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Baltimore Orioles 2013 in review: Henry Urrutia

Orioles fans got only a brief look at Urrutia this year, as he played in just twenty-four games and received fifty-eight plate appearances. He showed the ability to make contact and hit for a decent average, but unfortunately, little else.


Henry Urrutia has gotten pretty mixed reviews in the past. Just before his callup in July, John Sickels (of SBN's Minor League Ball) took a look at him and was quite positive, suggesting a solid defender (mostly on the basis of a strong arm) with good contact ability and enough power to line doubles into the gaps. Other reports around the same time were more restrained, ranging from ESPN Insider Keith Law's ambivalence (good swing mechanics and batting practice sessions vs. poor Futures Game at-bats and little athleticism) to Baseball Prospectus writer Zach Mortimer's pessimism ("way behind against good velocity").

So what did we see from him in the majors? Urrutia posted a .276/.276/.310 batting line, which is not good, to say the least. It's hard not to say that he was a disappointment, but there's reason to hope that he's better in the future. If nothing else, his contact tool is as advertized; a .276 average is a lot better than it used to be. There are, however, a lot of negatives: no power (his sole extra base hit was a single misplayed into a "triple"), no walks, poor plate discipline (worse than the scouting reports suggested), and a definite sense that he was having trouble with major-league velocity and breaking balls.

However, with so few plate appearances and just three innings in the field, it's too early to draw any conclusions about what Urrutia can and can't do. It's also worth noting, as John Sickels emphasizes in the post linked above, that Urrutia hadn't actually played baseball at a high level for a couple of years before this one, because it took him quite a while to defect and then work out some visa issues. If we cut him some slack for that reason, and put more weight on his solid minor league numbers (.365/.427/.531 in 2013), then it just looks like a poor debut that shouldn't be worried about much.

It's hard to say what Urrutia's role on the '14 Orioles will be. Or, rather, it's hard to say how much playing time he'll end up getting. If the Orioles re-sign Nate McLouth, then there isn't any room for Urrutia in the outfield, especially since he's a lefty and both corner spots would be manned by lefties. Whether the O's feel comfortable putting him in left field is an open question; did Buck not trust his defense, or did he just prefer McLouth's? The most likely scenario seems to be that Urrutia forms half of a DH platoon with Danny Valencia, but that experiment likely won't last long unless he starts showing more power or plate discipline (preferably, both).