The Arizona Diamondbacks promoted shortstop prospect Chris Owings to the major leagues a few days ago. Owings had a very successful 2013 campaign for Triple-A Reno: he was just named Pacific Coast League MVP, so the promotion is deserved. Let's take a look at his past, present, and possible future with today's Prospect of the Day.
Owings played high school baseball in Gilbert, South Carolina. Just 17 on draft day in 2009, he was selected in the supplemental first round by Arizona, 41st overall, and signed without too much trouble for $950,000. Assigned to Missoula in the Pioneer League, he performed fairly well with a .306/.324/.426 line in 24 games, though with strike zone issues (three walks, 25 strikeouts in 108 at-bats).
Moved up to Low-A South Bend for 2010, he was limited to 62 games by plantar fasciitis in both feet, although he played well in those 62 games, hitting .298/.323/.447. Moved up to Visalia in the High-A California League for 2011, he stayed healthy and played in 121 gmes, but with a .246/.274/.388 line. He hit 11 homers and stole 10 bases, but serious issues with plate discipline held him back. He posted a dismal 15/130 BB/K ratio in 521 at-bats.
Returned to Visalia to open 2012, he improved dramatically with a .324/362/.544 line, knocking 11 homers in 59 games with sharper (though still shaky) plate discipline (13 walks, 63 whiffs). Promoted to Double-A Mobile at mid-season, he hit .263/.291/.377 with six homers, 11 walks, and 69 strikeouts in 69 games.
Owings was supposed to open 2013 back at Mobile, but he performed well enough in spring training to earn a spot at Triple-A Reno. He responded with a .330/.359/.482 line, with 31 doubles, 12 homers, 22 walks, 99 strikeouts in 546 at-bats. He also set a career high with 20 stolen bases, and was named to the All Star Futures Game roster.
A right-handed hitter and thrower listed at 5-10, 180, Owings was born August 12, 1991. He is a good athlete with a solid set of tools, featuring a strong throwing arm, enough speed to be a threat on the bases, and sufficient range to be a major league shortstop. He's not a gold glove, but he can handle the position. In limited action at second base for Reno, he's looked very good, so if Arizona decides that they want to keep Didi Gregorius at shortstop, Owings could eventually slot at second.
Owings has pop in his bat and will drive the ball to all fields when things are going well. He has enough bat speed to handle most fastballs, but has issues with pitch recognition against breaking stuff and a swing that can be long. These problems aren't as bad as they were a couple of years ago, and he's made some strides keeping his swing more compact. Still, his walk rate remains weak. Reno is a great place to hit and the PCL in general played to his strengths. I wouldn't expect him to hit .330 in the majors, as experienced pitchers will learn to exploit his aggressiveness soon enough.
That said, even if he just hits .250, Owings has enough power and speed potential to be a valuable player. He's worked to shore up his weaknesses, he has up-the-middle defensive ability, and he just turned 22. Although Owings is not a slam-dunk yet, he brings a lot to the table. I had him as a Grade B- pre-season, as a high risk/high reward property. The risk has lowered enough to make Owings a solid Grade B guy entering 2014.