March 30: The Brewers have already selected Urena to the 40-man roster. McCalvy tweets that the initial structuring of the contract as a minor league pact was largely a mechanism to get Urena into camp and perform a closer evaluation of the right-hander. President of baseball operations David Stearns tells reporters that the club views Urena as more of a long reliever than a starter at present (video link via Todd Rosiak of the Milwaukee Jounal-Sentinel). He stopped short of declaring Urena a lock to make the Opening Day roster, but the right-hander is out of minor league options, so that seems likely, barring an unexpected health setback.
March 29: The Brewers announced this evening they’ve signed right-hander José Ureña to a minor league contract. Manager Craig Counsell told reporters he’ll receive an invite to big league Spring Training (via Adam McCalvy of MLB.com).
Ureña has seen a fair bit of rotation work in each of the past seven seasons. The native of the Dominican Republic spent the first six campaigns of his big league career with the Marlins. He never posted overwhelming strikeout totals, but he was consistently solid at keeping the ball on the ground and posted back-to-back sub-4.00 ERA seasons in 2017-18.
The lack of swing-and-miss has caught up to Ureña in recent years, however. He’s posted an ERA north of 5.00 in each of the last three seasons, two in Miami and last year with the Tigers. Ureña soaked up 100 2/3 innings for Detroit, but he managed just a 5.81 ERA with a 14.7% strikeout rate that’s about eight percentage points below the league average.
To his credit, Ureña did manage a career-best 52% grounder rate with the Tigers. He averaged just under 94 MPH on his sinker, and he’s held right-handed opponents to a modest .248/.320/.385 line over the course of his career. That could make Ureña a capable multi-inning relief option if Milwaukee considers deploying him in that role.
The Brewers have arguably baseball’s best starting staff, so the bullpen figures to provide Ureña a cleaner path to the big league roster. Milwaukee is set to open the season with a top five of Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, Freddy Peralta, Adrian Houser and Eric Lauer, and top prospect Aaron Ashby seems to be next in line for rotation innings.