What is a Utility Player in Baseball?

Utility players have a defined role, even if they don't have a defined position.
Written by Mark Bailey
Last updated on

A utility player in baseball is a versatile talent, capable of playing multiple positions and adapting to different in-game situations, making them invaluable assets to their teams. Let’s delve into the role and significance of these on-field chameleons.

KEY
POINTS
  • A utility player is a versatile player who can play multiple positions and provide dependable defense when needed.
  • They are usually found on the roster after filling out the depth chart, or they may be used as a late-inning defensive sub.
  • Utility players are typically stronger defenders than hitters but still have enough of an offensive presence to fill in for starters if necessary.
  • The utility player can be used in any position except pitcher, catcher, and first base, often seen at second base, shortstop, or outfield spots.
  • Reasons for using a utility player include: giving starters rest days/breaks from playing regularly, extreme games such as doubleheaders or tournaments, pitching relief help even if not pitching themselves, platooning with another outfielder due to difficulty batting against lefties, leading defensively through pick-offs moves, and being available no matter what score or situation arises during game time.

Who do you use as a utility player? 

You may find a utility player on your roster after you fill out your depth chart. A player who doesn’t make the starting lineup but who has the talent to play multiple positions can fill the role. Think of the player you would feel comfortable using as a late-inning defensive sub. Or if there was an injury, would you use this player as your first choice as a sub?

If the answer is yes, that is your utility player. A utility player is a good defensive option. You will often find that the utility player is a stronger defender than the hitter. They have a bat that is strong enough to be in the starting lineup on a short-term basis. 

When do you use a utility player?

You can use a utility player when you have a starting player who has an injury. The utility player is a substitute you can trust if your starter is going to be out for a period of time.

The when in this position is completely up to you. It could be for a single game, or you could choose to use a utility player for an entire series. You could even choose to use a utility player as a starter in one game and then as a late-game substitute in another.

The best part of having a player who fits the utility profile is that they are flexible. If you have a strong utility player, they may play more frequently over the course of a season. Some utility players start third or more games in a season. When and how often you use a utility player depends on the needs of your team. 

Where do you use a utility player?

You can use a utility player in just about any position. There are a few positions that the utility player generally doesn’t fill. Utility players don’t usually substitute for the pitcher, catcher, or first baseman. This doesn’t mean you won’t see a utility player there, but those positions usually have a dedicated backup.

You will often see a utility player fill in at second, short, third, or in the outfield. As mentioned earlier, one of the greatest characteristics of a utility player is flexibility. 

Why do you use a utility player? 

The reasons why you would use a utility player are many. The most important reason why you would use a utility player is that they are dependable. You need that one player on your roster that you can depend upon when you need defensive help.

Starters are usually better at offense – that is why they are in the starting line-up. A utility player could win you a close game in the late innings with their defense. The bottom line is – the more flexible the player is, the more support that player can offer your lineup. 

How do you use a utility player? 

You might use a utility player to give the starters a rest. You could start a utility player 3 starts in a row. This could give 3 different starters a break from the lineup. By using this player, you could decrease the chance of your starters being injured. Some players like scheduled rest days – especially in a long season.

There are other occasions where you might have extreme games to play back-to-back, and having a utility player may help. For example, if you have to play a doubleheader, or perhaps you have a tournament, it can be to your advantage to use a utility player. 

A utility player could also help your pitching situation – even if the player doesn’t pitch. If you have a player who is capable of playing multiple positions, then you can use other players as relief pitchers. Depending on the level of your team, it could enable you to keep a pitcher in the lineup to hit while providing you with defensive help in the field.

If your utility player can also pitch, you have even more possibilities. You could use the utility player to play the field and then close the game as a reliever. You might bring the utility player into the game as a relief pitcher and then move the player into the field. 

A utility player could also be what some would call a fourth outfielder. The fourth outfielder is the player who is not a starter but is good enough to platoon. One of your three outfielders may have a difficult time batting against lefties, playing a day game after a night game, or some other scenario. In this case, you may platoon an outfield position, meaning you would rotate the position between two or more players. 

Final Word

Some utility players find themselves playing regularly, but in a variety of positions. Utility players are often average hitters at best, but their biggest value is their gloves. A good utility player will be able to switch between positions and understand the unique demands of each one.

Some utility players even carry multiple gloves to accommodate moving one from one position to the next. Utility players are able to lead in the field when necessary. They may be involved in pick-off moves, infield shifts, or other defensive strategies.

A utility player is ready to enter the game at any time, from the first pitch to the last. These players are available and ready no matter the score or the situation. A solid utility player is a huge asset to any team. 

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