If you have been following the Indians farm system to any degree over the past couple years, you undoubtedly know about the 6'0, 215 pound Colombian-born Giovanny Urshela. But if you haven't, you may have been surprised by this third baseman who came up to replace a struggling Lonnie Chisenhall and crushed a home run yesterday. To get you up to speed, here's a quick rundown on everything you need to know about his rise to the Indians...
In 2008, a 16-year-old Urshela (who is now 23 years old) signed with the Indians as an international free agent out of Columbia. His first minor league action came in 2009, with time in the Dominican Summer League and later the Arizona Summer League.
From there, Urshela slowly moved through the Tribe farm system, spending roughly two years at each level. As a prospect with potentially elite defense at third, an underwhelming level of power and a low walk rate, it was years before he would crack the list of top Indians prospects. One of the more interesting aspects of Urshela's game is that, while it's true he doesn't walk much, he doesn't strike out much either. His career 4.9% walk rate looks worrying -- and it is to a certain extent -- but when you consider that he also only struck out 12.7% of the time in the minor leagues, it paints a picture of a hitter who makes a lot of contact, even if he doesn't have the greatest pitch selection.
As he worked his way up the minor league ladder, going from rookie ball in 2009 to Double-A in 2014, Urshela stuck mostly to the same profile: a contact-oriented hitter who was aiming to hit the ball squarely where it was pitched, instead of making proper adjustments within games and at-bats. While his excellent defense made him an easy candidate to get a lot of playing time, his on-base percentage suffered as a result of his aggressive approach at the plate. Prior to 2014, his OBP only broke the .300 mark twice -- once in Low-A ball where he carried a .326 OBP, and once in High-A where he barely made the cutoff with a .309 OBP.
Come 2014 however, Urshela's game changed for the better. He was showing more power, especially to the opposite field, and adjusting to pitches better. Just before the start of the 2015 season, The Diatribe had a great breakdown of Urshela's Spring Training approach and what changed from 2014 compared to the years prior.
In spring training last year , I noticed his ability to go the other way with power more than in the past, as he’d get his arms out on pitches out and over the plate and hit them to right field with authority. The ball was just carrying off his bat better than I’d seen in the past, and that was a harbinger of things to come in the regular season. Urshela still doesn’t profile to have a ton of power at the major league level, but 15-20 HR are not out of the question.
Still in Double-A in 2014 and playing for the newly-renamed Akron RubberDucks, Urshela broke out in a big way. It only took 24 games -- along with a 147 wRC+ and 5 home runs -- for him to get the call to Triple-A. Once at the highest levels of the minor leagues playing for the Columbus Clippers, Urshela continued to perform well. In 104 games there, he hit 13 more home runs and kept his OBP at a respectable .331. His 7.0% walk rate was also the second-highest of his career, behind only his time in rookie ball.
After years of not being even mentioned in the Top 10, Urshela found himself the Cleveland Indians #4 prospect in 2015, according to MLB Pipeline, as more scouts and fans started to take notice of his stellar defense and potential at the plate. He did suffer one minor setback last winter, though, when he sprained the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) in his left knee. Thankfully, the injury did not require surgery, and Urshela needed only to report to the Tribe's spring training site in Ariona to rehab and get ready for the season.
The biggest setback for Urshela came during spring training this year. Having recovered from the PCL strain in time for spring training, he didn't end up playing much due to a swollen disk in his back. Not only did the injury completely remove him from the majority of spring training, it also cost him a lot of the early season at AAA too, as he started the year on the disabled list.
Although he only played in only 21 of the Clippers 59 games up to the point of his call-up, it was apparently enough for the Indians front office to pull the trigger on a promotion. His .275/.301/.475 slash and 3 home runs from Columbus this year aren't all that impressive on their own, but combined with a pitiful Chisenhall in the majors, and Urshela's always-impressive defense, it was the perfect storm for him to make his big break with the Tribe.