Thursday, August 4, 2016

A Look at Richard Urena

Clutchlings photo

   He (Urena) has the requisite middle-infield tools with smooth actions, soft hands and easy plus arm strength.  Baseball America 

   The Blue Jays had one of the best July international free agent signing periods in club history, bringing a pair of Caribbean shortstops into the fold.
   Venezuelan Franklin Baretto, signed on July 2nd (the opening day of IFA signing) was viewed by many as the top IFA that year, and Dominican Richard Urena, signed a day later, was not considered to be far behind Barreto.
   The pair progressed through the system, with the more advanced Barreto usually playing a level ahead of Urena.  The thinking was that Barreto lacked the footwork and arm to stick at the position, and despite being named the Northwest League's MVP at the tender age of 18, he became the centrepiece in the deal that brought the Blue Jays their own MVP in the the form of 3B Josh Donaldson.
   Overlooked in that deal was the fact that the organizaton had deemed Urena their shortstop of the future.
With a surprising 15 Home Runs in a little over a half season in his first year of full season ball last year, and a .308/.354/.453 line at Dunedin this year, fuelled by a .390 stretch over his final 10 games with the D-Jays, the 20 year old Urena was promoted to New Hampshire yesterday.
  And Urena wasted no time making an impact with the Fisher Cats, fielding a pair of ground balls from the first two hitters of the game in a home contest against Akron, throwing across the field to future Blue Jays teammate Rowdy Tellez.  For good measure, Urena alertly raced to second when the Arkon shortstop booted the grounder from his first bat into short left field, then banged out three hits in his next four ABs, including a triple to the wall in left centre.

  Urena has steadily climbed up the top prospects ladder, cracking most Top 10 lists by 2014, and was ranked Toronto's top prospect in a mid-season ranking by    He may sit a little lower in some other lists (#5 in BA's), but he, along with Tellez, Anthony Alford, Sean Reid-Foley, and Conner Greene were considered untouchables by management at this year's trade deadline.

   Here's what had to say about Urena:
Urena is an excellent athlete with a wiry-strong frame and room to grow. He shows loose wrists and a quick bat from the left side of the plate, and it was from that side that he hit 15 of his home runs in 2015. His right-handed swing continues to be a work in progress, though that was to be expected considering the last year was just his second as a full-time switch-hitter. As he moves up the ladder, Urena will need to tighten his approach and do a better job controlling the strike zone.

   And BA:
Urena isn’t flashy but has continue to polish his skills that will allow his best tools—his power potential and feel for hitting—to shine. He has an aggressive approach but good power for a shortstop, and he ranked second in the pitcher-centric Florida State League in hits. He’s a steady shortstop with a plus arm who still adding polish on both sides of the ball.
 Urena checks many boxes for a toolsy player.  He's athletic, fields and throws extremely well, has shown both some pop and a feel for hitting, and even though he's not stolen base fast, he's agile and quick in the field, and aggressive and smart on the base paths.  The knock against him has been his seeming lack of focus on routine plays, and his ability to hit from the right side.  His .258/.321/.320 against LHP suggests that he's making progress with his switch-hitting, and lacking advanced defensive metrics, his 23 errors similarly suggest about his defence.  His 6% walk rate means that he tends to expand his strike zone too often, but he doesn't post high strikeout totals, putting the ball in play.  Urena was aggressive in his New Hampshire debut, seeing no more than 3 pitches in every AB.  As he gets more experience (Urena is only in his second year of full season ball), there is still room for improved strike zone judgement.  It will be interesting to see how he fares in AA, where pitchers have a plan.  Despite his strong debut, he may struggle for a bit as Eastern League pitchers learn not to catch too much of the strike zone early in the count against him.
  There may be some temptation to rush Urena, and while he will have to be placed on the 40-man roster this fall to avoid exposing him to the Rule 5 draft, Troy Tulowitzki seems to have at least another season or two in him at short.  His promotion to New Hampshire makes him the youngest player in the Eastern League, and given the Blue Jays' preference to have prospects play at one level for a full season (even if it's split over two years), it's likely that Urena will return to Manchester for at least half of 2017.  That would put him on track to make his MLB debut perhaps in 2018, with being a regular a possibility late that year, or early 2019.  By then, he may form a formidable core with Reid-Foley, Tellez, Alford, Greene, and possibly Max Pentecost and maybe even Vladimir Guerrero Jr. 
   Injuries at the big league level might push up that timetable, but Urena is clearly the Blue Jays short stop of the future.

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