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Written by Ben Wilson Photo by Baseball America
Overview: Like many of the Arizona Fall League’s Peoria Javelinas, 2B/SS Luis Urias, a prospect in the San Diego Padres system, is currently garnering a good amount of attention. Signed out of Magdalena de Kino, Mexico as an international free agent in 2013 (coincidentally, just a 4.5 hour drive from his current AFL team in Peoria), Urias is known throughout minor league baseball as an impressive contact hitter. Since his professional debut in 2014, his ability to put the ball in play and get on base has earned him numerous minor league accolades, including league All-Star appearances in 2016 and 2017, and the Cal League Most Valuable Player award in 2016.
After putting together another impressive 2017 season over 118 games in San Antonio (Texas League, AA), Urias is getting on base at a Joey-Votto-esque .452 clip in the AFL, with 13 walks against 5 strikeouts through 15 games. Urias’ BB/K numbers in the AFL are hardly a surprise, since he has finished each of his four professional seasons with more walks than strikeouts (153 BB to 135 K in 1529 PA overall). His ability to put the bat on the ball, take a walk, and avoid striking out, is the recipe for an exciting prospect. Considering Urias has always been among the youngest players at each stop in his development, the San Diego Padres may have unearthed a shining gold doubloon that will surely find his way to the San Diego middle infield in the future.
The hit tool for Urias is nothing short of sterling, and among the best in minor league baseball. It is shocking that Urias has had such little fanfare before mid-season and the AFL. Luis Urias would be more of a household name if any of his other tools were anywhere near the level of his hit tool.
What we can say at present is that power is not currently showing up in Urias’ game. The HR totals are very low: he has 9 HR across 1529 professional plate appearances. It is not entirely unusual for a 20 year old who is 5’9” to only put the occasional ball over the fence. After all, Urias is a line drive hitter, and was able to put together 20 doubles, 4 triples, and 3 HR in 118 games in San Antonio this year. At this point, many evaluators wonder if the power will ever translate to 10 HR at the major league level.
So then, he must at least have blazing foot speed, right? Well, not exactly. Urias has had mixed results stealing bases so far in his professional career. While SB numbers alone never tell the whole story of a prospects speed, players who have a carrying speed tool make it pretty apparent against low minors pitchers and catchers. Urias’ current high water mark for SB in a season is 10 (against 6 CS), which he racked up in 2014 rookie ball. Urias stole 7 SB in 442 AB this season, roughly 12 successful steals in an 162 game schedule. As a point of comparison, his organization mate in San Diego, Cory Spangenberg, had 11 SB in 444 AB this past season with the Padres. When Spangenberg was rising through the San Diego system as a first round prospect, he was hailed for his speed, amassing 111 SB in 400 minor league games. In Urias’ 347 career minor league games, he has only 33 SB. Of significance, Urias has also been caught stealing 37 times.
Verdict: People see a diminutive 2B and say, “maybe he can be Jose Altuve or Dustin Pedroia!” Right off the bat, I’m not quite ready to make a comparison to Jose Altuve. In the other case, Pedroia’s minor league triple slash .307/.392/.452 is somewhat similar to Urias’ .310/.396/.391, and Pedroia was somewhat of a late bloomer in the stolen base department, tallying 11 SB over 272 total minor league games. However, I think the power and speed will fall well short of Pedroia’s 20 HR/20 SB prime production. The most common MLB comparison for Urias these days seems to be Colorado Rockies 2B DJ LeMahieu. LeMahieu has been a successful major league player with a highly developed hit tool, who’s best year to date in 2016 saw him hit .348/.416/.495 with 104 R, 11 HR, and 11 SB. Given Urias’ youth and exciting hit tool, he could produce a triple slash in that neighborhood, but he will have difficulty scoring that many runs if he hits in the bottom of the lineup like he is doing right now in Peoria. If Urias develops to his full potential, he can be a prototypical early 2000’s number two hitter in the mold of a Mark Loretta or a Placido Polanco: a perennial .315-.325 AVG hitter with both excellent bat control and on-base acumen, and a peak of 15 HR/10 SB. He is not in the “new vogue” profile of a number two hitter such as Kris Bryant.
If I were San Diego GM A.J. Preller, I would be very excited to know that I have Urias developing in my organization. I am personally very excited to see Urias succeeding in Arizona right now, and he will likely be an exciting pro to watch grow into his own in San Diego. Given the impressive hit tool, someday we may even call Urias “Señor Padre!” Ok, so it’s not an 80 hit tool like the great Tony Gwynn, but a couple of 200 hit seasons (with 150 singles) are certainly not out of the question for a player of Urias’ hitting caliber.
Dynasty Outlook: As a GM of a dynasty team, I would pass on Urias. I rostered him for a few months this season, picking him up in mid-April in a league that rosters around 500 players overall. After holding him for a majority of this season, I ultimately cut bait with him because of his high floor/low ceiling profile. Another GM picked him up about a week later after his mid-season climb up rankings lists, but I think ultimately the lack of power and lack of speed makes him an uncertain dynasty roster piece in the future. I predict he will not rank above the 15th best 2B at his MLB peak in most mixed league dynasty formats, meaning that other guys deserve your attention over Urias. I much prefer Ozzie Albies and Willie Calhoun (both of whom I acquired this year), along with Scott Kingery and Keston Hiura. (Note: Calhoun and Hiura may not ultimately wind up with 2B eligibility down the road). For leagues that have middle infield slots, Urias may be worth keeping a close watch on just to see if he develops any more power or speed, but don’t go out of your way to clear a roster spot for him. If you currently roster Urias, it would be a good idea to hold him through the winter, and see if you can trade him in April given the hot AFL performance. I love Urias as a “real life” player, but not for my dynasty squad.