Home Sports Gio Urshela Is Creating Magic, and a Logjam, at Third Base

Gio Urshela Is Creating Magic, and a Logjam, at Third Base

Talk to any Yankee player these days — especially their pitchers — and they’re likely to start raving about Gio Urshela, the newcomer who was summoned as an emergency call-up but has turned into a magic-maker at third base.

Soft hands? Fast-twitch reflexes? A cannon of an arm? Not only does Urshela check every box, but some Yankees are even propping him up as a potential Gold Glove candidate.

“I actually feel sorry for guys who hit the ball in Gio’s direction, because they have no shot of getting it by him,” said outfielder Clint Frazier. “He’s just unreal.”

Urshela’s emergence has created a pleasant problem for the Yankees, as they now have two capable third baseman in him and Miguel Andujar, who returned over the weekend after sustaining a labrum tear. Andujar started Tuesday night’s game against the Seattle Mariners as the designated hitter, a slot he figures to fill for a while, with Urshela at third.

It took Andujar’s injury to create roster space for Urshela, but the 27-year-old’s path to a spot in the Bronx was forged years earlier in his native Colombia. Growing up in Cartagena, Urshela was like most of his young peers: He loved soccer and was a fan of the Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo.

Urshela was a goalkeeper as a kid — “I had a great hands,” he said with a grin — but a love of baseball ran through the family. Both of Urshela’s brothers played in high school, as did their father, a softball aficionado.

There were few countrymen in Colombia to root for; only 21 players from that country have made it to the majors, including Urshela. Edgar Renteria and Orlando Cabrera were the most prominent during Urshela’s youth.

But despite a national fixation on soccer, Urshela grew up hearing plenty about the Yankees.

“For a country that doesn’t have a lot of baseball, you’d be surprised how many Colombians love this team,” Urshela said. “There are Yankees fans everywhere.”

Thus, judgment day, when Urshela’s father told him it was time to pick a sport, the teenager knew his goalkeeping days were over.

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Urshela has been as good as advertised in the field, with Clint Frazier suggesting that he is worthy of Gold Glove consideration.CreditDaniel Shirey/Getty Images

“He said, ‘I want you to concentrate on soccer,’” Urshela said, referring to his dad. “I said, ‘No.’”

He laughed and added, “I think I made the right choice.”

These days Urshela is fielding steady requests for interviews, although the attention goes beyond the clubhouse. The president of Colombia, Iván Duque, personally tweeted his praise for Urshela after a particularly good day at Yankee Stadium: a double and two singles in the Yankees’ 9-2 win over the Royals on April 20.

Urshela, who was batting .352 in 71 at-bats entering Tuesday, insists he’s not entirely surprised by the success. “I’ve always believed my hard work would pay off,” he said. Still, the journey has been circuitous. He was out of minor-league options when the Cleveland Indians finally released him last year. Their roster was full and Urshela’s path was being blocked by Jose Ramirez, their current third baseman.

Urshela landed with the Toronto Blue Jays but remained on the Yankees’ radar.

“We’d always had interest in Gio, we recognized his elite defense,” said General Manager Brian Cashman. “The question was: Could we match up with Cleveland to make something happen? The answer was we couldn’t. But we kept an eye on him.”

The Yankees ended up purchasing Urshela from Toronto last August, but didn’t protect him on the 40-man roster. In parts of three seasons with the Indians and Blue Jays, Urshela batted only .225 with a meager .589 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. He was developing a reputation as an offensively-challenged, career minor leaguer — until late last season.

Urshela batted .307 with an .815 O.P.S. in 27 games for the Yankees’ Class-AAA affiliate in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He demonstrated similar bat-skills in spring training, at which point Manager Aaron Boone pulled Cashman aside and suggested it was time to make room for Urshela.

Only, where? The Yankees were fully invested in Andujar, the runner-up for the American League’s Rookie of the Year Award last season. Just as it was in Cleveland, Urshela appeared to be stuck, but the calculus changed after Andujar suffered a partially torn labrum and spent the next month on the injured list.

That prompted the call-up that’s launched Urshela career in pinstripes. It was Frazier, who played with Urshela in the Indians’ farm system and who has also seized an opportunity brought about by injuries this year, who said, “this guy is a Gold Glove third baseman. I knew it back then, just watching. He belongs here, man.”

No one is arguing the point, least of all Boone, who said Urshela’s glove compares favorably with defensive stars like Oakland’s Matt Chapman, Colorado’s Nolan Arenado, and San Diego’s Manny Machado.

The manager wouldn’t insert himself into the Gold Glove debate. First, he has to figure out how, or if, he can keep Urshela and Andujar in the same lineup. For now, Andujar will serve as the primary designated hitter, at least until Giancarlo Stanton recovers from a shoulder injury.

Urshela said he was “so grateful” for the opportunity that fate has given him, although none of it would’ve been possible without a critical choice on his part. It’s called picking the right horse — or, in Urshela’s case, picking the right sport.