Over the past several years and going back further to previous regimes, the term Norfolk shuttle has been a part of the Orioles baseball lexicon. And in some circles, there’s been debate about the long-term effects of constantly yo-yoing players between the majors and minors.
The shuttling back and forth most frequently involves pitchers that are unlucky enough to have options remaining when the club needs a fresh arm. But position players aren’t exempt from taking multiple rides on the shuttle over the course of the same season either.
This brings us to Ramon Urias, the Orioles’ 27-year-old middle infielder that has been optioned twice and recalled twice so far in 2021. He’s currently in the midst of his third stint with the big league club.
Ramon Urias made the team out of spring training and stuck around for the first month and a half, appearing in 24 games but starting just 16. But he did not perform well during that first stint with the O’s, hitting .226/.305/.321. He also played sparingly over that time, getting just 53 at-bats while starting 16 games and coming on as a replacement in eight.
His run with Baltimore was put on pause on May 16, when he was optioned to the Norfolk Tides for the first time this year. He resurfaced in the majors a few weeks later, albeit briefly.
Near the beginning of June, Urias had a very short stint in the bigs that was preceded by Pat Valaika’s placement on the bereavement list. Urias only stuck with the O’s for four days this time around and he only appeared in one game over that time span.
He started at shortstop on June 6 against the Cleveland Indians and put together a strong day at the plate, going 2-for-4 with a home run and two RBI. Two days later, Valaika was reinstated from the bereavement list and as a result, Urias was sent back down to Norfolk.
But he kept putting in the work down on the farm, logging solid numbers at the plate (.258/.340/.483 in 89 at-bats) as he awaited another chance. About two weeks before the All-Star break, an opportunity presented itself.
It was June 27, the same day that Stevie Wilkerson was optioned to Triple-A and Freddy Galvis was placed on the 10-day injured list with a quadriceps injury, that Urias was recalled from Norfolk. Suddenly, there was more playing time available in the middle infield, and the club finally decided to give Urias more than just a part-time role.
Urias has started 12 games in a row since his last recall, and his play on the field has justified the increased playing time. He’s gone 15-for-45 over this recent stretch with three doubles, two home runs, six RBI, four walks, and eight strikeouts. And over those 12 games, he’s got a triple-slash line of .333/.388/.533.
Another thing Urias has going for himself is versatility. More specifically, the ability to slide between middle infield positions. He’s appeared in 15 games at second base and 21 games at shortstop so far this year.
So what do the Orioles do when Freddy Galvis is healthy and needs to his spot on the team back? Looking at the recent past, Urias should not be the corresponding roster causality. He has outperformed fellow middle infielder Domingo Leyba, who was recalled from the minors on the same day as Urias last month. Leyba has struggled to a .231/.318/.308 line at the plate in 39 at-bats with the O’s.
On defense, Urias has made strides too. His advanced metrics have shown improvements, with his defensive fWAR jumping from -2.1 last year to 2.5 this year. Also according to Fangraphs, his UZR has gone up 1.5 (-0.6 to 0.9) as a second baseman and 2.3 (-1.7 to 0.6) as a shortstop.
Besides, Urias isn’t exactly a scrub at the plate according to his career minor league numbers. In parts of five minor league seasons, he’s got a .268/.353/.423 triple slash line. As recently as 2019, Urias hit .262/.362/.419 across three levels (high Single-A, Double-A, and Triple-A) in the Cardinals system. The year prior to that, he hit .300/.356/.516 while splitting his time between Double-A and Triple-A.
So while Urias may not be a realistic part of the Orioles’ long-term future, he’s one of the few players generating offense right now and creating a modicum of excitement. The club would do well to keep him around until he cools off or a more high-profile prospect proves themselves ready and takes his place.