Could Urshela Be the Key To Improving the Defense?
Danny Madden | On 24, Feb 2015
The solution to the defensive woes of 2014 might be closer than expected, well at least for third base.
Giovanny Urshela, 23, first arrived in the Indians system in 2009. He was never really anything super impressive, aside from his superb caliber defense. He struck out too much, didn’t walk enough, and didn’t provide much power in his swing. He’s always had a decent slugging percentage, but a low OBP which made him not a very valuable prospect. In 2012, he was able to put up a pretty solid season where he hit 14 home runs and had an OPS of .755. He was then promoted to Double-A Akron in 2013, where he didn’t put up as good of a season as he did in 2012. In 2014 though, he finally kicked things into gear and became one of the most anticipated prospects in the Indians farm system.
During Urshela’s time through Double-A, it seemed as though he was just being pushed along to free up space for other prospects below him to move on up. It was almost as if Urshela was being moved up before he was ready for the next level of competition. The one aspect that Urshela excelled at, which was his most valuable asset, was his defense. That has always stayed consistent in each level of the minors. In 2014 though, it seemed as if Urshela finally caught up with the competition.
In Akron, Urshela was the starting third basemen for the RubberDucks. In the 24 games he played there, he hit .300/.347/.914 with five home runs, nine doubles, and 19 RBI. What was really impressive was the fact that he only struck out 16 times in 90 at bats, while walking six times. One of Urshela’s biggest issues coming into 2014 was his K/BB ratio, which he obviously improved in his short time at Akron. Having Urshela on the infield along with Francisco Lindor, Joe Wendle, and Ronny Rodriguez, who was playing first base for part of 2014, made for a pretty incredible defensive infield. Everyone was so amazed at his performance at Akron compared to how he has batted thus far in his career. He became the right handed power house that the Indians have been looking for in their farm system. His swing has seen vast improvement over the years, and he actually seems comfortable at the plate. His prowess obvious didn’t go unnoticed as he was eventually promoted to Triple-A Columbus early in the season.
Losing Urshela was a big blow to the Akron team, but it was a huge benefit to Columbus. He began to excel in Columbus as he filled the hot corner nicely for the Clippers. In 104 games in Triple-A, Urshela hit .276/.331/.804 with 27 doubles, six triples, 13 home runs, and 65 RBI. It seemed like Urshela just never slowed down this season. He was able to keep up with the competition at every level. He spent most of his time hitting towards the top of the lineup as he filled the need for a right handed bat nicely. As always, his defense kept up to provide a solid fielding third basemen to solidify to left side of the infield. Even more so when Lindor was finally promoted to Columbus.
After the season he had, it seemed as though Urshela may have had a chance to take the starting third base job from the incumbent Lonnie Chisenhall, who we saw have a career first off but only to tail off in the second half of 2014. This was until Urshela suffered an injury during winter ball in the Venezuelan league. Before his injury, Urshela was hitting .398 with three home runs, and 22 RBI in 27 games in winter ball. He injured his knee sliding into third base after trying to stretch out a triple. Initially it was reported he could miss most of the 2015 season, but lady luck was on his side as he only had a sprain in his PCL which wouldn’t require any surgery.
Regardless of the injury, Urshela was still added to the 40-man roster this winter. This not only shows the Indians confidence in their third base prospect, but gave him protection from being taken in the Rule V draft. Urshela is also now ranked as the 12th highest prospect in the Indians system by MLB.com.
With how terrible the defense was last season, the Indians should be really looking forward to a prospect like Urshela. Not only does he provide defense, but he also provides a right-handed bat that the Indians are lacking. This seems to be a make or break it year for Chisenhall, who has yet to show any type of consistency in his offensive production. If things start to go south for the current third basemen, especially in his defense, it could create an early call up for Urshela if he’s still demolishing the baseball in Columbus. One cool detail about Urshela is his relationship with Lindor.
When Lindor was first promoted to Columbus, one of the reasons he was most excited to get promoted was that he would get to play with Urshela once again. The two of them have spent the majority of their time in the farm system patrolling the left side of the infield. Lindor will eventually be the everyday shortstop once he reaches the majors. If both Urshela and Lindor were both on the infield together in Cleveland, the defense of the infield would increase exponentially.
Whether or not Urshela reaches the majors with the Indians this season is still in question. He has shown that he could contribute to a team in at least a defense aspect. It’s still yet to be seen if his bat will continue to keep up as it did in 2014. If it turns out that Urshela’s new found offense can continue into 2015, then his time in Columbus could be cut short and his moment in The Show could be sooner rather than later.
Photo: Lianna Holub/DTTWLN photographer