Thursday, September 5, 2013

Dodgers' prospect Julio Urias finishes great and surprising debut season

Dodgers' teenage prospect Julio Urias was officially shut down by the club on Saturday, and it capped an amazing debut season.

The now-17-year-old made his surprising professional debut on May 26 against the Dayton Dragons at the ripe age of 16. He went three innings, allowed two hits, one walk and struck out six batters, including the first batter he ever faced.

He held a 0.75 ERA after his first three starts, as he allowed just one run in 12 innings. Predictably, he ran into a little trouble in his next four starts, as he posted a 5.28 ERA and allowed 17 hits, four home runs and walked 10 in 15 1/3 innings.

Just as it looked like he was going to perhaps struggle, Urias put forth his best outing of the season against the West Michigan White Caps: 6 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 8 K. That is flat-out ridiculous.

From that point (July 3) until Aug. 11, he made seven appearances that totaled 12 innings. The Dodgers were (rightly) limiting the youngster's workload. He posted a 3.75 ERA, .227 batting average against and had a 15:2 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

He closed out the season with the three-inning outings and one four-inning outing that gave us these numbers: 0.00 ERA, .182 BAA and a 14:1 K:BB ratio. Unbelievable.

All told, Urias finished with this ridiculous stat line:

55 1/3 IP
44 H
15 R
15 ER
16 BB
67 K
2.48 ERA
2.87 FIP

That would have been impressive for a 20- or 21-year-old in the Midwest League. But doing that in ones age-16 season is nothing short of amazing.

Urias faced nearly three times as many right-handed hitters as he did left-handed hitters, but he handled both types well. He gave up all his home runs against righties, but was downright dominant against lefties.

vs. RHH
.232/.307/.399, 5 HR, 15 BB, 47 K

vs. LHH
.214/.241/.268, 0 HR, 1 BB, 20 K

He walked one left-handed hitter the entire season. That's saying something seeing as his changeup is his best off-speed pitch. That really speaks to his breaking ball, which is somewhat slurvy at the moment. Sometimes it looks like an 11-5 curveball, sometimes it looks like a slider with good tilt and depth. Either way, it's a weapon going forward -- especially when he decides what pitch he wants it to be. Who knows, maybe he'll turn the one breaking ball into two (a slider and curveball).

If that weren't enough, he touched 97 MPH in his last start with his fastball. The radar gun at Dow Diamond is usually pretty accurate -- within 1 MPH -- so I'd call it a legit velocity reading.

Marc Hulet of FanGraphs wrote a little bit about Urias a couple weeks ago. Now, not everyone is going to agree with each other regarding a younger teenage prospect, but I wasn't particularly impressed with his some of thoughts on Urias.
"But is that hype justified?
Sort of.
What Urias is doing is nothing short of unbelievable. At the age of 16, he was showing the pitchability that we would expect from a 21- or 22-year-old pitcher. Not from one that may or may not be able to shave. But it’s a little different story if we look at his projection."
That's understandable.
"The southpaw is listed at 5-11 and 160 pounds. In actuality, you can probably add another 20 pounds on there and be more accurate. This is important because, even at 17, Urias’ body lacks projection."
Actually, he's closer to 6'1, but he's right about his weight. He's probably in the 180-pound range. He's not a prototypical projectable pitcher, but he's just 17 and could -- somewhat realistically -- not be done growing just yet.

This next one really makes me question things.
"In fact, he’s going to have to be very careful and watch his weight to ensure he doesn’t swing in the direction of Bartolo Colon."
OK, other than the fact they're both of Latino descent, they're nothing alike. Colon is a big guy. He's listed at 265 pounds, but that's clearly not true. He's also listed at 5'11, which may or may not be true. The fact is, I have no idea how Hulet sees anything resembling Colon in Urias.
"Right now, I’d place a No. 3/4 starter ceiling on him. But, a lot can happen in the next few years. He could shoot up five inches. Or even three."
As for his ceiling, I think his evaluation was a little short, but understandable because no one knows how Urias is going to fare going forward. Although, he's doing things no 16- and 17-year-old have done in recent memory, so that has to count for something.
"If I had to nitpick, I’d like to see a little more velocity separate between his heater and his changeup -- a pitch he threw too hard at times."
Fair point, and I agree. Just wish we knew his changeup velocity at the time. He was sitting 92-93 MPH in this outing Hulet witnessed.
"He utilized his breaking ball, which broke like a curveball at certain times and like a slider at others, to strikeout a left-handed batter, while he went to the fastball and changeup with right-handers up at the plate and two strikes."
Not uncommon for lefties.

It's so hard to evaluate a guy like Urias, but the organization is extremely high on him. Logan White said as much when I interviewed him in July.

It wouldn't be a surprise if Urias began the 2014 in the Midwest League, but for selfish reasons, I'd love to see him begin in the California League with the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes. We'll see what happens, but I'm hoping to get a look at him in spring training next year.

It was one hell of a debut season. It'll be interesting to see what Urias does for an encore.

Photo credit: Courtesy of the Great Lakes Loons

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