Baltimore Orioles: The Disappearance of Henry Urrutia in 2014


Mar 13, 2014; Tampa, FL, USA; Baltimore Orioles designated hitter Henry Urrutia (51) at bat against the New York Yankees at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

When we speak of the disappearance of Baltimore Orioles outfield prospect Henry Urrutia, we are of course speaking metaphorically. The baseball year 2014 was not a good one at all. But if nothing else, “disappearing” thankfully has a different meaning than it might have in Cuba from where he defected.

Perhaps it is the compelling nature of his story and all that this young man has gone through that I was in possession of such high expectations just a year ago. Of course I hoped that he could be at least some version of Yoenis Cespedes or Jorge Soler.

There were the previous visa issues and difficulties that had Urrutia away from all baseball activities for an extended period of time … but he produced such a great season in 2013 that it appeared all of this was behind him and that he was simply a baseball success story looking for a place to happen.

In 2013 he began his career by starting at AA Bowie where he batted .365 in 52 games with seven home runs. He was moved up to AAA where, after a short adjustment, he batted .316 in 29 games with a pair of homers.

This earned him a call-up to the Baltimore Orioles where he made his debut on July 20th. In 24 games he batted .276, showing an ability to hit the opposite way with many singles through the left side of the infield.

Urrutia really did not need to actually own a baseball glove during his stay with the O’s. He was the DH in 14 games, and most of his other plate appearances were as a pinch hitter. Put it this way: He has played three more innings in left field for the Orioles than I have. The rap on Henry was (and still is) that he is a liability as a fielder and baserunner.

Next came the Arizona Fall League. Urrutia hit .377 and was third overall in league batting.

I was sold. I wrote numerous times over the offseason a year ago that the Orioles needed to give Urrutia every opportunity to prove he could NOT be an effective major leaguer. And over the offseason it was reported that he put on 20 pounds of muscle by eating healthy and well, perhaps for the first time in his life.

Everything was aligned for success. He could learn to field and to run, right? But maybe 13 is a lucky number in Cuba, whereas 14 is the bad luck charm?

Urrutia did not inspire in spring training sufficiently to make the Baltimore Orioles roster heading north. This seemed to break him. After all he had suffered and gone through with all of the complications of life, not making the team appeared to be a weight of disappointment that was a sea-change moment.

He got off to a bad start at Norfolk. He was batting a paltry .220 at the end of April. And then a sports hernia injury took him out for all of May and June. He came back to play for the Gulf Coast Orioles team and only hit .230 there.

Finally in August of this year, Urrutia was moved back to the Tides. There he did hit .310 for the final month of the season, salvaging something of worth from his 2014 efforts.

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  • So what does the future hold for this young man (who actually in baseball reckoning is not really that young, turning 28 in February)?

    Urrutia needs to put together a very solid 2015 season. It really is a make-or-break year for him. He was clearly never really healthy in 2014. But the calendar is not his friend.

    It is so difficult to make it to the big leagues, even when one has grown up in the USA with basic amenities and league after league of travel teams and skills enrichment programs. But to come out of Cuba with a series of tribulations in the process, and to somehow make it in spite of those obstacles, it is a huge challenge.

    I’d like to see him do it … yes, for the Orioles, but even as much as a great human interest story.