Urshela grew up honing his craft on rough fields strewn with debris, or on the street outside his house using taped-up socks for a ball and a broomstick or some other piece of wood as a bat.
“The field I used to play on and train on was a softball field, and it wasn’t very good,” he said. “It was a dirt field with rocks and broken glass, all that, and I would never know where the ball was going on ground balls. I broke my (top front) teeth one time; a bad bounce hit my teeth. That was a bad field, but I couldn’t tell you how many ground balls I took there.”
Urshela’s background is also unique, though, in that he hails from the historic city of Cartagena, located on the northern coast of Colombia, where soccer remains king. He played goalie as a kid, but, to his father’s chagrin, Urshela loved baseball most.
“My dad wanted me to play soccer, but I said, ‘No, Dad, I want to play baseball,’” he said. “And then once I decided to play, my parents always supported my decision to play baseball.”
Urshela quickly got very good at it. As a shortstop, he helped Colombia nearly reach the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, twice—losing in the Latin America Region Tournament in Puerto Rico one year and then in Panama the next.
By the time he was a teenager, Urshela felt he had a shot at playing baseball professionally, but there weren’t many Major League scouts in Colombia in 2007. So, he attended tryouts in Venezuela and the Dominican Republic. Two teams showed interest—the Indians and the Yankees. And on July 2, 2008, three months shy of his 17th birthday, Urshela signed with the Indians. His first trip to the United States came the following year.
“Coming to America was the hardest part for me because I came here with no English, nothing,” Urshela said. “I was scared to travel by myself. I went to Arizona (for extended Spring Training); it was a long flight. So, it’s been a long process.” (Nathan Maciborski - Yankees Magazine - 7/10/2019)
In 2008, Urshela signed with the Indians (see Transactions below).
In 2011, Baseball America rated Giovanny as the 30th-best prospect in the Indians organization. He was not in the book in 2012, but was at #22 in the winter before 2013 spring training. After missing the book again in 2014, he was all the way up to #11 in the spring of 2015.
In 2014, Urshela received the Lou Boudreau Award (top position player) for the Indians minor leaguers.
November 2015: Francisco Lindor and Giovanny Urshela are accustomed to close proximity. For the past three years, they have climbed up the Indians' organization ladder, Lindor manning shortstop and Urshela handling third base at their stops along the way.
The pair will remain close during the offseason before 2016 spring training; Urshela plans on heading to Florida to train with Lindor before they return to Arizona for Spring Training.
"I think it's a good idea," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "I think they'll push each other and I think it's really good." The Indians manager also knows that asking a player to spend a season, and then an offseason, away from his home country (Colombia in Urshela's case) can be hard on a player. (J Bastian - MLB.com - November 18, 2015)
In 2017, Urshela represented Columbia in the World Baseball Classic.
Urshela has been a positive contributor in the clubhouse, as well. Though not loud or outspoken, Urshela is lauded by his teammates for his ability to bring people together, his love of the game, his positive attitude and his hunger to get better.
“He’s a baseball player,” D.J. LeMahieu said, which may not sound like much but is high praise in a big-league clubhouse. Of course, contributing to the Yankees’ winning ways is always a surefire way to fit in.
Urshela’s 2019 performance didn’t feel like a fluke to me, but at the same time, I expected some regression this season. There were a couple of things pointing to a step back, namely a .349 BABIP and a wOBA .016 points higher than his xwOBA. Even so, the underlying batted ball metrics were really good, so I expected another solid season. So when Gio posted a 133 wRC+ after he recorded a 132 mark a year ago, it was certainly a pleasant surprise.
Really, the only area that Urshela took a step back in was the power department. In 2019, he hit a home run every 23 plate appearances. In 2020, it took 29. As a result, his isolated power fell from .219 to .192. Still quite good! Part of this dip is due to a pretty punchless September, though. He didn’t hit a homer in 67 September PAs, though he still posted a .390 batting average and .433 on-base percentage that month. I think we can explain away the September power outage, but let’s put a pin on that until the next section. Besides, Urshela’s power returned in a rather big spot in the postseason:
Power aside, let’s get back to Urshela’s improvements from 2019 to 2020, particularly in terms of plate discipline. Not only did Urshela record a 5.3 percent walk rate in 2019, but he also had a career 5.4 percent mark in nearly 1,000 plate appearances through 2019. To essentially double that rate, albeit in a small sample, is quite impressive and if sustained, will help him in the long run.
The third baseman was selectively aggressive this season. He dropped his swing percentage and first pitch swing percentage by 3.5 and 11.7 percent, respectively. Meanwhile, he swung at more meatballs (from 78.5 to 85.7 percent). Based on the numbers, it was as if Urshela simply waited for his pitch to pounce on. And at the same time, he spat on more pitches out of the zone. (Derek - Dec. 1, 2020)
July 2, 2008: Urshela signed with the Indians for $300,000, out of Colombia, via scout Jose Quintero.
May 9, 2018: The Indians traded Gio to the Blue Jays for a PTBNL.
Aug 4, 2018: The Blue Jays traded Gio to the Yankees for cash considerations.
- Jan 10, 2020: The Yankees and Urshela avoided arbitration by agreeing to a $2.4 million deal.
- Jan 15, 2021: Gio and the Yankees avoided arbitration, agreeing to a one-year contract worth $4.65 million,
|DOB:||10/11/1991||Agent:||The Legacy Agency|
|Birth City:||Cartagena, Colombia|
|Draft:||2008 - Indians - Free agent - Out of Columbia|
Urshela consistently makes good contact, putting the bat on the ball. He should have at least average power, but will probably develop 60 power.
In 2014, he added some small tweaks to his swing, using a higher leg kick and lowering his hands closer to his right shoulder during his load. The kick enables him to see the ball longer and thus, be more selective. The latter move is helping him create more loft, That allowed him to tap into his power, which should be good for 20-25 homers per season, maybe more.
- Giovanny needs to improve his patience at the plate. He expands the strike zone or swings at pitches on the corners that he needs to take because he only makes weak contact on them.
Urshela has good hand-eye coordination. But because he puts the bat on the ball so easily, he puts himself in trouble by expanding the strike zone rather than waiting for a good pitch to hit. He needs to be less of a free-swinger.
"He's always been an aggressive hitter who rarely walked because he had unbelievable bat-to-ball (ability),” Indians farm director Carter Hawkins said. “Because of that, he would make some contact on balls he couldn’t drive.”
So, following the 2013 season, a group of Indians hitting instructors worked with Urshela. To help him develop a better approach with each at-bat, they urged him to focus on attacking a specific pitch and recognize when a ball was thrown in a location needed for him to better launch it deep. Urshela also worked to get his legs and core stronger in the weight room.
In 2014, Urshela used terrific hand-eye coordination with at least average power potential from the right side to have his best season as a pro so far. He can demolish the inside pitch with a quick, powerful stroke, but his upper-cutting, flyball approach and just fair plate discipline won’t translate to a high average. (Editor's note: Years later, Urshela has developed into a full-time .300 hitter with the Yankees.)
- As of the start of the 2021 season, Urshela's career Major League stats were: .273 batting average, 35 home runs with 143 RBI in 1,059 at-bats.
Giovanny has the defensive skills to have a Gold Glove in his future. He makes the difficult play seem routine.
His best tool is his outstanding defense at third base.
- Urshela has impressive instincts and has very good range to both his left and his right. And his hands are soft.
Giovanny has advanced feel for the position and good footwork.
Defensively, Urshela had always stood out.
“Gio’s always been one of the better players at third base organizationally—not just in the upper levels,” Indians farm director Carter Hawkins said. “He’s got a very good eye to the ball, outstanding hands and a strong arm that allows him to make plays from his glove hand to his right.”
Giovanny has a rocket for an arm. And he can throw from any angle and make it accurate.
- In 2015, Urshela's glove helped tighten what had been a leaky Indians defense in the first half of the season. But he didn't hit enough.
- Giovanny is not very speedy. Thick and powerfully-built, he’s a well-below-average runner.
May 4-21, 2012: Urshela was on the D.L.
2014: Urshela's season ended prematurely after he sprained the posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. Urshela did not need surgery, but his status for Spring Training games (2015) was in question. But he was fine . . . until:
March 2015: Not too far into spring camp, Giovanni injured his back, keeping him off the field until mid-April.
May 8-21, 2015: The lower back strain put Urshela on the D.L.
May 1-252, 2016: Giovanny was on the D.L.
March 26-May 4, 2018: Urshela was on the DL with a right hamstring injury.
Aug 28, 2019: Urshela was removed for precautionary reasons after experiencing tightness in his left groin while running out an infield hit. Urshela came out of the game.
Aug 29-Sept 8, 2019: Gio was on the IL with left groin injury.
- Sept 24, 2019: Urshela was hit on the hand by a 94.6-mph Diego Castillo fastball in the sixth inning of the 2-1 loss to the Rays at Tropicana Field. X-rays taken at the ballpark were negative, and Urshela was diagnosed with a bruise.
Sept 4-15, 2020: Urshela was on the IL with right elbow bone spur.
Dec 3, 2020: Gio underwent surgery to remove a bone chip from his right elbow, with the infielder expected to recover within three months. The Yankees first acknowledged Urshela’s elbow issue in August, and it required a September stint on the injured list. Dr. Christopher Ahmad performed Urshela’s surgery at New York-Presbyterian Hospital.
- April 9-10, 2021: Gio was on the IL.