Miami Marlins Pitcher José Ureña’s Slow Start and Bright Future

MIAMI, FL - SEPTEMBER 22: Starting pitcher Jose Urena #62 of the Miami Marlins throws in the first inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Marlins Park on September 22, 2018 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Joe Skipper/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL - SEPTEMBER 22: Starting pitcher Jose Urena #62 of the Miami Marlins throws in the first inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Marlins Park on September 22, 2018 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Joe Skipper/Getty Images) /
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lost his first seven starts in 2018 for the Miami Marlins, then was 9-5 the rest of the way.

Prior to Spring Training, Marlin Maniac is finishing up a 286-part, offseason-long series on every player in the Miami Marlins system. This Ureña recap is the 268th in the series.

José Miguel Ureña, also known sometimes as El Nueve, is a 6’3″, 172 lb. right-handed batting and throwing pitcher. Hailing from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, population 965,040, Ureña is one-of-177 to make the majors out of the municipality. Also currently active in the majors are Gary Sanchez, Jarlin Garcia, and Albert Pujols.

Born on September 12th, 1991, Ureña signed his first professional contract with the Miami Marlins on May 29th, 2009 for a $52,000 bonus. He reported to the DSL Marlins, in the rookie-level Dominican Summer League for the 2010 season, leading the rotation with 13 starts. He was 5-6 with a 2.61 ERA and a team-best 66 K’s in 82 2/3 innings. His 1.01 WHIP was the best mark on the staff, of any pitcher with 40 or more innings. Those Marlins were 28-41, good for sixth in the DSL South. On June 8th, in his second career start, he struck out seven in as many scoreless innings, surrendering a walk and two hits in a 6-0 two-hit win against the DSL Orioles2.

Miami Marlins
MIAMI, FL – JUNE 10: Jose Urena #62 of the Miami Marlins throws a pitch during the first inning of the game against the San Diego Padres at Marlins Park on June 10, 2018 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images) /

In 2011, Ureña joined the Jamestown Jammers, in the short-season-A New York-Penn League. Along with Josh Hodges, he led the Jammers with 15 starts, and struck out 48 batters in 72 2/3 innings. Ureña struggled to a 1.43 WHIP, and posted a 4-7 record with a 4.33 ERA for the 35-40 organization. On July 8th, he struck out four batters over seven two-hit scoreless innings in an 8-1 victory against the Auburn Doubledays. He turned in the exact same pitching line 22 days later, in a 15-1 win over the Staten Island Yankees.

Ureña made his full-season-A debut in 2012 with the Greensboro Grasshoppers, in the South Atlantic League. He made 22 starts and led the team in wins, going 9-6 with a 3.38 ERA. Ranking second on the team with 138 1/3 innings pitched, he lowered his WHIP to a more acceptable 1.25 and struck out 101. The Hoppers finished second in the SAL North Division, with an 80-59 record.

Miami Marlins
MIAMI, FL – SEPTEMBER 22: Starting pitcher Jose Urena #62 of the Miami Marlins throws in the first inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Marlins Park on September 22, 2018 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Joe Skipper/Getty Images) /

2013 would see Ureña join the Jupiter Hammerheads in the high-A Florida State League. He led the club in most pitching categories, going 10-7 with a 3.73 ERA, 107 K’s in 149 2/3 innings, and starting 26 times with a solid 1.19 WHIP to his credit. Jupiter closed the season with a 68-69 record to finish fourth in the FSL South. On June 4th, Ureña pitched six innings of scoreless ball, allowing a double and nothing else while striking out five in an eventual 2-1 loss to the Clearwater Threshers.

Ureña continued his march up the Miami Marlins minor league system in 2014, spending the entire season with the Jacksonville Suns in the double-A Southern League. The 81-59 club finished second in the SL South, and Ureña, along with Justin Nicolino, led the Suns rotation. Ureña whiffed 121 in 162 frames, and posted a 1.14 WHIP and a 13-8 record with a 3.33 ERA. On June 5th, Ureña went eight shutout innings and struck out seven while allowing three singles in a 6-0 win against the Tennessee Smokies.

Miami Marlins
ATLANTA, GA – AUGUST 06: Pitcher Jose Urena #62 of the Miami Marlins throws a pitch in the second inning during the game against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field on August 6, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images) /

2015 would see Ureña make his major league debut, and split the year between the Miami Marlins and the triple-A New Orleans Zephyrs in the Pacific Coast League. For the Marlins, he was 1-5 with a 5.25 ERA in his first major league action. He had a 1.589 WHIP in 61 2/3 innings while striking out only 28. His 73 ERA+ needed some work, and ranked ahead of only Brad Hand‘s mark of 72 on the parent club.

In 2016, Ureña started 12 times and came out of the pen in 16 other games for the Miami Marlins, going 4-9 with a 6.13 ERA. He struck out 58 in 83 2/3 innings and lowered his WHIP to 1.434, with a corresponding drop of his H/9 from 10.7 to 9.8. Again, he finished with a troubling ERA+, a mark of 64 which ranked him worst on the club. On September 11th, he went 8 2/3 innings and allowed only four hits and zero runs, striking out four in a 3-0 victory against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Miami Marlins
MIAMI, FL – AUGUST 16: Jose Urena #62 of the Miami Marlins spits water during a game against the San Francisco Giants at Marlins Park on August 16, 2017 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) /

2017 would see Ureña making a sea change in his metrics, with a 104 ERA+. A 14-7 record planted him firmly as the staff ace, with an N.L. 13th 3.82 ERA, a 1.273 WHIP, and 113 K’s in 169 2/3 innings. Unfortunately, he also led the majors with 14 HBP. On July 31st, he took a hard-luck loss after striking out six over eight innings, and allowing one run on three hits as the Marlins dropped a 1-0 decision to the Washington Nationals.

Last year started out badly for Ureña. He led the National League from wire-to-wire in the HBP category, hitting three in the first inning of the season, and that was after Ian Happ drove the first pitch of the year over the fence.

Miami Marlins
MIAMI, FL – MARCH 29: Jose Urena #62 of the Miami Marlins throws the opening pitch of the season in the first inning during Opening Day against the Chicago Cubs at Marlins Park on March 29, 2018 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images) /

Ureña had to wait until his 13th start of the season to get his first victory, which counterintuitively was one of his worst starts. On June 15th, he posted one of his best, striking out four over eight shutout three-hit innings in a 2-0 win against the Baltimore Orioles. Here’s some of his better moments in 2018, courtesy of Major League Baseball via FXbyAiden‘s You Tube page.

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From August 19th through September 28th, Ureña held opponents to a .176 average and went 6-0 with a 1.80 ERA with 26 K’s and a 0.911 WHIP. In the first start of that stretch, a 12-1 win against the Nationals, Ureña pitched a complete-game victory, striking out four and allowing one run on two hits.

According to Statcast, Ureña turned in both his highest K rate, 18.3 percent, and his lowest walk rate, at 7.2 percent. In short, despite his slow start, Ureña’s 2018 campaign was the best of his career. Labelled as the “default ace” for the last two seasons, could Ureña hold claim to that title more legitimately in 2019 and beyond? His trajectory over his four major league seasons suggests so. Look for him to start on Opening Day for the second straight year on March 28th at Marlins Park.

Make sure to check back here from now through the opening of Spring Training as we break down the final 18 players in last seasons’ system. Tomorrow, we take a look at Peter Mooney and Merandy Gonzalez.

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