Is Shawn O’Malley the Next Willie Bloomquist?


Shawn O’Malley and Willie Bloomquist grew up roughly 263 miles apart in small Washington State towns, but their play on the field suggests they could have grown up in the same house. The closer one looks, the more obvious it becomes that where they grew up is just the beginning of a long list of coincidences.

The Mariners signed Shawn O’Malley this winter as a minor league free agent with an invitation to spring training after the Los Angeles Angels released him following the 2014 season. It has been suggested during Mariners’ telecasts that the 27-year-old utility man has caught the eye of skipper Lloyd McClendon this spring. Despite only hitting .150 with 1 RBI, O’Malley has played effectively all over the diamond and has flashed some above average wheels.

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The Tampa Bay Rays originally selected Shawn O’Malley in the fifth round of the 2006 draft out of Southridge High School. O’Malley spent eight seasons with the Rays’ organization, but his career really took off in 2014 after signing with the Angels. The utility man hit .330, with a .411 on base percentage across 318 at bats last season in triple-A. O’Malley added 3 home runs, 38 RBI’s, and 13 stolen bases.

Shawn O’Malley is a solid fielder, and last season he put together his best year defensively as a pro. He is a versatile defender, and he played every position in 2014 except first base, catcher, and pitcher with the Salt Lake Bees. O’Malley uses his speed to cause problems for opposing pitchers on the base paths. He has a 40 steal season under his belt, and he has topped 24 steals four times during his minor league career.

After starring in triple-A last season, the Los Angeles Angels decided O’Malley was deserving of a September call up. The Kennewick, WA product slashed .188 across 16 at bats last season. While he did not light the house on fire with the Halos, he served as a valuable late game defensive replacement. Do not get lost in the numbers. It is rare for a playoff contender to call on a 27-year-old rookie to play in 18 games down the stretch. Mike Scioscia must have seen something he liked in the young man.

Simply put, O’Malley does the little things well. Sounds an awful lot like Willie Bloomquist!

Mar 8, 2015; Goodyear, AZ, USA; Seattle Mariners shortstop Willie Bloomquist (8) turns the double play while avoiding Cincinnati Reds left fielder

Skip Schumaker

(55) in the first inning during a spring training baseball game at Goodyear Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Willie Bloomquist has been doing the little things well for the past 13 seasons. While he has never appeared in over 125 games in a single season, Bloomquist has incredible versatility defensively and he knows his role. The 37-year-old knows he is not a power threat, and thus he does not try to hit home runs. He knows he will never be an everyday player, so he embraces the concept of being a super utility man.

The Port Orchard, WA product made his big league debut back in 2002 after being selected in the third round of the 1999 draft by the Seattle Mariners. Just like with O’Malley, Bloomquist’s offensive numbers are fairly dull. He has hit .272 over the course of his career, with 18 home runs, 221 RBI’s, and 132 stolen bases. And in an era ruled by saber metrics, Bloomquist has tallied just 2.1 wins above replacement over the course of 13 seasons.

However, stats can only tell you so much about a player. They leave out the fact that Bloomquist plays every position except pitcher and catcher, they leave out the fact that he has been a consummate professional. They cannot quantify his leadership skills, and they cannot quantify his hustle.

Willie Bloomquist is the perfect utility man for the Mariners this year, but he is due to hit free agency following the 2015 season. Willie will be 38 this winter, and I predict he may opt to hang up his spikes if the M’s make the postseason this season. Who will fill his shoes? I contend Shawn O’Malley is the perfect man for the job.

The term “team player” gets tossed around far too often in sports, but a utility man truly has to put the team first. He has to accept his lot in life. That may sound easy to some, but not many children dream of one day growing up to be a utility man in the Major Leagues. However, the utility man is a vital position on a successful team. Having someone capable of spelling multiple positions provides a Manager with a sense of security when he looks down the bench. The key to being a successful utility man comes down to two things: defensive versatility and an unselfish mindset.

Some have suggested Brad Miller or Chris Taylor would ideal candidates. I strongly disagree with this notion. Both Miller and Taylor have aspirations of becoming an everyday shortstop, and rightfully so. Neither player is ready to “settle” for being a role player at this point in their careers. One day, one or both of these players may have to consider transitioning to the utility role, but that day is still a few years away.

Willie Bloomquist and Shawn O’Malley closely resemble one another on and off the field. They are both underwhelming offensive contributors, who rely heavily on versatility and toughness. Pundits would say neither player has a standout tool, but that is a lie. On the typical baseball scale of 2-8, O’Malley and Bloomquist’s determination level is a 9. Determination does not show up on a scouting report, but it can carry some players a long way. On a personal level, they both love the outdoors, and spend much of their free time hunting and fishing. Also, both men grew up fans of Seattle sports — specifically the Mariners.

Nothing has been handed to Shawn O’Malley, and the past few years he has had to fight for his life in this game. The fact that a 27-year-old man with 16 career big league at bats is still pursuing his baseball playing dreams is either crazy or inspiring. I choose to look at it as inspiring. He is a scrappy, hard working young man who would do anything to be in the show. O’Malley would readily accept the opportunity to be the M’s utility man in 2016, and thankfully he has the perfect skill set for the job.

Every playoff team in Mariners’ history has had a great utility man. In mid 90’s it was Rich Amaral. In the early 2000’s it was Mark McLemore. In 2015 it will be Willie Bloomquist, and in 2016 I believe it should be Shawn O’Malley.

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