All Hail the Superutility Supremacy

Bear witness to the Willi Castros & David Frys of the world.

Let me repeat a thing that I’ve noted in this space before:

I love archetypes—across film, literature, music, athletics—it doesn’t matter. I’m extremely into the idea of the pattern of a character or idea and the details we can juxtapose against development as a result. I recently discussed the first base archetype as it relates to Bryce Harper, in addition to some older work centering around archetypes in the world of Game of Thrones. It’s something I bring heavily into the classroom.

I’m on record in declaring my love for two predominant archetypes in the world of baseball. The first is the glove-first or, sometimes, glove-only defender. The Nick Ahmeds of the game. For our purposes, though, I’m more concerned with the other: the superutility player.

The superutility player essentially represents a defiance of the traditional idea of archetype. Certain positions have certain profiles. The speedy centerfielder. The burly bopper at first base. And so it goes. But rather than operate in the black-and-white world of positional profiles, superutility players offer us an ambiguity that we don’t typically get at individual positions.

I’ve long enjoyed the idea that Major League teams can roster a player who can play virtually anywhere. The offensive contributions may not always be there, but they’re someone you can plug and play at any spot on any given day. Ben Zobrist provided us with perhaps the most effective version of this archetype. Zobrist appeared at eight positions in his career, including a pitching appearance in 2019. Catcher is the only spot at which he didn’t see time. He was an above-average hitter for his career to boot.

Of course, he’s the exception more than the rule. Josh Harrison appeared at the same number of positions as Zobrist but was below average for much of his career on the offensive side. More recently, the Chicago Cubs have featured Miles Mastrobuoni on the roster for much of the last two seasons. His line includes a .281 OBP to give an idea of how he’s been with the stick. Despite appearing at six positions, Brandon Drury spent much of his early career barely clinging to roster spots because of wavering offensive production.

The rostering of the superutility archetype isn’t a new phenomenon, of course. Increases in the size of pitching staffs have made it more necessary than it might’ve been previously, however. Russell A. Carleton discussed this very idea at Baseball Prospectus back in 2017. It made the rostering of players like Mastrobuoni or Drury necessary even with the shortcomings evident on the other side of the ball.

Recent years are providing us with something of a shift, though. That shift is the presence of the versatile fielder who can hit. It’s not brand new to 2024, but it is becoming more evident given a higher volume in the current season. Let’s talk about some of ’em.


Willi Castro


Castro isn’t a new entity in Major League Baseball. He broke in with the Detroit back in 2019 but appeared only at shortstop. In 2020, he stretched the defense to third base and nine innings at the keystone. Since last year (his first with Minnesota), he’s appeared at second, short, third, and all three outfield positions. Given some of the injury woes facing the Twins’ key starters (Byron BuxtonCarlos Correa), Castro has been essential.

At four of those positions, Castro has been an above-average defender. Center and right represent the only spots where he’s fallen below the threshold at most metrics. More importantly, he’s been a steady offensive contributor. He’s been an above-average hitter with Minnesota, but 2024 has represented his actual breakout. His .356 OBP and .171 ISO each represent career highs outside of the shortened 2020 season, and that’s to say nothing of the 41 steals he’s added in the last two years combined.

Castro leads the Twins in plate appearances and has provided more offensive value of any regular not named Carlos Correa.


Spencer Steer


Originally acquired as part of the Tyler Mahle trade back in 2022, Steer is in his second full season for Cincinnati. In those two seasons, he’s logged time at first, second, third, and each of the two corner outfield spots. With a glut of infield prospects arriving at the same time, Steer was the first who showcased an ability to move around. While others have since shown it—and more still will as the roster gets healthier/suspensions end—few on this roster have provided his level of stability on a largely erratic roster.

Steer’s 980 PAs in the last two years to date represent the team’s highest by a wide margin. His 10.3 BB% is the third-highest and his 20.5 K% the third-lowest. He’s contributed more homers (32) than anyone while his .348 OBP paces the group (outside of currently injured Matt McLain).

The catch is that Steer represents sort of the inverse of the previous superutility type. Instead of someone like Josh Harrison, who was above average at most positions for much of his career, Steer is below average… everywhere. Instead of the glove speaking for him, he’s allowing the stability presented by the bat to do so.


Brendan Donovan


In the extended absence of Tommy Edman, an effective superutility guy in his own right, Donovan has stepped into the role to wide acclaim for the upstart St. Louis Cardinals. Through parts of three seasons with the team, he’s appeared everywhere that isn’t catcher or center field. This year, he’s done work at second & third and in left & right. He’s been almost exactly average everywhere, while also spending a hefty amount of time serving as the team’s DH.

What Donovan has done more of this season is showcase the power. His .152 ISO is nearly double his rookie season in ’22 and roughly 15 points higher than last year. He’s cut his groundball rate by about five percent, with the uptick in elevation leading to the power results given his ability to consistently make quality contact.

Like Castro’s situation in Minnesota, the Cardinals have faced injury woes of their own. Especially in the outfield, where Lars Nootbaar and Dylan Carlson have each missed time, along with Edman’s year-long absence to date. Nolan Arenado has been out for a couple of small stretches as well, in addition to Willson Contreras‘ broken arm. This has made Donovan’s ability to move around crucial not only from a personnel standpoint but from an offensive production one. It’s allowed St. Louis to maintain a steady pace even in the absence of key players.


The Cleveland Guys


Nobody expected the 2024 Cleveland Guardians to look this good, even as a team that tends to maximize their resources. They trail only the New York Yankees in wins in the American League. Only four teams have scored more runs. Only four teams strike out less. And only six have demonstrated more power than the Guardians. Naturally, though, they’re going about it a different way.

David Fry has been one of the breakout stars of 2024. His slash includes a .310 average and .495 OBP. He’s ISO’ing .215 while also walking nearly 14 percent of the time. And he’s doing so while exercising a level of versatility that even the most well-known superutility players don’t possess: he catches.

Fry has appeared at five different positions for the Guardians this year, including 22 behind the dish. He’s been roughly average there and in each of the corner spots. When you talk about superutility value, the ability to catch is an absolutely wild component.

He’s not the only notable moveable piece for Cleveland, though. Recently-called-up Daniel Schneemann has roughly 50 PAs to his big league career. He’s excelling to the point of an OBP of around .400 and an ISO exceeding .200. He’s also appeared at second, third, left field, center, and right in such minimal time.

Always an enigmatic franchise, Cleveland continues to mystify us this year. Their offensive production should be straightforward. Instead, they’re moving multiple key contributors around to a degree that only a franchise like them might.


Future Implications


This isn’t a particularly academic study. Nor is it presenting a new concept. We’ve always had superutility players. Or, at worst, guys like Davis Schneider or Cody Bellinger who excel at roughly two positions. But it’s worth noting that for what seems like the first time — at least anecdotally — we have a rising number of players capable of playing several positions while providing consistent offensive production.

That hasn’t been the narrative for this archetype, historically. Usually, it was, “this guy can get us outs all over the field even if he doesn’t put runs on the board and we’re fine with that.” But now, there’s a new narrative starting to take shape. Or, at least, a new archetype presenting itself. The versatile guy who can hit.

This should be the most coveted profile in baseball. As teams continue to develop rosters in the face of changes from above (larger pitching staffs, various rule changes), it’s absolutely something that teams could continue to work further into their player development infrastructure. In some ways, we’re already seeing it.

The Twins’ Brooks Lee has appeared all over the infield. Mets prospect Jett Williams has played both infield and outfield in the minor league ranks. The Cubs’ James Triantos has, too. Not that this is a new practice, of course. Teams have long moved around prospects in hopes of speeding up their trajectory into a position deemed more “available” at the top level. But with this year demonstrating that you can have it both ways, perhaps it becomes more intentional in the future.

It’s going to be a fascinating concept to consider moving forward.

Randy Holt

Randy Holt is a staff writer for Pitcher List & a depth charts analyst for Baseball Prospectus. He's a self-identified Cubs fan who has become more agnostic, instead obsessing about quality defensive baseball wherever he can find it. Randy has a sport management degree from the University of Florida, as well as degrees from Embry-Riddle & Arizona State. When not wasting away on the husk of Twitter/X, Randy is a high school English teacher & a baseball and golf coach.

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