Julio Urias, the 20-year-old pitching phenom, is one of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ prized jewels.
Urías broke into the big leagues in 2016, fresh off a 27-innings scoreless streak with the Dodgers’ AAA affiliate (Oklahoma City Dodgers).
However, his AAA success did not immediately translate.
He started his big league career on a high note on May 27th, striking out Curtis Granderson for his first out as a big leaguer, but the day only got worse from there.
Julio Urías did not make it out of the third inning and an experienced Mets lineup welcomed him to the show, by being patient all day, and forcing Julio to execute pitches deep into the count.
Tale of the tape: 2.2 innings pitched, 5 hits, 3 earned runs, four walks, and 3 strikeouts.
Did nerves get the best of him?
Before we dive into Julio Urías the Los Angeles Dodger, let us discuss his journey to the Major Leagues.
Side note, this article was requested by our fans. Despite Julio Urías’ limited exposure to Major League Baseball, we will do our best to remain true to our previous analysis protocol of David Price, James Paxton, and Kyle Hendricks.
Julio Urías, Dodger in Training
Julio Urías was signed by the Los Angeles Dodgers in August of 2012, just a few days after his 16th birthday.
His rights were transferred from Mexico City of the Mexican League.
As an interesting piece of trivia, Julio Urías was not the prime focus of the scouting trip. Do you know who was? Yasiel Puig
Julio also spent time with the Mexico national team for a few years before transitioning into organizational baseball.
Throughout his years in the minor leagues (as a teenager), Urías put up some impressive numbers as seen below.
Each year came a new experience, and a new home for Julio Urías.
Spending the better part of four years in the minor leagues and posting some impressive numbers as a teenager grabbed the attention of the big-league coaching staff.
Striking out nearly 10 batters per nine innings certainly did not hurt.
So, what intangibles did the Dodgers see in Mexico in 2012 that prompted them to sign a 16 year old left handed pitcher?
The Pitch Repertoire
Julio Urias throws a mid-90’s fastball, mid-70’s curveball, mid 80’s slider, and low 80’s changeup.
Let’s start with the fastball.
The crudest way that many scouts evaluate a prospect is by hard he throws.
But velocity, as we know, is not everything. Movement and location prosper.
So, as we prefaced, what is the mid 90’s fastball that has touched 96 mph without movement?
Julio’s four-seam fastball has upwards of 10 inches of vertical rise (in comparison to a baseball without spin), assisted by an average spin rate of 2,444 revolutions per minute.
Per FanGraphs (2015), only three lefty starters have thrown harder, eight have gotten more rise, and three have generated more spin.
For context here, the average four-seam fastball spin rates in 2015 was 2,226. Rafael Betancourt led the league with 2,553 RPM, approximately 100 RPM’s over Urias.
So, how does spin rate affect movement? We suggest you read our article, “Do Higher Pitch Spin Rates Correlate with Success” to determine how.
But, if you are in a crunch for time here is a brief summary.
Four-seam fastballs with high spin rates “sink” less than the slower moving changeups. The back-spin creates lift that allows the fastball to descend slower than top-spin pitches.
Due to their back-spin, fastballs with slower spin rates tend to be flatter (vertically) and get hit more easily than their high spin rate counterparts.
Julio Urias has a four-seam fastball that is top five in the league based on vertical movement and speed. Not too shabby.
Julio Urias utilizes his curveball approximately 16% of the time to left handed hitters and right handed hitters alike.
His vertical movement on his curveball is mediocre (just outside the lowest 10 in the league) at an average of approximately 2 inches.
However, the horizontal movement more than makes up for lackluster vertical movement. The 7.1 inches of horizontal movement place him in the top five in the league among starting pitchers who threw at least 50 innings.
His problem is throwing the pitch for a strike.
Lots of red clustered together in the middle of the zone.
Probably the reason why batters hit .375 against the curveball in 2016.
Urias throws the slider 20% of the time to left handed hitters and 13% to right handed hitters.
The movement of the slider is subtler than the curveball, averaging approximately 2-3 inches of late movement in both the horizontal and vertical direction (in comparison to a baseball without spin).
Even though the movement is more subtle, the fact that it is late movement makes it tougher for the batter (a good reason why batters are averaging .227 against the slider).
The pitch has approximately 8 inches of horizontal fade, which has helped it become the “outpitch” against right-handed hitters.
For comparison batters hit 0.174 in 2016 against his changeup.
In his first year in the big leagues, again at only 19 years old, opponents hit .274 off of Urías.
He went 5-2 in 13 starts in 77 innings, over 18 appearances
His earned run average in 2016 was 3.39 with a FIP (fielding independent pitching) of 3.17.
He struck out 84 and walked 31 with a ratio at 2.7.
Left handed hitters hit .234 off of Urías while right handed hitters hit .284.
Lefties showed more power against Urías and had a slugging percentage of .406 while right handed hitters slugged .371.
Now that we went through the quantitative perspective on Julio Urias, let us focus on his qualitative skills (i.e. his pitching mechanics).
The “stuff” is there for Urías on the mound but as we have preached, there is more to a baseball pitcher than the pitches he throws.
Mechanically, we see a lot of upside in his delivery, which helps us project him as front end of the rotation arm (nothing ground breaking here).
First off, lets look at a video in slow motion.
This video comes from 2014 while he was pitching with the Cucamonga Quakes out of the California league.
Video Courtesy of Prospect Pipeline.
While the video is over two years old, almost everything has remained the same in Julio’s delivery.
Now, we’ll break down the mechanics.
We’ll start from the feet and move upward. Bottom’s up!
As with most pitchers, the feet, and the leg kick starts the motion of his pitching mechanics.
Compared to other pitchers, Urías’ leg kick is a tad higher, as the front knee gets almost to shoulder height. This can be seen at the 17 second mark in the video above.
This helps him keep his weight evenly distributed as he gets ready to plunge down the mound.
His back leg stays firm, but flexed and extends well through triple extension.
His front leg swing-to-plant gets a little rotational, but he repeats the lower half of mechanics very, very well.
Part of the over-rotation comes from a high leg kick (reference our article about the front foot and pitching mechanics to learn more regarding this interaction).
At landing, his front foot stays just closed off while his back leg is in triple extension, keeping his weight distributed closer to the rubber than to home plate.
This can be seen at 22 second mark in the video above.
As noted, his front foot is coming down to plant, slightly closed off.
This allows him to keep balance and keep his momentum moving linearly down the mound, toward home plate.
At this point, he has created separation from the rubber, he’s pushing through the toe, and his ankle, knee, and hip are all extended towards home plate.
His hips and shoulders are on an upward plane (pointing towards home plate), which allows him to create more energy as he delivers the baseball.
This upward plane can be seen by looking at his blue belt, and his shoulders.
At landing, his feet and legs are in good positions.
His Rawlings brand glove stays out over the front foot preventing him from pulling off and getting too rotational with the upper half.
This also helps keep the momentum moving linearly down the mound and not pulling off towards third base.
You can see the hip shoulder separation he creates when he throws.
Take note: examine how far his shoulder is separated away from the core of his body.
Moving further into the final stages his windup.
In the image above, his belt buck is pointed towards home plate, while the Dodgers logo on his chest is directly at first base. (We apologize for the blurry image, but minimal views from this angle exist on Urias).
The shoulders are in line with home plate while the hips are open, and the left arm is flexed with the baseball pointed towards first base in a good healthy position.
Again, the glove stays relatively above the front foot and the shoulders are still pointed slightly upwards.
As the shoulders start to follow the hips and square up to home plate, Urías does a good job of taking his chest to his glove out front, and moving towards home plate with everything in line.
As the shoulders continue to square up to home plate and Urías nears delivery, his arm comes through in a high three quarter arm slot.
Both shoulders stay on the same plane and it comes full circle.
As many lefties do, he gets a “heavy ear” and the body leans toward third base. This often times causes over rotation and can interfere with staying linear to the plate.
However, in the case of Urías, he keeps his weight centered well throughout his deliver and finishes pretty cleanly, so this is not a big concern.
Nice fluid and easily repeated pitching mechanics.
We mentioned that statement a couple times “that his pitching mechanics are easily repeated”.
That statement can seem like fluff, if you do not know exactly what to look for.
So, let’s examine if that is true based on his release points.
See the cluster of colored data points in the top right corner of the image above?
Those are his release points. Horizontally shown between 1.5 and 2.5 and vertically between 5.75 and 6.75.
That means every single one of his pitches is released with 1” vertically and horizontally. When you consider the amount of moving parts during the pitching windup, releasing within a 1” square window is impressive.
Julio Urias Los Angeles Dodger Future
We’ve seen that Julio Urías has the stuff to be a front end of the rotation arm. But where does he fit in with the Dodgers?
Since the Dodgers signed Urías in 2012 he hasn’t thrown more than 100 innings in a season until last year (77 with the Dodgers and 45 with the AAA Dodgers).
They are taking their time in development and keeping tabs on his innings pitched and pitch counts. Not exactly a bad thing for such a young arm.
This year, he will not break camp with the big-league club.
Multiple reports noted that he has been battling strep throat recently, which has hindered his progress,
Despite that, we expect him to be in Los Angeles by no later than early to mid May, and then spend the rest of the season with the Dodgers.
The Los Angeles Dodgers’ rotation right now is led by the future hall-of-famer, Clayton Kershaw.
As one of the best left handed pitchers to ever live, Urías has a good mentor in the clubhouse everyday.
By the looks of it, the Dodgers 2017 opening day rotation will be:
Game 1: Clayton Kershaw – LHP
Game 2: Kenta Maeda – RHP
Game 3: Rich Hill – LHP *Reecently scratched for Alex Wood
Game 4: Brandon McCarthy – RHP
Game 5: Hyun-Jin Ryu – LHP
When Urías breaks back into the big leagues we are not sure who he will replace, but someone (not Urias) will be moving to the bullpen.
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Julio Urias Conclusion
Julio Urías shows a lot of upside.
He throws four pitches, and throws (most of) them well.
His pitching mechanics and delivery are smooth, and very repeatable and he seems to have a good understanding of his body throughout his delivery.
We think the best part about Julio Urías is that he’ll be going into the 2017 as a 20 year old, with a lot of time ahead of him.
If all works out, he could spend 15 plus years in the big leagues and become one of the all time greats.
But for now, let’s just watch the exciting young arm and see what happens.
*This article was written and researched by Matt Schissel with edits and reformatting by Ricky Mears.