On May 27, 2016, a 19-year-old kid from Mexico named Julio Urias made his MLB debut with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He was the youngest starting pitcher to debut in the Major Leagues since Felix Hernandez — and the youngest Dodger starter to do so since 1943.
While Urias’ debut didn’t go so smoothly, he finished that season with 77 innings pitched, a 5-2 record and 3.39 ERA. If you’re a numbers person, his 3.17 FIP was even more impressive.
Now, nearly four years later, this phenom who was once ranked as high as the No. 8 prospect in all of baseball by MLB.com, has become an afterthought. So, how did we get here?
To me, the answer is simple: people have simply forgotten about Urias. Often times with prospects, it’s easy to get excited about a player — and if they don’t live up to the expectations in short order, then they’ve been replaced by the next guy to come through the pipeline.
For Urias, this has less to do with his on-field performance than it does with everything that has happened off of it.
First, there was an injury. In June 2017, Urias tore the anterior capsule in his throwing shoulder, which required surgery and rehab that would consume the next 13 months of his career.
Second was some legal trouble. In May of last year, he was placed on administrative leave and eventually suspended for 20 games as a result of a domestic battery investigation.
In both cases it’s easy to see why a 13-month injury and some potentially disturbing legal trouble could overshadow what a guy was capable of on the field.
To be clear, none of the opinions I’m about to share have anything to do with my feelings about what he did or did not do in May of 2019 — and I don’t even say that to downplay the accusations, it’s just to say this article is intended to focus on what Urias may or may not bring to the mound in 2020.
As it stands, the Dodgers have penciled Urias into their Opening Day rotation. In order, that is officially set as Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, David Price, Urias and Alex Wood.
Beyond them are a host of young guys and journeymen vying for a chance to pitch on the best team in baseball.
Besides Urias there are names like Dustin May (someone who, like Urias, is among the top prospects in baseball), Tony Gonsolin (another top-100 prospect), Ross Stripling (one-time All-Star), Jimmy Nelson and others.
In sum, the Dodgers are basically buying six lottery tickets and hoping they find two winners.
At the end of last season manager Dave Roberts made it clear that Urias would be projected as a starter in 2020. Again, when you look at his numbers it makes a lot of sense.
In 184 career innings, Urias has posted a 3.18 ERA, 3.40 FIP and 3.3 WAR while striking out more than a batter an inning. For context, if you put all those numbers together in one season, Urias would be right behind Kershaw in terms of WAR (30th in MLB), and 12th in MLB in both ERA and FIP.
Did I mention he will still be just 23 for almost the entire 2020 season? May, for context, is just one year younger than Urias, while Gonsolin is more than two years older.
Just last season, Urias made 37 appearances for the Dodgers — eight starts and 29 relief appearances. He finished the year with a 2.49 ERA and a K/9 and BB/9 both above his career averages. His numbers were better as a reliever (2.01 ERA), but his 3.26 ERA as a starter was still in line with his former prospect status.
To be clear, many of his starts were more of an ‘opener,’ as only three times did he pitch five-plus innings in a game he started.
So what’s the point in all this?
Julio Urias isn’t perfect — on the field or off of it. On the field he has yet to prove he can go deep into games or shoulder a full season’s worth of work and yet, for a team that was content to let Rich Hill be a high-end pitcher for 130 innings a year, there’s no reason why Urias can’t be a much better version of that.
Every single time Urias has stepped to the mound he has looked every bit the No. 8 prospect in baseball back in 2015. And at just 23 years old, it’s scary to think that there is still some room for improvement.
For a team that is looking to find some help at the back end of the rotation, my message is simple: Look no further than Julio Urias.
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