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Brewers by position: Luis Urias finally getting his shot at shortstop after a season full of setbacks
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Brewers by position: Luis Urias finally getting his shot at shortstop after a season full of setbacks

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Luis Urias could not catch a break last season.

Traded to the Milwaukee Brewers in November 2019, Urias was supposed to challenge Orlando Arcia for the starting job at shortstop. Instead, Urias spent most of spring training recovering from a fractured wrist suffered while playing winter ball and when he was finally ready to return to action, baseball went into a three-month holding pattern because of the pandemic.

The shutdown allowed Urias to make a full recovery, but instead of reporting to summer camp at full strength and show what he could do, he instead spent it in a small apartment, isolated from his teammates after testing positive for COVID-19.

By the time Urias finally made his Brewers debut on Aug. 10, Arcia had essentially reclaimed the job at shortstop, leaving Urias to get his at-bats while playing primarily at third base. He went on to play 41 games for Milwaukee, batting .239 with four doubles, a triple and 11 RBIs while striking out 32 times in 120 plate appearances.

It was, by all accounts, a frustrating season in a year defined by frustration.

“Nobody went through what this guy went through," Brewers hitting coach Andy Haines said. "He didn’t have a spring training. This guy was kind of on the verge of making a progression back (from his injury) once we got shut down, then the (positive COVID test), so he literally had no preparation for a major league season once he got to us."

This spring, the Brewers are going back to their original plan for Urias and put him at shortstop while Arcia, who accepted a pay cut to remain with the team over the winter, will get a look at third base.

"We need to see it," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said of Urias' ability at shortstop. "We traded for him and it's something we want to do."

Urias, 23, was considered one of the Padres' top prospects when he made his big-league debut in 2018 but hit just .223 in 71 games during his first extended stretch of action in 2019. The Padres sent him back down to Class AAA where he batted .315 with 18 home runs, 50 RBIs and a .998 OPS.

But with shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. on the verge of superstardom and the Padres' eventual signing of third baseman Manny Machado, Urias became expendable and was shipped to Milwaukee, along with left-handed starter Eric Lauer for outfielder Trent Grisham and right-handed starter Zach Davies — who was ultimately traded to the Cubs in exchange for Yu Darvish.

The deal came as a result of the Brewers' concerns over Arcia, whose offensive production had dipped significantly in 2018 and '19 while his defensive play, which had been good enough to overcome any previous offensive shortcomings, had started to suffer too, leading to a minor-league demotion at one point in 2019.

If the trade for Urias was meant to be a wake-up call for Arcia, the message came through loud and clear. Even with his primary competition sidelined, Arcia was one of Milwaukee's leading hitters during Cactus League play (.290 batting average, 6 home runs, 1.239 OPS) and led the team during the regular season by batting .260 with five home runs and a .734 OPS.

"The great thing about (Arcia) is he welcomes any competition you put in front of him," Counsell said. "That's a great trait. I almost look forward to putting challenges in front of Orlando because I think it brings out the best in him."

Counsell met with Arcia on the first day of camp this year to explain the situation, reaffirming that he still has value to the team and that giving Urias a look at shortstop isn't intended as a lack of confidence in Arcia's abilities.

Arcia understands the reality and is embracing the opportunity.

"I'm just trying to get work wherever they need me, wherever they think they need me to help male the team better," Arcia said. "Wherever they put me, I'll try to do my best at it."

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