With his first two MLB starts under his belt now, it is clear that even the Dodgers’ left-handed super prospect Julio Urias is susceptible to the steepest of learning curves. In his first outing in front of a brutal New York crowd, the Mets gave the kid a rude welcome as they chased him from the game after only 2.2 innings. In those innings, Urias gave up a total of three earned runs on five hits.
As I stated in my previous article, Urias is still showing some flashes of uncanny finesse with his breaking pitches to compliment his hard fastball. Against a potent Mets lineup that leads the N.L. in homers (72 thus far) Urias was able to keep the Mets from compounding his problems by way of the long ball.
It in his last start against another N.L. powerhouse. The Cubs are the heavy favorite to win the pennant with an offense spurred by the likes of Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Anthony Rizzo. (Alongside a pretty formidable “one-two” punch from starters Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester.) The Cubs are third in the N.L. in team OPS (.778) and have hit more than their fair share of homers with 68 on the year.
Urias was able to go a bit longer in this start, finishing his outing after five complete innings, but he felt the wrath of the Cubs monstrous lineup that afternoon. He surrendered five earned runs on three homers, courtesy of Javier Baez, Jason Heyward and Kris Bryant as the Cubs buried the Dodgers 7-2.
One positive note is that Urias was able to go deeper into this game while throwing fewer pitches than he did vs the Mets. His 81 pitches in New York barely held him through three innings whereas his 79 pitches in Chicago got him through five, but one fundamental problem remains- he is failing to get ahead in the count against batters.
Ask any pitcher and they will all say the same thing- if you can’t get ahead, you won’t get outs. While 57 of his 79 pitches were strikes, his inability to get the first pitch across for a strike puts batters in a very favorable position. Working from behind means Urias cannot effectively utilize his plus-changeup and breaking pitches without establishing the fastball early in counts.
If you can remember though, the Dodgers have another lefty who had a similar problem when he broke into the league. Clayton Kershaw was once a highly touted pitching prospect in very much the same manner that Urias is now. Kershaw’s biggest problem was working from behind in counts as well which subsequently led to many walks during his performances. In his second year, Kershaw set his career high in BB/9 IP with 4.8 walks per nine innings of work. Since then, Kershaw’s dominance over the league cannot be overstated as he continues his surefire hall of fame career. His BB/9 is now down to a historic 0.5 walks per nine innings which helped him gain N.L. Pitcher of the Month honors for May in a season that could lead to his fourth Cy Young Award.
What remains to be seen now is whether or not Urias will stick around long enough to make his very first home start on Tuesday vs the Rockies. However, Colorado has posted some gaudy offensive stats of their own to this point in 2016. They have a stellar team batting average of .277 while blasting 68 homers in the sparse Rocky Mountain air. It remains a game of interest still though as Dodger Stadium is one of the most pitcher-friendly parks that baseball has to offer. And while Urias works with coaches at the Major League level, I don’t think it is impossible that Urias finds his niche on the mound sooner rather than later.
All in all, Julio Urias is still very much the most valuable pitching prospect in baseball and could offer the Dodgers some quality pitching in a season that is still very young.
Julio Urias Highlights – Dodgers Nation TV: