Gio Urshela
ESNY Graphic, AP Photo

The New York Yankees should look to utilize Gio Urshela beyond his marvelous breakout season, even if it means making tough decisions.

Josh Benjamin

You might not have noticed it until now, but New York Yankees third baseman Gio Urshela is having quite a year.

The 27-year-old has broken out in 2019, hitting .323 with 17 home runs and 61 RBIs in 97 games. This is quite the accomplishment considering Urshela was a .225 career hitter entering the season.

This also wasn’t supposed to happen. Regular third baseman and AL Rookie of the Year runner-up Miguel Andujar had the hot corner locked down in Spring Training. Subpar defense aside, he hit .297 with 27 home runs and 92 RBIs. He also added an unbelievable 47 doubles and his bat alone secured his spot in the lineup.

But Andujar tore the labrum in his right shoulder early in the season, and ultimately needed surgery despite trying to just rehab it. Urshela then went from random minor league callup to everyday third baseman, and here we are today.

Don’t get me wrong. Miguel Andujar deserves every chance to come back, but Gio Urshela should also get another look.

In fact, it may be better for the Yankees to invest their time and energy in him rather than Andujar when all is said and done.

Why not Miguel?

Some fans probably prefer Andujar to Urshela, and why wouldn’t they? He was, arguably, the best American League rookie last year and would have been Rookie of the Year if not for Shohei Ohtani’s two-way madness.

Moreover, Urshela will turn 28 during the playoffs this year while Andujar will only be 25. Being three years younger with a proven powerful bat should automatically give him an edge, no?

Andujar’s bat aside, he does have some serious red flags entering the 2020 season, starting with his defense. Despite showing improvement in Spring Training this year, Andujar actually graded out as the worst defensive third baseman in baseball in 2018 per Fangraphs. His minus-25 defensive runs saved (DRS) and minus-16 Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) were dead last among qualified players in both leagues.

Now, let’s talk about Andujar’s shoulder. Even if he makes a full recovery, there’s no guarantee he’ll be back to his old self. For all we know, he won’t be able to make the throw from third base anymore. Even his hitting may be affected.

Thus, with how well Urshela has performed, better to try and trade Andujar for pitching. I made this very argument last month, saying GM Brian Cashman should try and sell Andujar as a potential first baseman.

It’s not a popular move, but the right one.

But why Gio?

But let’s get back to Gio Urshela. He has exceeded any and all expectations this season. How did a .225 career hitter suddenly become a borderline All-Star?

Well, per Pete Caldera of NorthJersey.com, Urshela worked with Triple-A Scranton hitting coach Phil Plantier after being traded to New York and focused more on making hard contact with the ball. There was an emphasis on pitches he could drive. Given how Urshela hit .307 with Scranton compared to .244 with Buffalo, Toronto’s Triple-A affiliate, this approach clearly worked.

But let’s look at the numbers from this season and see what sticks out. Sure enough, Urshela has a hard contact rate (Hard%) of 45.6%. Prior to this season, on the major league level, he had never posted a mark higher than 24.4%.

New York Yankees

Urshela has also upped his isolated power (ISO) to .249 from sub-.100 with Toronto last year. A .339 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) shows luck is a big part of it. But make no mistake, he seems to have found his stroke at the plate.

Urshela’s defense has also been excellent. Don’t let the minus-4 DRS and minus-3.3 UZR fool you, he looks a Gold Glove-caliber defender.

The man hit .333 in July and has kicked off August by batting .424. On numbers alone, he warrants consideration for next year.

Long-term issues?

Moreover, the Yankees would save a lot of money if they focused on Gio Urshela rather than Miguel Andujar. Per Spotrac, Urshela will be under team-controlled salary next year before hitting arbitration in 2021. In 2024, he will become a free agent at age 32.

Andujar’s contract situation is the same, but he is coming off a major injury. New York already devoted so much time and energy to the oft-injured Greg Bird after he hurt his shoulder and foot, and he is now a non-factor. Do the Yankees really want to make the same mistake with Andujar even if his rehab goes smoothly?

With a clear solution in Gio Urshela, the solution should be obvious.

Final thoughts

The way I see it, the Yankees have two options. They can either sell high on Urshela this offseason or do their best to move Andujar. The latter option is tough, but Cashman could surely pull it off.

And even if Urshela is just a one-season wonder, the Yankees have a contingency plan. DJ LeMahieu can easily slot in at third if Urshela needs to be benched.

The point is, the Yankees took on Gio Urshela when he was just a simple Steve Rogers, and have now turned him into a full-blown Captain America. One way or another, the Yankees need to choose between him and Andujar.

It isn’t a decision which needs to be made now. But make no mistake, the clock is indeed ticking.

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