SAN ANTONIO, Texas — Luis Urias is the San Diego Padres best prospect at the Double-A level and above - maybe in the entire system - and will only turn 20 on June 3. For Urias, who became a professional for the Mexico City Red Devils at 15, this is really nothing new.
“I’ve always gotten questions about that, but the key is just be yourself,” said Urias before a recent home game. “It doesn’t matter if you are the youngest or the oldest; just try to focus and do your job.”
So far this year, Urias has been focusing with a .340/.430/489 slash line. Going into tonight’s game, he’s second in the Texas League in on-base percentage, fourth in hits and doing this while playing extensively at shortstop for the first time in his professional career.
“I have to focus more defensively at shortstop, as compared to second base - especially with my feet - but I have always been good at separating offense from defense.”
Defensively he’s considered a plus defender at second, but the Padres going into this year wanted to experiment with him at shortstop with the belief that he could play there due to the extensive shifting that takes place now.
“He’s an outstanding second baseman and I think that is where his future is defensively,” said Missions’ manager Phillip Wellman. “He’s athletic enough, and has enough skills, to fill in at shortstop, but down the road he is a second baseman.”
However, what attracts everyone to Urias is his bat and his uncanny ability to not only consistently barrel up the baseball, but to rarely swing at anything that is not a strike.
Lance Burkhart, agrees with that assessment, but added a little more.
“He has hand-eye and can make adjustments as far as timing goes,” said Lance Burkhart, his his hitting coach this year in Double-A San Antonio, and his manager last year in High-A Lake Elsinore. Burkhart added, “ He can read a pitch, if he is a little late or early and still get him into an athletic position to hit.”
“Guys that can hit are always in an athletic position to hit.”
Since signing with the Padres in 2014, Urias has always hit. So far in four minor league seasons he has a slash line of .320/.401/.410, with the one minor negative in his game is a lack of power for the slight native - he’s listed at five-foot-nine, and a somewhat beefed up 170 pounds this season from around 150 pounds when he signed - of Magdalena de Kino, Mexico; a subject that he is seeking to address.
“I had more walks than strikeouts, which I was very proud off,” said Urias to the El Paso Times in Spring Training. “This year I want to do more damage this year and added a little leg kick for more power. I still want to walk more than I strikeout, but also I want more doubles this season too.”
Last year, where he finished as the Cal League batting champion despite being nearly five years younger than the average player, he hit .330/.398/.440 with 36 extra-base hits. So far this season, he has 14 extra-base hits, well-ahead of last year’s pace.
“He had one [leg kick] last year and its a little bigger this year but I don’t necessarily equate having a big or small leg kick to hitting for power,” said Burkhart. “What I do think its just for timing and rhythm. Its a timing mechanism that allows him to get in a good hitting position.”
On the surface the leg kick would appear to be the generator of his power, but to Urias the leg kick’s main point is to help him find more rhythm in his swing.
“For me its timing is the most important part of hitting. If the pitcher seems to go fast, then I need to go faster with my leg kick because I am a rhythm hitter. I really try to study the pitchers when I am on the on-deck circle too.”
There is a lot to like about Urias but Burkhart notes that the separator with Luis and everyone else is his mental approach.
‘He has an approach and knows what he wants to hit; more importantly he sticks to it. What is scary is with guys like Luis, the more reps that he gets the better he is going to be.”
“And he’s already pretty good.”