Back in 2012, there was a mini-wave of high profile signings out of Cuba. First, the Athletics inked Yoenis Cespedes. A few months later, the Cubs snapped up Jorge Soler. And on July 6, 2012, the Orioles signed Henry Urrutia for a signing bonus of $778,500. He was, without question, the least flashy of the trio.
Urrutia was making his second defection attempt out of Cuba. He failed once before back in 2010 and was suspended for the entire 2011 season in Cuba as a result. Then, after the O's penned him, he ran into visa issues when he tried to come to the United States to be assigned somewhere in the Orioles minor league system.
He managed to get things figured out in the early goings of the 2013 season. He was initially assigned to double-A Bowie, but was able to earn his way up to Triple-A Norfolk and, eventually, all the way to Baltimore. He showed a knack for hitting singles the opposite way and earned a spot as the Orioles seventh ranked prospect, according to Baseball America, following the season.
Prior to the start of the season, Baseball America had Urrutia listed as the best hitter for average in the O's farm system. You wouldn't guess that by looking at how his 2014 worked out.
In spring training there was talk that he may battle with David Lough and Francisco Peguero (among others) for time in the outfielder on the big club. Maybe he could get some swings at DH. But, he showed little improvement in the areas that the team was concerned about.
In 17 games he hit one home run and five doubles, which amounted to an OK slugging percentage of .452. However, he had seemed to lose his ability to hit for average, posting just a .262 batting average and one walk. And the Orioles did not see enough change in his work with the glove to put him on the opening day roster.
His fielding has long been an issue of contention for some. Following the 2013 Futures Game, in which Urrutia went 0-for-3 at the plate, Baseball Prospectus' Zach Mortimer said " I’ve already made up my mind on Urrutia defensively, and if he’s not stinging it at the plate, I'm not especially interested."
Fair enough, he is a corner outfielder. Their defense can be forgiven if they put up offensive numbers. We all know that rings true for the Orioles as much, as any other team, in left field. Unfortunately for Urrutia, he has been doing anything but "stinging it" in 2014.
His year began with Norfolk. There, he was pretty awful for the first month of the season. After April 27, here is what his slash line looked like: .220/.250/.293. Those kind of numbers aren't even really passable as a middle infielder, let alone a left fielder who isn't especially adept with the leather.
The left-handed hitting outfielder then missed all of May and June with a sports hernia injury. He returned to the field on July 5 as a member of the Gulf Coast Orioles and was just as bad there, hitting .230 with an on base percentage of .255. He walked three times in the whole month of July.
On August 1, he headed back up north to the Tides and things began to look up. His return was a three-hit performance where he also stole a base; one of his two swiped bags on the season.
Urrutia hit better all around once he came back from his elongated rehab stint with Gulf Coast. The Tides season ended on September 1. In that final month, the 6-foot-3 Cuban hit .310 with an on-base percentage of .317 and slugging of .370. It helped improve his final slash line to .270/.284/.338.
In Triple-A this season, he had 12 doubles, 17 RBI and zero home runs in 51 games. We could give him the benefit of the doubt and talk about how he went on the DL a month into the season and was likely hurt before that. That could have led to him not being able to get as strong as he would like.
But wait, back in January the Baltimore Sun's Eduardo Encina reported that Urrutia had added nearly 20 pounds of muscle to his lanky frame. He was tipping the scales at 201. So, what happened? It certainly was not reflected in his play on the field. Maybe his body just can't handle more muscle.
This apparent combination of poor defense and the inability to hit home runs just doesn't seem to fit on this Oriole roster any time soon. But Baltimore isn't about to give up on him. He needs to get a fully healthy season in and, even then, he would have to be at least third in the pecking order of left field candidates who are set to return behind Alejandro De Aza and David Lough (Delmon Young and Nelson Cruz are on one-year deals).
2015 is set to be a make or break type of year for the Cuban as it could be with so many other Oriole prospects.