The Dynasty Dilemma of Julio Urias
Urias made his major league debut as a 19-year-old and posted a 3.39 ERA across 23 1/3 innings with over a strikeout per inning in 2016. The following season he found himself back in AAA after a rocky start to 2017 in the big-league rotation. After a few starts, he was finding his grove, then disaster struck. An injury to the anterior capsule of his throwing shoulder. Surgery addressed the issue in June 2017.
The Medical Relevancy
Think of the shoulder capsule as a balloon. It covers each aspect of the humeral head (top of the upper arm bone). It is underneath all the muscles and helps stabilize the shoulder. The anterior capsule is the front and supports the upper arm bone when a pitcher winds up. As the windup occurs the anterior capsule is stretched to the max. So, unfortunately, Urias injured the part of the shoulder in charge of stability that is stressed/stretched with every single pitch. Long-term, that’s a recipe for disaster.
The Medical Research
Pitchers have not fared well historically after surgery to their throwing shoulder. Only half of pitchers make it back from shoulder surgery and only 7% of them return to their prior performance. Medically speaking, surgery to repair the anterior shoulder is akin to a death sentence for pitchers.
Urias’ Last Hope
Age. Most of the research is on much older athletes and the Dodgers have taken a very conservative/patient approach with Urias. Reports indicate he may return in July, but at his current pace it would be late July or early August. He most likely will begin in a relief role to evaluate how the shoulder will respond to gradual increases to pitching volume.
A prospect peak value is the day he debuts. If you can piggy-back a few solid relief appearances, Urias may actually have some trade value. Ultimately, his best-case scenario is a Josh Hader-esque set-up role. Long-term, the odds of being a meaningful starter are very, very low. Get out, if you still can.
Despite my pessimism, I will be rooting for him to defy the odds and become part of the 7% that make it back to peak performance.