A youth movement has passed through the Indians organization.
New faces popped up on the team throughout the season, most notably top prospect Francisco Lindor. While he provided both at the plate and on the field well over expectations, he wasn’t the only guy playing clutch defense on the left side of the infield. Giovanny Urshela also made a huge impression in his first season with the Indians.
2014 was a defensive season to forget for the Cleveland Indians. Not only did they have 116 errors, they led the MLB with the most errors among the 30 teams. Aside from Yan Gomes and Michael Brantley, almost every position had not been played very well defensively, especially third base.
Lonnie Chisenhall had been the third basemen for the majority of the year and never seemed to get comfortable at the position. He posted a DRS, defensive runs saved above average, of -14. He was given so much time at third because of how well he produced at the plate in the first half of the season, but that was only to be followed by an abysmal second half of hitting. Regardless of his offense, his defense never seemed to come around through the whole season. In 2015, he was yet again handed the reins of third base to begin the season.
2015 seemed to be a defensive dream for Chisenhall this year. While he improved his DRS to 7, his offense was lost to him, and then got him demoted to Triple-A Columbus in June along with Jose Ramirez, who was struggling equally as bad at shortstop and at the plate. This allowed the Indians to call up the gold glove caliber prospect Urshela.
Coming into the 2014 season, Urshela really wasn’t very well known. His bat has been just okay thus far in his career, but his defense has been above average. His bat broke out at Double-A Akron in 2014 after he hit .300/.347/.567 with five home runs, nine doubles, and 19 RBI. This allowed him to get promoted to Triple-A Columbus, where he continued his hot season and hit .276/.331/.473 with 13 homers, 27 doubles, six triples, and 65 RBI.
Given this successful season, Urshela put himself on the prospect map, and became the first big prospect call up of 2015.
The Indians first half defense wasn’t much better than it was in 2014. There was improvement from Jason Kipnis, who was obviously impeded defensively by his oblique injury in 2014. Bringing on Urshela was the first step to improving the left side of the infield defense. Some of the plays that he was able to pull off this season were just incredible. Whether it was bare handing a slow rolling grounder, throwing against his weight as he was fading away from third, or just making a routine play, he made it all look beautiful. The Indians haven’t seen such good defense at the hot corner since it was manned by Jack Hannahan.
In 682 innings, Urshela had a DRS of only 1, but his presence there brought a more comfortable feeling than it did when Chisenhall was manning it. While Chisenhall, or Mike Aviles for that matter, played the position, almost every play could have turned into an error. Chisenhall has the arm strength to play the position, but the accuracy of his arm is to be questioned, along with his ability to stop hot shots and sometimes even routine plays. Urshela, on the other hand, is almost flawless at the position. Not only does he play the position well, there’s a sense of comfort there with Lindor at short alongside him.
The two infielders have played together at almost every level and are pretty much best friends. They have great chemistry and it shows on the field, which is part of the reason why Urshela has been such a relief to have at third. His bat still isn’t up to par – he only batted .225/.279/.330 with six home runs, eight doubles, one triple, and 21 RBi in 288 plate appearances – but he’s an asset to have on the team just on his defense alone. He was battling a shoulder injury for a good chunk of the season, which sat him out for two weeks in the middle of September, so a healthy offseason will do wonders for the young third baseman. Whether or not Urshela stays the main third basemen on the team is still in question, but for now, he’s the best option the Indians have.
The season began to turn around for the Tribe once Urshela was recalled. Improving the defense was the one area the Indians needed to better in the winter of 2014, but chose to ignore until June of 2015. Now that Urshela has shown what he can do at third base, it’s hard to say they’d ever remove him from the position.
If Urshela can start to hit the ball in the MLB, there will be no reason to shorten his playing time, but that’s the challenge ahead of him this winter. He’s never been a guy to strike out a lot, but in 2015 he struck out in 20.1% of his plate appearances while walking in 6.3%. This is probably due more to him still adjusting to the league so there may be a regression in his strikeouts next season as he averaged a 12.2% strikeout rate in seven season in the minors.
Offense aside, the Indians know what they can expect defensively out of Urshela. Bringing solid defense at third to match up with Lindor at short was key for the Indians’ second half surge and will continue to be an important asset to hold on to going forward into 2016.
Photo: Lianna Holub/DTTWLN Photographer