Urbanus continuing family tradition

SURPRISE, Ariz. – When infielder Nick Urbanus signed with the Texas Rangers after last season, he became the club's first amateur signee out of Europe. Lone Star Dugout interviewed the 19-year-old, who is expected to play in the rookie-level Arizona League this summer.

Shortly after the 2010 season concluded, the Texas Rangers planted a flag in Europe by signing Dutch prospect Nick Urbanus. The infielder is the first amateur player the club has ever signed out of Europe.

The 19-year-old comes from a strong baseball background, as both his father and grandfather were star players in the Netherlands. When Nick competed against Team Cuba in the 2009 World Port Tournament, it marked three generations of Urbanus' on the Dutch national team.

A switch hitter and right-handed thrower, Nick is well on his way to carving out a name for himself. He was invited to participate in the MLB European Academy in 2009. Playing in the European Junior Championship that same year, he batted .333/.429/.583 in six contests and was named the event's Most Outstanding Defensive Player.

While Urbanus batted only .143 with the national club during the aforementioned World Port Tournament, he was named the event's Best Rookie.

Urbanus made his Dutch Major League (Honkbal Hoofdklasse) debut with the L&D Amsterdam Pirates at age 17. As one of the club's youngest players last season, he hit .236/.278/.287 with six doubles and a triple in 42 contests.

The 6-foot-1, 175-pound prospect's breakout came last July, when he starred for the Netherlands at the World Junior Championship in Canada. Playing in front of Rangers Pacific Rim Director Jim Colborn and International Scouting Director Mike Daly, Urbanus appeared in seven games and went 11-for-29 (.379) with two doubles, five walks, and only one strikeout.

Urbanus is a middle infielder, getting action at both shortstop and second base over the last few years. As he explains in the following interview, he has a natural middle-opposite field approach but would like to work on pulling the ball with more authority this summer.

Hailing from Uithoorn, Netherlands, Urbanus didn't attend spring training this year––he was finishing school at home. He arrived at the Rangers' minor league complex in Arizona last weekend and expects to play at extended spring training before joining the rookie-level Surprise Rangers in June.

Jason Cole: When did you arrive here in Arizona?

Nick Urbanus: I arrived Saturday at 10:00 at night.

Cole: How long was the trip to get over here?

Urbanus: Total, it was maybe 18 to 20 hours with one stop in Minneapolis.

Cole: Is there kind of a culture shock factor right now, since you just got here? Are you just kind of adjusting?

Urbanus: The baseball is very different. Also, the weather––it's a lot colder in Holland. But it's nice, though.

Cole: What did the Rangers tell you about the weather you'll see out here as the summer goes along?

Urbanus: They told me that it's going to be a lot warner than I'm used to. I'm going to get prepared for that. They told me it's going to be warm.

Cole: Today was your first day to actually get on the field and watch the game. From your first day here, can you talk about some of the differences you've noticed in the style of game?

Urbanus: First of all, today I saw my first game––Texas against Kansas City. But I think the pitching is a big difference. At this level, it's way up with pitching here. You see different pitches––changeup, slider, sinkers. You don't see that too much in Holland, except for a few top guys. I think that's the main thing––the pitching.

Cole: You have a rich baseball history in your family. How much American baseball have you been able to see over the years?

Urbanus: I went to the World Series with my dad. He was a reporter for Dutch television, so I saw the World Series in New York and Miami. That was awesome. That was my first time to see American baseball, and it was the World Series.

Cole: So that was in 2003?

Urbanus: Yeah, Marlins/Yankees.

Cole: What was that like, coming over and seeing playoff baseball in Yankee Stadium for your first games?

Urbanus: It was a dream, but I was still young. Then I had to dream back in Holland to work as hard as I can to reach that goal. I'm starting to get there, so I've got to work my way to the top.

Cole: Most guys, even when they grow up in the U.S., don't get to see something like that first-hand before they even sign a professional contract. How much did that motivate you?

Urbanus: If you don't see what you're working for––well, you can see it on television, but if you see it in real life––the atmosphere and everything is just great. If you know what you've got to work for, you're going to put more time into it.

Cole: Both your grandfather and father played baseball professionally. But did you play any other sports growing up?

Urbanus: Yeah, I played basketball until I was 14. But in Holland, you have to choose. You cannot do two sports. We don't do it in school––it's separated from school. So when I was 14 and got to choose, baseball was more in my blood so I chose baseball. I'm glad I chose it.

Cole: Was it kind of a no-brainer decision for you?

Urbanus: Well, they gave me the chance to choose with basketball. But it was an easy choice.

Cole: Talk to me about getting signed by the Rangers. Jim Colborn and Mike Daly were the two guys in charge of bringing you in, correct?

Urbanus: Yeah. It was in Canada––the World Championships. They saw me play for the first time.

Cole: How long ago was that?

Urbanus: I think that was in July of last year––2010.

Cole: Did you have any other teams on you at that point, or was it just the Rangers?

Urbanus: Yeah, a few more. But the Rangers––when we got the conversations and stuff, the Rangers stood out by far. I had a few options, and also college. So I had to make that choice, but pro ball was my dream.

Cole: Was it playing college ball over in Holland or in the U.S.?

Urbanus: In the U.S.

Cole: Was there any pressure going to Canada, since you knew that professional teams would be looking at you a little more than they had in the past?

Urbanus: Yeah. I knew that it was a different tournament. There was more pressure and I had to perform. But I like that. It turned out well. I played one of the best tournaments of my life, so I'm glad about that.

Cole: Obviously you didn't get to come to spring training. Were you finishing up school at home?

Urbanus: Yeah. I finished school up about a week ago.

Cole: And you just got right into baseball?

Urbanus: Yeah. I finished school and then got on the plane so I can focus on baseball now.

Cole: Do you know how long it'll be until you're getting into games out here in Arizona?

Urbanus: Hector, the manager, told me that maybe after Friday he would put me in some games and get me some innings. But first, I've got to get used to the system and watch what's happening. So maybe after Friday.

Cole: Have you gotten to take batting practice at all yet?

Urbanus: Yeah, today. I took live BP with some pitchers and my first BP was in the morning.

Cole: Had you been playing consistently when you were finishing up school over there?

Urbanus: No. The Texas Rangers didn't allow me to play, so I think my last games were maybe the beginning of September.

Cole: So you feel a little rusty?

Urbanus: Yeah. I've got to get my game rhythm back and see some pitching. That's important for me. I have to get my rhythm back and start to hit off live pitching.

Cole: Tell me about your game as a hitter. Can you describe your approach at the plate?

Urbanus: My main approach is to go middle or oppo. When I was younger, I was more like a slap hitter––oppo. But I got more aggressive. Now, in the game, I have to go more gap-to-gap. I try to hit line drives in the gaps but mostly I'm middle-oppo.

Cole: Is there something offensively that you'd like to work on this summer?

Urbanus: I think the inside pitch. I've been working on that for the last few years, and it's starting to get better. But if you want to reach the top, you've got to show some power. So I've got to work on that still.

Cole: You're mostly a shortstop, right?

Urbanus: Yeah, shortstop and second base.

Cole: Is there one of the two that you've played more of or feel more comfortable at right now?

Urbanus: I think shortstop. But the last few years, I was with the Dutch national team, and they also played me at second. I like that position, too. I don't really care about it. If I play, they can put me anywhere.

Cole: Have the Rangers talked to you about where you'll be playing this summer? Is it going to be here in Arizona?

Urbanus: The plan was rookie ball for this season, and then we'll see from there. I'll be starting in rookie––the AZL league here. We'll see where I will end up.

Cole: We're starting to approach the start of the Arizona League season already. How much are you looking forward to just getting out there and playing in games again?

Urbanus: It's awesome. I've been waiting for that for a few months now. This year was the first time in my life I had to experience not being a starting player in Holland. I had to sit on the bench and watch the guys play. Training is fun, but it's all about playing. I'm looking forward to it.

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