Jon Urena has yet to find himself on the radar of collegiate baseball programs. However, that is likely to change very soon.
Urena is a high-level, right-handed pitcher who enrolled into The MacDuffie School this year. The 2022 season was a breakout one for him as he put his complete arsenal on display in helping lead the Mustangs to the NEPSAC Small School Invitational championship game.
In the postseason tournament, the Mustangs upended EIL champion Pingree School and Winchendon School before coming up short against Hamden Hall Country Day.
Urena came over to the Granby (Mass.) school from High School of Commerce (Springfield, Mass.) with the hopes of improving upon his academic foundation.
“I based my decision on wanting to attend MacDuffie by knowing I was going to get a better education,” Urena said. “I also knew I was going to have teachers pushing me to do my best in the real world. I’ve been at MacDuffie for exactly three months now. I ended up making the decision to reclassify to be a junior once again. I didn’t really have to think about baseball too much because MacDuffie is a prep baseball team, and I already knew we were going to face legit players from other schools.”
In his first season playing with the Mustangs, Urena pitched 35 innings, posting a 1.83 ERA to go along with 59 strikeouts and just 14 walks. His accomplishments earned him First Team All-New England Baseball Journal honors.
Neil Domer-Shank, who became the head coaching in 2019, first learned about Urena through hearsay.
“I received word that there was this dynamic pitcher in the Springfield inner schools during the fall of 2021,” Domer-Shank said. “My coaching staff did some research and found out that Jon was both a talented player and a strong student. We invited him to several winter workouts and confirmed he was interested, as well as being a great fit for the school. Jon expressed a desire to get out of a tough school and into a prep institution where he could pursue his dream to play college baseball and to eventually become an educator. From there, our admissions department worked hard to get him admitted at the beginning of the second semester. Jon had to work hard to catch up academically but was successful.”
For a large portion of his life, the 6-foot-4 Urena has had to deal with weight issues. A year ago, he weighed 360 pounds before going on a relentless conditioning regiment which has now dropped him down to 270 pounds. Urena continues to work out daily, waking up at 6 a.m. to run and later throw. Then it is off to the gym. Urena credits the assistance of Albert Carderon, Elian Almanzar, Hanna Simpskins, Marquez Lopez and Jason Plamondon in helping him with his conditioning progress.
Domer-Shank says when he first started watching Urena throw, he considered him highly talented, but still raw in some areas.
“He had an electric arm and great size,” said Domer-Shank. “But he lacked the work ethic and pitching IQ to attack elite lineups. We started to focus on tightening up his mechanics, training him in the art of pitch sequencing and helping him improve with his conditioning. We paired him with a senior captain who introduced him to yoga and higher-level stretching. Over the course of the preseason and early season, Jon started to gain more confidence as he took the mound over and over again against strong prep teams. He became our top pitcher, which was essential to our season since we lost three top arms to injury, two before the season even began. Jon was exactly the workhorse we needed to fill the void.”
Urena’s fastball continues to gain in velocity, and it currently sits in the high-80s to low-90s. His out-pitch is a ‘nosedive’ slider. Domer-Shank says Urena can locate all of his pitches, which also includes a curve and change-up, effectively. His composure on the mound has remained even keel and composed.
“Most importantly, Jon is a gamer who will always take the ball,” Domer-Shank said. “During the (Small School Tournament), Jon pitched five innings against Pingree, and pitched the critical final four innings in the win over Winchendon in the semifinals. He left the tying and winning runs on base. Jon still has plenty of room for growth. His ability to hold runners continues to be a work in progress, as he was never taught this important skill. He is also working on perfecting his change-up as an effective third pitch.”
Domer-Shank says he and his staff knew they were getting a gem on the mound once Urena walked onto the MacDuffie campus. They’ve been pleasantly surprised by his maturity and leadership.
“Jon is caring, concerned and positive with his coaches, teammates, teachers and fellow students,” he said. “Despite having to catch up in many classes, he has built a great relationship with his teachers, impressing them with his dedication and desire to be an accomplished student. During the spring, Jon constantly found me in my office or around campus to discuss school, baseball and life. His teammates trust him with ball, but also trust him to have their backs in all scenarios. We believe he will be a leader and mentor for our younger players and new recruits in 2023.”
Urena was recently invited by the New York Yankees to participate in the Area Code Games tryouts. He’s hoping that will lead to more attention from college coaches.
“As of right now, I haven’t received any offers, but it won’t stop me from continuing to work hard,” Urena said.
Urena is expected to be the Mustangs No. 1 starter come next spring. When not pitching, Urena will play first base and provide a powerful bat in the lineup. This season, he batted .458 and recorded 13 RBI.
“This past season was probably one of the best seasons in baseball I have ever played in,” said Urena. “Once I was on the mound, it was game time for me and I was there for a purpose. Coach Domer-Shank helps us all be more responsible and disciplined. Next season I feel like we are going to be really good.”
Along with Urena, Domer-Shank will be counting on other returning players including Nick Valentino ’23 (MIF), Rylan Secovich ’23 (CF), Mason Pereira ’24 (RHP/3B) and Sullivan Donahue ’24 (C) to make an impact.My the