By Rich Arleo
CBS Local Sports, in our 30 Players 30 Days spring training feature, profiles one young player from each Major League Baseball team leading up to opening day.
Giovanny Urshela, Third baseman, Cleveland Indians
2015 season (Majors): 81 G, 267 AB, .225 BA, 6 HR, 21 RBI, 0 SB, .608 OPS
The Indians’ future star already emerged last season in Francisco Lindor, who we featured in last spring’s “30 Players, 30 Days” feature. When looking at their farm system, most of their top prospects are likely a year away from cracking the big club. But when looking at players who will likely play a role on the Indians at some point this season, last year’s starting third baseman, Giovanny Urshela, stands out.
Urshela signed as an International free agent as a teenager in 2008 , and it took him some time to starting producing in the Minor Leagues. His first big year came in ‘12 at the age of 20, when he hit 30 doubles and 14 homers for Class A Advanced Carolina. He made the jump to Double A in ‘13 but didn’t really build on any numbers, instead managing to continue similar production at a higher level — baby steps.
Never ranked as a top prospect, not many had heard of Urshela until the 2014 season, when he staked his claim at as a future big leaguer by hitting 36 doubles and 18 homers with a .280/.334/.491 slash line in 128 games between Double-A and Triple-A.
Though he began 2015 in the Minors, Urshela was recalled from Columbus in June when the Tribe decided it was time for changes in the infield. The Indians sent third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall and shortstop Jose Ramirez to Triple-A and brought up Urshela. He ended up starting the rest of the season at third base as Cleveland gave him an extended look in a disappointing season.
Unfortunately, Urshela didn’t show much at the plate other than modest pop, though not nearly as much as he had in the Minors. He did play a very strong third base, however, ranking among the top 10 third basemen in most defensive metrics (min. 650 innings) as he locked down the left side of the infield along with Lindor.
This offseason, the Indians signed veteran Juan Uribe and expect him to be their everyday third baseman, telling Urshela that he will likely begin the season at Triple-A. But Uribe, now 36 years old, has played 120 or more games twice in the past five seasons and dealt with a chest injury late last year that forced him to miss the majority of the postseason for the Mets (he managed just one at-bat in the World Series). Uribe barely played early on this spring while dealing with a visa issue, and Urshela has reaped the rewards, going 6-for-19 with three doubles, two homers and seven RBIs in his first eight games. Manager Terry Francona has praised his hard work and mentioned how valuable his glove can be, so it seems like Urshela is one Minor League hot streak away from the Indians.
If Urshela can add to the stellar defense and somehow bring that swing that produced 113 doubles and 49 homers from 2011-14 in the Minor Leagues up to the bigs, he’ll stick as a solid third baseman for the Indians.
Rich Arleo is a freelance sports writer and editor who covers Major League Baseball and fantasy sports. You can follow him on Twitter, @Rarleo.