If the Los Angeles Dodgers head toward disaster this season, left-handed starter Scott Kazmir won't be driving the car.
Kazmir is like the guy sitting in the back seat on a long road trip. He has no influence on whether or not you get lost and can only make the ride better by cracking jokes. All he can do is make the Dodgers better.
All of this is to say there's no need for panic about Kazmir's disastrous spring thus far (9.39 ERA, decreased velocity). Though he has progressed after two poor starts, according to a report from the Orange County Register's Bill Plunkett, it's unclear whether he will be the shutdown pitcher of old either.
If the offseason signing of Kazmir does bomb, the Dodgers have a backup plan sitting in their minor league system. His name is Julio Urias.
No pitcher in minor league baseball is more exciting than Urias, who, according to MLB.com, has accelerated through the minor league levels faster than any other prospect despite being just 19 years old. The site predicts he will make his major league debut this season.
The Dodgers have handled him with kid gloves. And in this instance, that cliche has never made more sense. This kid has only been able to buy tickets to an R-rated movie for two years.
But age doesn't determine a player's ascent. Development does.
From the MLB.com scouting report on Urias:
Not only is Urias the top left-handed pitching prospect in the Minor Leagues, he's also the most precocious phenom in the game. The youngest pitcher in full-season ball in 2014, he dominated in the hitter-friendly California League as a 17-year old.
Though Urias needs to develop more consistent control and command -- no surprise given his age -- he has advanced feel for pitching. He shows an aptitude for altering his arm angle and varying the speed of his pitches. Los Angeles is trying to manage his innings and the expectations for him but may not be able to keep him in the Minors much longer.
His call-up is imminent. A Kazmir flop might simply motivate the Dodgers.
Even at his best, Kazmir is a stand-in for Urias, who should be firmly in the Dodgers rotation in 2017. That's likely why Kazmir received an opt-out after this season in the three-year, $48 million deal he signed this offseason.
If Kazmir opts out, it means he had a solid season. And if he pitches poorly, it would be as if the team lost him a season early. With Urias nearly ready, it wouldn't matter much.
Sure, for most teams—heck, for some countries even—eating $48 million wouldn't be as easy as moving on to a star prospect. But Los Angeles has so much money it could wrap Dodger Dogs in $10 bills and still outspend every team in free agency.
Injuries have decimated the Dodgers rotation. Brett Anderson will be out three to five months recovering from back surgery, according to ESPN.com's Doug Padilla. Hyun-Jin Ryu is recovering from shoulder surgery, and Alex Wood is just now coming back from a forearm issue.
But money aside, if Kazmir's velocity continues to drop and he continues to struggle with his command, the Dodgers would have to make a move to stay in the race.
They could make a trade, but with a player like Urias and a deep crop of minor league pitchers that will follow, there is no reason to deplete one of baseball's best farm systems to add an arm.
Urias was sent to minor league camp last week after struggling in spring training. However, that could have been due to what the Los Angeles Times' Andy McCullough deemed a "minor leg issue."
"He's been in camp before, but the way his body has matured, his head, I hear he's a lot more comfortable from people who were here last year," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said of Urias. "Just his bullpens have been good, his work's been good."
This isn't a plea to rush Urias' development. Obviously, given last week's reassignment, he won't be on the major league roster on Opening Day—or probably even in the opening month.
No verdict will be reached on Kazmir after the first month of the season. He will have only started about five games by then. But come June, if Kazmir continues to struggle, Urias easily may have rounded out his development by making those final few tweaks with his command that were alluded to in the MLB.com report.
The Dodgers are running out of arms. They have few options left. Sure, they could look to the trade market.
Given Urias' talent, though, it would be hard to find a better option.
Seth Gruen is a national baseball columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @SethGruen.
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