With spring training in full swing, the excitement builds, as the Padres begin to piece together their opening day roster.
The task of narrowing down the field is at hand. It seems like the only two players that have their starting roles locked down at this point are Wil Myers at first and Austin Hedges at catcher. As the weeks unfold, position battles will give birth to numerous story lines that we will be tracking here at the East Village Times.
Today, we’ll be discussing 19-year-old Luis Urias, who is coming into focus as a long shot candidate for the wide open spot at shortstop.
Urias, who we have ranked at number eight on our San Diego Padres Top 50 Prospects list, had himself a stellar offensive season in 2016. He impressed by winning the batting title and MVP award in the Class A California League last year as the circuit’s youngest player. In high Single-A at Lake Elsinore, he slashed .330/.397/.440 in 466 at-bats. He had a brief stint in Triple-A El Paso, as an injury replacement, and went four for nine. He hit his first six home runs last season after hitting none in his first 106 pro games. Five of those came in Lake Elsinore and one in El Paso.
The battle for the Padres shortstop position is an interesting one. Incumbent Luis Sardinas currently looks like the front-runner for the starting spot. He came over to the Padres last season in an August trade from the Mariners. In 108 at bats with the Padres, Sardinas slashed .287/.353/.417 with 13 RBI and two home runs. He was certainly serviceable in the field and he’s long been a favorite of general manager, A.J. Preller.
Allen Cordoba was a Rule-5 pickup, coming over from the Cardinals. Like any Rule-5 pick, Cordoba must stay on the 25-man roster all season long or be offered back to the Cardinals. He’s shown some talent with his bat in rookie ball and has some serious upside if the Padres can hold onto him. It seems he will be given top priority to fit into some place on the roster.
Of the non-roster invitees, there are two, aside from Urias, to take into consideration. Erick Aybar is a name that many will be familiar with. At 33, he’s coming into his 11th year in the league. A former all-star, he has had success both offensively and defensively in his career. However, as of late his level of play has lowered quite a bit. He split playing time with the Atlanta Braves and Detroit Tigers in 2016. In 415 total at-bats, he slashed .243/.303/.320. He had a sorry -0.2 WAR. His defensive skills are average at this point. Some have suggested that Aybar at shortstop will be a rehashing of Alexei Ramirez in 2016, which is something that would bring excitement to no one.
Dusty Coleman is a journeyman, glove first, shortstop that the Padres signed as a free agent. He most recently spent time in the Kansas City Royals organization. In Triple-A last season, he slashed .239/.296/.399 in 188 at bats. He has experience at second and third, which brings his value up a little bit. He seems to factor most likely as injury depth in El Paso come opening day amidst the stiff competition.
Urias is the long shot of the bunch. He has spent most of his time in the Padres’ organization at second base. Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune first reported that he will see extended reps at shortstop during spring training. It seems that the team wants to try to squeeze him to see if he has any potential at the premier defensive post. Such a development to his skill set would greatly increase his value, which is already at a premium due to his offensive success.
Currently, he’s recognized as a bat-first infielder with a strong arm, but his range is the question mark. He’s done well at second base but he will be tested to see if he can reach balls hit deep in the gaps. If he can become even an average shortstop, that could catapult his career.
The truth is that Urias is unlikely to start off at the major league level this year. He should be expected to open the season in Double-A. At 19, he’s still very young and there seems to be players a little more seasoned at the position ahead of him in line. The fact that Cordoba needs to stay on the 25-man roster is one major factor that bumps Urias back. Another thing to consider is that the Padres’ pitching staff will feature several ground ball pitchers. The team will need some solid fielding up the middle. Urias might not be ready for such an undertaking at this point in his development. He wouldn’t be of use at his usual second base position, as the team has an even more competitive battle going on over there. Stay tuned though; the Padres have certainly not solved their need for a long-term shortstop and it appears unlikely that the 2017 season will provide the answer. Urias may be preparing himself for a future position battle that could solidify his spot with the Padres for years to come.