The utility player. Why is it that the jack of all trades on a baseball team is so overlooked? Utility players are the glue that hold a team together yet are overshadowed by the big-name guys. They have the ability to skillfully play at multiple positions which becomes invaluable to a manager and a dream for general managers. The utility man often takes on a roster spot that would be handed down to two or three other players while allowing flexibility and a roster spot to, say, a weakened bullpen.
Some recent names that come to mind when thinking about solid utility men are Ryan Freel, Bill Hall, and the great Joe McEwing. (Give me a break, I'm a New York Mets fan.) But now, these six players have reshaped the landscape of the utility role, giving opposing pitchers headaches and putting money in the banks of their general managers.
Young played at short exclusively for five season between 2004-2008 before being moved to third to accommodate (then) rookie Elvis Andrus. The move happened just months after winning a Gold Glove at short. Then, being the team player and glue-man he is, he moved again to accommodate the incoming Adrian Beltre at third.
Young, now 35, has remained a pivotal part of the ballclub throughout his time and has played at four different positions while also providing a steady bat. Young has remained the picture of consistency during his long tenure with the Texas Rangers and doesn't show any signs of stopping. He came into Monday's slate of games batting .271, with three HR and 45 RBI. Look for Young to continue to show his utilitarian ways as the season rolls on.
Jerry Hairston Jr. - Los Angeles Dodgers 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, OF
Yes, you read that correctly. Hairston hasn't always been a tremendous fielder, though. It wasn't until the 2004 season with the Baltimore Orioles that Hairston began to show his all-around defensive capabilities. From there on in, he has spent his journeymen years playing almost every position, with he exception of catcher and pitcher.
Along with his ability to play at basically every position, he also holds the effectively bat almost anywhere in the lineup. Hairston has sneaky speed and an even more deceptive bat. He won't wow anyone with his power, but provide just enough in the clutch to keep his team rolling. He perennially hits around .260, but has outdone himself thus far this season (batting .278, 4 HR, 26 RBI) and has given the Dodgers a solid man off the bench.
Omar Infante - Detroit Tigers 2B, 3B, OF
After working almost all aspects of the infield for the better part of six seasons with the Detroit Tigers, Infante took his talents to Atlanta, where he quickly found his bat, as well as the outfielding capabilities. His steady glove and ability to hit for average has made a Infante a hot commodity.
Known for being one of the only utility players to make an All-Star game in recent memory, Infante still has plenty to offer teams. His combination of speed, power, and versatility led the Tigers to trade to get him back this season from the underwhelming Miami Marlins.
The Marlins' bad start also affected Infante in the field, committing eight errors in only 83 games with the ballclub. Look for Omar to be back in his happy place with the Tigers for the remainder of the season.
Jeff Keppinger - Tampa Bay Rays 1B, 2B, 3B
Once highly-touted as a prospect with the New York Mets, Keppinger has made a living taking on the role of Jack of all trades with six different MLB teams during his career. Most familiar with playing at SS and 2B, Keppinger has brought his solid glove and intangibles to the ball park day-in and day-out.
While he won't overwhelm anyone with one specific trait, he displays effectiveness defensively all over the infield and has a huge impact hitting against left-handed pitching, batting .426. Hell, Keppinger has even dabbled with playing in both corners of the outfield. Want a consistent producing bat and glove, look no further than Keppinger.
Jeff Baker - Detroit Tigers 1B, 2B, 3B, OF
Before the Tigers traded for this right-handed situational Sunday, Baker was hitting .269 for the Cubs and providing some right-handed pop off the bench. Not well-known by the average fan, Baker can display flashes of defensive genius at various positions while also showing a steady enough bat to produce at the major league level.
Most of his at-bats come against lefties, where he has batted .275 this season. He has also played at second and first this season, as well as both corner outfield spots. Prior to being traded to the Tigers, Baker has played for the lowly Chicago Cubs and Colorado Rockies. A change of scenery will bode well for the well-versed Baker.
Marco Scutaro - San Francisco Giants 2B, 3B, SS
Simply one of the best utility men in the majors; Scutaro does what is asked of him at every stop he makes in his major league career. Well-versed playing at shortstop, Scutaro has also seen time at second this year while playing with the Rockies.
Since joining the Giants not too long ago, he has spent most of his time at third, a position he hasn't seen since the 2008 season when he was with the Toronto Blue Jays. Scutaro has played for six teams throughout his time in the majors, and has steadily improved his bat along the way.
His glove has taken a knock recently, but strong enough to see time four to five times per week, Scutaro will continue to see regular time at third while the Giants continue their quest back to the playoffs.
As aforementioned, the utility man is necessary for success for teams looking to make a strong playoff run. As the season wears on, the regulars burn out and need rest. Much like the two running back system in the NFL, the utility man is used to give the work horses a much-needed and deserved rest. Don't overlook their importance.