Julio Urias has been forced to drive the long road to the big leagues despite making it there at such a young age. A young debut, a serious injury and a comeback, riddled with doubt and alarming reports is his journey. Now, he may have reached the destination but the question remains, just where does he fit in?
In 2016 this would have been no question. Urias, a young but established starting pitcher was dominating hitters at the Triple-A and Major League levels. He was striking guys out at an unseen rate all the while he was just 19-years-old. Urias was a prodigy and he was a starter.
The following season the plans followed suit. In his age 20 campaign, the Dodgers put the young and budding star in the rotation once more, however, there, he struggled. Urias was optioned to Triple-A to iron things out. There, in the pits of refiguring himself out, Urias got hurt.
It was a shoulder injury. One that would remove him from baseball for over a year and one who’s cure is the shoulder surgery equivalent of Tommy John. Urias was young and damaged. Here his journey just starting.
In 2018 Urias began throwing a ball again. His fastball and curveball, once known for their sorcerer like deception were re-graded as no better than average. His rehab velocity was stuck in the 88-91 miles per hour range and astronomical hopes for a player that was once a phenom shrunk to the size of a thumbtack.
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Despite the doubts, Urias was brought back onto the big league roster as a relief pitcher. His fastball jumped all up to a high of 97 miles per hour and Urias quickly reproved to the masses that he was more than capable of a star-studded comeback.
Urias relieved for the Dodgers through the rest of September and into the playoffs. He made his first World Series roster and in 2018, Urias had a 1.74 ERA in across his 10.1 big league innings.
Confidence was certainly restored but a large and currently looming question remains: what is Urias’s 2019 role?
Just looking at the roster, and without considering Urias himself, getting into the starting rotation will be a tall task. Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, Walker Buehler and Hyun-Jin Ryu have spots locked up provided they stay healthy. Kenta Maeda, Ross Stripling, Dennis Santana, Brock Stewart and Julio Urias are then left battling for one spot in the mix.
Suppose now that Urias wins that spot. Stripling and Maeda go to the pen and Stewart and Santana to the minors. What would starting do to Urias physically?
Dr. Tommy John, son of famed major leaguer Tommy John and author of Minimize Injury, Maximize Performance, said that a player in Urias’s situation, “has his work cut out for him.” He added that “he stands to undergo severe processing of one, still trying to resolve and rehab the shoulder and two, still trying to resolve and rehab all previous injuries that led to the shoulder injury.”
So considering his health and his future, starting right out of the gate may not be the right move for Urias who is only 22-years-old. Strictly limiting his appearances and innings out of the bullpen could be the safe way to guard Urias, an extremely young arm with a medical history, from further injury.
Talent-wise he can start without a doubt. The pitch-ability is there, the veteran mound presence, even at such a young age, is apparent and there has never really been a question about whether or not he could pitch from the rotation.
This is a health issue.
If we are considering that, starting at the onset of the season is not the right decision. Urias can easily build his way to the rotation by increasing his pitch count from the pen. Not only does that propel him towards a starting role, but it also allows the club to reap the benefits of his great stuff.
At the end of the day, Urias is young. He is so young that most other players his age are still refining their tools in Triple-A. There is no need to rush this process. So, trust it. Build Urias up and then reconsider as right now, health must be the priority.