It’s hard to fathom how difficult it is for international players to find success in the big leagues. We always hear about players like Vladimir Guerrero or Yoenis Céspedes, the big names that scouts will travel halfway around the world to see in person. But for every Guerrero and Céspedes, there are hundreds of players like Julio Urías, players that needed just a little bit of luck to make their dream come true.
In fact, if it weren’t for former Dodger, Yasiel Puig, we might not have Julio at all.
The Scouting Trip that Changed Everything
Back in 2012, the baseball world was in love with the latest Cuban sensation, Yasiel Puig. He was big, he was fast, he could hit, and he had a missile for an arm.
The Dodgers, like every other team, sent a group of scouts down to Mexico to watch his workouts to determine if they should shell out the cash to bring him on board. Below is the ESPN story from 2013 about how this trip ended up paying dividends for the Dodgers far beyond the signing of Yasiel Puig.
“If not for Yasiel Puig, the Los Angeles Dodgers wouldn’t have the most advanced 16-year-old pitcher in the world.
Dodgers scouts, led by scouting director Logan White, were in Mexico City last June to watch Puig’s workouts when they decided to swing by a showcase of some young Mexican League players in Oaxaca, a two-hour flight south.
The Dodgers had money again and they were in a hurry to sign as many international players as they could before new limits went into place on July 2.
White has a 14-year-old son who plays high-level club and travel baseball, so he has a good idea what players that age are capable of. When he witnessed Julio Urias, a 15-year-old left-handed pitcher, touching 92 mph with his fastball, he knew he might be onto something.
“When I saw this kid, I said, ‘My goodness, he has really got a chance to be something special,’ ” White recalls.”
It took some last-minute decisions, a two-hour flight, and scouts that knew talent when they saw it to bring Julio home to Los Angeles. What started off as a trip to lock up the top Cuban prospect ended up being far more valuable than anyone would have anticipated.
Julio’s Journey to the Majors
Julio moved quickly through the Dodgers’ farm system, especially considering his age. He made his MLB debut as a 19-year-old in the summer of 2016, recalling memories of another Mexican sensation by the name of Fernando Valenzuela. Although his appearances were limited, Julio ended that rookie season going 5-2 with a 3.39 ERA to officially kick off his professional career.
His early success took a step backward in the summer of 2017, however, with the news that what was believed to be minor shoulder inflammation ended with shoulder reconstructive surgery that ended his season. With the severity of the injury and having surgery required, the future started to look less clear for the young pitcher.
Fast forward to 2018, and Julio had shown tremendous progress 8 months after his surgery. He began throwing again in February, but there was no belief that he would appear in a game until the following season. It was a surprise to everyone, then, when then the Dodgers announced he would be starting a rehab assignment in Arizona in hopes of being ready for the end of the season.
On September 15th, 2018, Julio Urías made his triumphant return to the major leagues. Months of rehabilitation and hard work helped the young pitcher find his way back, but he still had plenty of work to do before reclaiming his top prospect label.
While the 2019 season serves as a chance for Julio to get some consistent work in, the front office handled him with kid gloves, and rightfully so. Everyone was eager to see what he could do, but his health has always been the priority of this front office.
Urías threw a total of 79.2 innings in 2019, a perfect workload to help strengthen his shoulder while also giving him a slightly expanded role in the pitching staff. It may not seem like much, but the 2019 season was an important stepping stone for the young pitcher as he worked his way back to full health.
The 2020 Season and Beyond
This all leads us to this season, this magical season that saw our boys bring home the ultimate prize. And in the middle of all the action? The Sinaloa, Mexico native who carried an entire country’s hopes and dreams on his shoulders this October.
Julio’s regular season was solid, but not spectacular. He ended the shortened year with a 3-0 record in 11 appearances with a 3.27 ERA in 55 innings pitched. The most important factor here was that he remained healthy throughout and figured to be a factor in October once again. And boy was he ever.
While most will remember this World Series for the offense finally coming through, the Dodgers wouldn’t be where they are without Julio Urías. His 1.17 ERA and 19 strikeouts in 23 innings cannot be overlooked. He closed out both the NLCS and the World Series in perfect fashion: 9 up, 9 down against the Braves and 7 up, 7 down against the Tampa Bay Rays.
His ability to remain poised on the biggest stage is something that the Dodgers have seen in him all along, but this was his first real opportunity to prove it to the world. And he did just that.
— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) October 28, 2020
It’s like Urías always likes to say: “That’s how God works. He gave me a bad left eye but a good left arm.” Well, that left arm is going to be a weapon for the Dodgers for years to come.