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Luis Urias Needs to be Who We Want Him to Be

Photo: Marcus Pond

If you haven’t heard of Luis Urias by this point, you’re not alone. Surprisingly, the teenage phenom, MVP and Rookie of the Year of the Cal League (while also starting as the youngest player in the league), wunderkind, and heartthrob of many Padres fans, hasn’t shown up on many top 100 prospect lists. In fact, he’s only shown up on one: Baseball America’s May 11th top 100 prospects list .  There, in his first top 100 ranking, Baseball America slotted him at 57 over other notable Padres prospects, Cal Quantrill and Adrian Morejon. It’s safe to expect this kind of ranking in the mid-season ranking.

Yet, Luis Urias isn’t a bonus surprise to an already strong farm system. In fact, if the Padres want to compete in 2020 and beyond, Luis Urias needs to be the player we hope he is. Consider the following: Who, not currently on the Major League Padres, has a good chance of being a top-of-the-order bat in the playoff-bound future? There’s really only one answer, and it’s Luis Urias. Before you start to think of others, like Josh Naylor, Tatis Jr., Ona, and Asuaje, know that they all have significant problems they need to overcome before we can feel confident about their potential impact at the major-league level. Tatis Jr. and Ona are much too young to pencil them in as useful contributors, but we remain optimistic given  their development.  Naylor, I admit, has been hitting pretty well at A+, especially for a 19 year old, which is impressive in its own right. However, there are concerns about his large body, ability to hit at a higher level, and Wil Myers currently occupying the only defensive position he can play. I would not be surprised to see Naylor traded to an AL team, where they can happily put him at DH since it’s difficult to imagine Myers leaving the team or moving positions. Meanwhile, Asuaje is most likely a utility man and is struggling in AAA this year. Really, in the upper levels (AAA & AA) of the Padres top-ranked farm system, there’s really only one current elite bat – it’s Urias.

Now let’s consider the current Padres roster. Yes, pencil in Myers, Manuel Margot, and Austin Hedges to the lineup. Myers and Margot will most likely be at least above-average hitters for the foreseeable future. Hedges will be extremely valuable, at the very least defensively, while hope remains for a productive offense. Hunter Renfroe is an entirely different story. It’s very easy to dream on Renfroe: huge power, MVP of the Pacific Coast League last year, a strong arm in RF, and has the tools to be a perennial All-Star. The start to 2017, however, had not inspired many to continue to dream until he started showcasing that power. He’s started off the year striking out in more than 25% of his plate appearances, hitting below .220, and struggling to get contact on fastballs – something that he has to do a better job of.

The Padres have major holes throughout their roster. Left field is a huge question mark, third base is an unknown for 2020 (Ryan Schimpf and Yangervis Solarte will be 32 by then, so neither are a long-term solution), and shortstop (or the lack thereof) has plagued the club since Khalil Greene. Margot and Hedges get most of their value from their defense, not at the plate. The only bat-first player the Padres have is Wil Myers – and there is still reason to question his long-term ability.

If the Padres are going to be true contenders, they need more offense. As much as I would love Hunter Greene, drafting a Royce Lewis could be more important for a proper balance of prospects. The Padres have many high-upside arms, but fewer potential bats. Luis Urias is more than a lucky diamond in the rough: his success is one of the major keys to the future of the Padres.

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