Veteran utility-man Chris Owings is finally resuming baseball activities with his Colorado Rockies teammates. The 29-year old journeyman suffered a left thumb injury on April 9th in San Francisco, and he ended up requiring surgery that landed him on the 60-day IL. While it’s great to see that Owings is on schedule and will be returning to the team, the Rockies’ roster makeup is very different compared to when he was last with the team.
#Rockies SS Trevor Story and UTL Chris Owings, both trying to come off the injured list, are making throws from shortstop. Rockies want to bring Story back Tuesday at Miami. Owings, on the 60-day IL, might need time to get re-acclimated. pic.twitter.com/nVnLhcxW3g— Thomas Harding (@harding_at_mlb) June 4, 2021
The Rockies frequently show themselves as overly loyal to under-performing veterans—see Matt Adams, Elias Díaz, and Drew Butera over the last two seasons. However, during spring training and the opening week of the season Owings was earning his roster spot. During the spring, he slashed .262/.333/.667 with four home runs, three doubles, and a triple across 42 at-bats to make the opening day 26-man roster. Owings hit the ground running to start the season, slashing .533/.588/1.133 with three doubles and three triples in his first 15 at-bats. He still is among the Rockies’ leaders in wRC+ with 328, and fWAR with 0.5. Despite this, there still is one important question: where and when will Chris Owings be able to play when he returns?
The Rockies roster is fairly set despite the team being nestled comfortably in the league’s basement. Even with Owings’ positional versatility, it’s difficult to see where he would get regular playing time. Trevor Story is expected to return for the series in Miami, and if he’s active, he’s playing shortstop. Second base is a little more fluid, but is mostly locked down by Ryan McMahon when he isn’t playing the hot corner. Backing up McMahon are Brendan Rodgers and the rookie Alan Trejo. If Owings plays 2B, he’s taking valuable playing time away from their development. Third base is set in stone with Joshua Fuentes when McMahon is at 2B. First base is locked down with CJ Cron, and (bewilderingly) Matt Adams. The outfield was more fluid at the beginning of the season, but has since been fairly locked down with a four-man group. Charlie Blackmon remains stalwart in right field and that’s not changing any time soon. Center field is a platoon of Garrett Hampson—who is beginning to heat up after a slump— and the year’s surprise breakout in Yonathan Daza. Left field is similarly secure with Raimel Tapia playing well as the team’s leadoff man. Unless he’s learned to play behind the dish while he’s been away, it’s tough to see where Owings fits in the infield without blocking young players.
Yes, Owings was surging in the nascent days of the 2021 season, but there is no guarantee he resumes that performance when he returns more than two months later. The Rockies may make some baffling roster moves, like giving Matt Adams (.172/.273/.207) regular playing time over rookie Connor Joe (.233/.365/.279), but they can’t reasonably give playing time to Owings over people like Yonathan Daza or Brendan Rodgers. Daza is having an incredible breakout campaign while slashing .331/.373/.403 with a team top five wRC+ of 103 and tied for second best fWAR at 1.0. His bat is a crucial part of the lineup while his stellar defense in center field can’t be ignored. Rodgers has struggled, but it’s a do-or-die year for the former top prospect and he might finally be turning a corner. He’s slashing .256/.327/.349 in 43 at-bats, and finally hit his first major league home run over the weekend. The Rockies need to give him as much playing time as possible to evaluate if he is indeed a key piece of the team’s future. Meanwhile Alan Trejo is batting .244/.289/.366 in 41 at-bats and has already hit his first big league home run—something it’s taken Rodgers much longer to accomplish.
Owings is an important piece in the Rockies clubhouse. They value his impressive positional versatility and his veteran leadership. However, it’s incredibly difficult to see where he fits on the roster right now. It’s possible the Rockies free up space at the trade deadline or deal Owings himself to a needy team, but for now fans are left wondering just where he fits into the equation during a lost season.