As a light-hitting third baseman for the Cleveland Indians and Toronto Blue Jays, Gio Urshela was a player whose glove is the only reason he was in the league. With the reputation of being a great defender as a prospect, Urshela garnered interest from other teams. He was traded to the New York Yankees in August 2018 for $25,000.
After being acquired by the Yankees, he served as a warm body in Triple-A that could possibly prove to be useful depth. An opportunity arose in early 2019 that led to Urshela’s callup to the Yankees big league team. A shoulder injury to Miguel Andujar paved the way for Urshela to take advantage of this opportunity. He certainly did just that.
2019 Breakout Season
Gio Urshela hit a paltry .225/.274/.315 (57 OPS+) from 2016 through 2018 while bouncing around between the majors and minors. His 2018 stint in Triple-A with the Yankees was successful as he hit .307/.340/.475. Perhaps that signaled a significant turnaround for him. The Yankees have earned a pretty good reputation for finding hidden gems and turning them into very productive baseball players. Urshela is one of those players. He, along with players such as Luke Voit, Mike Tauchman, and Mike Ford became part of the “Next Man Up” motto that came to define their 2019 season as its injury woes reached a historic level.
Urshela played 132 games in 2019 and just barely missed the cutoff in plate appearances to qualify for the batting title. After a hot start, he never stopped hitting at a high level which many expected would happen. Urshela posted a 3.9 bWAR as a result of his solid defense along with a .314/.355/.534 (.889 OPS and 132 OPS+) batting line. He hit 21 home runs, drove in 74 runs, and struck out fewer than 100 times.
The only real aspect of his game to pick on was his plate discipline as he posted a 5.3% walk rate. Digging into the statcast numbers show that his 2019 was not a fluke. His average exit velocity (90.6 mph), xBA (.289), xSLG (.504), xwOBA (.353), and K% (18.3) were all career-bests. All those figures placed him in the 70th percentile or better in the league. Due to his outstanding showing, Urshela was the Yankees full-time third baseman in 2019.
Gio Urshela Continued to Shine in 2020
Despite the short season, Urshela’s 2020 season reinforced his transformation into an upper-tier third baseman. The statcast numbers were even better as his xBA (.315), K% (14.4), whiff% (20.3), xwOBA (.364), xSLG (.494), and exit velocity (91.4), were all in the 80th percentile or better in the league. He was also excellent defensively as he posted 6 DRS, 5.4 UZR. This led to him being named a Gold Glove finalist at third base. Urshela’s 1.9 bWAR was on pace to surpass his 2019 total had it been a full season.
His batting line of .298/.368/.490 (.858 OPS and 136 OPS+) was great as he posted six HR and 30 RBI. Mind you, he only played 43 games in 2020 as he spent some time on the injured list. However, his numbers still show he was one of the most consistent players for the Yankees in 2020.
It’s important to not only look at his counting stats over the past two seasons. This is because he has played fewer games than most other full-time third basemen. Despite this, the quality of his performance definitely merits consideration for Urshela being in the top-10. His 162-game averages over the past two seasons are 26 HR, 97 RBI, a .310/.358/.523 (.881 OPS and 133 OPS+) batting line, and a 5.8 bWAR.
Standing Out Among Other Third Basemen
Among all third basemen in the league (min. 650 PA) over the past two seasons, Gio Urshela is tied with Josh Donaldson for 5th in wRC+ (132), ranks 8th in wOBA (.368), 3rd in BA (.310), 7th in SLG (.523), 8th in OPS (.881), 3rd in WPA (3.80), and 6th in DRS (7). There are countless numbers and statistics to prove that Urshela is perhaps a top-10 third baseman in the league. Urshela is one of the few who brings great value on both sides of the ball. It may take one more fantastic season for Gio Urshela to consolidate his place as a top-10 player at third base, but he is certainly in the mix.
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