Examining San Diego Padres’ second baseman Luis Urias as he is set to embark on his rookie year during the 2019 season.
San Diego Padres’ fans favorite hobby these days is bragging about their number-one-ranked minor league system and the cornucopia of stud prospects lining up to make the Padres great again (or for once?).
Smack in the middle of this is second baseman, Luis Urias. Padres fans are familiar with his story: found in a remote Sonoran town as a 16-year-old, Urias has blossomed into what MLB Pipeline considers the number one second baseman in minor league baseball.
2018 did nothing to douse high expectations. He hit .296 with a .398 on-base percentage, which was seventh-best in the Pacific Coast League, and his 127 wRC+ was just outside the top 10 in the PCL. He is up there in walk rate as well, showing elite patience and discipline at the plate.
He finally made his major league debut on August 28 to much fanfare. He struggled for the most part in his first handful of games before going down with a hamstring injury to end the season. He finished with 12 big league games, batting .208 with two home runs and a 68 wRC+. Despite all that, expectations are sky high.
So what exactly will Urias be? Of course, it’s impossible to tell for sure, but it won’t stop us from trying.
FanGraphs has Urias’ overall value at 55, which is considered above average at about 2.5 WAR. They rate his hit tool at 65, which is All-Star level. MLB Pipeline rates his bat at 70, which is “well above average.”
Urias will likely never be Jose Altuve, let’s just get that out of the way right now. Altuve is a freak in the nicest sense of the term, with two seasons of 24 home runs, three batting titles, an MVP award, and six All-Star selections. They really only draw comparisons for their lack of height (Urias is 5-9, Altuve listed at 5-6) and their patient approach at the plate as well as manning second base.
Altuve was putting up ungodly numbers in the minors, with a 169 wRC+ in High-A and 153 wRC+ in Double-A and he completely leaped over Triple-A. Urias’ best minor league season is 130 wRC+, so let’s just put that comparison to bed.
This does not mean Urias cannot be a viable piece of the franchise and an All-Star.
Urias’ trends in the minor leagues will soon appear as he gains experience at the major league level. His bat control and discipline at the plate has already been displayed.
Could he become someone like, say, Jason Kipnis? Absolutely. Kipnis is a two-time All-Star and there are a few differences, like he is left-handed and has hit 53 home runs in the last three seasons, something that would probably be out of Urias’ range. However, Kipnis shows good discipline at the plate and in half of his career, has hit above .270. Both Urias and Kipnis maintain a strikeout rate below 20%, which would be considered better than average.
Let’s compare their seasons at Triple-A.
Kipnis might have a slight edge in power, but their OPS is almost identical.
Would you accept Urias being something like what Kipnis has become? I would.
What about DJ LeMahieu? He was the 2016 Tony Gwynn National League batting champion, two-time All-Star, and he has three Gold Gloves. He is a model of consistency, never batting below .267 after his rookie year, and he’s averaged about 2.5 WAR per season in that same time frame. Going back to the FanGraphs scores, that’s right where they have Urias rated.
Urias is thought to have an All-Star-caliber bat with an above average glove. DJ LeMahieu fits that description. Much like LeMahieu, Urias does not have much power to speak of. That doesn’t mean he can’t sneak 10 or so over the fence like LeMahieu occasionally does.
The Padres could have a type of LeMahieu or Kipnis at second base for the next five to ten years. Both of those guys are proven All-Stars.
What is Urias’ floor? Let’s say the hype doesn’t quite match the real results on the field, but he is still a viable MLB player. Pre-2018 Jed Lowrie (who went all-in on the launch angle craze in 2018), in his previous 10 seasons, hit .261 over that span and averaged eight home runs with a 103 wRC+ and about 1.5 WAR per season. That is the floor I visualize if Urias does not live up to the All-Star billing.
Padres fans are excited for what 2019 will bring for Luis Urias. He should be getting a starting nod either at second base or shortstop from the beginning of the season and get a full season’s work.