As expected, the Yankees announced today they have activated third baseman Gio Urshela from the 10-day injured list. The 27-year-old missed the minimum amount of time due to a left groin injury.
Urshela’s breakout stands as one of the most surprising and remarkable stories of the 2019 season. A career .225/.274/.315 hitter entering the year, Urshela was forced into unexpected action by a rash of injuries, most notably Miguel Andújar’s season-ending labrum surgery. To say Urshela took advantage doesn’t come close to doing him justice.
Over 414 plate appearances this season, Urshela has mashed to the tune of a .331/.370/.555 line (142 wRC+), putting him in position to contend for the AL batting crown before this recent IL stint ended his chances of reaching the requisite number of plate appearances to qualify. To be sure, he’s not likely to keep up this level of output. His .366 BABIP seems unsustainable and dwarfs any batted-ball results he’d managed in his career pre-2019. It’s also fair to look askance at MLB’s twelfth-highest chase rate (minimum 400 plate appearances), although players like Javier Báez and Rafael Devers have made similarly aggressive approaches work in recent seasons.
Even if Urshela won’t be quite this good a hitter moving forward, he’s certainly set himself up as a valuable piece for a Yankee franchise that couldn’t have anticipated him doing so a few months back. Statcast loves him, for instance, crediting him with an 80th percentile average exit velocity and above-average hard contact rate, helping to explain his strong ball-in-play results. Urshela also comes with a reputation as a strong defender at the hot corner, even if his advanced metrics suggest he’s more competent than Gold Glove-worthy. What’s more, he comes with four years of team control beyond this season and won’t be arbitration-eligible until after next year, making him an affordable option throughout his prime seasons.
Urshela’s 2019 performance seemingly gives him the inside track on the 2020 third base job in the Bronx, which will lead to an interesting offseason for Brian Cashman and company to decide how to handle Andújar as he returns to a crowded corner infield/DH mix next season. More immediately, Urshela will look to help the Yankees secure home field advantage in the postseason, as they enter Sunday tied with Houston for the AL’s best record.