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Julio Urias entered the season ranked as the no. 2 prospect in the vaunted Dodgers system, stationed behind Corey Seager and in front of a bucket brigade of pitching prospects. Urias is the youngest of the bunch, as he won't reach 20 years old until August of this year, and perhaps a better way to understand his prospect pedigree is to look at his standing as the no. 6 prospect in all of baseball, second among pitchers, according to the preseason Top 101 list here on Baseball Prospectus.

The Dodgers have been careful with the young phenom's workload, keeping him under 90 innings pitched in each professional season and maxing out his single-game pitch count at 82 throws this season. He has been very efficient in Triple-A, tossing five or more innings in all of his starts despite a pitch count that typically sits in the 70s after five frames, a factor which bodes well for his long-term outlook but certainly clouds his role in the short-term. The restricted pitch counts per game and the team's desire to limit his innings increase from one season to the next will keep him on a very strict workload regimen this season, and though such a light workload might be intended to ease the strain on his left arm, it also brings to question how long it will be until Urias can be counted on to shoulder the workload of a big-league starter. At the rate he is going, Urias will be lucky if the Dodgers let him crack 150 frames in 2018.

Talent-wise, the kid looks ready. Urias earned his promotion and deserved to be the first teenage Dodger pitcher since Fernandomania swept the L.A. basin 35 years ago, as evidenced by a 1.10 ERA and 0.78 WHIP that each led the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League at the time of his call-up (the average marks in the PCL were a 4.36 ERA and 1.40 WHIP). It certainly helps that the Dodgers no longer call Albuquerque their Triple-A home, as the venue in Oklahoma City is much kinder to pitchers, but the raw numbers are incredibly impressive before even digging into the age issue, wherein Urias was pitching to players 5-10 years his senior.

Game Stats

IP

R

H

BB

K

PC

May 27

2.7

3

5

4

3

81

The results weren't pretty, particularly for a pitcher who had a 27-inning scoreless streak going in the PCL, as Urias gave up more runs (three) in the first inning than he had surrendered in all but one of his eight games in the minors this season. The Mets scored all three of their runs in the first frame, but Urias was ineffective throughout his brief debut, getting ousted before he could complete the third inning on the heels of four walks out of the 17 batters that he faced (he hadn't walked more than three in any minor-league start this season).

Urias started the game by running a full count on Curtis Granderson, but Granderson took a called strike three for the young southpaw's first career strikeout against his first career batter:

Things got a bit hairier after that. Asdrubal Cabrera doubled with a deep bounce off the left-field wall on an up-in fastball, and he advanced to third on a wild pitch. Urias was able to whiff veteran David Wright, but he walked Yoenis Cespedes on five pitches (three of which sailed high above the zone) and Neil Walker followed with another double, this one on a down-in curveball to a right-handed batter (Walker is actually a switch-hitter) that was hit deep down the line in left. The most damaging was the lunging single that was hit by the next batter, Juan Lagares, which plated two runs and put Urias in an early 3-0 hole:

He carried the Kershaw toolkit in terms of southpaw stuff, generally ditching the changeup (he threw four cambios out of 81 pitches) in deference to a pair of breaking balls, but Urias might have some issues with the curveball at the highest level. His curve left the hand with a different trajectory than the fastball and slider—the curve trajectory was elevated, giving it a hump in its flight path—such that opposing hitters were able to identify the pitch early and lay off of it. He generated just three swings on the 13 curves that he threw in his debut, getting a whiff on one of those swings.

First-game hiccups are relatively common, but it's hardly the introduction that salivating Dodger fans were hoping to see. That said, I was much more encouraged than what the stat-line supports, as Urias flashed solid command of at least two plus pitches, good poise despite his first-game struggles and the makings of an excellent delivery.

Mechanics Report Card

Balance

60

Momentum

55

Torque

60

Posture

55

Repetition

40

Overall

B –

Urias is still developing physically at such a rapid rate that it makes assessing his mechanics extra difficult, as his mechanical power and stability can look different from game to game or even pitch to pitch. Within his debut, Urias had much better balance in his motion once he got settled in, but the first plate appearance to Curtis Granderson involved some lean toward the third-base side that started during his leg lift and persisted through release point on one pitch, only to be followed by a more stable delivery with stronger balance in the X-plane on the next offering, incorporating a bit of a hunch into max leg lift that kept his balance from falling off track on the back side.

Urias has developed his delivery along with his stuff as he has developed physically over the past couple years. When I first saw footage of Urias pitching, back when he was a 17-year-old who making a mockery of High-A, he displayed excellent stability and the plus command that often results from such strong balance, yet his power—momentum and torque—were lacking. By the next season he had upped the ante on both power dimensions, increasing his speed to the plate and elevating his degree of hip-shoulder separation through improvements in mechanical timing and sequencing, allowing his hips to rotate after foot strike.

He now produces plus torque and has above-average momentum when everything is clicking. The balance wavered in his first start and one can expect more inconsistency as he grows into his frame, but Urias has all of the baselines for excellent balance in the future. In his debut, Urias finished with posture that varied from average (to even a half-tick below) all the way up to plus when he maintained balance earlier in the delivery. The posture changes flowed from the inconsistent balance, and once against we can expect that he will grow to be more stable over time. Dodger ace Clayton Kershaw carves the ideal development path for Urias, as a left-handed wunderkind who struggled to repeat his delivery in his early years, only to improve balance and posture each year by small increments, and doing so year in and year out to eventually turn a weakness into a strength.

Breaking down his balance into three planes, his vertical (Y-plane) balance was very strong, with a minor drop after max leg lift bring the only detriment. His side-to-side (X-plane) balance was inconsistent, as in the Granderson at-bat to start the game, but when on Urias was able to keep everything on a line to the plate, with his kinetic energy flowing toward the target as he followed the baseball after release point. When the balance and posture were off-kilter then it would be reflected in his follow-through, with a tendency to fall or spin-off to the glove-side. His Z-plane balance (rubber to plate) was also inconsistent, though not as much so, and his extension at release point was impacted as a result. They had StatCast available for this game, so we could see how the release-point extension varied on every pitch, and he had a pronounced trend to release breaking pitches from a shallower point than with his fastball, and one could see the extension as he appeared to reach out rather than up to finish his delivery. One can see this inconsistency in the release-point data from Brooks Baseball:

Urias was sent back to Triple-A following his spot-start against the Mets, and though his debut left much to be desired in terms of results in box score, he also exemplified the delivery, the stuff and the advanced approach to justify the hype. I expect that his second start will be much better, and though we might be a ways off from seeing the left-hander's peak, he is also not far from turning that B- grade on his mechanics report card into a B+, and he will likely hit his stride much sooner than the typical pitching prospect due to Urias' advanced mastery of his craft.

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lipitorkid
5/31
Thanks Doug. Fantastic analysis as usual. What's the latest on pitchers developing stamina and the supporting muscles to throw late in games without losing their form/balance? Is it still long distance running, swimming (like Chris Sale) or something else?