Marlins face decision on out-of-options Urena

If righty doesn't make Opening Day roster, Miami could risk losing him

Marlins face decision on out-of-options Urena

MIAMI -- When pitchers and catchers begin Spring Training workouts on Feb. 14 in Jupiter, Fla., the Marlins won't have many pitching vacancies. Injuries and performance will obviously factor into how the Opening Day roster ultimately looks, but as of now, five rotation and six bullpen spots appear set.

That leaves one or maybe two places in the 'pen open. It also means Miami has to make a tough decision regarding Jose Urena.

Urena, who has bounced back and forth between Triple-A New Orleans and the big leagues the past two years, is out of options. That means if he doesn't make the Opening Day roster, the Marlins risk losing the 25-year-old right-hander if he is designated for assignment and placed on waivers.

Miami also could avoid the uncertainty and explore trade possibilities for Urena between now and Opening Day. But indications are that isn't the intention. Because Urena has a power arm, he likely will get a chance to make the team, either as a starter or a reliever.

Homegrown, Urena was signed by the Marlins out of the Dominican Republic in 2008. The lanky 6-foot-2, 200-pounder debuted with Miami in 2015. Last year, he was up and down, going 4-9 with a 6.13 ERA in 28 games (12 starts).

Despite his struggles in the big leagues, Urena made 12 starts in Triple-A, posting a 3.17 ERA in 48 1/3 innings. If he can become more consistent with his mechanics, he could be a big presence on the staff.

Miami has signed free-agent starters Edinson Volquez and Jeff Locke this offseason. They are expected to join lefties Adam Conley and Wei-Yin Chen and right-hander Tom Koehler in the rotation.

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The Marlins' bullpen is filled up, as well. Free agents Brad Ziegler, Junichi Tazawa and Dustin McGowan were signed, and A.J. Ramos, David Phelps and Kyle Barraclough return.

Urena could fit a long-relief/spot-start role. If that's the case, 12 pitching spots will be set. Miami is open to going with 13 pitchers and 12 position players, but that would severely limit manager Don Mattingly's bench on a daily basis.

President of baseball operations Michael Hill noted the organization is not eager to add another free-agent pitcher, at least to a guaranteed big league contract.

"We set out this offseason to try to strengthen and deepen the rotation and strengthen and deepen the bullpen," Hill said. "In that regard, we've been able to add pieces that we really like."

Hill also includes Urena when discussing possible rotation and bullpen depth. The reason is simple: The Marlins' rotation lacks a power right-hander.

According to Statcast™, Urena's average four-seam fastball last year was 95.83 mph, above the MLB average of 93.04 mph. Koehler's average is 92.57 mph, and Volquez's sinker (his primary pitch) is 93.53 mph.

Velocity alone doesn't tell everything about a pitcher, but power arms tend to get away with more mistakes, and if Urena can become more consistent with his command, he could emerge as a big asset for Miami. He also has thrown just 145 1/3 innings in the big leagues.

Urena's best big league start is also fresh in the minds of the organization. On Sept. 11, in a win over the Dodgers, he threw 8 2/3 scoreless innings.

The Marlins have not had a complete game since Henderson Alvarez on June 3, 2014, a span of 427 games. Urena came the closest of any Miami starter in 2016.

In terms of just fastball velocity, per Baseball Savant, Urena impressed last season. He threw 383 four-seam fastballs at 94 mph or above and 204 at 96 mph or above, with 1,437 total pitches.

By comparison, Volquez had 173 pitches at 94 mph or above and three at 96 mph or above, with 3,232 total pitches. Koehler threw 3,089 pitches with 109 at 94 mph or above and none at 96 mph.

For Urena, the natural ability is there. For the Marlins, the time is now to see if he takes the next step, because if he can't, the club may have to move in another direction.

Joe Frisaro has covered the Marlins for MLB.com since 2002. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.