Urbanus adjusts to velocity in debut

SURPRISE, Ariz. – Infielder Nick Urbanus became the Texas Rangers' first amateur signing out of Europe last season, and he finished his first summer in the states with solid results. Lone Star Dugout interviews and features the 19-year-old Dutch prospect.

The Texas Rangers tapped into a new market with last offseason's signing of Dutch infielder Nick Urbanus. For the first time in the Rangers' history, the club planted its flag in Europe to land an amateur prospect.

Although Urbanus comes from a country dominated by soccer––where baseball is regarded as a secondary sport––he comes from a strong baseball background. 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.

Urbanus played in various international tournaments in '09 and '10, but his big breakout came last July, when he starred during 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.

Texas signed the infielder in late November of 2010, a few months after his impressive performance in Canada. Because Urbanus was finishing school in the Netherlands, he didn't attend spring training this year and did not arrive at the club's minor league complex in Arizona until early May.

As the prospect explains in the following interview, he played at extended spring training before being assigned to the rookie-level Surprise Rangers. There was a definite adjustment period for the left-handed hitter, who had rarely faced plus velocity or pitchers with consistent breaking balls in the past.

The 6-foot-1, 180-pound infielder still finished his first professional season with solid results. In 50 games with the rookie club, he improved as the summer progressed and finished with a .283/.349/.356 slash line. Urbanus had five doubles and five triples with 21 walks and 36 strikeouts. He also stole 12 bases in 17 attempts.

After the Arizona League season concluded, the 19-year-old earned a late-summer promotion to short-season Spokane, where he appeared in one game and went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts.

Urbanus likely profiles as a utility-type down the road. He split his time between shortstop and second base this summer, and he has been working out at third base during fall instructional league. He's a solid all-around defender with smooth actions, sure hands, and decent range and arm strength. While he may profile best as a second baseman, Urbanus can certainly fill in at short and third.

Despite having little state-side playing experience, the Netherlands native has a relatively advanced skill-set and may be able to play at Single-A Hickory next season. Urbanus had some bat speed and uses an all-fields approach while showing a little pop to the pull side.

While the prospect doesn't have an ultra-high ceiling, he is the type of player who should at least reach the upper levels of the minors, and he could develop into a major league-caliber infielder with time.

Lone Star Dugout recently interviewed Urbanus, who has impressed in both workouts and games through the first two weeks of fall instructional league.

Prospect Video:

Nick Urbanus batting practice from Jason Cole on Vimeo.

Jason Cole: Even though you were signed during last offseason, you didn't come to Surprise until extended spring training. At the end of the day, how did you feel about your first season in the States?

Nick Urbanus: It was very different for me. I had to get used to it. I got used to playing everyday in this heat in Arizona. I was trying to perform in every way possible everyday, and I'm starting to like it even more than in the beginning. It has gone well.

Cole: What was the biggest surprise for you in terms of the style of game here?

Urbanus: It's more up-tempo. Especially when you play it every day, it becomes more of a mental grind. Back home, I played it twice or three times a week. That's the difference––if you play it every day, it becomes more of a mental grind. You get tired. When you're struggling, that's the hardest thing to deal with. But I think my first season went pretty well out here.

Cole: Had you ever played in heat like this before? It's almost October and it's over 100 degrees every day still.

Urbanus: No, not even close. It gets to like I think 60 degrees in Holland, so that's what I was used to playing. And then now this. It's better than rain, but it was very hot.

Cole: Did you get a chance to go home between the season and instructs?

Urbanus: For like nine or 10 days.

Cole: How nice was it just to get away for a little bit?

Urbanus: It was good. I spent a lot of time with my family. I got called up to Spokane for the last series after the Arizona season. I got to see how it's like up there, so that was great. Then I went home for like 10 days and came back here for instructs. It's great.

Cole: Obviously you aren't really playing in front of fans during the Arizona League. Tell me about getting to play in front of fans and inside of a stadium with Spokane.

Urbanus: It changes the game. Out here, you're just playing for your teammates and for yourself. But the game changes a lot, and there's a little more pressure. It just feels more like real baseball, so it was awesome. There were like 6,000 or 7,000 fans, the national anthem, the fireworks, and stuff. That was great.

Cole: In May, you told me that you weren't used to seeing consistent plus velocity. How was it to see guys that could throw 90-plus mph and throw breaking balls for strikes?

Urbanus: It took me like two months––the first month in extended, I struggled out here. And the first month of the season. I took a lot of live BP, worked with the machines, and just the game rhythm. After about two months, I just got used to it like I think every guy out here. Then I started to perform better during the last few months of the season. I've got to get used to it. I've never seen that kind of stuff before, but I'm getting there.

Cole: Did you make any changes or adjustments to your swing this season?

Urbanus: A little bit. I was crashing with the velocity. I was falling into the zone. With this velocity and the good breaking stuff, it's hard to see the pitches and lay off the good pitches if you're not in a hitting position. I have to get ready earlier because of the pitching.

Cole: Do you feel that you did a better job with that after the first couple months?

Urbanus: Yeah. The hitting coach, Donzell, helped me a lot with that. That helped me just seeing the pitches and performing.

Cole: What have you been working on so far out here at instructs?

Urbanus: I love how we do a lot of classrooms about the mental stuff––the mental part of baseball. They talk about dealing with failure and achieving your goals. That's the kind of stuff I have never done before, and that's what we do every single day in classrooms. We've seen videos of ourselves, and I've never seen that kind of stuff before. It's a great program out here.

Cole: How much easier does the video make it to recognize flaws or mistakes?

Urbanus: It's just so much easier. When somebody tells you something, you cannot really feel it. But if you see yourself doing it wrong, it clicks and you can fix your mechanics that much faster. It's great.

Cole: You mostly played second base during the Arizona League season this year, right?

Urbanus: I played a little more at second than I did at shortstop, but I played a lot of short, too. Especially at the end of the season. It was about 50/50 but maybe a little more at second.

Cole: Have you also played some third base?

Urbanus: No. I have for two games here at instructs, but that was my first two times ever.

Cole: How was that?

Urbanus: It's weird. It's a weird angle. But you've got to perform, and if they want me to play there, I'll play there.

Cole: Are you working on anything in specific defensively right now?

Urbanus: Not really. Sometimes I'm just too quick with my hands. I've got to get the ball first before I can make a play. I'm trying to slow everything down and just have relaxed hands. I want to field the ground ball nice and easy.

Cole: As you look forward to your last couple weeks at instructs, what do you want to do personally? What do you feel you can get better at?

Urbanus: I've got to get bigger and stronger physically. I weigh almost 180, so that's just a little too light. Especially when I'm going to turn 20 next year. I've got to get my weight up, got to get bigger, and I'm going to get a personal trainer this offseason. I have a guy––his name is Tom Barton––he's like a strength and sports food guy. I can get on a good program with him and gain some weight.

Cole: Are you already starting to look forward to what's in store for next season?

Urbanus: Yeah. I'm curious about next season. I'll just work hard this offseason and work really hard in spring, and we'll just see what happens.

Cole: In the Arizona League, you were around the same group of guys all season. What's it like to have all these unfamiliar faces around all of the sudden?

Urbanus: They fit in very well. Texas is searching for a certain type of player, and the whole group is the same kind of player. Everybody works hard. You've got a good mix of Latin guys, some American guys, and some foreigners like me. It's great, man. All the guys are great. Everybody gets along with no problems at all this season. We've got a really good group, especially out here in instructs.

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