The Indians’ minor-league staff had one goal for Aeros third baseman Giovanny Urshela when he began his first year at the Double-A level this season.
The biggest thing asked of the Columbia native, who signed as a non-drafted free agent in 2008, was to focus on working on drawing more walks at the plate.
Granted, the request wasn’t made in an effort to keep the aggressive Urshela from hitting, but to boost the mediocre on-base percentage he had recorded in each of his first four professional seasons.
“On-base percentage is [Urshela’s] challenge,” Indians farm director Ross Atkins said. “He doesn’t strike out a lot, but he gets outs early. He doesn’t give himself the chance to get deep into an at-bat. He’s got great hand-eye coordination, so he’ll get the bat on a ball. Although he doesn’t strike out, he’s not necessarily getting a pitch he can drive.”
The 6-foot, 197-pound Urshela is batting .277 with 14 doubles, two triples, six home runs and 24 RBI this season through 69 games.
However, his on-base percentage is just .303 with nine walks (to 31 strikeouts) in 260 at-bats.
“I’m working really hard to stay in the strike zone,” said Urshela, whose highest walk total is 16 from last season at low Class-A Carolina. His yearly walks have improved only by two walks each of the last three years.
The continuing struggle for Urshela has been to maintain an aggressive approach at the plate while being more selective with his swing.
Problem is, Urshela is about as good of a breaking ball hitter as he is a fastball hitter. Therefore, he’s not automatically looking to lay off the breaking stuff like many young hitters tend to do early in their professional careers.
However, one of the tricks Urshela has begun to employ in an effort to aid his recognition of what to expect coming at him is to pay attention to the opposing starting pitcher warming up in the bullpen by stretching in the outfield grass before the game.
“It’s an adjustment that [Aeros pitching coach Jim] Rickon came up with,” Urshela said with a laugh. “But it helps me a lot.”
Defensively, Urshela has committed only eight errors at third base so far this season, a testament to his being rated by Baseball America as having the best infield arm in the magazine’s Best Tools issue following last season with the Mudcats.
“He’s got a great arm at third base,” Atkins said. “It’s one of his strengths.”
Although Urshela often affects the game defensively, Urshela relishes nights like Thursday when he drove in the game-winning run with a clutch single in the first game of the five-game series against Altoona at Canal Park.
“It felt great, so good to help my team win,” said Urshela, 21, who entered Saturday’s doubleheader against Altoona with a seven-game hitting streak. “But I can’t get too high about that.
“I really need to continue to work on my walks — that is my main goal.”
Stephanie Storm can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Aeros blog at https://ohio.com/aeros. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/sports.abj.