D-backs' young shortstops not fearing competition
FEB 16, 2014 1:59p ET
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- As Chris Owings competes for the Diamondbacks' starting shortstop position, he draws added strength from a study of perseverance that hits close to home.
Owings' younger brother, Connor, was diagnosed with severe kidney disease in 2012 when doctors discovered that one of his kidneys was smaller than the other and basically not functioning, leading to stress on the other. A candidate for a kidney transplant, Connor has maintained his health and is managing his symptoms through diet, hydration and rest while continuing his baseball career. A junior first baseman at Coastal Carolina, Connor went 3 for 5 as the leadoff hitter in the first game of the Chanticleers' season Saturday while Chris followed along on the computer. The two talked that night and again Sunday morning.
"He's doing well. He's pushing strong. He just has to maintain when he is at right now until that time (a kidney transplant) comes," Owings said. "He's a battler. He's a strong kid. He does the right things."
The Owings' mother, Sherri, is going through the lengthy process required to determine if she is a potential kidney donor match. Meanwhile, the family pushes on. And like Noel Elliott, who in 1999 donated a kidney to his younger brother, NBA star Sean Elliott, Chris Owings also is a willing candidate.
"He's my brother, and if that's what needs to happen, that's what is going to happen," Chris said Sunday.
Owings and Didi Gregorius are battling for the Diamondbacks' only regular job available, and general manager Kevin Towers said one will be the full-time starter and the other likely will start the season at Class AAA in order to play every day. Cliff Pennington is set to provide reserve strength at both middle infield positions. On the first day of camp, Towers called the 24-year-old Gregorius the favorite, but it seems clear that the job is wide-open.
"I don't know about that favorite or anything," Gregorius said. "For me, I just go out there and play the game the best I can and give 100 percent every time, so no matter what happens, happens. It is not in my hands to control it, but I can play the game and then they will pick whoever they pick."
Owings, 22, is taking a similar approach.
"I'm coming into camp with the same expectations for myself as I've had in years past," said Owings, who is in his fourth major league camp.
"Just coming in here and trying to get better and stay consistent and prepare for the season. Obviously it's a little different this year coming off getting called up last year and some of the talk going on in camp this year. I am just going to try to do the same thing I've been doing -- try to compete and do my best out there. I have high expectations for myself, and I feel if I play up to that and do the best I can, that's all I can do."
Gregorius, acquired from the Reds in the three-team Trevor Bauer trade two winters ago, took over the job about as soon as he was called up last April after being delayed out of spring training with elbow soreness. It did not take him long to make an impact. He homered on the first pitch of his first major league at-bat in Yankee Stadium on April 18, and he finished with a .252 average, 16 doubles, seven home runs and 28 RBIs in 111 games. Another of his homers came off Rangers ace Yu Darvish, a two-run homer in the eighth inning that tied the second game of a May 27 doubleheader. The D-backs won 5-4 in the ninth.
"Good defender," Towers said of the rangy Gregorius. "Got off to a really good start. The league probably caught up to him at the end. He probably got a little tired."
Owings, had a big season at Class AAA Reno last year before a September callup to the majors. He was named the Pacific Coast League MVP after hitting .330 with 31 doubles, 12 homers, 81 RBIs and 20 stolen bases. He started 13 games after joining the D-backs, 10 at shortstop and three at second base, and hit .291 with five doubles, five RBIs and two stolen bases in 55 at-bats.
"He performed very well in September," Towers said.
"I think (Pennington) knows he's in the competition, but these two guys are the future. It should be very competitive. I think they are both everyday-type players and are ready to be everyday players. It wouldn't be good for one of those kids to be sitting on the bench and playing two times a week. They are better off in Triple-A getting at-bats."
Gregorius, a native of Curacao, spent the winter working out at home with fellow major league infielders Andrelton Simmons, Jurickson Profar and Jonathan Schoop. Andruw Jones, the first major league star to come out of Curacao, also spent time with them.
"Last (offseason) I didn't relax, because I hate relaxing. It's just the way I am," Gregorius said. "Everyone wants to sit down or do this or that. I just want to keep going. I never want to stop. I always wanted to stay in drive; I never want to lose it. It was just awesome to get to the big leagues. Every year it is something different. For me, last year is last year. This year, I'm going go to forward.
"Every year is a competition. You are always competing, so for me it is nothing different -- just go out there and play the game. If you want to get better, you have to do something, right? It's not going to come to you. You have to go out and earn it."