The New York Yankees were faced with a dilemma during the 2019 season when star slugger and third baseman Miguel Andujar went on the IL. Andujar went down with a year-ending labrum injury at the beginning of the 2019 campaign; the fledgling season appeared to hang in the balance. Andujar was having trouble throwing from third, but the Yankees thought they could still keep his big bat in the lineup. That turned out not to be the case as he elected to have labrum shoulder surgery.
The New York Yankees had no one to replace him. Temporarily they used DJ LeMahieu, but they needed to find a permanent replacement. They searched about to find someone that would be adequate. The ended up bringing up a minor leaguer from their Scranton Wilkes/Barre Triple-A affiliate Rail Riders. That player was Giovanny Urshela with a reputation of being a good defender at 3rd but with little pop to his bat. What the Yankees got was a diamond in the rough.
Twenty-eight-year-old Giovanny Urshela is a Columbian baseball player. He has previously played the Toronto Blue Jays and the Cleveland Indians. Urshela signed with the Cleveland Indians as an international free agent in July 2008. He made his professional debut in 2009, playing for the Dominican Summer League Indians and the Arizona League Indians. He spent 2010-2013 in single-A.
He started the 2014 season with Akron and was promoted to the Columbus Clippers of the Class AAA International League during the season. After the 2014 season, the Indians added Urshela to their 40-man roster. He was named the Indians’ fourth-best prospect by MLB.com in 2015. He batted .227 for the Indians before being traded to the Toronto Blue Jays. Urshela batted .233 with one home run and three RBIs in 19 games for Toronto before he was designated for assignment by the Blue Jays on June 26. During his time with the Jays, he was noted for his timely hitting and very capable play at 3rd. Base.
On August 4, 2018, the Blue Jays traded Urshela to the New York Yankees
in exchange for cash considerations. The Yankees assigned him to the
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders. Urshela was called up by the Yankees
to the bigs on April 6, 2019, as a fill-in for Miguel Andujar at third
base. Urshela has been an out-making specialist in the big leagues and
has indeed shown his worth at the hot corner.
Gio is well-liked in the clubhouse and fits in quite well. Some of this may be his not so young age and experience. Known as an average player with excellent defense at third, upon the advice of pitching coaches, Urshela made a few changes to his hitting stance. He opened his hitting stance while holding his hands slightly lower and also focused on transferring strength from his legs more effectively. The adjustments paid immediate dividends. Among full-time third basemen, Urshela ranked ninth in the league in OPS (.889).
He ended up with a wRC+ (132) (weighed runs above average), which means he had 32% more runs created than the average MLB hitter. That figure puts him ahead of Colorado super-star Nolan Arenado. It means the New York Yankee have themselves an All-Star player like Arenado, but only have to pay him 2% of Arenado’s salary. A super win for the Yankees.
He played so well for the Yankees that he even got a call from Iván Duque Márquez, the President of Columbia, to congratulate him on his excellent play. Urshela is the second most timely hitter behind DJ LeMahieu, at one point last season he drove in the winning run in three games in just eight days. He ended his 132 game season, hitting .314, 12 points higher than DJ LeMahieu. He hit 21 home runs with 34 doubles and 139 hits.
When Gio showed up on the scene, the New York Yankee fans first took notice of him when he started making Graig Nettles-like plays at 3rd. He made one after the other Gold Glove like catches and throws. Plays that often headlined Yankee wins. When his hitting matched his play at third Yankee manager Aaron Boone started throwing paise on their new third baseman. He ended the 2019 season with a fielding percentage of .954 compared to Andujar’s .700. During the season, he also had a fielding percentage at first base and in the outfield of 1.000.
Previous to Urshela’s arrival, they thought that had their future 3rd baseman in Andujar, but with Urshela now at third, Andujar has lost that designation. The New York Yankees made it clear in spring training 1.0 that Gio Urshela would be the starting 3rd baseman and that it was his job to lose. Boone and the coaches feel Gio will replicate his 2019 performance as the underlying metrics, suggest sustainability to his growth as a hitter.
Meanwhile, the Yankees will still want to have Miguel Andujar’s bat at the plate even though he has lost his job at 3rd. In 2018 he hit 27 home runs with a batting average of .297. The Yankees will most likely have him platoon with Giancarlo Stanton in the left field. He will also be a DH for the Yankees when not playing on the field. In the shortened season, he likely will not see play at 3rd in relief of Urshela.
Have the Yankees found their next Graig Nettles? It appears that they have, and his play this season may cement his play at 3rd for the foreseeable future. Nettles was the Yankee third baseman for eleven years between 1973 and 1983. It’s also worth mentioning that Gio Urshela also has experience playing at short. With Gleyber Torres’s questionable play as the starting shortstop, this could end up being a 2019 storyline.
EmpireSportsMedia.com’s Columnist William Parlee is a member of the Society for American Baseball Research. Follow me on Twitter @parleewilliam.