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The View From Behind the Backstop: Jhoan Urena

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Urena has flown under radars a bit, despite some good results since he was signed for a bit under a half million dollars in 2011. Do the Mets have something here?

Bryan Green

Jhoan Urena

3B, Brooklyn Cyclones (SS-A)
Height, weight: 6'1", 200
Age (2014 season age): 19
Acquired: IFA, 2011 ($425,000)

Date(s) seen: vs. Staten Island, 6/27/14; @ Connecticut, 7/12/14-7/13/14: 2-10, 3 BB, 4 K
2014 so far: 129 PA, .304/.380/.461, 27 K / 14 BB

The short of it

Urena might not have much of a future as a Jordache model, but the Cyclones third baseman is a better athlete than he appears and has advanced bat-to-ball skills for his age.

The long of it

If you had asked me at the beginning of the 2014 season for some system sleepers, Jhoan Urena would have been at or near the top of my list. Still, I did not expect him to get pushed to Brooklyn over Pedro Perez and 2014 fourth-round pick Eudor Garcia. Now I can certainly see why he was. Like Perez and Garcia, Urena looks the part of a bad-bodied third baseman, but he is more athletic than you'd expect for a guy his size. He's not a bad runner, at least once he gets fully underway, and I think he has a better chance than Perez or Garcia (based on reports) of sticking at third long term.

His present-day play at the hot corner is a bit of a mixed bag, but the only real instance where it was an issue of athleticism was on a slow roller he had to charge. I didn't have the camera running, but I probably would have had to use time lapse photography. In better news, Urena is quite fluid on reaction plays, showing soft hands and a decent first step. The arm is an easy plus, though he got a bit out of sorts mechanically when he had to really rush a throw and spiked the ball short. He was also a little awkward with his body positioning on a backhand stab that he ended up ole'ing. I would expect those last two issues to get better with more reps, but the lack of range will leave him no better than a fringe-average defender at the major league level.

Fortunately, the bat looks like it can carry the profile. Urena starts with an open stance and uses a small leg kick to close off. He is very busy pre-swing, weaving the bat from his shoulder to nearly in front of his eyes. That waggle can cause him to get long and wrap the bat at times, but usually he gets everything in place in time to start his swing. And once Urena lets it fly, the bat speed and control are impressive for a 19-year-old at this level. He's one of those guys with just an innate ability to barrel a baseball. I only saw him from the left side in my three looks (he's a switch-hitter), but he has one of the best hit tools in the low minors of the organization.  

He combines this with a strong approach for his age/experience level. Urena will spit on stuff away and is comfortable working deep counts. I am loathe to use the phrase 'hunting his pitch,' but whatever you want to call it, Urena has an idea and a plan when he is at the plate. How excited you want to get about him comes down to how much power you think he will develop. He is a strong kid, but there isn't much projection here. I guess I could see him getting fringe-average or average pop out of the swing, but .270-.280 with some walks and 15 bombs will play. Of course we are talking about a teenager in the Penn League, so the error bars here are quite large.

 

The optimistic projection

Offensive-minded everyday third baseman, whose arm covers for some of his deficiencies in the field

The pessimistic projection

The body could get worse and force a move to right field or first base, where the offensive profile is much less enticing, or he could stall against upper level pitching even if he sticks at third.

What to look for during the rest of the 2014 season

Like Rosario, I'll be taking the longer view on Urena given his age and the amount of time left in the 2014 season. Can he maintain his approach in full-season ball and start to show some more over the fence power (granted, probably not in Savannah)?