It was April 19 when Cuban outfielder Henry Urrutia joined the Double-A Bowie Baysox. Before long, the hits came ringing off his bat.
It wasn’t much longer after that, that fans start wondering if the Orioles would promote the hot-hitting Urrutia to Triple-A - or even the majors, at some point.
In early May, O’s director of player development Brian Graham said Urrutia, who hadn’t played much in two years, had to show the organization more than just offense to get promoted. He needed to be a well-rounded player who could also help on defense to move to Norfolk or possibly Baltimore.
Well, after 51 games, Urrutia is still hitting. But now, after nearly two months of playing every day, other aspects of his game are catching up to his bat and this is just what the Orioles wanted to see from the 26-year-old Urrutia before a promotion.
Graham was in Bowie last week to watch the Baysox.
“The best thing I saw from Urrutia was his baserunning and his defense in the outfield,” Graham said. “For me, the best thing he did was showed better instincts on the bases and he showed better reaction to the ball off the bat in the outfield along with better jumps and better range. He looked more comfortable and natural in the outfield. To me, that was more impressive than the home run he hit, which was a great swing.
“The Double-A staff has done a great job with Urrutia - (Manager) Gary Kendall and (coaches) Butch Davis and Scott Thomas,” Graham said.
After going 4-for-6 in a doubleheader at Richmond last night, Urrutia is batting .366 to lead the Eastern League, with 16 doubles, seven homers and 35 RBIs. He has a .436 OBP, a .557 slugging percentage and a .992 OPS.
He is batting .433 in 18 June games. The bat is still rolling, but now the defense is catching up.
When I was in Bowie last week, I asked Kendall about Urrutia’s defense.
“Improved,” he said. “Butch has him out there every day early, trying to quicken his release up on ground balls throwing to bases. Getting on top, moreso than off to the side of the ball.
“I had never seen him in Cuba, but I am starting to see more and more signs of a player showing some quick reactions on defense. His game awareness and reacting to game situations is starting to come quicker with more games played.
“To not play in a competitive league for that long of time and then go run down balls in the alley in Double-A, the game can be quick. But he is shaking that rust off and his athleticism is playing more. He is taking some better routes and being in better position when he gets here.
“I see a guy that, based on the players I’ve had, could with work go into the major leagues and do a good job. He’s making progress,” he said.
But will he now progress up the minor league ladder to Norfolk? MASNsports.com’s Roch Kubatko has written that a move to Triple-A for Urrutia is being discussed among the O’s brass.
Now that his defense and baserunning have gotten up to speed, “Hammerin’ Hank” is certainly doing all he can to make that happen.
Baysox All-Stars: The Bowie Baysox announced today the selection of six players to the Western Division team for the 2013 Eastern League All-Star Game Wednesday, July 10, in New Britain, Conn. Catcher Caleb Joseph, outfielder Henry Urrutia, shortstop Niuman Romero, infielder Ty Kelly and right-handed pitcher Mike Wright were selected for the game. Lefty Jason Gurka was also selected for the game, but is unable to participate due to an injury. For more information on the All-Star game, fans can visit www.rockcats.com.