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Richard Urena Fine-Tuning his Game

Strives to be the Blue Jays shortstop of the future

Richard Urena Fine-Tuning his Game

May 17, 2015

Richard Urena

Richard Urena is transitioning to switch-hitting since 2014. (Kyle Castle/MiLB.com)

There has been a shift of power at the shortstop position throughout the Toronto Blue Jays minor league system. And even though Jose Reyes is locked up through the 2017 season with an option for 2018, it’s not too early to focus on who will be his successor. While there are a couple names being tossed around at the moment, it appears that Richard Urena is the frontrunner to be the Blue Jays shortstop of the future.

The attention this prospect is gathering is well-deserved. He is a promising young talent that has the potential to develop into a five-tool player at the major league level. Even though Urena has always had the ability to be great, he has been overshadowed the last couple of seasons by Franklin Barreto and Dawel Lugo.

However, after Barreto was included in the deal to the Oakland Athletics that brought Josh Donaldson to the Blue Jays and Dawel Lugo took a step back in his production in Lansing last season, Urena has quickly became the organization’s top prospect at his position.

The area that gives Urena a slight nod over Lugo is his defensive play. Even though both players are extremely talented with high ceilings, Urena has better range and a more accurate arm at shortstop which is huge when it comes to ranking players at this position.

Currently sporting a .954 fielding percentage with the Lansing Lugnuts this season, Urena has committed just five errors at shortstop. The young prospect has also taken part in 10 double plays, while assisting on another 64 plays since April.

Taking great pride in his ability at shortstop, Urena feels fans will definitely notice the way he plays defense before any other aspect of his game.

“I’m very confident in my defensive ability,” said Urena. “I feel it’s the most important part of the game and I work very hard at it every day. I feel my play in the field is my biggest tool to help my team win games.”

Finding success at the plate everyday is an area Urena will be working on this season and for years to come as his approach is still a work in progress. Feeling he has improved a lot since his days in the Dominican Summer League in 2013, Urena admits his plate approach is an area that needs a little work, but he is willing to do whatever it takes to achieve his dream of playing in the big leagues.

“I feel my plate approach has gotten a lot better since I began professional baseball,” explained Urena. “While I feel I’m getting better at my approach I understand there’s still areas I need to improve on in the future.”

While he’s a few years away from his dream, Urena can definitely achieve it if he becomes a little more patient at the plate. Like a lot of young hitters, Urena chases a lot of pitches and strikes out more than you would like to see. But one thing he doesn’t lack is power. Already registering 31 hits on the season, including a double and five home runs, Urena has surprising pop in his bat for a guy that only weighs 170 pounds.

Fans should also be aware of the fact that Urena is still in the process of transitioning to switch hitting. Beginning his new approach at the plate during the 2014 season, Urena decided to begin hitting from the right side versus left-handers to make himself more valuable to his team. Still adjusting to this aspect is contributing to his strikeouts early in the season as the Lugnuts have faced a lot of left-handed pitchers during the first month and a half of the season.

His ability to take this challenge on at a high level of play has really impressed Lansing Lugnuts’ hitting coach Kenny Graham who has nothing but admiration for the way the young prospect has been able to take on a full season at such a young age.

“Richard Urena is very young for the Midwest League as he just turned 19-years old earlier this year,” stated Graham. “Richard is very athletic and toolsy. This year is his first year playing in cold weather and he just began switch hitting last year, so he’s still adjusting to that area of his game.

“We’ve seen a lot of left-handed pitching this year, so he’s getting a lot of reps batting right-handed and Richard has held his own out there,” Graham added. “Between his age and this being his first experience playing in cold weather he is doing very well for himself.”

Obviously, it’s going to take some extra coaching and repetition to master switch hitting, so taking advantage of every opportunity to learn from the Lansing Lugnuts’ coaching staff is high on Urena’s list this season.

Especially appreciative of the mentoring he has received from both Kenny Graham and first-year Lugnuts’ manager Ken Huckaby, Urena admits he talks to both coaches frequently as he wants to take away as much information as possible from two of the Blue Jays most knowledgeable minor league coaches.

Urena says,“Even though Kenny is a new hitting coach to me, I really like the way he handles his business. Kenny is always willing to help you in the cage and with your approach.

“I talk to Ken Huckaby a lot,” he added. “What I like about Huckaby is the way he relates to his players. It’s great talking to him because he played in the major leagues and he understands what players need to know to advance to each level.”

Originally joining the Blue Jays organization as an international free agent in 2012, the Dominican Republic native remembers what that moment was like when he found out the Blue Jays wanted to sign him.

“I was very happy when I found out the Blue Jays wanted to sign me,” said Urena. “It was always a dream of mine to play professional baseball and it felt great knowing I was going to get an opportunity to prove myself in pro ball.”

Be sure to follow Richard Urena as he continues to develop every aspect of his game with hopes of playing in the big leagues in the near future.