“Versatility” has become a buzzword in baseball these days. Finding a player who can adequately fill multiple positions while holding their own with the bat gives allows a manager to be much more flexible in how he fills out his lineup card on any given day, meaning that he can more easily plan rest days for other hitters and be extra aggressive when it comes to in-game substitutions and defensive switches. Every skipper in the game will tell you how important is it so employ a utility player on the roster.
Having that “jack of all trades” is even more critical in the American Association, where teams are limited to just 23 active players. That’s why manager Anthony Barone was so ecstatic when his Milwaukee Milkmen recently completed a trade for super utilityman Logan Trowbridge, calling it “one of the best acquisitions that any team in our league has made so far this offseason.”
In the deal, the Milkmen parted with 28 year old reliever Jake Joyce (as well as “future considerations”). The right-hander was one of the league’s top relievers by ERA last season, posting a 2.59 mark in 31.1 innings pitched after coming over from the Somerset Patriots of the Atlantic League. However, the way he arrived at that ERA raised questions regarding sustainability. Joyce did punch out 36 batters while with the Milkmen for a 10.3 K/9 rate, but he also issued 33 base on balls (9.5 BB/9). That meant a significant gulf between his actual earned run average and his 4.42 FIP, leading one to suspect that he might be ripe for regression in 2020. So Milwaukee took the opportunity to sell high on Joyce and bring in a position player who will see regular action during the upcoming season.
Trowbridge, 26, is a right-handed hitting California State University-Bakersfield product who began his professional career in the Pecos League in 2016. It didn’t take long, however, for Logan to prove that his skills belonged in a higher level of baseball. He hit .359/.465/.493 in 58 games for the Great Bend Boom during his debut season then collected five hits in five games with the Tuscon Saguaros to begin the following Pecos League campaign before he was picked up by the Salina Stockade, then a member of the American Association. He has spent each year since then plying his trade in the AA.
Trowbridge needed some time to adjust to the higher competition level in making the jump from the Pecos League, as he produced only a .224/.325/.308 slash line in 248 plate appearances during his lone season with Salina before that club joined the CanAm League as a traveling team. But he had found his footing at the plate by the time 2018 began. Suiting up for the Wichita Wingnuts, Trowbridge saw his batting average jump to .278 and his on-base percentage rise to .350. After the Wingnuts folded, he was picked up by Cleburne in advance of the 2019 season and mustered even more improvement in his ability to get on base.
During his three seasons in the American Association, Trowbridge has increased his walk rate from 9.3% to 9.6% all the way up to 13.2% last year. He’s done that while consistently putting the ball in play, punching out in only 15.1% of his 827 plate appearances. Last year, it added up to a .259/.380/.318 slash line across 266 trips to bat, which came out to a career-best OPS+ of 89.
Trowbridge’s knack for getting on base at a far better than average clip helps mitigate the fact that he is not someone who is going to hit for much power. He has knocked out only two career home runs, including zero last season, and he’s never posted an Isolated Power (ISO) mark better than .084 in the AA. Still, his skill at earning free passes means that he is at the very least a useful bat to have in the lineup, and as mentioned above, his real value comes in what he can do on defense.
How many players can say that they have been trusted to start games at both shortstop and as backstop in the same season? That is the kind of versatility and athleticism that Trowbridge brings to the field with his glove. In fact, he has made multiple appearances at every defensive position during his career. Catcher has become his primary spot (96 games), but he has split things up relatively evenly around the diamond otherwise — 26 games at first base, 39 at second base, 22 at the hot corner, 58 at shortstop, 12 in left field, 12 in right field, and four in center. Trowbridge has even some logged time on the mound, pitching in four games over the past two seasons while allowing two runs in 5.0 innings.
Barone plans to have Logan don the tools of ignorance with regularity in 2020, as he’ll platoon with the lefty-hitting Christ Conley behind the dish and provide an on-base presence at the bottom of the order. Trowbridge is a strong receiver who controls the run game well, having thrown out 29% and 24% of would-be base thieves over the last two seasons (whereas the AA league average is around 20%). The inclusion of Trowbridge will allow the Milkmen to move Manny Boscan, the club’s best hitter in 2019, to first base, where he performed far better defensively than behind the plate (including 60 stolen bases allowed and just a 10% caught stealing rate). The new addition will also be listed on the depth chart as a backup at every other position, and Barone is even making sure that he’s keeping his arm in shape by throwing offseason bullpens, too.
Moving around the diamond and providing reprieve to the club’s regular positional starters will allow Trowbridge to play on a near-daily basis. Per Barone, “he is a guy that plays the game very hard, and as we try to build a positive culture in the clubhouse, he is somebody that is a winner. His last two years in the American Association he was a regular in the lineup for both Wichita and Cleburne, and both teams ended up winning 60 games. He is a plus defender behind the plate and his on-base ability really fits into the scheme of making us better offensively. His versatility is just another added dimension; when we have to carry a 23-man roster, he is someone who can legitimately play all eight defensive positions on the diamond. It might not be the most earth-shattering move, but I believe we got a lot better by acquiring Logan Trowbridge.”
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference