Eight Years. That’s how long Tigers utility man Niko Goodrum waited for his turn.
For eight seasons, Goodrum toiled in the Minnesota Twins minor league system waiting for his chance. It wasn’t supposed to take that long. Not for a player drafted in the second round. Yet, year after year he waited.
Goodrum is a nice blend of power and speed. His versatility is also a trait that managers crave. The ability to play multiple positions on the baseball diamond. Goodrum personifies versatility. He has played everywhere on the infield this year with the exception of pitcher and catcher. I’m quite positive though, that if you asked him to catch, he would run to grab James McCann’s glove. If you asked him to pitch, he would gladly give that a go as well.
Goodrum is getting his first extended taste of big league life and he’s making the most of his opportunity.
The Twins called him to the big leagues last year and he struggled to make an impression in September. He played in only 11 games and had 17 at-bats. His lone hit was a pinch-hit single against a Padres pitcher named Cory Mazzoni.
In 2010 the Twins selected Goodrum in the second round out of high school in Fayetteville, GA. He immediately signed and began his professional career. It was a trek that took him through towns such as Elizabethton, TN, Cedar Rapids, IA and Chatanooga, TN. Along the way, Goodrum stole bases, hit for some power and played almost every position on the field.
Eight years after being drafted and nearly 2800 minor league plate appearances later, Goodrum’s tenacity has paid off.
The Tigers had a need for a utility player this year after deciding not to re-sign Andrew Romine. They inked the free agent to a contract last November with the promise that he would compete for a bench spot during spring training with veteran Alexi Amarista. When Amarista was released, Goodrum’s spot was solidified. Except, it’s not only a bench spot these days, but regular playing time instead.
Goodrum’s value is his understanding of his role. It’s a role that demands that he be ready to play any position. Literally.
The role of a utility player has morphed a bit over the last few years. Back in the day, a utility player played some short, some second and maybe some third. In today’s game, you need to add outfield in the mix.
Goodrum’s manager, Ron Gardenhire, was a utility man himself in the big leagues.
“I was a utility infielder, but you had your extra outfielder, Gardenhire said.” Some of that has changed, now you have guys that go anywhere.
“With the other organization (Twins) we emphasized finding players that can move around. It gives us more options and that’s what we want to do here.”
With the Twins, Gardenhire had plenty of versatility at his disposal. Players such as Nick Punto, Michael Cuddyer and Alexi Casilla all played multiple positions on the field, including infield and outfield. That’s what makes Goodrum so valuable.
So far this season, he has played every infield position with the exception of pitcher and catcher and has turned in stints in right field and left field.
Offensively, Goodrum has provided a little extra as well. The old school utility player didn’t necessarily hit for much power. Goodrum is different. He has already hit six home runs this year, including blasts against top-flight starters James Paxton, Carlos Carrasco and Jose Berrios.
And don’t think he hasn’t gotten a measure of satisfaction from his play against his former team this year. Goodrum has hit .316 with two homers and three doubles against the Twins.
Sometimes it just takes a change of scenery to spark a career. For Goodrum, the Tigers have provided that change.