As Did The Tribe Win Last Night helps fans count down the days until the Indians retake the field in an official Major League game, we look back at some of the players who wore the Cleveland jersey with pride.
Countdown to Opening Day – 39 days
Despite what was deemed a successful Major League debut defensively in 2015 for Giovanny Urshela, his offensive production left the Cleveland Indians with some bigger hopes for the third base position on the 2016 roster.
That led to the (still pending) free agent signing of Juan Uribe this month, which puts Urshela’s future on the Indians roster to start the season very much in doubt.
The defensive side of the game has long been the strong point for Urshela, who has shown the ability to hit professional pitching throughout his minor league career, but did not make the necessary adjustments during his time in Cleveland in 2015. He played in 81 games in his rookie season and finished with a .225 average, .279 on-base percentage, and .330 slugging mark.
He showed some of the power that he had displayed throughout stretches of his minor league career, hitting eight doubles and six home runs while driving in 21 runs, but struck out in more than 20% of his plate appearances on the year. It was a climb from striking out in just 14% of his at bats at Triple-A Columbus to start the year and in less than 13% with the Clippers and the Akron RubberDucks the season before.
Urshela had hit .272 with three homers and nine RBI after a late start to his 2015 season in the state’s capital, but was thrust into the third base role with the Indians after the combined struggles of Lonnie Chisenhall and Jose Ramirez in the Cleveland lineup. Both headed to Columbus and returned much more productive contributors in the final months of the season, while the young Colombian Urshela had to learn on the fly at the MLB level.
He hit for his best contact in his first month, batting .271 in June in 19 games. Fourteen of his 16 hits in the month were singles (the remaining two were home runs) and he drove in seven. He added four walks against eleven strikeouts, but his ability to handle third base better than his predecessors more than made up for the minimal offensive difference he made at the plate.
The numbers declined to .241 in July as his extra base hits were a month-high for his season. He again managed 14 singles, but mixed in four doubles, a triple, and his third homer of his short career.
The dog days of August were his toughest, as he hit .179 in 24 games, getting ten singles, a double, and two more homers while driving in five runs. He struck out 20 times, while walking eight, boosting his value slightly with an OBP at .250 despite the significant drop in his average.
He played in just 13 games in the final five weeks as injury finally kept him out of the lineup some. He hit .220 with three doubles, a homer, and six RBI, while striking out eleven times with three walks.
“He’s had a lot of frustrations at the plate, but he’s never carried them to the field once,” said manager Terry Francona in a story in mid-September on Cleveland.com. “We knew when we called him up that offensively he might be trying to catch up a little bit. But the way he played third is something (we really needed).
“There’s a lot to like and we’ve seen it in spurts. He can hit the ball out of the ballpark. He’s still, as a young kid, swinging at a lot of pitches out of the zone that you hope will get better as he gets to know the league and himself.”
Injuries were clearly a contributing factor to the young corner man throughout the year. He was set back during offseason play in the Venezuelan Winter League last winter when he sprained the PCL in his left knee. He was hitting .398 with three homers and 22 RBI in 27 games for Zulia at the time.
While working to return to form following the injury, he hurt his back during spring training and missed more time. After his call up to the Indians, he injured his right shoulder just after the All-Star break and the ailment lingered throughout the rest of the season, leading to 12 straight missed games in late September and sporadic play throughout the month in general.
“It’s something muscular in nature,” Francona said in the same Cleveland.com story. “Winter workouts will be geared to getting him back because it’s been a tough year for him physically with his knee, back and shoulder injuries.”
Defensively, he was good for eight total zone runs at third base, which was fourth-best in the American League last season behind Evan Longoria, Kyle Seager, and Adrian Beltre and fifth-best in all of baseball. He made six errors in 192 chances (0.969 fielding percentage). Three of those errors came on throws, which again may have been affected by the injury he was playing through to his right (throwing) shoulder. Two of those throwing errors occurred in the same four-game series from September 14th to 17th against the Kansas City Royals, just before he was rested, and led to unearned runs in each contest.
While Urshela’s long-term future would seem to be with the Indians at third base, his short-term plans may have to be adjusted for a third trip to the Columbus lineup to start the year.
There is a chance that Urshela could break camp with the Indians, but the addition of Uribe and the injury to Michael Brantley may alter those plans. The veteran Uribe is expected to see the bulk of the playing time to begin the year at third base, while the Indians may want to carry an additional outfielder in the absence of their star, Brantley. Ramirez could see added time at third base to relieve Uribe while working as the club’s jack-of-all-trades across the field substituting in at three infield spots with additional work in left and center fields potentially this season.
It’s a tough break for the now 24-year-old Urshela, who showed that he has some of the skills needed to contribute at the Major League level. A trip to Columbus and splitting playing time with another third base prospect there, Yandy Diaz, may be the course he has to take to get his hitting back on track and push the Indians to find room for him in Cleveland once again.
Photo: Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer