Every weekday for the next few weeks we'll be posting a look back at the 2014 season for one of the Indians' major-league players or prospects. We'll sort out what happened, and what it means for the franchise going forward.
- Position: Third Base
- Age: 22
- Acquired: Non-drafted free agent, 7-2-2008
A native of Colombia, Urshela made his professional debut at 17 in the Dominican Summer League, which meant his Rule 5 "clock" started much earlier than a player eligible for the MLB draft. Urshela was eligible to selected in the Rule 5 Draft last winter, but wasn't, and based on what he did in 2014, the Indians dodged a bullet.
Giovanny (pronounced Yo-von-ee) hit .270/.292/.384 as a 21-year-old in Akron in 2013, and because of that started the 2014 campaign again with the Ducks, the first time he'd repeated a level. But he wouldn't stay in Akron long, for he made drastic improvement at the plate, hitting .300/.347/.567 in his 98 Plate Appearances. At the beginning of May Urshela was promoted to AAA, and no problems adjusting to the International League. He hit .297/.336/.554 in June, and although he cooled off late in the season, still ended 2014 with a very nice .276/.331/.473, an excellent line for someone that was almost five years younger than the league average age. As with any Columbus line, you do have to account for that fact that Huntington Park is a crazy-good hitters park: in 2014 (Akron/Columbus combined), Urshela hit .293/.354/.517 at home, and .269/.315/.466 on the road.
Urshela had always been known for his defense, and because of that had moved through the system even with a still-developing bat. His arm is outstanding, and both his range and hands aren't that far behind. Third base has been his position from the beginning, and there's been absolutely no thought about moving him elsewhere on the diamond. His approach at the plate is a aggressive one, which meant that he both walked and struck out rarely because he's very good at making contact. But in 2014 he started to walk a bit more, and seeing more pitches in an at-bat probably led to him getting better pitches to hit.
Here is Urshela hitting a high outside fastball over the right field fence in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre:
Here is a pull-side home run on a breaking pitch in Durham (his first AAA home run):
One reason why we concentrate on players that are young for their leagues is that those players have a higher potential to improve. As he's gotten older, Urshela has not only gotten stronger, but also has matured in his approach at the plate, and that manifested itself this past season. He's now one of the top prospects in the system.
Urshela is a lock to be add to the 40-man roster this winter, and should make his MLB debut at some point next year. Lonnie Chisnhall, barring a major trade, will be the starting third baseman for the Indians next Opening Day, but Urshela should be considered the next third baseman on the organizational depth chart. The Indians don't need to look outside their system to improve their defense, as young players like Urshela, Francisco Lindor, and Jose Ramirez are all good to great defenders. The big question is whether that trio of players, however they're used in 2015 and beyond, will hit at the major-league level.