From a utility infielder, to the Yankees everyday third baseman, the last 15 months have been a whirlwind for Gio Urshela. Let’s take a look back at his 2019 campaign -- an encouraging season of durability and exceeding expectations.
After starting his career with Cleveland, contributing to the ALCS-bound Indians in 2017, Urshela struggled mightily in 2018. He was designated for assignment by the club in May, acquired by Toronto shortly after and then DFA’d again one month later.
On August 4, Urshela was dealt to the Yankees by the Blue Jays and spent the offseason with the Tigres del Licey in the Dominican Winter League, alongside several major leaguers.
In February, he received a non-roster invite to Yankees Spring Training and from there, as they say, the rest is history.
With Miguel Andujar injured in the first week of the season, Urshela was called up to the big league club from Triple-A on April 6. He came off the bench that night in Baltimore but quickly was given an opportunity to start at third base and he never looked back.
Over the course of Urshela’s career prior to this year, he had never played more than 81 games in a single season. In 2019, not only did Urshela set a career high in games played (132) but every major offensive category.
The 28-year-old excelled in his first full season, posting a .314 batting average -- second best on the team after DJ LeMahieu. According to Statcast, the Columbian’s xBA was in the top eight percent of MLB (.294) -- tied with Chicago’s Tim Anderson, who won the American League batting title.
Urshela’s 34 doubles didn’t just lead the Bombers (LeMahieu finished second with 33) but was tied for 33rd in all of baseball -- Cody Bellinger, the NL MVP, also finished with 34 two-baggers. His .534 slugging percentage, .889 OPS and 139 hits were all top three on New York’s roster.
The third baseman was also able to find his power stroke in pinstripes. In 167 games leading up to 2019, he had just eight career home runs -- in 132 games with the Yanks, Urshela hit 21 homers, including back-to-back multi-homer games in August.
Beyond his performance in the batter’s box, Urshela had an incredible season on defense. He already had a reputation for being solid and reliable with the glove after his time in Cleveland, but proved he’s capable of withstanding the pressures of a starting role.
In 978.1 innings, Urshela committed just 13 errors on 284 chances at third base, filling in seamlessly on both sides of the ball.
Room For Improvement
After raking in the month of August, slashing .385/.413/.663 and scoring 20 runs in 26 games, Urshela’s production dropped significantly for the rest of the season.
Over 18 games in September, Urshela’s batting average was .207 with just five extra base hits. His BAbip of .225 wasn’t much better.
Then, in October, Urshela had eight hits in nine games, going 5-for-21 in the ALCS. Although, he did have two homers against the Astros in the ALCS, including a solo shot in Game 6.
If we want to really criticize, Urshela wasn’t his best at the end of ballgames -- he hit .255 in 141 plate appearances in the final three innings of games, with more strikeouts (34) than the other two thirds. To compare, Urshela hit .343 and .344 in the first and second thirds respectively.
Then again, he did have his fair share of late-inning heroic moments. On May 7, Urshela crushed a game-tying two-run homer to dead center against the Mariners and on May 17, lined a walk-off single to beat the Rays.
Urshela wasn’t even meant to play very much for the Yankees this past season, let alone start, so his ability to step up and produce earns him a quality evaluation.
Sure, when you compare Urshela to the other best third basemen in the league, his stats may not compare, but his impact specifically on the Bombers was absolutely integral to the team's success.
Brian Cashman, in an interview on YES Network earlier this month, called Urshela “a gift from God” and said his performance in 2019 was “spectacular.”
All of a sudden, assuming Andujar can return healthy in 2020, the Yankees have a surplus of third basemen. Cashman said Urshela’s starting spot is his to lose and he most certainly earned it.
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