On September 1st the Toronto Blue Jays promoted infield prospect Richard Urena to the major league roster. He’s been quite good so far, hitting .324/.395/.471 in his first nine games with two doubles and a home run. Urena didn’t have a terrific year in Double-A and while overshadowed by other Jays prospects such as Vladimir Guerrero Jr and Bo Bichette, Urena certainly bears watching himself. Here’s a quick take.
The Jays spent $725,000 to sign Urena out of the Dominican Republic in 2012. He was an interesting, if erratic, performer at the lower levels, hitting for average in rookie ball in 2014 (.318/.363/.433), then showing more power but weaker average and OBP skills in A-ball in 2015 (.262/.284/.407, 16 homers but just 16 walks against 110 strikeouts).
He found some compromise between those approaches in 2016, hitting .295/.335/.434 between High-A and Double-A. Urena ranked third pre-season on the 2017 Toronto Blue Jays Top 20 prospects list with this analysis:
3) Richard Urena, SS, Grade B+: Age 20, signed out of Dominican Republic in 2012; hit .295/.335/.434 between High-A and Double-A with 29 walks, 83 strikeouts in 518 at-bats; on the right day looks like a consistent .300 hitter with gap power; approach is aggressive and without a bit more patience his OBP will be very dependent on his batting average, which is one thing if you can hit .300 at every level and quite another if you drop to .260; young enough to add more power; could end up something like Tony Fernandez as a hitter; strong arm and above-average range stand out but still gets sloppy on routine plays, typical for his age; I think he’ll need two years in the high minors to work out the kinks but that still gets him to the Show at age 22. ETA late 2018.
2017 was different again: he hit just .247/.286/.359 with 30 walks and 100 strikeouts in 510 at-bats in Double-A. On the positive side he hit 36 doubles, and the Jays saw enough to give him a September promotion to the majors. And as noted, he’s doing well so far.
Urena is a switch-hitter, listed at 6-1, 185, born February 26th, 1996. The Tony Fernandez comparison I made pre-season has problems: Urena has less speed than Tony did but the potential for more isolated power. Fernandez was better at making contact. I do think they could be similar in batting average: Fernandez hit .288 in his career, hitting over .300 in four seasons but with several others where he was in the .270s.
On the right day Urena certainly looks like a guy who can hit .300: there’s quickness in his bat and good gap power. His plate discipline is erratic, however, and he didn’t exactly set the Eastern League on fire. Strong September aside, he likely needs a year of Triple-A to polish the bat.
Defensively, Urena should be able to remain at shortstop. He has the physical tools for the position and has reduced his error rate, improving his reliability on routine plays this season.
Urena is still only 21 years old. I don’t think he is quite ready to perform at his current pace over a full major league season, but give him a couple more years and he should be a solid regular option.