A blessing or a curse?
Scouts can be wary of players who pitch and play field
NEW YORK -- If nothing else, Rick Ankiel has proven that a modicum of versatility can salvage a career.
Ankiel's inability to throw strikes caused him to give up on his dreams of pitching and move to the outfield, where is currently playing in the Cardinals organization. But is the ability to pitch and play the field, a la Ankiel, advantageous in the eyes of Major League scouts and player development folks?
There are some high-profile, "two-way" players expected to get chosen in the early rounds, perhaps some as high as the first round, in the June 7-8 First-Year Player Draft.
But how is the Tulane duo of Micah Owings and Brian Bogusevic viewed? How about high school stars Justin Bristow and Sean O'Sullivan? The University of Mississippi's Stephen Head? These are just a few of the players who fall under this category. The question is: Will their dual abilities lead Major League teams to find fault or favor in them come draft day?
"I definitely don't favor them [two-way guys]," one National League amateur scouting director said. "I feel that in this day and age, you really need to concentrate on one position. It makes it tougher to evaluate them. Say your guy is a right fielder and a pitcher. If you see him as a right fielder the day after he pitches, you won't get a true assessment of his arm. And if the day before he pitches he played right field, made four throws and ran the bases, he's probably a little gassed so it's hard to get a true assessment.
"So you look at their tools and you end up guessing. It makes it a lot more difficult when you have to guess. I've seen over the years shortstops who have pitched. They go in the hole to make a play the day after they pitch and you don't see much on the throw so you rate them below average."
Owings, also an infielder, and Bogusevic, also an outfielder, stand out because they are two integral parts of Tulane's rotation while serving as equally important cogs when they play the field.
Bogusevic, a junior, was 7-0 with a 2.80 ERA through nine starts while Owings was 5-2 with a 3.77 ERA in nine starts. Bogusevic, meanwhile, was hitting .351 with 19 RBIs while Owings was sporting a .331 average with 15 homers and 50 RBIs.
The duo helped lead the Green Wave to the Conference USA regular-season crown but neither seems sure what they want to do when and if they get drafted, preferring to leave that up to the team that chooses them.
"I have no preference," Bogusevic said. "I like doing both. Switching to just doing one and leaving the other behind will be hard either way. I don't know what I'm better at. I guess it depends on the day. [Scouts] I've talked to have their own opinion either way. I've told them I'll leave it up to them and whatever they are taking me, I'll be happy either way."
Owings said that "someone will have to decide for me," adding that he'd love the chance to do both as a pro. The reviews, however, from Major League scouts and executives on the Tulane twosome have been mixed at best. Perhaps that's because they are splitting positions, but the execs who discussed the pair with MLB.com weren't particularly impressed.
"I'm not a big Owings guy, for sure," one Major League executive said. "I think he's a big, stiff guy and everything he does is a muscle approach. For the long haul of a professional season, I don't think that's going to work. I don't see much athleticism there. Bogusevic I like as an outfielder. I'm a little concerned because we haven't seen the power but he's another guy where you have to guess on the arm."
The reviews for Head are equally split. One big-league executive likened him to Owings, calling him stiff and possessing too much of "an aluminum bat swing" at the plate. Still, he's hitting .308 with 15 homers and 58 RBIs through 53 games. On the mound, he was 7-2 with a 2.89 ERA in 17 appearances (seven starts) with four saves.
Some scouts have compared him to Travis Lee, very muscular with a strong lower body. He's expected to be a run producer at the Major League level if he plays the field.
"I'm sure a lot of clubs are going to like him in different ways," one National League scout said. "He's successful from both sides (pitching and first base). That's the first thing teams will have to decide, where they like him best. Sometimes you take those kinds of guys because there's always a fallback position. But you set yourself up for failure that way. But he's a very competitive kid, a now performer who should be able to move up fast."
Bristow is a third baseman at Mills Godwin High and some believe he is the third-best third baseman in the draft behind Nebraska's Alex Gordon and Virginia's Ryan Zimmerman. But he's also been dominant as a pitcher, bringing it in the low-to-mid 90s. Scouts have said that it's his bat that will get him to the Major Leagues, with his poise and maturity making him that much more attractive.
"As a pitcher he has good arm strength," one Major League scout said. "He throws over 90 consistently and he's a good-sized kid. As for third basemen, he'll go after Zimmerman and Gordon and I haven't heard much about him in the first round. As for what teams will do with him, I think it's split. Of course, as a pitcher, it seems you move through the system faster though good hitters are hard to find. Whatever club takes him is going to have to make a decision."
The jury is clearly out on these players. One thing is certain, though, according to execs. Be decisive.
"If you scout them and then try to make them into something they are not, that's not a good idea," one scout said. "If they're going to be a big leaguer in the way you chose them, don't use them as a fallback guy because you have faith in what you're picking. If you look at it like, 'We don't know what this guy is going to be but he can also be this,' then that's a guy you shouldn't take high."
Kevin Czerwinski is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.