The World Baseball Classic begins in less than a month.
Rosters were unveiled last Wednesday and among the participants are 11 members of the Indians organization ranging from Low-A players to the big leagues. The WBC has gained some popularity with the sport’s removal from the Olympics over in the United States, and with that, some players have seen this as the prime opportunity to show patriotism towards their respective countries.
But the WBC is not just about patriotism. For some players, it’s about fine-tuning their talents before the start of the Major League season. For others, it’s about seizing the opportunity to mingle with and play on the same diamond as fellow countrymen who are stars in their own regard.
And, for some like Indians third baseman Giovanny Urshela, it’s an opportunity to shine on a world stage and showcase their talents and possible serve as a springboard to a big 2017 season.
Urshela was once considered one of the top-20 prospects in the Indians system, routinely ranking in the IBI’s top 25 prospect listing from 2011-2015 before his rookie eligibility ended after the 2015 season. In 2011, Urshela ranked in at 23rd overall (5th among infielders) and in 2013 he jumped up to 19th overall (6th among infielders) before topping out at 4th overall in 2015 (2nd among infielders (Lindor). But even though he’s always had the potential to become a mainstay at the hot corner in Cleveland, he simply has not put all of the pieces to the puzzle together.
Urshela has been known for his glove work at third base, but the question on his full potential to become an everyday starter in the Majors has relied on the development of his bat. In his eight seasons at the minor league level he has slashed at a career .269/.302/.402 clip, which is not bad, but is rather mediocre which has pushed him into the back seat of the car of hot corner prospects. The Indians have since handed the keys to Jose Ramirez, and fast rising hitting machine Yandy Diaz could take the keys at third base before season’s end.
Let’s not forget that Urshela did appear in 81 games for the Indians in 2015. He slashed .225/.279/.330 with 60 hits in 288 plate appearances. He also banged out six homers, drove in 21 runs, and scored 25 runs. However, his walk rate was not all too impressive in that brief stint (6.3 BB%) and he didn’t show much thump (.107 ISO). Due to that lack of offense and inconsistent bat, he was lost in the shuffle last year and spent the entire season at Triple-A Columbus and has been stuck there ever since.
So with all of that said, is the 2017 World Baseball Classic going to be a good opportunity for Urshela to showcase himself as a formidable Major League third baseman?
He’s running out of opportunities within the Indians organization and they are running out of time with him as this will be his last option year. With the emergence of Jose Ramirez as the Indians’ everyday third baseman and Yandy Diaz coming off his blazing hot 2016 season in which he not only hit the cover off the ball (.318/.408/.446 with 141 hits in 121 games), there appears to be no direct path for Urshela to get to Cleveland this season.
This is where Urshela’s chance to play on the big stage in the WBC could not only provide him some confidence, but it could provide the momentum he needs to get his bat going again like it did in 2014.
The Colombia native will occupy an infield that consists of Dilson Herrera (Reds), Mauricio Ramos (Royals), Adrian Sanchez (Nationals) and Donovan Solano (Yankees), so it’s not out of the question to think Urshela would start at third base for Colombia. We know of the defensive tools he brings, but the bottom line is that Urshela needs to start hitting if he wants to be a full-time third baseman in the big leagues.
If Urshela cannot get the bat back on track, where would his ceiling falter to? As a platoon player or defensive replacement? Perhaps a corner utility infielder like a Jack Hannahan?
The answers to those questions will come over the course of this season, and should begin to be answered or at least become clearer following the conclusion of Colombia’s run in the World Baseball Classic.
Corey Crisan is a columnist for the Cleveland Indians and the Mahoning Valley Scrappers on Indians Baseball Insider on Scout.com. You can listen to him on IBI’s Farm Report Podcast and follow him on Twitter and Instagram @cdcrisan