SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Last year when Spring Training began, it appeared that Chris Owings' days as the D-backs' "shortstop of the future" had passed.
The D-backs had acquired Didi Gregorius from the Reds in an offseason deal and talked like he would be the team's starting shortstop for years to come, an expectation previously reserved for Owings since he was selected with the 41st overall pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft out Gilbert (S.C.) High School.
When he was asked about his thoughts on that last spring, Owings just shrugged his shoulders, smiled and said, "Things can change quickly in this game."
Boy, was he right about that.
Just one year later, Owings may wind up leapfrogging Gregorius on the organization's depth chart as the pair are in an open competition for the starting shortstop job.
"It should be very competitive, and I look forward to watching them go out and play and compete," D-backs general manager Kevin Towers said.
When Stephen Drew departed toward the end of the 2012 season, it became clear that the D-backs were in need of a starting shortstop for '13. Owings was just 20 years old and there were nagging questions about whether he would be able to hit at the Major League level.
So the D-backs went out that winter and acquired Gregorius and veteran Cliff Pennington.
Despite the threat to his standing, Owings did not appear discouraged.
"KT said it was not so much about me and my future as much as it was about depth in the organization," Owings said. "I didn't let it faze me at all."
| "If you ask that kid to do something, he's outstanding. He's always had a good attitude, willing to learn, always listens and always tries to implement. That's why he's improved so much." |
|-- Kirk Gibson, on Chris Owings |
Instead of using the spring to pout, Owings paid attention to the veterans around him. He watched the way Paul Goldschmidt prepared and noticed how Aaron Hill used his hands at the plate.
Then when he was assigned to Minor League camp, he listened to what hitting instructor Greg Gross had to say about getting into a daily routine.
"He told me that Juan Pierre had the same routine every day," Owings said. "It's not about how you're feeling that day. Even if you feel like you don't have it that day you do the same routine. Just stick with it and believe you're doing what you need to do. I made a few adjustments last year that I feel like really paid off. I had a good spring, and it seemed like it went from there."
Owings put up big numbers for Triple-A Reno, compiling an .841 OPS while winning the Pacific Coast League Most Valuable Player Award.
As the season went on, the big league staff began to hear more and more about how well Owings was doing. That earned him a promotion to the Majors in September, and he made the most of it by hitting .291 in 61 plate appearances.
"I'm glad that we brought him up," D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said. "If you ask that kid to do something, he's outstanding. He's always had a good attitude, willing to learn, always listens and always tries to implement. That's why he's improved so much."
One complaint that both the scouting and sabermetric crowd have about Owings is that he does not walk enough. In 575 plate appearances for Reno last year, he drew 22 free passes, an improvement over his Double-A numbers from the year before.
"I'm an aggressive hitter," Owings said. "I like hitting fastballs. I like swinging the bat. I felt like last year, in the first half, I had only one or two off-days. And I feel like playing every day and getting those consistent at-bats and taking them how I should helped. I was having success, and obviously the confidence level that I was having made me see the ball better."
Whether it is the success he had last year in the big leagues, or just the fact that he is now a veteran of big league Spring Training camps, Owings has a presence about him this year that those around him have noticed.
"Watch him," Gibson said. "He looks like a big leaguer, hangs around the guys. He's got good work habits, good routine. He's bought into it all and he's right there."
Once again, it seems, Owings just might be the D-backs' shortstop of the future.
Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Inside the D-backs, and follow him on Twitter @SteveGilbertMLB.