason. There are layers of talent that other teams would find attractive.

1b Moore, Skole
2b Espinosa, Rendon, Lombo
cf Span, Goodwin, Perez, Billy Burns
C Ramos, Suzuki, Leon, Solano
Relief: Soriano, Storen, Clip
Sp: Giolito, Cole, Karns, Purke

I like all of those guys, but the Nats have more talent than positions.

Maybe somewhere in there the (David) Price is right.

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

It appears Julio Teheran's dominance this Spring is based on adding a biting 2 seam sinker on lefties to go with his 4 seam, slider, curve and changeup.

The Nats are doing great things and not to be overlooked it seems like the Braves young pitchers have brought their A game to Spring Training.

Teheran and Minor both look improved this Spring.

MicheleS said...

NatsLady.. look in your spam/junk mail. I got the email (partial plan holder) and mine are supposed to be delivered today.

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

Faraz, Lohse isn't signing a Minor League deal. They will wait for a team that has a need due to an injury or a starter who hasn't panned out.

Let's see how serious this Greinke injury is.

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

Drew, Zach Walters has certainly moved up in Prospect ratings but he has to improve on errors. He is actually above average in defensive skills until you factor in his error rate.

The biggest hole in this team is there is no longer a Danny Rosenbaum, Peacock or Milone in that projectable 5th starter spot.

Karns is the closest of the names you mentioned. Its a gaping hole which means the team has to depend on Zach Duke or Stammen or someone like Maya.

Maya appears that all these years in AAA he has done nothing to improve and show the promise they once projected.

NatsLady said...

Mark just tweeted today's line-up vs. the Cards. All I have to say is, good luck to Dan Haren... He's getting Suzuki, the bench, and Syracuse.

JD said...


I completely agree with you about Walters. I was really impressed with him during my trip last week although the caveat is that he is always coming in when the other team has it's secondary pitchers in the game.

I don't think that our organizational depth is as strong as you think; our farm system is ranked middle/bottom. None of the sp you mention are really close to the majors and some of the every day players you mention (Skole,Perez,Burns) are not sure things.

Our strength lies in the fact that our major league roster is top notch and extremely young so there are no obvious positions of need at least for this year.

Going forward I am interested how 1st base gets resolved. Is Zim the long term answer? Skole? do we trade someone to get a young slugger for 1st?

Also; is Goodwin the center fielder of the future?

As far as the 5th starter I think Rizzo will keep doing it year by year until we can graduate one of the young starters. I love Karns Stuff.

Theophilus T. S. said...

I think there are 13, maybe 14 games games left in ST. With the roster getting distilled/reduced, there will be even more opportunities for those still in camp to make their cases. Johnson simply can't wear out his starters by running them out there for seven innings every day until the regular season starts. That means more opportunities for the wannabes to surprise, and for nagging injuries to crop up. The "surprise" may not necessarily be a "Rizzo surprise;" it may be a surprise that is forced on him.

The most easily foreseeable is that Rodriguez flames out/is mysteriously detected to be unrecovered or suffering from some heretofore undiscovered malady and they slide Young into that spot (although how they use him is unclear to me). But the next sixteen days includes a lot of possibilities.

JD said...


It's a road game and most of the vets don't take the long bus rides during SP. For Haren it's all about getting his work in; the end results are secondary.

Section 222 said...

I would call today too NL, after you check your junk email. My email came on March 11, and the "tickets" arrived on Wednesday. It's "indirect signature" required, which I think means you can sign a doorhanger and leave it for the Fed Ex guy when he makes a second attempt.

There are definitely some kinks in the online system that they are madly working to fix. For example, until this morning, the times of the games were listed in Greenwich mean time (eg., the Yankees exhibiton was going to start at 7:05 am.) Apparently, Fortress, the European company that put together the system, missed that detail. :-)

I have a feeling that this is going to be a work in progress for a bit, and our ticket reps' phones are going to be ringing off the hook. My fondest hope is that the card readers work flawlessly on Opening Day. Otherwise,...

Theophilus T. S. said...

There are different kinds of depth. There's depth in case a couple of infielders run into each other and are hors d'combat for a few days, or even a couple of weeks, and then there's trade depth -- and the Nats still have a lot of that in the minor leagues, just players are aren't quite ready for prime time.

The skinniest position right now, I think, is CF. If Span does a Nyjer mind-meld -- which seems really unlikely -- or gets hurt, then serious holes in the defense could emerge. But at most positions they should be set for the next three seasons.

Section 222 said...

I continue to believe that Young will go elsewhere. We'll soon see about that.

If they want to keep him, and to do that they have to stash him in the bullpen, he could take over the RH long relief role and Stammen could pitch more in the late innings. That might be a good thing because of his effectiveness against LH hitters, as discussed a few days ago.

For this to happen, H-Rod might have to catch his finger in a car door again.

Sec. 3, My Sofa said...

The late surprises have historically been people (yes, men are people, too) who did not make the team, rather than those who did--getting pattersoned (or in Lannan's case, stashed in AAA, which was sort of like when my brother's friends made him ride in the trunk of the car to sneak into the drive-in). I'm not sure I'd count DL'ing Henry in that category--too predictable.

Section 222 said...

sofa, Lannan got lannan-ed. See entry #17 in the Glossary. :-)

Theophilus T. S. said...

Looking at today's lineup on WaPo -- apart from Solano and some pitchers, what other minor leaguers are along on this trip?

Ghost Of Steve M. said...


Sec. 3, My Sofa said...

Deuces, I was considering "lannaned" as a variation on pattersoning.

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