Aug 15, 2015; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Cleveland Indians third baseman Giovanny Urshela (39) fields a ground ball in the fifth inning against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
For the Cleveland Indians, Giovanny Urshela needs to perform to justify the amount of dead money being paid to Chris Johnson to NOT play in Cleveland in 2016.
It didn’t take long for my predicted Opening Day line up to get tossed out the window. When Chris Johnson was designated for assignment. The transaction cemented Giovanny Urshela as the Tribe’s every day third baseman. He made his debut mid way through 2015 and came up when fellow infielder Francisco Lindor got his chance to play for the big-league club.
Urshela’s glove certainly helped fuel one of the biggest defensive turnarounds ever, his bat ran hot and cold, even for a young player.
With Johnson out of town, though, is Urshela ready to assume the role?
Urshela’s overall numbers in 2015 don’t exactly inspire confidence. He slashed only .225/.279/.330, not exactly the type of numbers Tribe fans want to see from a position that was once manned by the likes of Jim Thome, Travis Fryman, and Matt Williams. But a deeper dive into his numbers offers some reason for optimism. Urshela, though hitting only .225 overall, hit .275 against left-handed pitching, showing that he at least has potential to serve in a platoon role in a worst case scenario. He also hit .245 at home. While not setting the world on fire, that rate was well above what Lonnie Chisenhall offered offensively as a third baseman prior to his position switch.
Urshela also hit early in his time in Cleveland. He hit .271 in June and .241 in July before hitting a wall in August and September, where both months were an ugly .179 and .194, respectively. He also hit very well against the rest of the Al Central, which has been a problem for this team for a while. His overall batting against divisional rivals isn’t bad at all:
Kansas City: .261
Defensively, he made a much bigger impact than with his bat. Though only a +0.3 DWAR, consider Lonnie Chisenhall‘s struggles with the glove at third. Even Jose Ramirez or Mike Aviles were unable to hold down the role, even in a utility role, because their bats couldn’t justify additional playing time. Even with a shoulder injury limiting his play, Urshela committed only 6 errors all year. Chisenhall, for example, committed 5 errors in 30 fewer games.
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Baseball-Reference looks favorably at Urshela’s projections and seem to think the Urshela that made his debut is the real player, not the one limited by a nagging shoulder injury. The stats site has Urshela slashing .244/.303/.608 with 9 home runs and 31 runs batted in, albeit in only 344 plate appearances. Realistically, Urshela should get over the 344 plate appearances that Baseball Reference pegs him at for in 2016, especially if he stays healthy and hits well enough to stick all year at the hot corner. It helps his case that he hits right-handed, something that has been missing in the line up.
Overall, Urshela showed that he can play a major league third base. No, he isn’t Todd Frazier, but he is under contract until 2022 and is only 23 years old. At the very least, his glove will keep him in the line up and keep what was one of the better defensive infields late in the year. Really, Urshela needs to perform to justify the amount of dead money being paid to Chris Johnson to NOT play in Cleveland next year.
I for one am optimistic about Urshela’s chances to have an impact in 2016 and, if he remains healthy, Urshela’s development at the major league level will be a major factor in the success of this team.