With infield upgrades this winter, one has to wonder if the Toronto Blue Jays have an immediate need for infielder, Richard Urena
The Toronto Blue Jays upgraded their infield this winter. Gone are Ryan Goins and Darwin Barney and in are Aledmys Diaz, Yangervis Solarte, Gift Ngeope. Devon Travis looks to be healthy and Troy Tulowitzki maybe, might, kind of, sort of, could be ready early on in the season, if not to start. That is a much improved group over what we saw last year.
One hold over from last year, though remains. Richard Urena is once again somewhere in the Blue Jays’ infield picture. But, where?
It feels like the 22 year old has been in the Blue Jays’ system forever and we’ve been high on him just as long. Signed way back in 2012, Urena has been making his way closer and closer to big league action. And, in September of last year, he made his big league debut (jumping from AA) on September 1 against the Orioles. He got a hit in his only at bat. In total, with the Blue Jays season well lost by that point, Urena saw action in 21 games. He hit just .206 with an OPS of .579, which didn’t provide much of an upgrade over Goins or Barney. But, it allowed the kid to show management what he’s got.
Unfortunately for him, Urena didn’t show them enough to stop them from shopping for infield help during the offseason. Obviously, one has to wonder if he could have done anything to stop that as a 21 year old. Likely not, but a strong showing might have helped both him and the club. His 28 strike outs in 21 games certainly showed he wasn’t ready.
However, it is also isn’t fair to judge Urena on a 21 game sample size. For his minor league career, he has shown better than what we saw in September. Back in 2015, he hit 15 home runs between A and A+. In 2016, he had arguably his best offensive season, hitting .295 with an OBP of .335. The story of him teaching himself to switch hit later in life is always fascinating, but it hasn’t helped his stock much. In fact, his ability to get on base certainly hasn’t been helped from exposure to both sides of the plate. Grab your magnifying glass and check out his walk rate. His time in AA in 2016 yielded a rate of 3.0% and his 2017 AA time wasn’t much better at 5.4%.
Even his defense took a hit in 2017. In 966 AA innings, he made 18 errors all at short stop. His big league time yielded a DRS mark of -4 and a UZR/150 of -19.6. Again, this is a small sample, but if he’s going to even think about getting closer to the big leagues, at the very least, his glove needs to be more effective. This is especially so since the depth charts just got deeper. While he may have been close(r) to another call up at the end of the season, there are far more experienced options ahead of him now. Even light hitting Ngeope has shown much better defense over multiple positions than Urena.
Now, the premise of this piece doesn’t rest on the fact that we’re at a “make or break” point for Urena. The kid hasn’t even played in AAA yet. However, we are at the point where he has been pushed further down the depth charts. He has about the same chance of making the big league roster this season as Prince Harry does of taking the throne of England. If I’m not mistaken, Harry is something like 6th in line. That seems about right for Urena.
If anything, this discussion really points out that the Blue Jays did themselves a solid by ensuring that their hopes didn’t somehow end up in the hands of a 22 year old who hasn’t really shown an ability to hit consistently. Back in October, it might have looked like we would be seeing Urena in Toronto soon should Tulo or Travis live up to their questionable health.
But, right now, Urena is on the outside of that conversation. And, that is just fine.
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