Indians News: Reasonable expectations for Giovanny Urshela in Cleveland this season

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How does the promotion of Giovanny Urshela impact the Indians’ chance of legitimately contending in the AL Central?

At the end of the day, perhaps the Cleveland Indians just got tired of seeing the same guys flub on the left side of the infield and elected to give someone else an opportunity.

Better or worse, the Tribe is on the cusp of contending for an AL Central crown and couldn’t afford to wait any longer for the bats — and gloves, really — of Lonnie Chisenhall and Jose Ramirez to answer the call in the big leagues. It was a difficult decision, as it changes the entire complexion of this team, but it was one that had to be made. 

According to general manager Chris Antonetti (via Joe Reedy of FOX Sports Ohio):

"It got to the point where it was best for the team to look at other alternatives. We tried to continue to work with them as much as possible but we felt it was best for the team and their individual development for them to go to Columbus and work through things."

While fans immediately assumed it would be prized prospect Francisco Lindor who would be making his debut with the Tribe, Antonetti and manager Terry Francona elected to give another prospect — third baseman Giovanny Urshela — the first crack in Cleveland.

Urshela, who will be making his Major League debut tonight behind Corey Kluber against the Seattle Mariners, has been sidelined at different points this season as he continues to deal with a back injury that plagued him during spring training.  He’s played in just 21 games for the Columbus Clippers. In that time, he has posted a .275/.301/.475 triple-slash line and added nine extra-base hits to his season stat line.

Feb 26, 2015; Goodyear, AZ, USA; Cleveland Indians third baseman Giovanny Urshela (73) poses during photo day at Goodyear Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

While the right-hander has always had a reputation as a strong defensive third baseman, Urshela proved last season he also carries an increasingly powerful bat.  He has increased his home run total in every season since 2009 and hit 18 home runs in 128 games split between Double-A Akron and Triple-A Columbus last season. The six-foot and 215-pound Urshela added 26 doubles, six triples and 84 RBIs in a productive season before hitting .398 (43-for-108) in Venezuela this winter.

Despite being a free swinger, Urshela is surprisingly difficult to strike out. He doesn’t walk much, taking just three free passes this season, but he has fanned on only about 14 percent of his at-bats over the last one-plus season in Columbus.

According to Antonetti (via Paul Hoynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group):

"Gio has always been a very good defender. What we’ve seen with Gio, especially over the course of the last two years, is a maturation and a development as a hitter. I think he’s gained an understanding of what he needs to do to be successful. It has translated to success on the field last year at Columbus and this year since he put his injury behind him."

At just 23 years old, Urshela has been an impressive third base prospect since signing as an international free agent in 2008. He is the top third basemen in the Indians organization, largely due to his impressive defensive prowess, and he earned the franchise’s Lou Boudreau award last season for being the top position player in the Tribe’s minor league system.

Given his skill set, Urshela is unlikely to make an impact that even approaches that of

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fellow third base prospect

Kris Bryant

with the Cubs (.282, 7 home runs, 34 RBIs). But he can make an immediate impact to solidify the hot corner behind some of the best starting pitchers in baseball. Urshela committed just nine errors in over 1,000 innings at third base last season and is a significant upgrade over any third baseman the Tribe has fielded since

Travis Fryman

.

From an offensive perspective, Urshela is the type of hitter that is likely to struggle in his first stint with the big league club. While he doesn’t strike out much, he has a knack for chasing early-count pitches out of the zone — a habit that is likely be exposed frequently during his first stint with the Tribe.

Think Nick Castellanos.

While Urshela won’t fan nearly as often as the Tigers’ young third baseman, he is certainly capable of posting numbers similar to those of Castellanos in his first full big league season. Last year in Detroit, Castellanos hit .259/.306/.394 while adding 11 home runs and 31 doubles in a productive campaign. Urshela is the better defender of the two, so his defensive numbers should stack up well against Castellanos’ 15 errors in more than 1,200 total innings at the hot corner.

Level set your expectations there. The Tribe will be thrilled with anything beyond that type of contribution from Urshela this season.

Next: Moss gets assist from Apple to retrieve home run ball

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