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FutureStarrJulio Urias Reminds Dodgers Why He'd Be a Wise Long-Term Investment
After last season's disappointing playoff failure that marred their 111-win regular season, the Dodgers now have a chance to turn things around in 2023.
This time, the club had an opportunity to do it differently -- starting with Julio Urias passing the ball.
In 2020, Urias was asked to assume a larger role as the Dodgers made their way towards the playoffs. He showed signs of having what it takes to be an elite starter with his impressive swing and miss numbers (12:1 K:BB) matching his command. Furthermore, he perfected a new mechanical technique by forgoing his windup altogether in favor of pitching from the stretch on a regular basis.
The change improved his velocity and helped him avoid overuse injuries. His fastball reached 88 MPH during the season, while his swing-and-miss was excellent at an impressive 12:1 ratio. Furthermore, he added a better curveball to his repertoire to complement those changes made to his other two pitches.
Last year, Urias made his major-league debut after spending most of his career in the minors. He made three relief appearances during September and seven postseason appearances, averaging 10.1 innings over his first full major-league season.
Though his results were inconsistent in the final three months of the season, Urias demonstrated his ability to shine when needed. This earned him a promotion to Double-A Chattanooga where he pitched an impressive 4.10 ERA with a 79:17 K:BB ratio across 89 innings.
He also conducted a bullpen session between outings, which proved successful. This move enabled him to refine his changes and make them more consistent throughout the year while relieving his arm of some stress by allowing him to throw strikes for multiple innings at a time.
Urias' long-term viability remains in doubt, but his performance thus far has been impressive. His combination of skills and poise, along with his age at this stage in development, make him a prime candidate to move up in the rotation.
It is likely that he'll begin this season as a relief pitcher before his impressive performance earns him a more permanent position in the rotation. A stint in that position could serve as an invaluable spring training exercise for the 26-year-old lefty, giving him an opportunity to experience pitching against more experienced hitters than he has ever faced before.
Though the Dodgers may be wary of spending top dollar for a pitcher, they should not overlook one of their most talented homegrown prospects. Julio Urias is an impressive lefty who has been dubbed "the best prospect in baseball" by his agent Scott Boras.
He boasts an impressive minor league record and was a star at Rancho Cucamonga last season, posting a 2.36 ERA and 109:37 K:BB ratio in 87.2 innings - an incredible accomplishment for any teenage pitcher.
It's essential to remember that Urias still has a ways to go before he can make an impact as a major-league starter. The Dodgers have stated their intent that they take Urias' development seriously, meaning we shouldn't expect much more than 120 innings from him this year.
Thankfully, his fastball velocity is back to where it was before surgery and his swing-and-miss command remains impressive. He made three relief appearances for the Dodgers in September and seven more during the postseason.
By 2022, Urias is likely to join the Dodgers' starting rotation. If he can maintain his 1.87 ERA and 0.96 WHIP from 2022, he could remain an important part of their starting lineup for years to come.
For the Dodgers, this is an exciting time as they seek to rebuild their roster. To stay competitive, they must find a way to strengthen their pitching staff.
Though they have plenty of other talent available, they cannot rely on their usual suspects in the rotation. That is why they're considering a high-priced free agent like Darvish.
It will be exciting to see how Darvish performs in the NL Wild Card Series. This could be his opportunity to prove that he can succeed in the majors, even against an experienced veteran like Kershaw.
Whatever Darvish's status, the Dodgers will need a formidable starting rotation in 2022 to compete. With so many unknowns at the top, they'll have to rely heavily on Urias and his fellow pitchers.
At a time when the Dodgers front office is uncertain of how best to approach free agents this offseason, Urias has reminded them why investing in him would be such a wise move. At 24, his impressive record of dominating opposing hitters suggests he could be an integral part of their future success.
Last season, Urias' ERA dropped significantly but his knack for inducing weak contact and striking out an impressive number of batters persisted. That combination has produced him a 21.1 K-BB% (eighth in the National League) over 185.2 innings for a 106-win Los Angeles team.
After anterior capsule surgery in September, the lefty's fastball velocity is back up to par and his swing-and-miss ratio is as strong as ever. His per-inning numbers remain impressive too, suggesting he could build upon his strong performance in the minors over the past three seasons.
But the big question for Urias is if he can make the transition back to being a starter this year. The Dodgers have always been cautious with their development of Urias, and they likely won't let him reach 90 major league innings until at least next year at most.
However, his work in the minors is so impressive that it seems likely that the Dodgers will give him another shot this season. Last year's 122 innings should serve as a great foundation and with an appropriately managed workload this season, Urias could reach 150 innings.
His numbers have dropped this season, yet his control and ability to induce weak contact should keep him productive in various ways. Furthermore, the increased run support should help keep his ERA low as he builds up innings again.
Urias is on track to become a star, but the Dodgers must be wary of his potential cost-to-middle class impact in years ahead. With expectations high that they'll reach or near the luxury tax threshold this offseason, the team needs to protect itself if they sign him for an extended deal.
Julio Urias may not be the most well-known player on the Los Angeles Dodgers, but he can play an integral role in their quest to become a World Series contender. In his Dodgers debut, Urias threw an impressive one-hit shutout against Arizona Diamondbacks' pitcher Adam Warren; limiting them to just one run on a solo homer during his first big league start.
This spring, Urias will have an opportunity to be the starter for a rotation that could include Clayton Kershaw, Noah Syndergaard, Tony Gonsolin and Dustin May. Matching his 2.16 ERA and 0.96 WHIP of last season will be tough; however he remains healthy entering his 24th season with plenty of potential; if he can build upon his postseason success and keep hard contact at a minimum it could make for even better starting performances.
Bill Plunkett of The Orange County Register reports that Urias will make his major-league debut against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Opening Day, following a successful spring training. He's expected to make at least one more Cactus League start before departing for the World Baseball Classic.
At 17 years old, Urias was considered one of the organization's top prospects and made a strong case for that status in Low-A ball last year. In 54.1 innings with a 2.48 ERA and 12:1 K:BB ratio in his one season at that level, Urias showed plenty of room for improvement.
Though Urias must climb back up through the minors to be ready for the majors, investing in him as a long-term player could prove advantageous if he can achieve success this year. With his potential as a starter untapped and it's possible that he could become one of baseball's premier left-handed pitchers between 24 and 25 years old, Urias could prove an excellent long-term investment if his performance improves over 2019.
The Dodgers have a rich and illustrious history, filled with legendary starting pitchers. But after an unsuccessful 111-win regular season and disappointing playoff exit last year, the team may be searching for something different. Along with giving young pitchers an opportunity to shine on the mound, the Dodgers hope to alter the culture of their clubhouse under new manager Dave Dombrowski; if that proves successful, then prospects for success look bright for this promising squad.