The Brewers starting shortstop job was up for grabs in 2020, and neither one locked down the role heading into the future.
Orlando Arcia has been the Brewers incumbent starting shortstop since he took over the role in late 2016. He’s had his ups and downs both on offense and defense, and the Brewers had no choice but to bring in some competition.
Last offseason’s acquisition of Luis Urias set up a big showdown in 2020 for the shortstop job. Arcia was able to get off to a head start over Urias because Urias suffered a hand injury in January, missing spring training while Arcia was the Crew’s hottest hitter in the spring. Then Urias missed the first half of Summer Camp with covid.
Orlando Arcia played in 59 of the Brewers 60 games in 2020 and started 52 of them at shortstop. Urias, meanwhile, played in only eight games at shortstop. By the looks of it, Arcia won the shortstop battle, at least for 2020. But heading into next year, Arcia still doesn’t have a lock on it.
Another Brewers Shortstop Battle
Arcia finished the season with a .260/.317/.416 slash line and five homers. He was one of the team’s most consistent hitters and he showed a lot of progress, but was it enough progress? The Athletic’s Will Sammon had a good article on this situation.
Luis Urias, meanwhile, started off hot going 24-for-84 with a .286/.355/.357 slash line through September 9th. He fell into a slump over the final two and a half weeks, which tanked his final stats, but he looked great defensively and the Brewers believe he can handle the position.
Arcia’s defensive metrics took a bit of a downturn in 2020. According to Baseball Savant’s Outs Above Average metric, Arcia ranked 27th out of 39 qualifying shortstops with -1 Outs Above Average. Shortstop is a defense-first position, and the Brewers stuck with Arcia through his slumps over the past few years because of his superior defense. With that defense taking a downturn, will they keep sticking with him?
Urias is younger and cheaper than Arcia. Arcia will be entering his second year of arbitration and is projected to earn somewhere between $2.7MM and $3.8MM next year, which will be his age-26 season. Urias will still be pre-arbitration, making near league-minimum and he will turn 24 next June.
The Brewers could look to move on from Arcia and give Urias the chance to be the starting shortstop going forward. Arcia has had four and a half seasons with the job and if he can’t lock it down in that time, then maybe a change is necessary.
With a full offseason ahead, the Brewers could look to either trade or non-tender Arcia, in an effort to get something back for the former top prospect and/or clear some more payroll flexibility.
If both Urias and Arcia remain on the roster, there’s going to be another battle for playing time and it’s likely that one of them would not be getting regular at-bats. Unless Keston Hiura gets moved to first base and Urias can take over second, or Urias takes over at third full time, there’s no way both can get the ABs they need.
Urias, while he can defensively handle third, is not a power hitter. Third base is a traditional power position and the Brewers need more power from their lineup, which Urias doesn’t bring.
If both players remain on the roster in 2021, there’s going to be yet another battle for playing time in the spring. If the Brewers decide to remove one of the players from the equation, it would most likely be Arcia.
The Brewers infield is likely going to look a lot different in 2021 than it did in 2020.