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Trade Analysis: After Orlando Arcia fails to fulfill potential, Brewers turn to Luis Urias at shortstop

After nearly a dozen years with the organization, Arcia is sent packing and the Brewers head in a new direction.

MLB: SEP 23 Cubs at Brewers Photo by Patrick Gorski/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

On August 1st, 2016, David Stearns and the Milwaukee Brewers completed multiple significant swaps that many believed would go a long ways towards furthering what — at the time — was believed to be a lengthy, multi-year rebuild process. Will Smith was shipped to San Francisco, and Jonathan Lucroy and Jeremy Jeffress were sent together in a blockbuster trade to Texas. The following day — perhaps wanting to appease a fanbase that had just been forced to say goodbye to a trio of fan favorites — Stearns and company called up the franchise’s most highly-touted position player prospect since the days of Ryan Braun.

Here is some of what former BCB editor Derek Harvey wrote at the time:

This is pretty exciting news if you’ve been following the young shortstop’s career...He opened the 2016 season as a top 10 rated prospect in the minors and people wondered if he might find himself on the Brewers roster before the end of May...

As long as Villar proves he can handle everyday duties at the hot corner, we’re looking at the long term answer at each position. Jonathan Villar has hit .293/.376/.430 with 8 HR and an MLB leading 39 SB. That will definitely play at 3B. And that’s huge, because before acquiring Villar, the Brewers didn’t really have an answer for the position at any level of their farm system...

Orlando Arcia is easily the best defensive shortstop in the Brewers system. He gets plus grades for his glove, speed, and arm. That speed clearly translates to the base paths as well where he’s a legit 30 stolen base threat. He’s shown glimpses of an above average bat as well. There’s some power in it, but think more 8-12 HR.

It’s certainly fun to dream about what possibilities may exist for the future at the outset of a rebuild, but those lofty aspirations held by many Brewers fans all those years ago failed to come to fruition. Villar’s production cratered once he was moved off shortstop and he was eventually dealt to the Orioles. And while Arcia certainly started the highest percentage of games at the six over the previous five seasons, he was never truly able to lock down the mantle of “The Shortstop Of The Future” or live up to the lofty expectations that were placed upon him when he arrived in the majors as a 21 year old.

Orlando struggled during his first partial season at the game’s highest level, but looked like he was ready to cement himself in the lineup after posting a .277/.324/.407 slash line with 15 homers and 14 steals across 548 plate appearances in 2017. He regressed badly at the plate in 2018-19, however, batting combined .228/.277/.333 in 271 games as one the league’s worst-hitting regulars with a OPS+ of 60. That would have maybe been enough had Arcia’s defense developed as advertised; while he did display truly dazzling raw ability at shortstop at times, Orlando was prone to mental lapses and inconsistency with routine plays, ranging in grades from a slightly above-average defender (+9 Defensive Runs Saved) to slightly below-average (-5.9 Ultimate Zone Rating) in 4,250 innings at short with the Brewers.

Arcia was presented with several challengers for his seat at the table over the years, including Tyler Saladino, Brad Miller, Nate Orf, Jonathan Schoop, Cory Spangenberg, Eric Sogard, and Hernan Perez, but was able to fend each of them off. When the club acquired Luis Urias explicitly to push Orlando at the shortstop position, however, it seemed that the incumbent’s future was written in the stars. Not even a career-best offensive season from Arcia — accompanied by injury and illness issues for Urias — during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season could change the front office’s mind. Arcia hit .260/.317/.416 for a career-best .734 OPS and 96 OPS+, with five home runs across 189 plate appearances while posting the best quality-of-contact and Statcast numbers of his career. But the die had been cast, and the Brewers spent last summer and all offseason searching for a potential trade partner.

Arcia was retained through the arbitration process by agreeing to a pay cut instead of a non-tender, and on April 6th, Stearns and GM Matt Arnold finally found an offer that they liked and sent Orlando to the Atlanta Braves for two controllable right-handers with relief experience at the big league level. El Niño authored many dazzling plays at shortstop over the years, once shared ice cream with an unwitting fan, was a prankster in the dugout, the end of the home run gauntlet, and an important presence in the clubhouse. He always seemed to shine when the lights were brightest and hit .295/.311/.568 during the three postseason runs he was apart of, leaving the Brewers tied for the franchise lead with four career playoff home runs.

It isn’t fair to Arcia to distill everything he has meant to the fans and the organization over the past six years down to strictly on-field value. But Milwaukee’s current front office regime has become pretty ruthless in terms of seeking surplus value at every turn, and when you get down to it, Arcia hit .244/.293/.364 in 542 games and 1,876 plate appearances with the Brewers, cracking 42 homers and swiping 39 bags for a 72 OPS+. He ended up as largely a replacement-level player, accruing just 2.4 bWAR and 0.9 fWAR in parts of six seasons for the Menomonee Valley Nine.

The Brewers were able to net a couple of power arms in exchange for Arcia’s remaining two seasons of reserve control, Chad Sobotka and Patrick Weigel, both of whom should contribute as members of the bullpen shuttle this season. 27 year old Sobotka has appeared in parts of the last three seasons at the big league level, totaling 47.0 innings with a 5.36 ERA. He’s shown impressive swing-and-miss stuff, totaling 61 strikeouts, but needs to reign in his control (5.7 BB/9) if he’s going to become more than a low-leverage arm. Weigel, 26, offers the upside of slotting in as Milwaukee’s #17 prospect according to MLB Pipeline. Another hard-thrower who debuted in the big leagues last summer with one ill-fated relief appearance, Weigel has the build and diverse arsenal of a starter and owns a 3.15 ERA across 362.2 minor league innings covering 86 appearances (74 starts). His track record as a recent Tommy John survivor, combined with Milwaukee’s current starting depth, makes him more likely to work in relief for the time being, at least at the outset of his career with the Brewers.

If you buy into the steps forward taken during the wonky 2020 summer season, Arcia lands in Atlanta as a post-hype breakout candidate entering the prime age of his career, turning 27 in August. And with his departure, the keys have officially been turned over to Luis Urias, who is himself something of a post-hype player as a once highly-touted prospect with the Padres who has so far failed to earn a spot as an everyday player in parts of three previous MLB seasons.

Urias was top-50 prospect while coming up with San Diego, earning hit tool grades as high as 70 while hitting .308 across six minor league seasons. But he hasn’t looked like a 70-hitter at the big league level, so far batting just .219 with a 24% strikeout rate in 131 games and 445 plate appearances with the Padres and Brewers. Slowed by a hamate injury and COVID diagnosis in 2020, Urias eventually got on the field to appear in 41 games and take 120 turns at the plate with a .239/.308/.294 slash line (64 OPS+). Urias has shown something of a knack for drawing walks against MLB pitchers, but hasn’t hit for average or power (.092 ISO), nor has he been graded as particularly effective at shortstop (-1 DRS, -2.0 UZR in 430.2 career innings). But he’s still extremely young, not turning 24 until June, and for the Brewers, the hope is that Urias will eventually reach the All-Star levels of upside that they failed to coax out of Orlando Arcia.

To this point, the trade that sent Trent Grisham and Zach Davies to San Diego in exchange for Urias and Eric Lauer appears to be the biggest dud of Stearns’ career in Milwaukee. Grisham and Davies both thrived last year (and Zach was later a part of the trade that landed Yu Darvish), while Lauer logged only a handful of brutal appearances, apparently dealt with a significant shoulder issue, then looked lost both velocity and location-wise this spring before getting optioned. Off his poor showing last year, Urias is so far hitting .095/.174/.143 in seven games entering play today, and how that trade ends up looking for the Brewers in the long-term now rests largely upon Urias’ shoulders.

The Orlando Arcia era has come to an end, and should serve as a reminder that no matter how much hype a player receives climbing the minor league ladder, no top prospect is sure thing to succeed at the big league level. Now it’ll be up to Luis Urias to avoid earning the “bust” label himself after falling out of favor in San Diego and receiving a second chance with the Brewers.

Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs