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What Luis Urias can mean to the Padres

The Padres have never found a franchise second basemen. In recent years, the team has struggled to produce any sort of offensive consistency. Could Luis Urias help solve both issues?

Seattle Mariners v San Diego Padres
Urias collects his first MLB hit, 8/29/18
Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images

Luis Urias, at the tender age of 21, isn’t even a week into his Padres career. But what a showing it’s been so far. He’s battled at the plate, sprayed the ball around the field and looked extremely confident at second base, even turning in a web gem on the first ball-in-play in the first inning of his first big league game.

It is difficult to overstate what the Sonoran native could mean to this franchise, but here goes:

The Padres have Never had a Long-Term Second Baseman

The Padres have played nearly 49 complete seasons since the team was founded in 1969. That’s 7,950 games. In that time frame, the team has utilized 34 different opening day second baseman. Only five players have made three opening day starts: Juan Bonilla, 1981-1983; Bip Roberts, 1986, 1991, 1994; Quilvio Veras, 1997-1999; Mark Loretta, 2003-2005; Jedd Gyorko, 2013-2015. Can Urias become the first player to reach four?

Those 7,950 games have been spread out among 125 different starting second basemen. 98 of those made 100 or fewer career starts for the Padres. Only eight times has a player made 140 or more starts at second base in a season. The last player to accomplish the feat, Mark Loretta, is also the only Padre to do it on multiple occasions (2004, 2005).

Padres v Mariners
Mark Loretta’s 2004 season is the gold standard among Padres second basemen
Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

According to Fangraphs, the statistical leaders among Padres second basemen are similarly modest:

Second Base Leaderboard

Bip Roberts (11.1) Mark Loretta (.314) Randy Ready (.382) Randy Ready (133) Tim Flannery (2838)
Mark Loretta (11.0) Bip Roberts (.298) Mark Loretta (.377) Mark Loretta (121) Bip Roberts (2521)
Roberto Alomar (10.0) Randy Ready (.284) Quilvio Veras (.366) Ryan Schimpf (114) Derrel Thomas (1985)
Tim Flannery (8.0) Roberto Alomar (.283) Bip Roberts (.361) Bip Roberts (110) Roberto Alomar (1959)
Randy Ready (7.2) Craig Shipley (.281) Jerry Royster (.349) Jerry Royster (109) Mark Loretta (1823)

Outside of Ryan Schimpf, none of the other leaders has played in the last decade. Luis Urias has the chance, with his 70-grade hit tool and plus defense, to stick around for years re-writing the Padres’ record book at his position.

The Padres Simply Cannot Hit

Urias is not simply noteworthy for the void that he might fill at second base...he is exciting, and inspiring, for the injection that he could provide the team as a whole. The Padres have been awful in the era of the “three true outcomes.” Somehow, as other teams have traded hits for walks, strikeouts and home runs, the Padres have simply traded any semblance of offense for more strikeouts. Here’s what the Padres’ offense looks like since Petco Park opened in 2004, broken into five, three-season, chunks:

Padres Offense since 2004

Seasons BB% K% AVG OBP wRC+
Seasons BB% K% AVG OBP wRC+
2004-2006 9.2% 15.9% .264 .336 100
2007-2009 8.9% 19.6% .248 .320 94
2010-2012 8.6% 20.4% .243 .314 92
2013-2015 7.5% 21.8% .238 .300 89
2016-2018 7.6% 25.2% .235 .298 85

Remember the early Petco Park days, when it seemed that the team was all pitching and no hitting? Turns out that was the offensive peak. Nearly all three-season averages showed a decrease in BB%, AVG, OBP and wRC+, and an increase in K%, over the previous grouping.

Chunking the Padres’ Petco Park tenure this way sets up an easy comparison with Luis Urias’ professional career. To date, Urias has played three complete seasons of full-season ball. In 2016, he played 120 games for the High-A Lake Elsinore Storm. In 2017, he played in 118 games for the Double-A San Antonio Missions. This season, he played 120 games for the Triple-A El Paso Chihuahuas before making his major league debut on August 28th. Here’s Urias versus the Padres over that span:

Luis Urias vs Padres, 2016-2018

Season or Average BB% K% BA OBP wRC+
Season or Average BB% K% BA OBP wRC+
Urias 2016 7.5% 6.8% .330 .397 130
Urias 2017 12.9% 12.4% .296 .398 124
Urias 2018 12.6% 20.5% .296 .398 127
Urias 2016-2018 11% ± 3% 13.2% ± 6.9% 0.307 ± 0.020 0.398 ± 0.001 127 ± 3
Padres 2016-2018 7.6% ± 0.1% 25.2% ± 0.2% 0.235 ± 0.001 0.298 ± 0.001 85 ± 1

In Batting Average, On-Base-Percentage and Weighted Runs Created-plus, Urias has been remarkable consistent...and wildly better than the Padres during that same timeframe. It seems ludicrous to expect similar excellence at the big-league level, however, in those three categories, Urias, playing well above his age every season, has shown unbelievable stability. His three-year mean .398 OBP would be the fourth best single season mark in the Petco Park era behind Ryan Klesko’s .399 OBP in 2004, Adrian Gonzalez’ .407 OBP in 2009 and Brian Giles’ .423 OBP in 2005. Only Mark Loretta’s .335 AVG in 2004 would best Urias’ .307 mark.

MLB: Colorado Rockies at San Diego Padres
Luis Urias might be exactly what the Padres need
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Reality Check

It is only fair to remind fans to temper their expectation regarding any rookie, regardless of his prospect pedigree. To do this, please consider a possibly-ill-conceived comparison to Carlos Asuaje:

Urias vs Asuaje

Season BB% K% BABIP ISO wRC+
Season BB% K% BABIP ISO wRC+
Urias AAA '18 12.6% 20.5% 0.373 0.151 127
Asuaje AAA '16 8.2% 13.7% 0.363 0.151 128
Asuaje MLB Total 9.0% 21.5% 0.304 0.088 77

In AAA, Urias walked and struck out more frequently than Asuaje, however their ISO, BABIP and wRC+ were similar. Asuaje has posted a similar walk rate as a big leaguer, but has struck out more often and seen his BABIP, ISO and wRC+ plunge. Urias’ strikeout rate has risen significantly each of the last two seasons. He’ll have to find some more power if that trend continues and he starts striking out in nearly a quarter of his plate appearances.

But, do not read this as a prediction, or a forecast for doom and gloom. Asuaje was never as highly touted, nor as advanced for his age, as Urias has been as a prospect. This is simply a reminder that Triple-A production does not equal big league success and no amount of prospect hype will guarantee a good career.

What’s Next?

In some sense this September is a throw-away month. Whether he lights the world on fire, or struggles mightily, the projections, the hope and the promise for what can be will not change. Second base belongs to Urias in 2019, and hopefully for a long time thereafter. More important is getting comfortable with the players around him and getting a taste of the NL West competition.

Whether it’s the highlight reel play in his first game, the 3-for-5 performance in his second, or stealing second to get into scoring position in the bottom of the ninth of a tie game in his third, Urias looks like the real deal. In the two weeks leading up to Urias’ debut, the Padres had lost 11 of 13, with two separate five-game losing streaks. Since his callup, the team has won three straight—for just the fifth time all season—and recorded its first sweep of the year agains the Mariners.

So, go ahead and get excited. Imagine what the future can hold. Picture Urias in 2020 in brown and gold turning double plays behind Chris Paddack, and hitting in front of Fernando Tatis Jr. We are Padres fans. We’ve been trained to handle outlandish expectations, followed by bitter disappointment. But, this time, maybe, is different.