Organization: San Diego Padres || 2016 club: Lake Elsinore Storm (A-Adv.), El Paso Chihuahuas (AAA)
Position: 2B || Age: 19 || DOB: June 3, 1997 || Birthplace: Magdalena de Kino, Sonora, Mexico
Acquired: December 2013 (int’l free agent) || 2016 prospect rank: SD #11 (MLB.com)
2016 stats: 123 games, 475 AB, .333/.404/.446/.850, 26 2B, 6 HR, 45 BB, 37 K, 8 SB
- Urias’ 2016
A 19-year-old that excelled at the High-A level in 2016 so much that he was named to both the mid-season and postseason California League All-Star teams, and also won both the league’s MVP and Rookie of the Year nods when announced in September, Luis Urias didn’t just out-play expectations as a teenager in a league populated primarily by 22, 23, and 24 year olds—he truly thrived against far better pitching than he’d ever previously seen.
The Mexican teenager struck out only 37 times in 475 at-bats in 2016, compared to 45 walks, and his .397 Cal League on-base percentage was third-best in the league (as a consolation, Urias’ .330 batting average in Lake Elsinore won him the batting title). A 5’9″ second baseman, he showed off good gap power in Lake Elsinore with 26 doubles, and added five home runs to his tally, but the real story of the summer for Urias was his phenomenal contact skills that infuriated Cal League pitching all season.
It wasn’t that his ability to put the ball in play was necessarily unexpected; in now 864 career minor league at-bats, Urias has whiffed just 70 times against 85 walks. The surprise is more that Urias’ contact skills and strike zone awareness stayed with him during his first crack at High-A after playing only a half season in Low-A last summer as an 18-year-old.
In the last two years, the Padres have been aggressive with Urias’ development, and he’s only ever gotten better at each higher, tougher stop. (For good measure, Urias was given a three-game cameo at Triple-A El Paso in the middle of this summer, and he responded with four hits, a home run, three RBI, five walks and a stolen base in just 14 plate appearances there.)
The 11th-best prospect in the Padres’ organization, Urias undoubtedly had the strongest full season, at least statistically, in the entire California League. At his age and with his relative lack of experience, that’s no small feat—and it bodes very, very well for his future, as well as the Padres’ scouting efforts in Mexico.
- Scouting Urias
At the plate, Urias earns his keep with a very developed, mature understanding of the strike zone and good pitch recognition skills that have thus far prevented him from consistently chasing breaking balls down and out of the zone early in his career. Good bat speed, and strong hands and wrists, help him work the ball to all sides of the field, as evidenced by his 2016 hit spray chart (thanks to MLBFarm.com):
A good contact hitter with some gap-to-gap power than can consistently spray the ball to all fields—and who did so against competition three, four, and five years older than him—is undoubtedly one to watch down the line. Urias may develop a bit more power as he ages and fills out physically, but as a second baseman with average speed and good gap power, he need not become a home run hitter, anyways. Also, a steep barrel path to the ball might limit his ability to actualize that power in the future, and he’s shown difficulty at times in getting his barrel on inside pitches specifically, but good bat speed and those strong hands will work in his favor as he learns to stay through balls for line drive backspin as his career continues.
Urias has an open stance at the plate, with most of his weight starting on his back foot and his front (left) foot resting just on his toe as he drifts slowly to transfer weight back to load upon pitchers’ release. He has a moderate leg kick, and quiets it a bit with two strikes to focus on making contact when down in the count. His barrel control and contact skills trump all right now, though, and the combination of that and his general hand-eye coordination could allow him to develop a pretty significant hit tool as he ages, if only he can more consistently hit inside fastballs with authority.
In the field, Urias is proficient if not gifted, with good range and a decent arm at second base. He can play shortstop in a pinch, and did so for 22 games in 2016, but he likely fits better long term at second base (or even at third, where he has played 44 professional games in his career) with his range and read on balls probably a better fit for the less demanding middle infield role. At this point, all that is secondary to his bat, though, and the offensive skills he exhibits now will predominantly be what take him forward in professional baseball.
- Going Forward
Urias has undoubtedly done enough to have earned the right to spend his age-20 season at Double-A in 2017—no small feat for the youngster who will now look to build off the best season (and the first coming-out party) of his young career. He is good enough in the field, and looks promising enough at the plate, that he has a legitimate shot to be a proficient everyday starter at second base one day, though concerns about being able to hit the inside pitch consistently may limit his ability to be an everyday starter and relegate him to a productive infield utility role in his career. Then again, he won’t be 20 years old until next June; his age will help him work out the challenges he’ll undoubtedly see from better pitching in 2017 and give him a significant window to reach his full potential in the coming summers.
The bottom line remains: Anybody who can win the California League MVP after excelling for a full summer as a 19-year-old on the High-A circuit deserves to be taken seriously as a potential impact player, and Luis Urias has done that after a monster 2016. While he’s still young enough for questions to linger about whether he can actualize his full potential, Urias has put himself on the map after an exceptional year in Lake Elsinore, and that alone is commendable.