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The ups-and-downs of Julio Urías

Julio Urías was a highly-touted prospect in the Dodgers system. He’s shown flashes of that potential, but it’s been a mixed-bag in 2021. 

San Francisco Giants v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

Julio Urías has had his ups-and-downs both on-the-field and off of it over the last few years.

The Dodgers’ lefty came up through the farm system consistently ranking highly on prospect lists. Baseball America ranked him the 52st best prospect in baseball in 2014, they moved him up to the top-ten the following year, culminating with him being ranked the fourth-best prospect in baseball his last year of eligibility in 2016.

The ups-and-downs of Urías’ career has been a consistent part of his narrative. The story started out strong-enough, as Urías earned his way to Mexico’s National Youth Team, and as a young teen (age 14) got introduced to MLB scout Mike Brito.

As a player who dominated on the mound, but faced health problems with his left eye, Urías’ story was inspiring.

The storyline got ugly in August 2019 however, when Urías was arrested for domestic violence. He never faced charges, but ultimately served an MLB 20 game suspension.

Urías started his professional career at the age of 16 in his native land, when he pitched a full season in the Mexican League. It was a rapid rise for the teenager, who quickly ascended through the Dodgers’ system; he made his Dodgers’ farm debut in 2013, where he was the youngest player in theClass-A Midwest League.

The All Star Futures Game at the time pitted prospects from the US versus those from the rest of the world, and Urías got the nod to play for that team in 2014. He pitched one scoreless inning, striking out one of the three hitters he faced that day.

In 2015 he missed two months to have cosmetic eye surgery (his third surgery on the same eye), after removing a benign mass. The procedures left him visually scarred, though he can still see out of his left eye.

The health problem in his left eye belies the talent in his left arm however, as Urías consistently has a fastball that sits in the mid-90s and can reach 97 mph. He hits the ball well, and utilizes his changeup as a swing-and-miss pitch.

Urías made his MLB debut in 2016, in what was at the time, a pretty remarkable story. Guy who could have gone blind in one eye manages to have a positive impact on the Dodgers at the age of only 20.

Since 2016 it’s been a mixed bag of results, something he’s continuing to struggle with in 2021 as well.

This season, Urías has shown a little bit of everything, from shutout performances to getting shelled. He put together a string of three strong outings, where he shutdown Seattle in seven innings on May 12th (one run on two hits in seven innings), and followed it up with a 6 ⅔ innings three-hit, one run performance against the Diamondbacks.

Things looked like they were finally starting to come together for Urías, and in his next start, once against division rival San Francisco, he tossed six innings of two-run ball, striking out ten and walking zero.

Then the wheels fell off for his encore performance against the Giants, where over the course of five innings he gave up six earned runs, only struck out five batters (to two walks),

His next start is this upcoming Friday, June 4th against the Braves.

Urías is a strike-thrower. He leads all of baseball, throwing 73.3 percent of all first pitches for strikes. His third-best walk rate in all of MLB should position him for success, particularly with a decent Dodgers defense behind him.

He has managed to get hitters to swing at pitches outside the zone more often this year (37 percent compared to 30 percent over the course of his career).

It’s no secret that National League West is currently home to the three best records in the NL, with the Giants, Padres, and Dodgers all jockeying for the top spot. There’s plenty of season to go, and on-paper the Dodgers are the best team, but a strong, consistent Julio Urías would do wonders for LA overtaking their competition.

The pieces are there for Urías to ascend to the top-of-the-rotation pitcher the Dodgers hoped for throughout his career. He’s going to turn 25 this summer and has yet to put together the dazzling potential into on-field performance.

The rest of 2021 will be critical to Urías’ development, and the Dodgers success in a crowded and talented NL West. It might be early-June, but as Yogi Berra used to say, ‘it gets late early out there’.

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Steven Martano is an Editor at Beyond the Box Score, a Contributing Prospect Writer for the Colorado Rockies at Purple Row, and a contributing writer for The Hardball Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @SMartano