Micah Owings, Hitting Prospect

Micah Owings - Harry How, Getty Images

Micah Owings, Hitting Prospect

Rob Neyer wrote a piece at Baseball Nation yesterday about the Washington Nationals signing Micah Owings as a hitter.

Rob runs through the recent history of hitter/pitcher conversions and notes that few have been successful. Rob points out that Owings is a career .283/.310/.502 hitter in 219 major league plate appearances, for an OPS of 106, making him the most effective hitting pitcher of the post-war era. Neyer is still somewhat skeptical about Owings' chances to make it work due to the historical factor, but personally I think Owings has a decent shot at bucking that history.

Owings isn't just a pitcher who can hit. He was an outstanding hitter as an amateur, good enough that scouts argued about whether he should be a position player instead of a pitcher. He hit 69 home runs in high school, which at the time was fourth all-time among high school hitters. This helped earn him a spot in the second round of the 2002 draft, though he opted not to sign with the Rockies and went to school at Georgia Tech.

He hit .306/.392/.593 with 15 homers for the Yellow Jackets in 2003, then followed up with a .318 average and 15 more homers in 2004. A draft-eligible sophomore, he went in the 19th round to the Cubs due to signability worries, which proved valid; he didn't sign and transferred to Tulane for 2005.

Owings was excellent in '05, hitting .359 while leading Conference USA with 18 homers. He also went 12-4, 3.26 with a 135/25 K/BB in 130 innings as a pitcher; the combination of his offensive success and strong pitching earned him honors as conference Player of the Year. Drafted in the third round by Arizona, he became a full-time pitcher in pro ball. Scouts saw him as a solid inning-eating type, or possibly a good middle reliever. They also liked his power bat, but his swing was long and they weren't sure he could hit for average.

The main problem I see for Owings as a batsman is his plate discipline: he's got eight walks against 72 strikeouts in 205 at-bats. That fits with his amateur scouting reports of a big swing and an over-aggressive approach.

The point here is that Owings' hitting potential shouldn't really be a surprise. Scouts felt his upside was a big higher on the mound, but his power bat was always respected and he was a good prospect as a hitter too.

Given the strike zone judgment issue, Rob is right that Owings has an uphill battle, but perhaps he can improve his plate discipline now that he can concentrate on hitting full-time.

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