Julio Urias’ time might come sooner rather than later

Julio Urias is making his fourth start for Oklahoma City today. He has fared pretty well in his first three starts, which isn’t surprising.

With some Dodger starters struggling — Scott Kazmir (though, he was solid on Wednesday), Alex Wood and, to a lesser extent, Ross Stripling — Urias’ call to the majors might come earlier than expected. At least, maybe it should be considered.

In his first three starts, Urias has a 3.00 ERA, 3.21 FIP, 33.4 K% (20 strikeouts), 3.4 BB% (two walks) and a great .193 batting average against. Those are dominant numbers. There’s a number that’s even more dominant: his swinging strike rate.

Urias has induced 40 swings and misses in his first three games, good for a 17.2 percent swinging strike rate. For comparison’s sake, Noah Syndergaard and Michael Pineda (!) lead MLB with a 16.6 swinging strike rate thus far. Now, Urias wouldn’t come up and get a swinging strike on every sixth pitch he throws, but the talent is apparent and obvious (and has been for the last three years).

Hyun-Jin Ryu threw a bullpen session earlier this week, but he’s still a long way away from coming back. Even when (if) he does, there’s no telling how well he’s going to pitch. Brandon McCarthy is in the same boat, as he also threw a bullpen earlier in the week. But he’s probably even farther away than Ryu. So, why not give Urias a chance?

Well, one reason is his stamina. Urias has not topped 80 pitches or five innings in his first three starts (those are his highs). This has been the issue since he debuted. I understand not wanting to push a 16-year-old in his first taste of professional ball back in 2013, but he should have been allowed to build innings more gradually each season. Here are his innings pitched breakdown by season:

  • 2013: 54 1/3, 3.0 IP/GS
  • 2014: 80 IP, 4 IP/GS
  • 2015: 80 1/3, 4.5 IP/GS
  • 2016: 15, 5.0 IP/GS

The 2014 total doesn’t include the five games out of the bullpen, due mostly to players being on rehab assignments. In those five outings, he totaled 7 2/3 IP, 2 H, 3 R/ER, 9 BB (oof), 12 K. And of course, he missed two months due to cosmetic eye surgery. In that piece, I wrote about how his development was stunted because of it.

“I get it. He’s 18 (19 next month) and there’s no reason to really push him that hard. But he was projected to throw 100-120 innings this season. To date, he’s at 40 2/3 innings with about six weeks left in the minor-league season. He hasn’t yet made it back to Double-A Tulsa and time is running out to build up his stamina. His career-high in innings is 87 2/3, which he reached last year. He could (and should) get some work in the instructional league in September and the Arizona Fall League in October and November. That would be best for his development, but it still doesn’t compare to the rigors of a full starting schedule. He could also — in theory — be recalled to be reliever out of the bullpen for the Dodgers, ala David Price for the Rays back in 2008. While some signs appear to be leading that direction, I’m still skeptical the Dodgers would throw him into that situation at 19, coming off surgery and without pinpoint command. It just doesn’t seem like a mutually beneficial situation.”

Reasons for the surgery notwithstanding, his development was a bit stunted.

Technically, he’s throwing more innings per start, which is good. But at this point, a player going into his fourth minor-league season should be averaging a bit more in the way of innings per start than Urias is. I know his case is different than most, but he isn’t a frail kid anymore. He’s a grown-ass man (6’2, 205 pounds) who could benefit from a challenge like pitching in the majors.

Dave Cameron made a good point back in March after Brett Anderson suffered a back injury.

“Urias, generally considered the best or second-best pitching prospect in baseball, is just 19 years old and spent most of last year in Double-A, where he threw only 68 innings. Realistically, the Dodgers would like to not rely on him, and maybe give him a taste of the majors in relief work in the second half of the season, where he could get his feet wet without carrying a huge workload. But the talent and the performances both suggest that Urias could hold his own in the big leagues right now, and if the Dodgers are targeting something like 120 innings for Urias this year, another injury might provoke the question of whether they’d be best served getting those earlier in the year instead.”

Seeing as Ryu, McCarthy, Mike Bolsinger and maybe Anderson should all be back later in the season (and who knows what they will/won’t do at the trade deadline), getting some MLB innings out of Urias early might be the way to go. It might also give the pitching staff a boost.

It wouldn’t solve the issue of anyone but Clayton Kershaw being able to throw more than five or six innings consistently, but it would give the rotation an injection of talent. It would also give the Dodgers another option if Kazmir and Wood can’t figure out their issues. Pairing Urias with Wood might be the best way to go, seeing as Wood begins to struggle the third time through the batting order.

I’m not sure how realistic it is, but it might be an option going forward. Kenta Maeda probably won’t continue pitching as well as he is (because he has been amazing), so an infusion of youth and pure talent might be much-needed in a matter of weeks until some of the veterans come back from their injuries.

About Dustin Nosler

Dustin Nosler
Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin' Kinda Blue. He co-hosts a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He does contracts and depth charts for FanGraphs and is a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times. He graduated from California State University, Sacramento, with his bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in digital media. While at CSUS, he worked for the student-run newspaper The State Hornet for three years, culminating with a one-year term as editor-in-chief. He resides in Stockton, California, and has yet to be shot.