Dodgers Consider Urias For Bullpen

Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times reported this weekend that the Dodgers are considering promoting lefthander Julio Urias to the big leagues. According to Shaikin, Urias would be brought up  to bolster the bullpen.

At first glance, this might seem odd. Urias came into the season as the top-ranked pitching prospect in baseball. He’s been exceptional in his first five outings this season, going 3-1, 1.88 with 14 hits allowed, three walks and 29 strikeouts in 24 innings for Triple-A Oklahoma City.

Very little of Urias’ scouting report would indicate that he’s not ready to start in the big leagues. In his most recent start, Urias was in complete command against New Orleans as he didn’t allow a hit in six innings.

But there’s actually a lot of logic behind the Dodgers’ thought process. As good as Urias is, and he’s very good, he would be hard to fit into a big league rotation currently without making a lot of allowances to protect him.

That six-inning outing for Urias? It’s the first time he’s worked that deep in a game this year. Los Angeles has limited his innings and limited the length of his outings to try to protect his arm. It’s worked so far, but it also has meant that Urias is not necessarily ready to take a regular turn in a big league rotation. In Urias’ four pro seasons, he’s worked six innings in a start only seven times. He’s only come out to start the sixth inning 10 times as a pro. He’s never pitched into the seventh inning.

We don’t have pitches thrown for every Urias’ start in the minors, but from the 28 outings we do have data from, Urias has never thrown 90 pitches in a game—he’s topped 80 pitches in five of those 28 outings. This season Urias has yet to top 80 pitches. Urias’ career high for batters faced is 24. He’s topped 21 batters faced only seven times in his career. He’s never thrown 100 innings in a season.

So if the Dodgers brought Urias up as a starter, they would do so knowing that he’s not ready to work deep into games and that he’d be likely to exceed his career high in innings sometime in July.

Bringing up Urias as a reliever negates a lot of those worries. Urias still needs to be handled conservatively—again, he’s just 19. But as a reliever, the parts of Urias’ game that aren’t yet developed—an ability to handle lengthy outings and bigger workloads—are pushed to 2017 and beyond.

Long-term, Urias is still as good a starting pitching prospect as anyone in the minors, but for 2016, his biggest impact for the Dodgers could be in the bullpen.

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