Rising to the occasion in 2014 while playing for Double-A Jacksonville Suns, Jose Urena came out guns blazing - something we have become accustomed to seeing the Bani, Dominican Republic native do since joining the Miami Marlins organization in 2009. Urena is not only highlighted for being ranked on the Marlins top ten prospects lists, but is notable for his high-powered right-arm that features a fastball touching a maximum effort velocity of 98 mph. This same arm regularly sits on auto pilot at around 92-95 mph. The advanced feel for and dominant control of this fastball, marked his path to being capped a 2014 Mid-Season All-Star - recording a 6.8 K/9 ratio and 3.42 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) while walking just 29 hitters in 162 innings pitched. Urena averaged six innings a start and went seven strong on 10 occasions over 25 starts this past season.
Showcasing his electric fastball with a loose sling-shot type arm-action is, of course, the bread and butter of Urena’s whole arsenal, allowing his other off-speed pitches to play up. His best secondary offering is the change-up, which he tends to throw at an above-average capacity more consistently than his slider and curveball. Although the slider can be effective as another out pitch for Urena, it tends to be thrown below-average more often than not. His curveball is more of a "show-me" curveball that is scarcely used as a developmental 4th pitch at this time.
While the limber slinging arm-action will have to be worked on as well as his off-speed offers, he has the stats to back up his hype. They highlight what every front office GM likes to see in their young stars – a steady progression in their stat line from year to year. Over his last four seasons in the minors he has reduced his WHIP from 1.417 (2011) to 1.136 (2014), increased his SO/BB ratio from 1.66 (2011) to 4.17 (2014), striking out a total of 121 batters in 2014 and stranded 73% of runners on base.
Unfortunately, the Marlins are already heavily stocked with right-handed arms, especially once we see the return of rookie sensation Jose Fernandez. Jose Urena’s path to making his big league debut in 2015 will not be an easy one, unless there are unforeseen injuries to the Marlins staff. This assumes of course that the Miami Marlins front office view Urena’s prospect value higher than that of his right-handed counterpart, Trevor Williams. Williams pitched for the High-A Jupiter Hammerheads in 2014. He pitched only 15 innings at the Double-A level last season and tallied a 1.87 WHIP and a .368 BABIP, but he also posted a noble 3.17 FIP with a 6.87 K/9 ratio in 129 innings with the Hammerheads.
If the theory behind the reliever idea holds true, then there is a chance you could see Jose Urena go lights out in early spring minor league performances and make the Marlins big league pen as a reliever by mid-season. If that theory doesn’t entice you, then reality looks for him to open the season as a starter at Triple-A New Orleans, or possibly at Double-A Jacksonville for some extra polishing - a move the Marlins organization is prone to making to protect their top prospect pitchers. Hoping that with some extra seasoning at the minor league level, Urena can make an impact later on in the season as a September call-up, hopefully slotting in the big league rotation as either a spot starter or long reliever.
With everything considered, Jose Urena will be an exciting prospect to follow in 2015.