Steady Urshela keeps proving his value

October 4th, 2022

CHICAGO -- On an offense featuring much flashier contributions from the likes of Byron Buxton to Carlos Correa -- alongside the excitement of youngsters like Luis Arraez and Jose Miranda -- it’s safe to say that Gio Urshela largely flies under the radar, without as much of the star power or name recognition of those around him.

And yet, when the Twins have needed a clutch hit in a season largely lacking in them, more often than not, it’s been Urshela who has answered the call. When a tricky ball is hit in the vicinity of the hot corner, Urshela’s sure glove has put forth more than its share of tricky, highlight-reel plays.

Those skills were on display again in the Twins’ 3-2 loss to the White Sox on Monday, when his two-run, opposite-field blast provided the only offense alongside a diving stop at third and a rangy play to corral a popup in shallow left field, making for some of the few highlights on either side of the ball as Minnesota officially secured a third-place finish in the American League Central.

But most importantly, Urshela has been the constant of this team, from start to finish, in just about every possible way. And as he enters his final season of arbitration eligibility in 2023, the Twins have to determine whether to tender him a contract. His steadiness in all facets has to be considered.

"We use the term 'unsung hero,'” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “You can talk about it in a lot of different ways. He's been a constant from the day he showed up here in his work, in his play, offensively, defensively, in the clubhouse. He's been a really, really good addition to our group. He sets the tone.”

Following Urshela’s 2-for-4 performance on Monday, he’s hitting .285/.336/.430 with 13 homers, marking the highest batting average for a qualified third baseman on the Twins since Nick Punto hit .290 in 2006. Entering Monday, his 117 OPS+ (a measure of his offensive performance adjusted for league and ballpark) also marked the fourth-best such season since 2000 for a qualified Twins third baseman, trailing only Josh Donaldson’s ‘21 campaign and a pair of Corey Koskie seasons.

Every way you slice it, the consistency has been there. He has nearly identical hitting stats against right-handed and left-handed pitchers. He’s had some fluctuations from month to month, but nothing major – and he’s turned things on significantly with an .831 OPS in the second half. His five errors match former Platinum Glove Award winner Matt Chapman for fewest among qualified third basemen.

“I've been doing that like my entire career,” Urshela said. “Every day, I prepare myself to do my work. Doesn't matter if I get 0-for-4 or 4-for-4. The next day, I've got to come with the same mentality. Just go out there, have fun and just waiting for the results.”

Add that all together, and his 2.7 WAR, per Baseball-Reference, made his value comparable to that of Jorge Polanco and Jhoan Duran (both 2.8 WAR). Perhaps adding to that value is the fact that Urshela has not been on the injured list this season, the value of which, for this unbelievably injury-decimated Twins team, cannot possibly be understated. He’s tied for the most games played on the team, with 142, and figures to end the season atop that leaderboard unless Arraez’s hamstring tightness subsides.

That’s just about all the Twins could have hoped for when they brought over Urshela and Gary Sánchez from the Yankees in the deal that sent Donaldson, Ben Rortvedt and Isiah Kiner-Falefa to the Bronx – and now, they’ll have to decide on Urshela’s value to the ‘23 Twins.

Urshela avoided arbitration this season by agreeing to a one-year, $6.55 million deal, and that’s set to go up in his fourth and final chance at arbitration eligibility. The Twins enter this offseason with much uncertainty in their infield, considering the likelihood that Carlos Correa will opt out of the remaining two years of his deal, the fact that Royce Lewis will not be ready for Opening Day due to his re-torn ACL, and the Trade Deadline move the Twins made to send prospects Spencer Steer and Christian Encarnacion-Strand to the Reds for Tyler Mahle.

The 30-year-old Urshela might not have youth on his side or bring an exciting ceiling, but he brings consistency, health and a positive clubhouse presence -- and that could be plenty valuable to these Twins.