By Rich Arleo
CBS Local Sports, in our 30 Players 30 Days spring training feature, profiles one young player from each Major League Baseball team leading up to opening day.
2016 season (Minors): 11 G, 7 GS, 45 IP, 1.40 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, 49 SO, 8 BB
2016 season (Majors): 18 G, 15 GS, 77 IP, 3.39 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 5 W, 84 SO, 31 BB
Up until last season, it was nothing but smooth sailing for Julio Urias since he signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers as an international free agent at 16 years old.
He first hit Baseball America’s Top 100 prospect list at just 17 years old and rapidly rose up the ranks before entering last season as arguably the top pitching prospect in all of baseball. Unfortunately for Urias, his rookie season with the Dodgers began with some disappointment. It’s clear Urias will still need some time before coming the ace the Dodgers envision — though him becoming an ace at 19 years old was never the expectation in the first place.
Urias debuted on May 27 and was hit hard, giving up three runs on five hits and four walks in 2 2/3 innings. After posting a 4.95 ERA in eight starts (just one quality start) he was optioned back to Triple-A. He resumed dominance down in the Minors and returned to the bigs for good in August. He was shuffled from the rotation to the bullpen and back to end the year. For the most part, his second stint was much better. In eight games (six starts) to finish the year, Urias gave up just five runs in 33 2/3 innings (1.34 ERA).
Even during the strong run to end the year, though, control was an issue. He finished the year with a poor 3.6 BB/9. This wasn’t anything new, either, as Urias had a 2.8 BB/9 in four minor league seasons. He’s never really been known for his control and likely never will be, but Urias can still dominate if he keeps it to under three walks per nine innings.
It’s of course crucial to note that Urias, who did end up with respectable numbers in his rookie year, was only 19 years old. He is still developing and should only improve as time goes on. The Dodgers are going to limit him to somewhere around 150-180 innings this season. After being optioned to Triple-A at the end of Spring Training, he probably won’t join the Dodgers until late April-early May.
Despite the innings limitations, Urias should be a formidable option for the Dodgers’ rotation for a majority of the season. The young left-hander features four pitches, all of which are effective. His fastball sits between 92-93 miles per hour and his changeup comes in with a ridiculously good 12 or 13-mph gap from his fastball (averaged 80 mph according to PITCHf/x data). He also relies on his slider and curveball almost equal amounts and can throw both for strikes.
When Urias joins the Dodgers he’ll have his spot in the rotation secured. ZiPS projections have him throwing 136 1/3 innings over 24 starts — which would be an ideal scenario. They project a 3.39 ERA, 3.17 FIP, 1.25 WHIP and 9 K/9 with seven wins on the year — strong numbers for a 20-year-old in what will essentially be his first full season.
Rich Arleo is a freelance sports writer and editor who covers Major League Baseball and fantasy sports. You can follow him on Twitter, @Rarleo.