Gio Urshela is proving 2019 was no fluke

I’m not typically a fan of small sample size theater, but it’s hard to deny how good Gio Urshela has looked through his first 16 appearances of 2020. Entering the season, there were some questions regarding how Urshela would follow up his stellar 2019 campaign. After all, prior to last year’s breakout, Urshela was a widely unknown 27-year-old with a career batting average of .225, that the Yankees acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays for $25,000 in August of 2018. He was known as a solid defensive player with little to no offensive ability. That narrative changed drastically a year ago.

Photo Credit: John Minchillo/AP Photo

As for that breakout last season, I’m not sure anyone could’ve predicted it. Entering 2019, the Yankees were set at third base. They had reigning American League Rookie of the Year runner-up Miguel Andujar manning the hot corner, looking to take the next step in his development. And as mentioned, Urshela wasn’t exactly a household name, beginning the season with only 466 career at bats in the Big Leagues and a mere eight home runs to his name. However, Andujar suffered a shoulder injury just three games into the season, Urshela was called up five days later and he never looked back.

In a season filled with never-ending injuries, Urshela was one of the few constants in New York’s lineup. He finished the season batting .314 with 21 home runs, 74 RBI and an .889 OPS (league average was .758). On top of that, he established himself as a clutch hitter, batting .333 with an .820 OPS with runners in scoring position. Despite all of that, it was fair to wonder if Urshela could replicate that success in 2020 or if he would go down as a fluke. While we can’t fully answer that question yet, the Yankees’ third basemen is giving us reason to believe he’s here to stay.

Photo Credit: Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP Photo

So far in 2020, the 28-year-old Colombian is batting .288 with three home runs, 13 RBI and a .905 OPS (153 OPS+) over his first 52 at bats of the season. Outside of Aaron Judge and DJ LeMahieu, no one has been better at the plate for New York this year than Gio. Moreover, his walk rate is way up this season. After drawing just 25 free passes in 476 plate appearances (5.3%) last year, he already has seven walks in 60 trips to the dish (11.7%) in 2020. But those numbers aren’t even the main reason to be excited about Urshela. To find them, we have to dig a little deeper.

When you look at Gio Urshela’s advanced metrics from his truncated body of work in this shortened season, virtually every number is elite. His average exit velocity is 92.7 MPH, up from 90.6 MPH last year, and it ranks in the top seven percent of hitters in all of baseball. His hard-hit percentage of 53.8% is 12 points better than the 41.8% figure he posted in 2019. That, too, is in the top seven percent of hitters. And his expected batting average (xBA) of .362 (which ranks in the 98th percentile of MLB) suggests he’s been slightly unlucky as well. I can go on all day about this stuff, but what it means is that Urshela is as good as advertised.

With Miguel Andujar’s pre-season move to left field, his offensive struggles and now his recent demotion to the Yanks’ alternate training site, something that should have already been clear certainly is now: Gio Urshela is the third baseman of the present and future for the New York Yankees. He has three more years of team control and is close to making himself one of the foundational members of the organization. Let’s hope he keeps defying the odds and getting better.

Article by: Jake Graziano


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