There is zero doubt that Luis Urias is one of the most talented prospects in the game. Additionally, in a small sample size, he has also been overwhelmed by Major League pitching so far.
Through Wednesday night’s 0-for-4 with a walk performance, Urias is now hitting .160 with four extra base hits through his first 81 big league at bats split between 2018 and ‘19. Urias has also struck out 23 times for a clip of 28 percent. After a cup of coffee last season before an injury, that total is nearly 40 percent of the time in 2019.
For Urias, it was difficult to season him more in Triple-A, despite his young age. In 754 at bats at Minor League Baseball highest level, Urias has hit .305 with a .913 OPS. The biggest issue for Urias at the level is also strikeouts. He holds a 23 percent strikeout rate at Triple-A, which is elevated from his nine percent rate at all other levels.
What gives you might ask? Well the biggest reason for this is that Urias altered his swing going into the 2018 season to have a larger leg kick and weight shift. With this emphasis, his power increased dramatically. In Double-A in 2017, Urias hit .296, but only posted a .778 OPS. His best season leading up to the change was in 2016, where he posted a .850 OPS in 475 at bats. In 2018, Urias posted Minor League career highs in doubles with 30 and homers with eight. He returned in 2019 with a vengeance, smashing 19 doubles and 19 home runs in just 295 at bats before the second promotion of the season last week.
While Urias’ swing has typically included a leg kick, it has not been a dramatic in the past and his weight shift has not been as strong. Please see the video below for an example with a home run he hit in Cincinnati last season.
His violent swing and leg kick reminds me a lot of a younger Javier Baez. Please compare to the video below.
Baez was a notorious strikeout machine his first couple of years in Major League Baseball. I remember seeing him his first September he was with the Cubs in person and knew immediately that he was either going to have to dedicate completely into being a power hitter or scale back his swing. He chose the former and it took some time to develop, but he has made himself into a star at the plate.
In another comparison, Baez and Urias are both strong defenders in the middle infield. This allows the teams that they play on to be more patient with struggles at the plate. In his first 213 big league at bats, Baez hit just .169 and fanned an alarming 45 percent of the time in 2014 as a 21-year-old. At the same age in 2018 with a much smaller sample size, Urias was only striking out 21 percent of the time. That number climbed exponentially this season.
One of the main differences between early Baez and Urias is that the later has not always been a high strikeout player, while the former has. In his first full pro season in 2011, Baez struck out 28.5 percent of the time. In fact, for his Minor League career, Baez struck out over a fourth of the time. Also different from Urias, Baez had the raw power for his entire Minor League time.
Baez leads the league in strikeouts this season with 123 through 99 games in 2019, but he has also hit 24 home runs. After smacking 34 last season, the nearly 30 percent strikeout rate that he has over the past two seasons is thrown out the window.
Urias has shown something else that Baez could not – that he can get on base and be selective at the plate, while still swinging hard. While still striking out at an alarming clip at Triple-A, he also has a .403 OBP at the level. He has walked 108 times in 887 plate appearances.
The moral of the story is that Urias now finds himself at the same crossroads that Baez did. He has shown that his scaled back swing translates to hits and getting on base. He has shown in 2019 in Triple-A that his ‘swing out of your shoes’ approach can translate to power at that level. Ultimately, if he follows the same path of Baez, the strikeouts do not matter if the power translates to the big leagues. However, he will have to pick one path and hope that it is the correct one.