Switch-hitting veteran infielder Cliff Pennington remains on the roster as a capable infielder with a strong arm, good range and the type of all-around defense that adds strength to the grounders-inducing pitchers the D-backs hope to continue to develop.
Prospect Nick Ahmed, acquired from Atlanta in the trade that sent outfielder Justin Upton and infielder Chris Johnson to the Braves, is an extremely talented shortstop as well. He will be refining his game in the upcoming Arizona Fall League.
But the two most talked about shortstop candidates on Arizona's roster are the athletic defensive wizard Didi Gregorius and recent MVP of the Pacific Coast League, Chris Owings.
Owings, ranked No. 3 on the D-backs' Top 20 Prospects list, came to the D-backs in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft as a supplemental first-round selection.
As a senior at Gilbert High School in South Carolina, Owings hit .400 with five home runs and 20 RBIs. while also stealing 20 bases. Owings helped lead his team to state championships in 2006 and '08.
With the exception of a September audition with the parent D-backs, Owings spent this past season at Triple-A Reno. He had a breakout season, hitting .330 with 12 home runs and 81 RBIs. He was honored as the D-backs Organizational Player of the Year.
Having scouted Owings since he signed, I have seen very positive improvement in his overall game. He is playing with confidence. He had made himself into a tough out at the plate. And his defense is much better than indicated by the 28 errors he made at Reno. He isn't flashy, but he gets the job done.
Owings has a short, compact swing. His improving plate coverage and pitch recognition are good enough to drive pitches to all parts of the field. It's his gap power that is most intriguing. This season, Owings hit 31 doubles and eight triples. That's no small feat. And it speaks directly to Owings' speed.
Owings is fast enough to steal bases with regularity, beat out slow infield rollers and take an extra base on outfielders with average arm strength. His speed is a major tool in his game.
Owings is nicely sized to play as a middle infielder. He is 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds, but he is much stronger and agile than he looks. At 22 years old, he likely has fully developed physically.
In his brief 20-game audition with the D-backs, Owings showed why he was so highly regarded at Triple-A. He hit .291 and made every at-bat count. He played well on defense, making only one error while handling 50 chances at shortstop. Owings also played three games at second base, playing errorless baseball.
If indeed Owings remains with the D-backs, his future may include a shared role with Gregorius and Pennington at shortstop, or a time-share role with very highly regarded veteran Aaron Hill at second base. Or Owings may win a starting role at one of the positions. I like his future best as a second baseman. Again, options abound.
Owings is showing improvement in his game and offering his club both solid offense and defense in the middle infield.