Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports
So this was some unexpected news that some people might have missed, so i’ll write something on it, the best left handed pitching prospect in baseball (as ranked by MLB.com) is going to be pitching the majority of his innings in AA with the Tulsa Drillers next season. According to this tweet
Urias is going to start his age 18 season (!!!!) at the 2nd highest level in the minors. After destroying Hi-A ball to the tune of a 2.36 ERA and 11.2 K/9 rate while being 6 years younger than the average hitter, he is moving up the minor league ladder about as fast as a college draftee, and that’s an incredible thing for someone that young. Keith Law has him as a top 20 prospect, and so will many others when their overall prospect lists come out. Neal Kendrick tweeted out one of my favorite Urias facts, which was the fact that he’s appeared in 43 games, and despite not going past the 7th inning in any of them (because of an innings limit), he only has 2 losses in them.
So this dude is good, we knew that after seeing him debut at age 16 in the Midwest League, but he still has a mystic sort of aura around him. He can’t really be as good as King Felix was in the minors, he can’t really make the major leagues as a teenager and still dominate all the way up to the majors, he can’t really be lazily compared to Clayton Kershaw. And the reality is, he isn’t any of these things. Urias has been in the minor leagues for a grand total of 2 seasons, is 18 years old and needs to prove things before he’s a viable option to be called up, despite all the hype that comes with him.
Instead of using the typically lazy “prospects fail all the time bit” i’ll argue that he isn’t even stretched out yet. Because he isn’t. Due to many players (Kershaw, Brian Wilson, Chad Billingsley, Scott Elbert, etc) making their rehab starts, Urias was often pushed back to 2nd inning duty, and only made 20 starts this past season. So this number isn’t very telling, but does give us an idea at what Urias needs to do in order to be a viable option on the big league team. Urias faced 356 batters last season, was good against most of them, but if you appear in 25 games and only face a upwards of 14 a game, it’s easier to dominate. Urias faced 14.24 batters per appearance last season which comes out to ~4.2 innings every time out. This number is watered down by his innings limit, but that is a challenge in and of itself. Proving a player can fight his way out of a tight spot and hit his spots in high leverage situations is a valuable ability in the big league level. Urias was able to do this for the most part, but proving a player can fight his way through a tight spot, make good pitches, come back out and pitch another 2-3 innings to preserve the bullpen is what good MLB pitchers that Urias is compared to are able to to, not Urias at this point.
Andrew Grant once tweeted that Urias has faced more than 20 batters in a game twice in his professional career. This is a dilemma in itself if we’re expecting him to start all the way through his big league career. Until the organization takes the reigns off of Julio, we won’t be able to see his development as a starting pitcher. One of the more interesting dynamics of Urias’ situation lies in Friedman’s history with David Price. Price was brought up as a relief pitcher back in 2008 and was an integral part of the Rays bullpen during their world series run, he got a token cup of coffee in September, pitching 14 innings in the regular season, and was tasked to pitch well in the postseason in the limited time he got. He ended up facing 27 batters in the postseason only giving up 2 runs as a 22 year old. This is quite a bit different from Urias in that Price would be 3 years Julio’s senior if Urias was called up this September, but Price also started 29 games in the minor leagues and had experience at Vanderbilt where he pitched for 3 seasons, so the situations are quite a bit different, but the idea is the same, bring Urias up as a reliever and work his way towards starting during the subsequent winter.
Besides, him being called up and starting his clock will set him up for free agency just after his age 25 season, reminiscent of the Bryce Harper situation.
So in Urias, the Dodgers have the best left handed pitching prospect in baseball, arguably with the most upside. He is young, so young, i’m calling for expectations to be somewhat tempered. Enjoy the prospect rankings, watch him shoot up the midseason ones, but what Urias should be focusing on is working on his ability to be a bonafide starter who throws upwards of 180 innings every single season. Urias doesn’t hit his projection of one of the best LHP starters in baseball if he doesn’t hit that 180 number at a minimum. This season will be a learning experience for Julio Urias, one that will involve him mastering the ability to start and go deep into games AND master the 3rd highest level in professional baseball. But he’s done everything up to this point, he might just be special, lets be patient with it though.