By Rich Arleo
CBS Local Sports, in our 30 Players 30 Days spring training feature, profiles one young player from each Major League Baseball team leading up to opening day.
2016 season (Majors): 28 G, 12 GS, 83.2 IP, 6.13 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 4W, 58 SO, 29 BB
You hear it all the time with young pitchers: “He’s got great stuff, but…” The Miami Marlins know that Jose Urena has the stuff to be a solid big league pitcher, but they hope that two years after making his debut with the Marlins he can finally put it all together — regardless of his role.
Born in the Dominican Republic, Urena signed as an international free agent as a 17-year-old in 2009. He began to find a groove in the Minors in ‘12 and had four good seasons, slowly progressing from Class A up to Triple-A. He debuted with the Marlins in April of ‘15 but struggled and was sent back down after two relief appearances. He made his way back up for an extended stint in May and put together an impressive June, recording a 2.86 ERA in six starts.
Despite the success, Urena was sent back down again before sticking with the Marlins as a reliever that September. He wasn’t as effective out of the bullpen as he was in his earlier stint as a starter, posting a 5.84 ERA and .308 BAA in nine outings to end the year.
Urena wore down the path to the Minors and back to begin last season. He started the year as a reliever but just couldn’t cut it and was sent down with a 7.52 ERA at the end of May. Miami decided to keep him as a starter from that point on, a role in which he had more success in his career. He put together some quality starts for the Marlins but his game log was littered with rough outings.
Now out of Minor League options, the Marlins are giving Urena every chance to succeed and make the club out of Spring Training, either as a starter or reliever.
Urena features a four-seam and two-seam fastball, both of which sit around 94-95 miles per hour as a starter and can max out around 97. He’s struggled to get hitters out with his four-seamer (-5.9 wFA according to PITCHf/x date) but the sinker has been effective and may need to become his primary fastball moving forward. He threw the two-seamer almost 10 percent more than the four-seamer last year and it was by far his most effective pitch. His changeup, which is his most used offspeed pitch (16.6 percent) was also hit hard. Measured at an average of 89 MPH last year, a difference of barely six MPH on the fastball, it’s easy to see why hitters are picking up on the changeup so easily.
Despite the impressive fastball speed, Urena has never gotten a lot of swings and misses, even in the Minors where he averaged only 6.5 strikeouts per nine innings throughout parts of eight seasons. Urena will need to find his best combination of pitches at the big league level in order to succeed. Right now, the two-seamer and curveball are his most effective, and if he can’t find a third pitch to get hitters out, he may be destined for the bullpen once again. While he’s struggled as a reliever in the past, he could find success if he sticks there and limits his arsenal to those two most effective pitches.
The Marlins added Dan Straily and Jeff Locke this offseason — two pitchers who have had success as starters in the big leagues — so it may be difficult for Urena to crack the rotation. If he struggles this spring and the Marlins have no spot for him, he could find himself without a job by the beginning of the season. The hope is that Urena finds his niche and makes the “stuff” finally work in ‘17.
Rich Arleo is a freelance sports writer and editor who covers Major League Baseball and fantasy sports. You can follow him on Twitter, @Rarleo.