Utility (adjective): useful, especially through being able to perform several functions.
Through the years, the Detroit Tigers have had decent success in finding and utilizing productive utility players. While these gentlemen are typically billed as the 25th member of the roster, their versatility is a valuable and underrated asset to any team. Whether it be Andrew Romine or Shane Halter playing all nine positions in a game during down seasons, or Don Kelly coming in clutch with a big-time playoff home run against the Yankees, good utility players are up to whatever task they are asked to perform in any situation. Enter Niko Goodrum, a minor league signee last spring who played his way onto the roster and into the hearts of all Tigers’ fans. He is the new utility man in town, and his high level of play has him in a position to take on an even bigger role with the team in 2019.
Goodrum, who only earned 18 major league plate appearances in his long career in the Minnesota Twins organization, was one of few success stories for the Tigers in 2018. In 492 plate appearances, he hit a solid .245/.315/.432 with 16 homers and 12 stolen bases, which was good for a 103 wRC+. While it’s not an exact science, that’s a pace of over 20 homers and 15 steals in 600 plate appearances, a full season of major league work. His patience at the plate wasn’t spectacular, but solid enough at an 8.5 percent walk rate, and his .187 ISO helped out. Not bad for a guy who never hit more than 13 homers in a minor league season.
Goodrum’s hitting is only half the story, however. In the field, he proved valuable by being able to play all over the diamond. While he has yet to pull an #AllNineRomine and perform at every position, Goodrum played everywhere except center field, catcher, and pitcher. He wasn’t a standout at any position, and didn’t accumulate enough innings anywhere for defensive metrics to become meaningful. He passed the eye test at most spots, though — I vaguely remember a couple bone-headed plays coming at first base and third base.
What’s next for Goodrum in 2019?
This offseason, the Tigers brought in former Pirates double play duo Jordy Mercer and Josh Harrison to play shortstop and second base, respectively. In the outfield, Nicholas Castellanos will get the majority of his at bats from right field, while Christin Stewart looks poised to play everyday in left. Where does that leave Goodrum? It’s safe to assume the Tigers aren’t going to leave a bat as effective as his on the bench. Well, the answer is pretty simple: everywhere, most likely.
Now that Victor Martinez has retired to Florida to enjoy his second life as a cattle rancher (yes, really), the Tigers have flexibility at the designated hitter spot for the first time in many years. Goodrum will certainly get some plate appearances out of that spot, along with some starts in place for an aging Miguel Cabrera and defensively-challenged Castellanos and Stewart in the outfield if and when they rotate through the DH spot. Goodrum will also get his chances at short and second base, given rest and injuries, as well as some run in center field while JaCoby Jones recovers from his shoulder injury. Given his versatility, it’s safe to say that Goodrum will serve in a super-utility role: an everyday player playing a different position every game.
If there’s a concern to be had, it’s that Goodrum has a long swing. But while he’s susceptible to the strikeout — he whiffed in 26.8 percent of plate appearances last year — his upside at the plate makes him a threat wherever manager Ron Gardenhire chooses to bat him. Goodrum absolutely raked during spring training, and while that doesn’t really matter much given his roster spot was never in jeopardy, it’s safe to say that, when combined with his 2018, he has earned his opportunity as an everyday player.
The only catch? When he show up to the ballpark, he better have brought all of his gloves. Just in case.