When the Yankees traded for Gio Urshela in the summer of 2018, it barely made a ripple. Acquired as minor-league depth, Urshela never played for the Yankees that season, but re-signed with the organization on a minor-league deal after a productive two months at Scranton. Not a part of the 40-man roster and a primary third baseman who had a Rookie of the Year finalist ahead of him on the depth chart, it looked like Urshela would just be the fail safe in case of emergency in 2019.
Although that’s how Urshela’s season began, that’s not what it ended up becoming. Urshela was first recalled after Miguel Andujar suffered a major shoulder injury, and he never went back down. He first made an impact with stellar defense, but grew into his own as a hitter, and is now perched as the Yankees’ undisputed starter at third base in 2020.
2019 Statistics: 132 games, 476 plate appearances, .314/.355/.534, 21 HR, 73 RBI, 74 runs, 132 wRC+, 3.1 fWAR
2020 Contract Status: Pre-Arbitration, under team control until 2024
Urshela’s immediate impact was most noticeable on defense. The Yankees haven’t had an elite defensive third basemen in years, and Urshela more than fit the bill. He showed impressive arm strength and soft hands, and often made plays that left fans marveling.
Although the defensive metrics aren’t too kind to Urshela, and it’s undoubtedly true that his defense seems better than it really is after comparing it to the likes of Miguel Andujar, Chase Headley and a breaking-down Alex Rodriguez. In reality, Urshela defensively is probably somewhere in the middle. Maybe he’s not a Gold Glover, but he’s the best defender at the hot corner the Yankees have had in decades.
Although Urshela came in with the reputation of a glove-first player, he truly developed as a hitter. After a stellar April where he hit .345, Urshela kept raking until the All-Star Break. After the break though, Urshela’s power really took off. He hit 14 home runs and compiled 32 extra-base hits in his final 60 games, all while leading the team with a .326 average after the Midsummer Classic. He also developed a reputation as a clutch hitter after hitting .333 with runners in scoring position, and became an invaluable member of the lineup heading into the playoffs.
Urshela cooled off a bit in the postseason, hitting just .242, but he did have several huge hits, including a three-hit performance in the Yankees’ Game Six loss to the Astros, which also featured a home run. Urshela’s defense was also in fine form during the playoffs.
Despite the sour ending to the season, the Yankees have doubled down on Urshela for the 2020 season. Brian Cashman said that Urshela is the leading candidate to start at third base, despite Andujar’s impending return, and it’s the right call. Andujar may be able to find a role on the ballclub again, but right now, Urshela is more of the sure thing. The Yankees have explored position changes for Andujar to get him into the lineup, which also indicates that the team is comfortable moving forward with Urshela at the hot corner.
In all honesty, why wouldn’t they be? Urshela was one of the best stories of the 2019 Yankees’ season, and after proving capable to both hit and field at a high level, there’s no reason to think things won’t continue in 2020.