What happened in 2016: Began the season in Triple-A, made his MLB debut earlier than expected and dazzled.
We had heard so much about Julio Urias since he burst onto the scene in 2013 with the Low-A Great Lakes Loons. The Dodgers signed him the summer before, and it has been one hell of an investment to date.
In 2016, Urias began the season with Triple-A Oklahoma City, as expected. In his first start, he went just five innings but gave up just four hits, no runs, issued no walks and struck out nine. Not bad for the kid’s first Triple-A start. What wasn’t expected is he would spend just 41 innings there before getting the call to the majors.
Thanks to the inordinate number of injuries, Urias had his contract selected from OKC on May 27 and he made his MLB debut in New York against the Mets on that day. Not surprisingly, the 19-year-old struggled in his debut: 2 2/3 IP, 5 H, 3 R/ER, 4 BB, 3 K. He threw 81 pitches and labored a bit. His next start, while longer, wasn’t any easier. He faced the eventual World Series Champion Cubs in Chicago. His line: 5 IP, 8 H, 6/5 R/ER, 1 BB, 4 K, 3 HR. He made 79 pitches.
I have lambasted the Dodgers for their handling of Urias’ development since 2015, which included shutting him down midseason for cosmetic eye surgery. Before his promotion this past season, I wrote about why his time might come sooner rather than later.
“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.”
At the time of his promotion, he was averaging just a hair more than five innings and 73.6 pitches per start. He made seven starts in a row before being sent back to Triple-A. It was a bit of up-and-down after that. From July 4 until Aug. 3, he made just five appearances and totaled 11 1/3 innings. In a way, it was the Dodgers’ way of limiting his workload in the middle of the season, but it was still a little frustrating to see the way he was handled.
Urias came back to the majors for good on Aug. 3. For the rest of the season (9 G, 6 GS, 36 2/3 innings), he was really good: 1.96 ERA, 3.01 FIP, 22.8 K%, 8.9 BB%, .264 BAA. He was hindered a little by a high BABIP of .349, which was partially helped by a 49.5 GB%. One area where he improved was in the home run department. He allowed just one dinger in those 36 2/3 innings, compared to four in 40 1/3 innings in his first nine starts.
As one of the best pitchers in the organization, he earned a postseason roster spot for the National League Division and Championship Series. He played an integral role in Game 5 against the Nats. He threw two innings of relief in which he allowed just one hit, picked off a runner and was helped by a good relay to get a runner at the plate.
His appearance against the Cubs in Game 4 of the NLCS wasn’t as good. I wrote about what to expect beforehand.
“The Dodgers are handing the ball to a 20-year-old in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series. Normally, that’d be frightening, but Julio Urias isn’t your normal 20-year-old. Ever since signing out of Mexico for a million bucks, he has been one of the most intriguing prospects in the system. He catapulted up the rankings after his first full season and hasn’t looked back. Urias is praised for his poise and maturity, and it has been front and center in his Major League service to date.”
The rest of the article goes into some detail about pitch selection, location, etc. It all looks good in retrospect, but it’s too bad it didn’t really play out that way.
He held Chicago scoreless for two innings before the wheels began to come off. Overall, he lasted 3 2/3 innings, allowed four hits, four runs (all earned), walked two and struck out four. The big blow was a 3-run home run by Addison Russell. As a 20-year-old, it was an impossible spot for him, but there aren’t many 20-year-olds who would even be in that spot.
Urias tallied 127 2/3 innings in all — MLB/MiLB regular season, postseason — a career-best by 40 innings. Because he’s physically mature and has good mechanics, the Dodgers felt comfortable allowing him to throw that many innings. It was a banner year for his development and his future is incredibly bright.
2017 status: The Dodgers are still going to limit his innings (150 seems to be the magic number). Because of that, he might begin the season in extended Spring Training for a month or so. But he will be in the rotation at some point, and he could end up being the second-best starter the Dodgers have at season’s end — and not because any of the veteran guys ahead of him are going to fall off. Oh, and he’s going into his age-20 season.