How Luis Urías could help the Mariners in 2024
He may not be the ideal replacement for Eugenio Suárez at third base. But there is a simple way Luis Urías can make a positive impact on Seattle's lineup this year.
Since the 2023 season ended, the Mariners have moved on from multiple offensive contributors. But in the eyes of some fans, Seattle has yet to adequately replace hitters it’s let go or upgrade a lineup that fell short of propelling the team into the postseason last year.
Gone are Teoscar Hernández, Eugenio Suárez, Jarred Kelenic, Tom Murphy, José Caballero, and Mike Ford. In their place, infielder Luis Urías, catcher/designated hitter Mitch Garver, plus outfielders Mitch Haniger and Luke Raley. Not enough to satisfy a fan base craving more after watching a pair of division rivals win the last two World Series.
Who is gonna replace Geno?
Perhaps the greatest bone of contention Mariners fans have with the current roster is third base. The former gatekeeper at the hot corner, Suárez, is now a Diamondback. At the moment, Luis Urías, acquired from the Red Sox at November’s non-tender deadline, projects to be Seattle’s Opening Day third baseman. The team’s supporters are not impressed.
Although Suárez experienced a decline in offensive productivity last year, he did play in all 162 games and managed to clobber 22 home runs. And if you believe in the advanced metric Outs Above Average as I do, the Venezuelan was one of baseball’s best third base defenders. Conversely, Urías is coming off a disappointing, injury-marred 2023.
After missing 58 games due to a hamstring strain suffered on Opening Day, Urías couldn’t get on track with Milwaukee. About three weeks after returning from the IL, the 26-year-old was dispatched to the minors and subsequently dealt to Boston in August. In late-September, Urías tweaked his calf, sending him back to the IL for the final week of the season.
All told, Urías appeared in 52 big-league games with both clubs producing a .194 AVG /.337 OBP/.299 SLG slash-line with six doubles, three home runs, and a 76 OPS+. Naturally, numbers like these have a segment of the fanbase feeling uneasy about the Mexican replacing the extremely popular Suárez. Some are demanding a better option for third base.
An understandable sentiment, although I do believe it’s plausible Urías can help the Mariners at the hot corner this year.
To be clear, I’m not trying to sell anyone on something they’re not interested in buying. But please hear me out. Then, make your decision.
Numbers that make you go, hmmm…
A review of Urías’ recent season stats left me wondering. What if his production in the upcoming season resembled what he delivered for the Brewers in 2022? This isn’t a big ask for a player entering his age-27 season. Especially if he remains healthy.
Sure, it’s possible Urías could return to the level of success experienced during his breakout campaign with the Brew Crew in 2021. That would be fun. But simply being the 2022 version of himself would instantly make Urías an important cog in Seattle’s run production machine this year.
Consider this. If Urías did regain his 2022 form, the right-handed hitter’s stat line would be more productive than what Suárez delivered in his final season as a Mariner. Yes, counting stats favor Seattle’s former third baseman. But this is a function of Suárez having over 200 more plate appearances than Urías did.
Some Mariners fans will insist Suárez’s 2023 stat line wasn’t acceptable. Especially after the 10-year-veteran was significantly better the season prior. Fair enough. But look at the MLB averages for the third base position last season listed below and how favorably Urías’ 2022 production numbers compare to them.
It turns out Urías’ 2022 stat-line would’ve made him a league-average-or-better third baseman last season. Something else to keep in mind. Even in his forgettable season with the Brewers and Red Sox, he managed to reach base at better-than-average rate.
In fact, Urías’ .337 OBP last year was better than what most Mariners with 120-plus plate appearances produced.
2023 OBP of Mariners (120 PA min)
J.P. Crawford - .380
José Caballero - .343
Ty France - .337
Luis Urías - .337
Tom Murphy - .335
Julio Rodríguez - .333
Jarred Kelenic - .327
Mike Ford - .323
Eugenio Suárez - .322
Josh Rojas - .321
Cal Raleigh - .306
Teoscar Hernández - .305
Dylan Moore - .303
MLB Average OBP in 2023 = .316
To me, it’s reasonable to believe Urías can reach base at a noticeably above-average pace with the Mariners in 2024. It’s what he’s done during the highs and lows of the past three seasons. Having said that, the once-heralded Padres prospect must regain his power stroke to be the positive contributor I’ve suggested he can be.
Urías doesn’t need to match the prolific home run power Suárez demonstrated during his two-year stint in Seattle. But as we mentioned earlier, Urías’ 2022 stats were average-or-better. This includes a .404 SLG, which was nine points above the MLB standard that year. Similar power is all that’s needed for a good news story to emerge.
Essentially, delivering a complementary blend of good on-base ability and average-ish power would make Urías a run producer for the Mariners. With this in mind, let’s reflect on power-related stats he’s produced over the past three seasons.
The notable drop in exit velocity (EV), hard-hit rate, and barrel rate last year underscores Urías’ inability to make productive loud contact, as he did in 2021 and 2022. Not surprising for a player dealing with injury challenges affecting his lower body. Good health may be all that’s needed for a turnaround this year.
Okay, I’ve laid out a roadmap to Urías being successful in Seattle. But there’s been no mention of concerns. There are a pair of issues worth discussing. One is consequential. The other isn’t, although it’ll probably live rent-free in the minds of some Mariners fans well into the upcoming season.
Health has been noted several times and must remain a consideration with Urías until time proves it isn’t.
We’ve already noted Urías experienced a significant hamstring injury costing him two months in 2023, plus a season-ending calf strain with Boston. Furthermore, a quad strain suffered during his first Spring Training game sidelined him for the first month of the 2022 campaign.
Essentially, three separate leg issues have negatively affected Urías’ availability over the last two seasons. Is the recent wave of injuries a red flag? Or, is it merely a set of coincidences and not a concern moving forward?
The Milwaukee connection
Yeah, I’m gonna go there, although I’m not sure why.
A side-by-side comparison of the 2022 season stats of Urías and his Brewers teammate, Kolten Wong, is bound to send some Mariners fans into a tizzy. Both players look pretty good. Not so much a year later.
Wong represented a potential second base upgrade last year. But his time in the Emerald City turned out to be an abject disaster. Among Mariners with 200-plus plate appearances in a season, his .165 AVG is worst in franchise history. Only one player - Félix Fermín in 1995 - has produced a worse SLG (.225) than what Wong delivered (.227).
Still, comparisons like the one illustrated above must be taken with a grain of salt. After all, Wong was in his age-31 season in 2022. Why he seemingly fell off a cliff in the offseason prior to debuting with the Mariners remains an unsolved mystery. It’ll be interesting to see where the Hawaiian lands this year and how he performs. I’m rooting for him to rebound.
I’m not suggesting the Mariners shouldn’t aim higher than Luis Urías for the third base position. Perhaps they end up going in another direction before Opening Day. Still, the notion he can’t be a positive contributor to Seattle’s offense based because of a down year is unreasonable.
At least that’s how I see it.
Having said that, Urías must demonstrate the leg injuries he’s experienced over the last two seasons aren’t a precursor to decreased availability and suboptimal performances in the coming years. Otherwise, the Mariners will be in the unenviable position of searching in-season for someone else to start at the hot corner once patrolled by Adrián Beltré, Kyle Seager, and Eugenio Suárez.
Such a development wouldn’t bode well for a team capable of contending with the right amount of offense in 2024.
My Oh My…
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