In 2012, the Blue Jays went on the international market and signed not one, but two talented short stops. One of the was Franklin Barreto. The other was Richard Urena. Though Barreto was supposed to be the better of the two, only one remains with the Blue Jays organization. Urena watched his counterpart head to Oakland in the trade that brought Josh Donaldson so Toronto. Some lamented the loss of Barreto, but Urena has had a season that just might make us forget how upset we were.
The 19 year old is the Blue Jays 7th ranked prospect according to MLBPipeline.com. He started the year in Lansing with the Lugnuts, was sent to Dunedin and then came back to Lansing. In total, he played 91 games for the Lugnuts where he was almost 3 years younger than the average. His slash line looked like this: .266/.293/.438. He collected 102 hits there, including 13 doubles, 15 HR and 3 triples. He drove in 58 runs, too. His patience at the plate is a bit of a work in progress as he walked 13 times to 84 strike outs. For a 19 year old, the patience can be understood and doesn’t really comes as a surprise. What does, is the power. According to TheBaseballCube.com is ISO was an impressive .172.
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Mid-season, he moved to Dunedin where he was nearly 4.5 years younger than the competition. In 30 games, his power dipped quite a bit. But, it was 30 games and can be seen as a small sample. His line: .250/.268/.315 yielded 31 hits, 3 doubles, a triple, 1 HR and 8 RBI. Again, the patience was a problem. He walked just 3 times and struck out 26.
All of this shows an aggressive approach at the plate. And, that is a good thing. It would be easy for a young kid to be intimidated by older competition. Urena showed none of that. For better or worse, he attacked pitching. The 110 total whiffs and 16 free passes are a testament to that. Imagine a full season with just 16 walks. Obviously, he’ll need to work on his patience. But, how does an organization handle this? You want to see the aggression form the youngster. Now, you have to tell him to be more selective. It might sound difficult, but if Urena is going to excel, he is going to need to do just that.
But, his bat isn’t supposed to be his calling card. His defense is. And, on that side of the ball, Blue Jays fans might be surprised to learn that he committed 20 errors playing in Lansing and another 3 in Dunedin (according to BaseballReference.com). In total, his fielding percentage of .951 is obviously less than ideal. In 1030 innings, he managed 167 put outs and 280 assists. We’ll file that under “Work in Progress” also. He has all the tools to be a very good short stop. And, at 19, he’ll have lots of time to grow into the player he is projected to be.
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MLBPipeline offered a pretty good summary of what he brings to the table: “Urena stands out for his defense thanks to his soft hands and good footwork. He has good range and a strong enough arm to make all the throws required of a shortstop with ease. He’s not an all-glove, no-bat shortstop, however. He has opened eyes with his bat in 2015, getting more aggressive and showing previously unrevealed power that could result in 15-20 homers annually in his prime.”
Considering this and his up and down season through the system, we should expect that he’ll start the 2016 season in Dunedin. Depending upon his showing in Spring Training, he could also head to Lansing if the club feels it is necessary. Logically, though, starting a season in the warmer weather of Florida would be preferable if you want young talent to get off to a hot start. But, that may not be the case with Urena. He’s plenty young enough that the Blue Jays can take their time with his development. The big league club has an everyday short stop for years to come, so there is no need to rush Urena.
But, if he can make the necessary adjustments and combine a more patient approach at the plate with his surprising power and cut down on the errors in the field, the organization may not be able to keep him down in the lower levels of the system.