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Although it seems like he’s been around forever, it’s difficult to believe that lefty phenom Julio Urias is still only 19 years of age. Having begun his professional career with Low-A Great Lakes in 2013, the Dodgers‘ top pitching prospect has zipped to the peak of Triple-A Oklahoma City‘s starting rotation in less than three full seasons, and could be primed to make a big league appearance sooner than many think.
Rumblings surrounding a possible promotion of Urias to the Dodgers’ bullpen began about 10 days ago, but the Dodgers decided to hold steady with their current corps of relievers, who on some days look nothing short of spectacular, and on other days suggest a level of effectiveness similar to that of a low level bullpen on the farm. The only model of consistency has been closer Kenley Jansen, outside of a few glimpses of excellence from Louis Coleman most recently.
Since the initial discussions, Urias’ stock has risen even higher. Last Saturday evening against Las Vegas, he continued his domination of the Pacific Coast League, throwing six scoreless innings while surrendering only three hits and two walks.
Urias struck out six opposing batters and extended his scoreless innings streak to 22 consecutive innings while tallying a total of 82 pitches, 51 of which were strikes. He also induced two double plays and picked two runners off first base — his third and fourth pickoffs over his last three starts.
In six games started this season, the southpaw has thrown 36 total innings, recording a 1.25 ERA, a 0.81 WHIP and a .176 opposition batting average. He has now struck out 39 batters against only eight walks on the year.
Although he’s watched with a very close eye regarding pitch counts, promoting Urias to help in relief would allow him to limit his innings for the season and ease his transition to the bigs without much worry. It wouldn’t be the first time the Dodgers introduced a starter with an elite pedigree as a reliever — in 1980 the club called up fellow Mexican lefty Fernando Valenzuela from Double-A San Antonio at the end of the year to throw a total of 10 games out of the bullpen.
Yet with Mike Bolsinger set to make his first start of 2016 on Wednesday night after injuring his oblique in spring training, the road to the bigs may be just a little bit longer for Urias. Early signals are revealing that Bolsinger may get bumped to the bullpen once the Dodgers are back on a more normal schedule that includes regular days of rest.
Again, on paper, it’s not like the Dodgers’ bullpen is really that bad overall. When they do implode, it’s mainly during the very tight games in a quick or sudden fashion, which becomes even more magnified from the fans’ perspectives. However, the effective performances still appear to be similar in number to those of the poor, as the Dodgers are ranked right in the middle of the pack among all MLB clubs in a number of categories.
As for where they stand among other teams in the National League, entering Tuesday the bullpen is ranked third in WHIP (1.18), second in OPBA (.298) and fifth in ERA (3.78), despite being ranked 12th and dead last in DIP% and ERC%, respectively.
All that being said, a number of pundits are a bit skeptical when considering how well Urias would handle duties in the bullpen, but until the Dodgers run him out on the hill at the big league level, they’ll never really know what level of talent they have. In his lone relief appearance of 2016 for OKC, Urias threw three innings of relief against Omaha in late April, scattering three hits and striking out three batters after succeeding Zach Lee and Jacob Rhame.
In the end, it’s extremely difficult to predict how the Dodgers’ relief corps will evolve moving forward into the season, but after already experiencing success on every single level of his baseball career, it’s tough to imagine that Urias wouldn’t flourish amid another new challenge, and conceivably help mold the Dodgers’ current bullpen into a presence that’s much more formidable.