Entering the 2019 season, Gio Urshela was pretty much an afterthought. The Yankees acquired him from the Blue Jays in a minor trade last August and stashed him in Triple-A. He wasn’t on the 40-man roster at the time and was nothing more than a non-roster invitee to spring training this year. And then, the devastating Miguel Andújar shoulder injury news came about a few days into the regular season. Though it wasn’t 100 percent certain he’d need surgery, the writing was on the wall. Up came Urshela, and the rest is history.
As fantastic as Urshela has been, I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if Andújar never got hurt in the first place. Did the Yankees know what they had on their hands in Gio? He did hit quite well for Scranton post-acquisition last summer. In 107 plate appearances, the third baseman recorded a strong 129 wRC+. Then again, Urshela had a good amount of opportunities with Cleveland and Toronto and never hit at the big league level.
On one hand, I think the Yankees knew that Urshela was good. Maybe not this good, but certainly a useful player. They were confident enough in him to assume Andújar’s duties. Perhaps the belief stemmed from his positive results with the Railriders last summer:
[Yankees’ hitting coach Marcus] Thames said he started noticing something different about Urshela late last season in video from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
“In spring training, he had some really good at-bats,” Thames said. “Since last year when we got him, he really focused on staying in his legs a little bit more. He did that work with (hitting coach) Phil Plantier at Triple-A and he brought it into winter ball and into the spring. He hasn’t skipped a beat, man. And he plays a hell of a third base. What we’re getting out of the bat right now is great.
So, it’s evident that team personnel took notice of Urshela. Now, if Urshela didn’t perform well, the Yankees could have eventually played DJ LeMahieu full-time at third base once Didi Gregorius returned. Instead, Urshela’s excellence created a crowded infield when Didi returned. So, Aaron Boone had to find ways to keep him in the lineup. It’s hard to deny him playing time with this in mind:
In spite of the Yankees clearly liking him to some extent before the breakout, there’s a good chance that Urshela would still be in Scranton (or with another major league team) today had Andújar never gotten hurt. I’m sure Gio would have raked for the Railriders, but would that have been enough for him to stand out? I mean, look at how many guys have been offensive forces for Scranton this year:
That’s a lot of well above average production in Triple-A. A few of these guys have found big league opportunities with the Yankees this year, but some have had to go elsewhere for a chance (Miller, McBroom, and Morrison). Perhaps Urshela would have been traded to another organization willing to give him a shot.
So in a weird way, there was a silver lining to Andújar’s injury. By no means am I glad he got hurt, and I’m definitely worried about future repercussions of his shoulder injury, but at least the Yankees had a chance to confirm what Thames and the rest of the organization noticed last summer. Hopefully, Andújar comes back strong in 2020 and the Yankees will have a good problem to resolve at the hot corner.