Boston — First, Ramón Urías couldn’t find an avenue back into affiliated baseball from the Mexican League. Then, he couldn’t break through with the St. Louis Cardinals, who didn’t even think he could handle shortstop in Triple-A.
Now that he’s finally gotten his chance with the Orioles, the 27-year-old Urías is nearing the end of an impressive 2021 season in a sweet spot: satisfied with how he’s performed as an everyday player since the end of June but eager to show he’s even better next year when his lingering groin injury is healed.
“I believe that next year when I’m healthy, I can do better things and I’ll keep working and keep focus on what I’m doing, and I hope I can get a better season,” Urías said.
Said manager Brandon Hyde: “It’s been a good year for him from getting an opportunity, and he’s putting up some good numbers.”
Urías came to the Orioles as a waiver claim in the spring of 2020 before the pandemic shut the game down, the latest stop on a path to the big leagues he set off on when he was 6 years old. His father played amateur baseball and began training Urías and his brother, Luis, an infielder with the Milwaukee Brewers, for the game.
Where he grew up in Sonora, Mexico, Urías said baseball was the only sport to play, and as he and his brother grew up and played in national tournaments, they realized they might have a future in it. He signed at age 16 with the Texas Rangers as an amateur free agent but was released after two seasons in the Dominican Summer League.
Urías joined up with the Diablos Rojos de Mexico and quickly blossomed into one of the league’s top players. He hit .351 with a .907 OPS at age 23, his third season in the league, and felt he was ready to come back stateside and try again at affiliated ball. His team, however, wouldn’t ascent to that.
“I think that I spent a little more time than I should have in Mexico,” Urías said. “My team didn’t want to give my contract away, they wanted me to play there. For me, that was a difficult part that took me an extra two years, maybe, to get out of that league.”
In a league that’s mixed with younger players like him and older ones like Orioles relievers César Valdez and Manny Barreda, a still-developing Urías thrived. He might not have been where he wanted to be, but he was still showing an innate ability to hit. In his final season there in 2017, Urías hit .340 with 19 home runs and a 1.011 OPS.
It convinced him, more than ever, that he could keep chasing his big league dreams.
“There were guys who had played before in the big leagues and they were playing there, and I felt like I could really compete at a higher level,” Urías said. “That’s why I just kept trying to get back. That always was my goal.”
He signed a minor league deal with the Cardinals after that 2017 season and spent the next two years in the high minors, hitting well but never breaking through. When they put him on waivers last spring, the Orioles scooped him up, and he made his major league debut in August 2020.
Urías hit will when he had chances last summer, and showed in the final week of the season that he could handle shortstop in José Iglesias’ absence. Entering 2021, he was in the second base mix for the Orioles and played occasionally in the early part of the season. But when starting shortstop Freddy Galvis was injured June 26, Urías returned from the minors and took off. From that day through Friday, he hit .284 with a .786 OPS, sound production even as he’s been limited by the groin injury.
The chance to play shortstop is one Urías hasn’t taken lightly, even if his injury might keep him at second or third the rest of the way.
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“What I’ve done defensively, I feel really proud of because when I was with the Cardinals, they’d always think that I couldn’t play shortstop at this level — not even at Triple-A,” he said. “And I feel like I’ve been doing well of late, playing the middle infield and also a little bit of third. On the hitting side, I feel good because I feel like I can really compete at this level. I have to continue to improve myself.”
For Hyde, Urías’ ability to play shortstop has made him an attractive player going forward.
“For me, he’s increased his value from a versatility standpoint,” Hyde said. “I think there was some question marks on him. We just didn’t see him at short much, didn’t see him in the big leagues very much last year, and what he’s shown this year is that he’s got the ability to play three spots in the infield. He’s going to give you a good at-bat.
“It’s not the new age of hitting where he’s trying to go deep, but he’s going to use the whole field. You see him [Tuesday] night, really impressive piece of hitting on the drive to left-center. When he gets the barrel to the ball, the ball comes off hot, and I like the way he uses the whole field. I like the way he drives the ball the other way.”
Urías’ strong summer will assure him of a chance to play a significant role on the Orioles’ infield in 2022, a position group where little is settled. Jahmai Jones could fight for a role at second base after a disappointing cameo this month, with Jorge Mateo also in the middle-infield mix. Richie Martin, Pat Valaika and Kelvin Gutiérrez could all return as well.
Few in this permanent state of evaluation mode that the rebuilding Orioles have been in have done more with their opportunity than Urías, though.
“I’m happy to be able to show what I’ve got and to be able to compete at this level,” he said. “I’m grateful for having this opportunity. I feel like I have to keep working, keep improving my talents here, and keep working.”