THIS IS A COUNTDOWN!!!!! Over the next forty-something days starting on February 12th and ending on March 28th, I will be rolling out my Top 35 prospects in the Cardinals organization. We call it "The Dirty Thirty-Five" because it's marketable, I think. Also, we call it that because my write-ups and evaluations are a little different. I’m kind of a quirky and goofy guy and the evaluations fit that personality. I've already written about the four players that graduated off the list. I've also written about the guys that just missed the list. You should check those out because you're going to have questions about my sanity afterwards. The article about the guys that didn’t make the D35 is really freaking good. This list is my own. It's terrible. I'm fine with it. Remember, have fun with these lists. Ranking prospects is a joke, but it's fun so treat all of the prospect ranking accordingly.
Ramon Urias - Utility Infielder
Signed as a minor league free agent from the Mexican League in 2018
STATS AS OF 5-1-2019
One of the beautiful things about baseball, from a narrative standpoint, is that it's a game for families. the statement that it's "America's Pastime" is all well-and-good, but the thing that I romanticize most about baseball is that it's the game of families. Even more-so now that baseball is such an International game. It's become a "National Pastime" more than "America's Pastime", and I love that. For me, the game (and my love of it) was passed down from my parents, through my brothers. The love of the game is something that I've worked to pass down to the next generation for the last ten years as a little league coach.
I bring this up because Mr. Urias feels like a player that I can relate to. You see, his younger brother Luis is a hot shot prospect in the Padres' system. Much like Ramon, I, too, am the least talented person in my family.
Luis is also a second baseman primarily, but the more gifted and promising of the two Urias brothers. Luis has a chance to be a star-type perennial all-star at the position, and he's even a talented short stop.
While that probably isn't in the cards for the older Ramon, there is still a lot of promise there. As a matter of fact, while Luis is the more well-rounded prospect of the two brother, Ramon has more of what I love than Luis does: POWER. Just like with this opposite field home run:
It took me all of the 2018 season to realize that I had been underrating Ramon Urias, and I'd like to apologize for that. This was, in part, because he entered the organization with no clear cut defensive position on the infield. The other issue was, that I tend to not get too excited about offensive production in the Caribbean Leagues, especially the Mexican League. There is an elevation difference and, I've been told, that is a reason to invest more into those power numbers than I do. It's just that those power numbers never really seem to translate. So I've always been largely dismissive of them.
To me, the Mexican League and the Caribbean Leagues are somewhere between the AA and AAA levels of talent, but leaning closer to 2nd division AAA. With that in mind, one of the encouraging things about Ramon's 2018 season was that he hit thirteen home runs in 310 at-bats between Springfield and Memphis. He also hit 28 doubles over those 310 at-bats, and that was a great sign.
One of the underrated things about Urias is his swing, which I love. I think that it's one of the best in the organization. He gets great lower-body leverage (hips), too. There are plenty of other swing-parts to keep an eye on (along with approach and plate-coverage), but his hips and quick hand-action are what I really like. Those are the two swing mechanics that I believe help a player really max-out their power. I want to make it clear that I'm in the minority with this, especially because I do such a poor job of explaining what exactly I mean by "lower-body leverage". Anyway, It allows him to generate power even when he is ahead of the pitch, just like here:
Before we even get into the offensive stats, the main issue with Urias is that he's never been that good of a fielder. He was an average short stop in the Mexican League and he's average as a utility player at the minor league level. He can play third, and he can play short, but a team is better off when he's playing those positions as little as possible. Think of him defensively as a step-below wherever you viewed Greg Garcia, and a large step-below Garcia at short. He has the quickness and arm strength to play third and short, but he's sloppy and inconsistent. What you'd want, is for him to spend as much time at second base as possible. He's really good there. He's a 60 grade defensive second baseman, if you buy into the grade system.
While Urias absolutely lit up AA (remember, just a few paragraphs ago I mentioned that the Mexican League is roughly the equivalent of a league between AAA and AA, so it was no surprise that he raked in AA), his time at Memphis left a lot to be desired. Especially for a player that has played in a pro league, and that was already an advanced age.
I am pleased with the slugging that he did at Memphis, but the slash line of 261/291/430 leaves a lot to be desired. It paints the picture of impatience from an overly-aggressive swinger at the highest levels of the minors. When you add in that his AAA walk rate fell to 4% from 9.3% at Springfield. and that his strikeout rate went up from 14.9% to 19.4%, you get a reinforced understanding of how overly-zealous of a hitter that Urias was at AAA. But that is only half of his AAA story.
Urias was signed on March 16th of last season, right as spring training was concluding, and the plan was to start him at Springfield. However, injuries and roster moves forced him to start the year in Memphis. He was terrible during that first AAA stint, and he probably wasn't quite ready for that level without a legitimate spring training. Then, throughout the season, Urias was promoted and demoted three additional times. Each time, getting a little bit better and showing a little bit more at the AAA level. Each time, showing more plate-discipline and demonstrating, little by little, the type of hitter that he was capable of being as he became more comfortable at the level. He did struggle during his last tour with Memphis that led into the AAA playoffs, but it wasn't enough to throw me off. Urias evolved during the season into a better hitter at the AAA level and THAT I love to see.
Urias then followed up the 2018 MiLB season by setting all kinds of hitting and power records in the Mexican Winter League. In 173 at-bats, Urias slashed 318/432/532 with ten home runs and eight doubles. He took 36 walks and struck out 35 times during the winter league, both good for about 16% of the time. While I don't think that there is too much to invest into with these numbers, the walk rate increase is definitely a nice sign of adjustment. It's always nice to see a Cardinals' affiliated player do well. It certainly was a nice little cherry on top of a successful 2018 season.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Urias played so well at the end of the season, while showing enough versatility around the diamond, to earn a 40-man roster spot. Part of this was as a result of getting off to a BIG AND POWERFUL start to the Mexican Winter League. There is still a lot to be understood and learned about what kind of pro Urias is going to be. But, with a spot on the 40-man, versatility, and above-average power for a utility infielder, I'm willing to bet that we find out sooner rather than later. If not, a full season of AAA pitching will help clear up the questions that I have. What I know is, I love baseball families, and I'm excited about the future of these two brothers.
**SPRING TRAINING UPDATE**
Urias has already made a positive impression early on in camp. He hit this monster three-run home run in the spring opener:
He's also been diving around and playing a great second base. There are a cluster of utility infielders that are competing for a spot on the opening day roster (Yairo Munoz, Drew Robinson, Edmundo Sosa, maybe even Tommy Edman), but Urias has been the most impressive of the bunch early in camp (3/2/2018).
MAY 1st UPDATE
Truthfully, I don't have much to say because I've paid very little attention to Urias. I'm sorry about that. Come back in June and I'll have more.
I can't do these D35 articles without the stats from FanGraphs.
Thanks For Reading!!