After starting our 2014 Toronto Blue Jays top prospects list with two names (Lopes and McGuire) that could probably best be described as ‘fallers’ when you talk about the overall picture of the Jays organization, number twenty-eight on our list gives the first new entry, and someone that could possibly make significant gains over the next year.
Name: Richard Urena
Date of Birth: 26/02/1996 (17)
Acquired: Signed as International Free Agent 2012 ($725,000)
Home Town: San Francisco de Macoris, DO
Height/Weight: 6’1”/170 lbs
Awards and Accomplishments:
Ranked 12th 2012 International Prospect by Baseball America
Ranked 9th 2012 International Prospect by mlb.com
2013 Stats and Analysis:
The second international free agent shortstop signed in 2012 along with Franklin Barreto. Richard Urena is the third member, after Dawel Lugo and Barreto, of an exciting triumvirate of Latin American shortstops in the lower levels of the Jays system.
While Barreto’s international experience allowed him to skip the Dominican Summer League, Urena took the route more travelled and played the bulk of his rookie pro season in the Jays Dominican facility. Since I have absolutely no idea what the competition is like in the DOSL I’m not going to comment a ton on the stats.
A couple of things do stand out though. Most of the scouting reports I read were very high on his approach, patience, and ability to make contact. Although his 0.70 BB/K ratio doesn’t have him amongst the league leaders, it’s still a pretty good number for someone so young. His twenty-two extra base hits (24 if you count his GCL time) seem to suggest he’ll be more than just a slap hitter. He may not become any more than a ten home run guy, but with his ability to use all fields he could become a solid gap to gap guy.
Speaking of extra base hits, this scouting report, speaks to Urena’s speed. ‘He’s a 6.8 runner, and while he may not be a big base stealer at the upper levels, his speed will turn plenty of singles into doubles and doubles into triples.’
Going 9 for 14 on steal attempts would seem to bear this out, but could also be a case of a young man still learning how to read pitchers.
video courtesy of dplbaseball
The above video seems spliced so a bit quick to get a full read on his swing. From what you can see, he loads with a moderate toe tap before bringing the bat through the zone with a very level swing path. He has a bit of a waggle which ends with an elbow tilt both up and back at the end of his load. This may help him keep his hands inside the ball but would also give him a longer route to the contact zone. I’m going to assume the Jays have worked on quieting his hands during his load.
Although he keeps his hands well behind his hips, keeping his bat in the zone longer, he does tend to get on his front foot quickly, limiting his hip rotation. Again, until I see some more recent footage (the video was uploaded on Jan 25, 2012 when Urena was only 15) I can only presume the Jays have worked on keeping his weight back longer, allowing him to engage his hips more.
In the field, Urena has quick feet and soft hands. He throws from a three-quarter like slot, apparently hitting ’85-88 mph on the gun without really letting the ball go.’ Soooo, arm strength shouldn’t be an issue.
A perfect world projection has Urena developing into a four tool shortstop. His bat control and pitch recognition should allow him to hit for average as well as get him on base at an above average rate. He probably won’t develop into much of a power threat but should have enough juice to keep pitchers and defenses honest. As mentioned above, he won’t be a burner in terms of base-stealing but should have the legs to stretch singles into doubles and go first to third with regularity.
The Dominican native has the potential to be an above average defender at a premium position. A valuable commodity.
Risk, 2014, and ETA
As I mentioned at the top of this post, Urena is currently the third of the three shortstops currently exciting observers of the Blue Jay system. Unlike the other two, however, there seems to be no question to Urena’s future position. I haven’t read any reports that question his ability to stick at short.
I had a brief chat with one of the GCL hitting instructors this past season and he said that the seventeen year old shortstop had some work to do on the mental side of the game and the preparation needed to survive as a pro player. Once that comes around, and remember, we are talking about teenagers here, he should progress smoothly through the lower levels.
With Lugo landing in Lansing and Barreto most likely starting the year in Bluefield, I see Urena beginning 2014 back in the Gulf Coast League. Provided he plays as well as his 2013 in the complexes than I can see him moving up to Bluefield midway through the season.
Given Urena’s age it is hard to quantify either risk or ETA. If the fielding reports are correct than the main risk is that Urena fails to develop the bat and becomes an all field no hit utility player in the John McDonald mold.
His ETA is even more difficult. The Jays will allow both Lugo and Barreto to play short as long as they can. Provided they all progress in a linear fashion then it will be a few years before Urena gets a sniff at the upper minor league levels. I’d say it’s a minimum of five years before we’re discussing Urena’s chances at the major league level.