Photo of Austin Nola by Ted S. Warren / AP
Marwin González, Brock Holt, and Ben Zobrist are three of the more prominent super-utility men in MLB. But there are other versatile performers poised to help their teams win. I decided to have a little fun identifying some of my favorites.
Most of the names you’ll see played the outfield and infield. Two donned the tools of ignorance to squat behind the plate. One even toed the mound on a recurring basis. Some could be regulars next year depending on their club’s offseason maneuvering.
One note before we begin. Player tables list their WAR (Baseball Reference) and number of games at each position in 2019. With one exception, mound appearances weren’t included.
Leury García – White Sox
With the White Sox potentially transitioning from rebuild to contention this offseason, the switch-hitting García’s positional flexibility could prove beneficial.
García’s .310 OBP was below average, although he did hit 27 doubles and steal 15 bases in a career-high 140 games this season. The native of Santiago, Dominican Republic also led the majors with 14 outfield assists this year.
Ehire Adrianza – Twins
Adrianza rewarded the 2019 AL Central champions for claiming the switch-hitter off waivers from Milwaukee in 2017 with a career-best .272/.349/.416 slash.
With shortstop Jorge Polanco recently undergoing surgery for a chronic ankle issue, Adrianza may have to hold down the position if Polanco were to need more time than expected to recover.
Niko Goodrum – Tigers
After serving as a Swiss Army knife for the 114-loss Tigers this year, the team plans on giving Goodrum a shot at being its full-time shortstop next season.
The switch-hitting Goodrum logged a league-average .248/.322/.421 this year, although the Georgia native did hit 12 home runs and steal 12 bases in 112 games.
Chad Pinder – Athletics
If Oakland upgraded left field – Pinder’s primary position – the club could consider trading the former Virginia Tech Hokie. Still, such a move might be problematic.
The A’s reportedly may deal or non-tender Jurickson Profar, a player with a history of being a super-sub too. Losing Profar would make a trade of Pinder, who appeared in a career-high 124 games this year, less likely for the budget-conscious team.
Willians Astudillo – Twins
Okay, I get it. A 5-foot-9, 225-pound player with a -0.2 WAR and rated one of the 25 slowest runners in MLB by STATCAST isn’t appealing at first glance.
Then again, Astudillo started games at catcher, second base and both corner outfield spots – for a contender. He even played center field for an inning in 2018.
How can’t this be fun?
At the plate, Astudillo had decent numbers during limited opportunities – .297/.322/.424 in 301 career plate appearances since 2018.
Assuming free agent catcher Jason Castro doesn’t re-sign with the Twins; the team could install Astudillo into the regular catching rotation. Another option, acquire a backstop and continue using the Venezuelan in a utility-role.
Either way, watching “La Tortuga” play next season should be an exercise in fun. After all, who can’t root for a player sporting the “regular guy” look?
Fun fact: Astudillo is one of just 42 players to appear at catcher, second base, and both infield and outfield corner positions in the same season.
Next up, someone who also achieved this feat in 2019.
Austin Nola – Mariners
Nola began his career as a shortstop in Miami’s system in 2012, but transformed himself into a utility-man capable of catching.
As a rookie with the Mariners in 2019, Nola hit .269/.342.454 with 10 home runs in just 79 games. By doing so, the former LSU Tiger may have earned a bigger role.
Seattle is reportedly shopping starting catcher Omar Narváez, which potentially opens an opportunity for Nola to pair with Tom Murphy. Adding fuel to this speculation; the 29-year-old honing his catching skills with Estrellas de Oriente of the Dominican Winter League this offseason.
Chris Taylor / Kiké Hernández – Dodgers
Since 2017, Taylor and Hernández have combined for 280 extra-base hits (including 99 home runs), 44 stolen bases, and 17.4 WAR. Still, change could be on the horizon.
MLB Trade Rumors projects the duo will receive sizeable raises in arbitration – Taylor ($5.0 million) and Hernández ($5.5 million). Retaining two right-handed hitters with redundant skills at this cost may be too pricey for the Dodgers. Perhaps the team leverages its super-sub surplus to reshape the roster and maintain payroll flexibility.
Another potential reason for change, the Dodgers are reportedly pursuing free agent third basemen Anthony Rendon and Josh Donaldson. If Rendon or Donaldson signs with the Dodgers, current third baseman Justin Turner likely moves to first base. The entirety of these moves would reduce the need for both Hernández and Taylor.
Danny Santana – Rangers
Signed to a minor league deal prior to the 2019 season, Santana proved to be a pleasant surprise for the Rangers. The six-year veteran enjoyed a career resurgence hitting 28 home runs and 23 doubles with 21 stolen bases.
With Texas expected to be active this offseason, it’s tough predicting where Santana plays next year. The team could use the switch-hitter in a super-utility role again or employ him on a more permanent basis in one of several spots – center field, second base, third base.
Michael Lorenzen – Reds
Two-way players Shohei Ohtani and Brendan McKay justifiably receive significant fanfare. But Lorenzen pulled off something not accomplished since Babe Ruth did it in 1931. Be the winning pitcher, hit a home run, and play the outfield in the same game.
Lorenzen isn’t just a novelty. The Cal State Fullerton product’s .273 xwOBA was top-25 among MLB relievers facing 250-plus hitters this year. He also saved seven games for Cincinnati.
Scott Kingery – Phillies
Kingery demonstrated average-ish on-base ability during his sophomore campaign with the Phillies. But the 25-year-old did hit 34 doubles and 19 home runs with 15 stolen bases in 126 games.
Where Philadelphia plays Kingery next year depends on the roster moves made by the front office in the offseason. Considering his 2019 production and youth, the Arizona alum will be central to his team’s plans regardless of position on the diamond.
David Fletcher – Angels
Fletcher’s 30 doubles led the Angels this year, plus his .290 AVG and .350 OBP ranked second on the team behind reigning AL MVP and future Hall of Famer Mike Trout (.291/.438). Excellent production for a player moving around the diamond on a regular basis.
More than likely, Fletcher makes the majority of his starts at second or third base next year. However, new manager Joe Maddon typically takes advantage of his team’s positional versatility. No matter where the Loyola Marymount product plays, the Halos will need a repeat of his 2019 offensive output.
Jeff McNeil – Mets
Our lone 2019 All Star slashed .318/.384/.531 with 23 home runs and a team-leading 38 doubles in 133 games this year.
With Robinson Canó at second base, the Mets could continue moving McNeil around or make the former Long Beach State Dirtbag their full-time third baseman – a problematic position since losing David Wright.
Ironically, McNeil’s name was reportedly in the mix during trade negotiations between the Mets and Mariners prior to New York acquiring Canó and Edwin Díaz last offseason.
Imagine the furor in Panic City now if the Mets had dealt McNeal.
Also, how cool is it to have “Dirtbags” as your college team’s nickname?
We’ve seen multi-position players become increasingly important to successful teams. Since many of these dynamic performers are relatively young (and inexpensive), we’re going to see more of them appearing.
Personally, watching this new wave of versatile contributors is fun. That’s a good thing since baseball is supposed to be fun.
After all, baseball is the best sport.