The forgotten Arizona Diamondbacks two-way player

This former Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher/pinch hitter wasn't the first two-way player in the National League West.

Arizona Diamondbacks v Atlanta Braves
Arizona Diamondbacks v Atlanta Braves / Scott Cunningham/GettyImages

The division rival LA Dodgers recently signed Shohei Ohtani to a mega $700 million contract. While many believe Ohtani is the first modern two-way player, that’s just not true. He is the first to successfully pitch and hit at a high level, but there have been players who have attempted this feat in the past. One was an Arizona Diamondback, Micha Owings, who had a short Major League career but served both as a pitcher and a pinch hitter quite frequently.

Owings was a third-round draft pick by the D-Backs in 2005. Selected out of Tulane University, Owings slugged .718 with 18 home runs as a TWP. As a high schooler, he nearly set the national home run record. In his first full minor league season in 2006, Owings racked up 21 hits in 63 plate appearances. A third of those hits went for extra bases. Meanwhile, he had a 3.33 ERA in 162 innings on the mound.

Owings then made his debut the following season in 2007, pitching to a respectable 4.30 ERA, 4.81 FIP, and 1.28 WHIP in 152.2 innings. He wasn’t a big strikeout pitcher with just a 16.3% K-rate but held a 7.7% walk rate and 1.18 HR/9. As a pitcher, he wasn’t horrible and was roughly league-average. But he produced a lot with the bat.

In 64 plate appearances, Owings had 20 hits, including four home runs. He only drew two walks and struck out 16 times but had a 1.033 OPS and 152 wRC+. Since the D-Backs’ inaugural season in 1998, Owings owns the best single-season wRC+ for a pitcher (minimum 50 PAs). He surpasses Brooks Kieschnick’s 2003 season by 4% (another player who attempted to become a two-way player).

In 2008, Owings would only pitch 104.2 innings but struggle to a 5.93 ERA, 4.73 FIP, and 1.39 WHIP. He’d still have 15 hits in 58 plate appearances, but he would be sent to the Arizona Diamondbacks as a PTBNL along with Dallas Buck for big-time slugger Adam Dunn. While Owings wouldn’t pitch another game for the Reds, he did come off the bench four times as a pinch hitter and get two hits.

Over the next two seasons, Owings would pitch just 153 innings, working as an up-and-down swingman. But he didn’t pitch all that well, with a 5.35 ERA, 5.45 FIP, and 1.59 WHIP while walking nearly as many batters (89) as he struck out (103). But he would mash four home runs in 72 plate appearances while slugging over .500 (.515, to be exact).

After 2010, the Reds released Owings, but he would re-sign with the Diamondbacks. 2011 would be his best season on the mound since his ‘07 rookie campaign. He’d work as a swingman, starting four of the 33 games he appeared in while pitching to a 3.57 ERA, 4.47 FIP, and 1.25 WHIP across 63 frames. But it would be his worst season with the bat, collecting just four hits in 19 plate appearances, none of which went for extra-base hits.

Owings’ final MLB games came in 2012 with the San Diego Padres. He’d pitch 9.2 innings out of the bullpen and come to the plate twice. Owings finished off his MLB career as a pretty solid batter. In 219 plate appearances, he hit an impressive .283/.319/.502. Bobby Witt Jr. finished seventh in American League MVP voting while batting .276/.319/.495, a near identical triple-slash to what Owings would finish his MLB career at. Owings came off the bench 48 times as a pinch hitter and had 11 hits.

While 2012 was his final MLB season, it wouldn’t be his last season in pro baseball. In 2013, Owings only pitched nine innings between the Washington Nationals and Milwaukee Brewers’ minor league affiliates. That’s because he was mostly playing the outfield. He appeared in 39 games on the grass and stepped to the plate 268 times. He wasn’t a terrible batter either, as he hit .252/.296/.444 with 15 doubles and nine home runs. Owings struck out 92 times and only drew four walks, but at this point, he hadn’t been an everyday batter since his college days.

Owings would appear in two games for the Miami Marlins Triple-A affiliate the following year in 2016 but didn’t appear anywhere else on the diamond and went 0-1 in his lone plate appearance. Then, in 2016, he signed with the York Revolution, a team in the independent Atlantic League, where he would pitch 106.2 innings and post a 4.30 ERA. But he didn’t get a single plate appearance and was never used as a pinch hitter.

And that closes out Micah Owings' brief but interesting professional baseball career. Owings, quite honestly, was a better hitter than a pitcher. He ended his MLB career with a 91 ERA+ but a 106 OPS+. He may not have been a straight two-way player, but he made nearly 50 appearances as a pinch hitter and could more than hold his own in the 9th spot of the line-up.