Gio Urshela arrived in the Yankees organization with zero fanfare — in fact, when he was acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays for cash considerations on August 4, 2018, the move went so far under the radar that we did not even dedicate an article to the move on Pinstripe Alley! Then, during the following spring, our very own Matt Ferenchick did not exactly give him a ringing endorsement for a roster spot when he wrote, “Urshela is by far the least known and least likely person to play for the Yankees in 2019” and “If he has to play for New York this season, something probably has gone seriously wrong.”
Unfortunately for the 2019 Yankees, things went seriously wrong extremely, extremely quickly. Headed into spring training, the team was already missing Didi Gregorius and Jordan Montgomery, who were rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. Before camp broke, Luis Severino, Aaron Hicks, Dellin Betances, and CC Sabathia joined them on the shelf. And then, within the first week of the season, Giancarlo Stanton and Miguel Andújar suffered injuries that would ultimately keep them sidelined for the majority of the season. 2019 was beginning to look like 2013 all over again.
Fortunately, 2019 was the year of #NextManUp, and Gio Urshela was the face of it.
2019 Stats: 132 games, 476 plate appearances, .314/.355/.534, 21 home runs, 132 wRC+, 2.8 fWAR
Born on October 11, 1991, in Cartagena, Colombia, Gio Urshela signed with Cleveland as an international amateur free agent back in July 2008. Known more for his glove than his bat, he steadily climbed through the minor leagues and was eventually named the organization’s fourth-best prospect prior to the 2015 season. He would go on to make his debut on June 8th of that year, and would spend the next three years trying but ultimately failing to forge himself a spot in a Cleveland infield anchored by a pair of youngsters (Francisco Lindor and José Ramírez) and veteran Jason Kipnis. Eventually, in need of the roster spot, Cleveland designated him for assignment in May 2018, then traded him to the Toronto Blue Jays. He would play 19 games up north, slashing just .233/.283/.326, before he would be shipped out — first to Triple-A, then to the Yankees.
Once within the Yankees organization, however, Urshela revamped his swing, and ended the year on a tear, as he posted a .307/.340/.475 slash line in 27 minor league games. And when he came to the Bronx, he continued to rake. In fact, over the first two months of the season, the then-27-year-old was one of the best third baseman in baseball: his 133 wRC+ ranked ninth among those with at least 150 plate appearances. On the strength of this performance, Urshela came in second in the All-Star voting, losing out to Houston’s Alex Bregman, although due to the strength of the position and the high number of Yankees on the roster already, he did not ultimately get named to the team. Even so, he had been playing so well that, even when Didi Gregorius returned to the lineup and freed up DJ LeMahieu to man the hot corner more often, the Yankees continued to pencil Urshela in on a regular basis.
And boy, did Urshela reward the Yankees for that continued faith. From the All-Star Break until he hit the injured list himself at the end of August, he posted a ridiculous .369/.392/.675 slash line, good for a 179 wRC+ (fourth among third basemen in that stretch, behind only Yuli Gurriel, Anthony Rendon, and Alex Bregman). Meanwhile, he found his power stroke, with his 11 home runs matching Anthony Rendon and Hunter Dozier in fewer plate appearances. With the Yankees missing Edwin Encarnación, Luke Voit, and Giancarlo Stanton for the majority of this stretch, Urshela’s bat was an integral reason the Yankees were able to enter September with a ten-game lead over the Tampa Bay Rays in the division race.
Following a groin injury that kept him out of the lineup for ten days, Urshela struggled in the month of September, although he did come up with some big hits during the postseason; he had three hits, including a home run, during Game 6 of the ALCS, for example. Despite this lackluster ending to the season, Urshela established himself as one of the league’s upper echelon third basemen, and he would follow that up with a strong 2020. While a less-than-stellar 2021 prompted the Yankees to ship him to the Minnesota Twins in the blockbuster that brought Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Josh Donaldson to the Bronx, his importance to the 2019 squad — one of the most fun teams to watch in recent memory, even with their heartbreaking ending — will never be forgotten.