Can Richard Urena make an impact in 2019?

With the Blue Jays in the midst of a full rebuild, 2019 could be a huge season for infielder Richard Urena

 

 

Spring Training 2019 will have more storylines than any other Blue Jays Spring Training in recent memory. One of those storylines will be the role of Richard Urena.

 

Background

Richard Urena made his professional debut as a 17-yr-old in 2013 after signing with the Blue Jays as an International Free-Agent in 2012.

 

He was always considered a ‘Top Prospect’; however, he didn’t receive much hype until he produced a 15 HR season and Franklin Barreto was traded. A strong season in 2015 with the Lansing Lugnuts earned Urena the label of Blue Jays future shortstop. At 19-yrs-old, Urena developmental timeline seemed to line up nicely with Troy Tulowitzki‘s expiring contract in 2020.

 

Between 2016 and 2017 Urena’s progression through the Blue Jays system was encouraging. He even made his Major League debut, ahead of schedule, in 2017. Unfortunately, along the way, he lost the ‘Future SS’ label along the way. He spent the 2018 season providing the Blue Jays with infield depth, splitting the year between Toronto and Buffalo.

 

What Happened?

A number of factors attributed to Urena falling on the clubs depth chart.

 

  1. Lourdes Gurriel Jr.
  2. Bo Bichette
  3. ISO not developing as hoped
  4. BB/K and overall eye at the plate not improving
  5. questions about focus, mostly in the fielding department

 

The addition of two talented prospects and their development have Urena looking more and more like a depth/bench piece or a future trade candidate.

 

Urena in 2018

As I said, Urena split the year between Triple-A and the Majors with a brief rehab stint in the Florida State League with the D-Jays at the end of April. Urena also spent a week time on the DL in June.

 

On May 4th, Urena was called to Toronto, he would make the trip from Buffalo to Toronto four more times before sticking as a September call-up. In all, Urena appeared in 40 major league games and 65 Triple-A games.

 

Let us start in the minors. Urena did not have a good season in Buffalo, batting just .216 and producing a poor .263 wOBA and 61 wRC+. His .128 ISO, 4.5 BB%, and 17.9 K% were all very close to his career average in those categories. He finished with a .594 OPS, 11 doubles, 3 triples, and 5 HR.

 

Despite his less than flattering minor numbers, Urena was a much more productive player in The Show. Urena produced a .311 wOBA and 95 wRC+, along with a .293 batting average and 0.3 WAR.

 

His .424 BABIP suggests room for regression, as do his high 29.6 K% and low .071 also suggest. A 100 at-bat sample size is still too small but he showed he could hit major league pitching….if used correctly.

 

Looking Ahead to 2019

Richard Urena’s chances at receiving regular at-bats off the bench for the Blue Jays during the upcoming season are high. Tulo is gone. Aledmys Diaz is gone. This leaves Urena as the logical backup infielder/fill in.

 

With two seasons under his belt, Lourdes Gurriel has yet to stay off the DL for an entire season; therefore, Urena could be asked to fill in if or when Gurriel lands on the 10-day DL.

 

Over at 2nd base, Devon Travis‘ history with the DL is well documented. While 2018 was a positive season for the Blue Jays 2nd baseman in terms of health, it was less positive in terms of production at the plate. The new coaching staff may decide to utilize Urena to give Travis more rest days throughout the season.

 

Looking at the hot corner, Brandon Drury has his own question marks. Can he produce? Will the migraine issues force him to miss more time in 2019? What happens to him once Vladimir Guerrero Jr. takes over 3rd base? If Drury is healthy, he can be used to spell Vladdy at 3rd and Travis at 2nd which means Urena will be relegated to being a backup at short.

 

Lastly, Urena is entering his age 23 season, with one minor league option at the club’s disposal. Therefore, the club could decide Richard Urena receiving regular playing in Buffalo with Eric Sogard on the bench in Toronto to be a wiser option.

 

Closing

When considering Urena’s age and the existence of a minor league option, I hesitate to call 2019 a make or break season. However, the importance for Urena to be productive when called upon, whether it’s in Toronto or Buffalo, cannot be stressed enough.

 

It appears the future of the Blue Jays middle infield will be filled by Gurriel and Bichette as early as next season.  Combine this with the influx of many talent middle infielders moving quickly through the system, Urena’s 2019 will likely serve as an audition season for another team in need of infield depth or willing to gamble on young major league ready infielder with some remaining projection.

 

 

 

Feature pic credit: Ryan Mueller- JFtC

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Ryan Mueller

Lover of all things Toronto Blue Jays. Blue Jays MiLB fanatic. I strive for average while stumbling onto above average. Rogers isn't cheap. Baseball is a business. Your right, but I'm more right.