Last week, the Milwaukee Brewers made their first big splash of the season when they acquired middle infielder Luis Urias.
Urias was a unanimous top-30 prospect in 2019. His claim to fame is his hit tool. FanGraphs gives hit a future grade of 65 and MLB Pipeline goes even higher at 70. He also isn’t the worst defender, granted most of his experience has come at second base. Still, most evaluators believe he can play shortstop fine.
Scouts say Urias has average speed and below average power. Some differ on the 45 grade he gets from both FanGraphs and Pipeline, saying it’s more of a 35-40. The Padres tried to fix that and it led to some problems for Urias that we’ll get into later.
While that review is pretty fun, Urias’ first significant taste of the Majors didn’t live up to the hype. In 249 plate appearances in 2019, Urias hit a pedestrian .223/.328/.326 (Still good enough for a wRC+ of 81, compared to Orlando Arcia’s 61). When Fernando Tatis went down for the season, Urias took over at short and failed to impress. He had nine errors in his 77 attempts, a 0 DRS and -1.2 UZR. That’s not exciting news when Keston Hiura put up 16 errors in his 175 attempts last season, potentially giving the Brewers one of the worst defensive middle infields in the league.
Despite that performance, there was still good to find from the new Milwaukee shortstop. To start the season, Urias couldn’t hit fastballs, especially the firmest ones. He struggled to make contact against pitches over 96 mph. The team concluded that the reason for his struggles was the new swing the implemented to give him more power. The high-loft swing provided a better launch angle but added a loop to Urias’ swing. They changed his swing to be more upright and saw much better results. In 180 plate appearances since Aug. 1, Urias hit .269/.350/.381. In September alone, he hit .300/.371/.425.
Urias also put up fantastic numbers at AAA last season. He slashed .315/.398/.600 with 19 homers (heading into the season, he had 19 homers over his entire career). A lot of that output gets blamed on the hitter-friendly PCL and AAA using the “juiced” MLB ball. That could be a good sign for Urias’ future, as Miller Park can certainly be a hitter’s paradise and the NL Central has its share of offensively-friendly ballparks.
Because of the swing change, it’s a little hard to get a good reading on Urias’ output. He hit the ball hard 36.5% of the time and had a minimal soft contact percentage of 13.2. His ground ball rate can be a little high with a career at 51.8% over his pro career, but with a high contact rate guy like Urias, that’s to be expected. He still gets a solid amount of line drives and fly balls, which are good for someone with bat speed like Urias that can maybe get behind a few to add to his homer total. Still, I’d hate to get too excited to any one number, as it’s very likely the Brewers do some additional tinkering now that Urias is a member of the organization.
As I mentioned before, Urias and Hiura could be one of the worst defensive duos in baseball; however, everyone believes they both have the skills to be average defenders at their positions in Milwaukee. If Urias builds on his strong finish to the season and regains the skills that made him a phenomenal hitter in the minors, the two could also be the most exciting offensive middle infield in all of baseball. Urias is a sky high ceiling player. In great news for Milwaukee, even when he wasn’t meeting expectations, he was giving more to his team than Orlando Arcia.