On the heels of both players being named to the World Team in the Futures Game, the Orioles promoted two of their top prospects on Thursday, bumping outfielder Henry Urrutia to Triple-A Norfolk and left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez to Double-A Bowie.
To say that both promotions were well deserved would be a massive understatement. Urrutia was destroying Eastern League pitching to the tune of a .365/.433/.550 line and he ranked inside the top-four in all of the minor leagues in batting average.
Rodriguez, arguably the top pitching prospect in the organization with Dylan Bundy headed for Tommy John surgery and Kevin Gausman on the active roster, has also excelled. In 14 starts for Frederick, he posted a 2.85 ERA and a 66:25 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 85.1 innings.
The 20-year old Rodriguez will advance to the Eastern League to take Urrutia's spot on the Baysox roster and will instantly be under the microscope as one of the youngest players on the circuit. The real pressure to perform, however, is on 26-year old Urrutia.
His tale has been well-told, but for those of you unfamiliar with it, here it is in a nutshell:
Urrutia starred in the Cuban National Series and for Team Cuba in international competition before being suspended in 2010 for a failed defection attempt. In 2011, he eventually managed to escape Cuba, and fled to Haiti, where the Orioles won the right to his services in exchange for a signing bonus of just over $778,000.
Once he signed, however, he had trouble acquiring a visa, and he spent all of 2012 in limbo and unable to play in the U.S. He finally made it to the States this February and, despite the three-year layoff, the O's sent him to Double-A.
Urrutia not only held his own, but thrived. In addition to his league-leading average, he rapped 16 doubles, swatted seven home runs, and drove in 37 runs in just 52 games. He also posted a respectable 24:36 walk-to-strikeout ratio. His performance improved each month and, thanks to the incredible .425/.481/.644 line he posted in 19 games in June, he finally earned a promotion to Norfolk.
There's no argument that a promotion was in order. My only complaint is that he didn't get the bump all the way to Baltimore, where the big-league club could use his bat. Let's take a minute to break down why moving Urrutia straight to the big-leagues makes the most sense:
For starters, the track-record for recent Cuban defectors has nothing short of incredible.
Outfielder Yoenis Cespedes (defected in 2011) was the driving force behind Oakland's playoff run last season, posting a .292/.356/.505 line despite playing only three games in the minors.
Right-hander Aroldis Chapman (2009) needed only 48 appearances to prove his big-league worthiness. He's posted a 2.41 ERA for his career with a strikeout rate of 14.4 K/9 for the Reds.
Marlins right-hander Jose Fernandez, who defected back in 2008, was drafted by Miami three years later out of a Tampa High School, and reached the big-leagues after just 27 starts in the minors.
Despite his reputation for being a defense-only player, Red Sox shortstop Jose Iglesias (2008) has hit .419 in limited playing time this season. He needed less than 300 games at the minor-league level and already grades out as one of the top defenders in all of baseball.
Rangers outfielder Leonys Martin (2010) spent parts of two seasons in the minors and has cemented himself as the team's everyday outfielder. His .288 average ranks fourth on the team and he has 13 steals.
Chicago's Alexei Ramirez (2007) made the jump straight to the majors and averaged 16 homers and 72 RBI in his first five seasons with the White Sox. This year he's hitting .280 with 18 steals.
Ramirez's teammate, Dayan Viciedo (2008) hasn't found his groove yet this season, but last year he hit 25 home runs and he has as much raw power as anyone on the Sox active roster.
And then there's the sensation that is Dodgers' star-in-the-making Yasiel Puig (2012). Do I really need to go into how good he's been?
Obviously, Urrutia doesn't offer the upside of most of these guys, otherwise he would have signed for upwards of $1 million, but he offers enough to warrant a look before the end of this season.
So why do I believe that Urrutia's time is now, aside from the incredible debuts by the players listed above and his incredibly seasoned bat, of course?
Take a look at the production that the Orioles are currently getting from their DH spot:
.198/.267/.399, 14 2B, 13 HR, 32 RBI, 25/79 BB/K
Aside from second base, the Orioles biggest hole—and by hole I mean black hole—is clearly the DH position. With the return of Brian Roberts this weekend, second base will get a boost. So what about the DH spot? Until now, it's been a rotating slot that has contained whichever regular needs a "day off". When it hasn't been Adam Jones, Matt Wieters or Chris Davis, the role has been filled by a contingent of minor-league veterans and major league castoffs.
How long can Showalter keep running out Travis Ishikawa (.154), Danny Valencia (.259) and Chris Dickerson (.264)?
Furthermore, why would I just assume that Urrutia would take up the DH role full-time?
It's a widely known fact that his defensive ability is light-years behind his bat. That reason alone was enough to keep him in Double-A while he was flirting with .400 at the plate. Easing Urrutia into the outfield with a start or two a week, while still allowing him to get his at-bats at DH makes the most sense.
More important, it's the way Earl Weaver would have done things, God rest his soul!
Bringing him along slowly in the field would also allow the O's to keep Nate McLouth's valuable bat, and wheels, in the lineup.
Even if Urrutia isn't 100 percent ready for the big leagues, I see no way that he could perform worse than the Orioles' current DH-by-committee. He certainly wouldn't hit below the Mendoza line.
The O's haven't ruled out bringing up Urrutia at some point during the season, but if they want to remain competitive in the most competitive division in baseball, the time is now!