Calling someone a utility-man used to be the prospect equivelent of a death sentence. Essentially it meant that they weren't good enough to be an everyday player.
To a certain extent that's still the case. But in the past few years, we've coined the term "super-utility" player to essentially mean a player who has the defensive ability to play multiple positions regularly based on his team's needs, but the bat to play every day.
Ben Zobrist took this role to a new level over the past 3-4 seasons, playing at an all-star level for the Tampa Bay Rays while receiving significant playing time at two or three positions per season. His versatility has allowed the Rays to mix and match other players on their roster, giving manager Joe Maddon incredible flexibility when it comes to making lineups.
Zobrist's versatility is a tool almost as valuable as his on-field abilities themselves, and teams have begun to covet players who are able to play multiple positions.
This is a list of those players. Below are the ten best prospects in the minors who could fill that type of role on their team - one where they play everyday or almost every day but likely at a number of different positions.
In order to be considered for this list, a player must either play two positions regularly, one of which has to be an up-the-middle position (C, 2B, SS, CF) or if he is limited to the corners, he must be able to play at least three (1B, 3B, LF/RF).
When you think utility-man you don't typically think of a catcher, but having a player who can catch a few days a week and play another position can be a handy tool to have, especially in the National League with double switches. Gattis can be that guy for the Braves. A late-arrival to the prospect party, Gattis has come on with reckless abondon, hitting 22 home runs in 2011 and 18 in 2012 despite only playing about half the season. At 25, he's on the fast track through the minors and should start the season in Triple-A. The Braves left field situation is unsettled and Gattis played there a lot this winter. He could be up in the majors by mid-season, playing some left field and spelling Brian McCann behind the plate.
The former first overall pick as a shortstop, Beckham has been projected as a second baseman and third baseman by those who thoguht he'd eventually outgrown his original position. After struggling with his bat and a 50-game suspension for drugs, he's no longer the Rays anything of the future, but his ability to play a few different positions could turn him into a regular utility player. He has a few things going against him - being right-handed for one - but he should be able to play all three infield positions and could probably handle both corner outfield spots if given a chance to learn them. He does enough things well and will still be just 23 next season so there's still time to carve out a role in the majors.
Borchering has gone from a power-hitting third baseman taken in the first round to a first-baseman only with contact issues, and has somehow come back around back where he started. A trade from the Diamondbacks to the Astros helped that, as his new team has given him another opportunity to play the hot corner. He'll never be very good at it, and the Diamondbacks had enough other 3B prospects that it wasn't worth working with him on it, but the Astros want to give him a chance to stick there. Even if he can't play there every day, he's now had experience at first base and both corner outfield spots. He doesn't get on base enough, but he still has plus power as a switch-hitter, so he could be a good fit as a 3-4 day per week player at a number of positions.
Just 20 and only through A-ball, Rodriguez has already seen significant time at both shortstop and second base, and even has a game at third under his belt. He has good power but an ultra-aggressive approach at the plate that may be better suited for sporadic play in the majors. His power (30 homers in two seasons) will get him chances, but expect him to bounce around the infield before finding a home defensively, if he ever does.
Rosario gets overlooked in a Twins system that is being quickly rebuilt, but his versatility could be a significant portion of their future plans. Rosario has played both second base and center field regularly, giving him a unique and valuable set of skills. With Aaron Hicks and Byron Buxton in the mold, Rosario likely won't be needed too often in center, but he should have no problem sliding over to a corner and handling it quite well. At the plate, he posted an .835 OPS in his first taste of full-season ball. The Twins should try to keep Rosario at second base as long as he can stay there given that it's a much weaker position within their system than the outfield, and because the more experience he has there the more valuable he will be.
The Padres are always on the lookout for more offense, and no one in their farm system has provided more than Gyorko over the past two seasons. Gyorko has posted OPS's of .952 and .921 in back-to-back years, making it seem like he's a star in the making, and he is a good prospect in his own right. He's also seen time at both second and third base as he works his way through the minors and could settle at either or both, depending on what happens with Chase Headley. The only question about Gyorko is how he'll hit in more neutral hitting environments. The majority of his offensive damage has come in the California and Pacific Coast Leagues, both extreme hitter-friendly leagues. He has a career 1.068 OPS in High-A and a .968 mark in Triple-A. In between, he posted just a .786 OPS in Double-A - okay, but not great. If he continues to be a 30-homer player, he'll likely settle in at a position, but he has shown the ability to play both third and second and could bounce back and forth depending on the needs of the Padres.
No one on this list has played more positions than Green, who played five last season alone. Drafted as a shortstop, he's had throwing issues there, and the A's have tried him at second base, third base and left and center field. Green struggled in the outfield, but looked comfortable at second base, where the A's have a need. He could win that job this spring, but depending on the A's needs over the next few years, he could spend time at third base or left field.
Schoop's defensive landing spot is up in their air for two reasons - he can handle all three infield positions, and Manny Machado's future is still up in the air and Schoop will likely move around in difference to him. Machado is playing third in the majors now and could stay there. If so, Schoop can handle shortstop just fine. He would be above average at second base and could also handle third if Machado moves back to short at some point. Schoop took a step back with his bat last season but still projects to be enough hitter to get regular at-bats.
Unlike many of the players on this list, Castellanos doesn't project as a utility player. He projects as a regular. Most people are higher on Castellanos than I am but that doesn't mean I don't think he'll be a regular. Until the Tigers signed Prince Fielder and shifted Miguel Cabrera over to third base, Castellanos was seen as a third baseman. Not everyone thought he could stay there, but the Tigers had no plan to move him. Now that he's shown he can play right field, he has the potential to fill in at either position for either the Tigers, or whatever team he ends up being traded to.
Much like Castellanos, Rendon's utility-ness is a product of circumstance. If it weren't for Ryan Zimmerman's presence in Washington, he'd simply be the Nationals third baseman of the future. Instead, he's going to have to learn a new position, which could be second base, first base or left field. The Nats don't really have openings at any of them at the moment, which makes it hard to predict, but second base is the position he'll likely be able to handle best. If he takes to second, he will still be able to fill in at third base to spell the injury-prone Zimmerman, giving the Nats added versatility.