The Los Angeles Dodgers have something special in Julio Urias.
The 17-year-old Urias made himself known to a larger audience this spring after receiving an invitation to the Dodgers’ major league spring training. While he made only one appearance before a reassignment to the minor leagues, the highly touted left-hander made an indelible impression.
Getting the start for the Dodgers on March 15, Urias worked a perfect first inning against the San Diego Padres, striking out big leaguers Will Venable and Yonder Alonso in the process. The Dodgers went on to win the game, 5-4, and Urias was credited with the win.
The Dodgers discovered Urias during a trip to Mexico to scout Yasiel Puig. According to Mark Saxon of ESPNLosAngeles.com:
Scout Logan White decided to fly to Oaxaca after watching Puig’s workout in Mexico City to take a look at some players from the Mexican league. Urias was 15 years old at the time and White saw him and remembers thinking, 'My goodness, he has got a shot to be something special.'
The Dodgers signed Urias, a Culiacan, Mexico native, for $450,000 on his 16th birthday.
Last summer, Urias pitched for Low-A Great Lakes of the Midwest League and did so as the youngest player at any full-season level. However, one wouldn’t have made that assumption by watching the then-16-year-old.
Making 18 starts for Great Lakes on the season, Urias dazzled with a 2.48 ERA and 67/16 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 54.1 innings. The left-hander celebrated his 17th birthday in August as he wrapped up his impressive professional debut.
At 5’11”, 160 pounds, Urias is physically mature for his age with a strong core and lower half, and should be able to add strength with further development.
The southpaw’s delivery is clean and efficient, with a consistent stride, good hip and trunk rotation, and fluid arm action. In general, he repeats his delivery well and stays in line with his target, and it in turn allows him to utilize a consistent release point. And for what Urias lacks in natural deception, he more than makes up for with his advanced control and feel for sequencing.
In terms of stuff, Urias’ is about as good as it gets for a 17-year-old with only 54.1 innings of professional experience, as he features a truly special combination of stuff and pitchability.
Urias’ fastball already sits in the low 90s and he routinely hits 94-95 mph. He uses a two- and four-seamer to effectively attack both sides of the plate. His secondary arsenal is equally promising, with a potential plus curveball he’ll throw in any count and a fading changeup in the low 80s that has improved considerably in the last year. Urias also throws a sharp slider in the low- to mid-80s with good biting action that projects as a potential plus offering at maturity.
After Urias’ success at Great Lakes last year and strong showing in spring training, the Dodgers showed confidence in their left-hander with an Opening Day assignment with High-A Rancho Cucamonga in the hitter-friendly California League.
As the youngest player at the level once again, Urias is now facing hitters roughly three to five years his elder. His first outing—in which he came out of the bullpen—was a resounding success, as the left-hander allowed one hit in four scoreless innings with four walks and five strikeouts.
Urias’ first start on April 9 didn’t go as smoothly; he allowed one run on two hits and fanned a pair in 1.2 innings before exiting the game. His control was noticeably off in the outing, as Urias issued two walks, hit one batter and uncorked a pair of wild pitches.
The left-hander was shaky in his latest start on Monday against Lake Elsinore, as he was charged with his first loss of the season after yielding five runs on six hits and two walks. Still, Urias showed an ability to miss bats with ease in the game, striking out six of the 22 batters he faced.
So far this season, Urias owns a 5.40 ERA and 13/8 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 10 innings.
Given his age and highly advanced developmental state, Urias has legitimate front-of-the-rotation upside, and there’s a realistic chance he’ll be pitching in the major leagues as a teenager.
Speaking with Mark Saxon of ESPNLosAngeles.com during spring training, Urias stated his goal this season is to pitch in the major leagues "or, if not that, Double-A.”
While the thought of Urias pitching in the majors in 2014 as a 17-year-old is exciting, it’s also highly unlikely. With only 10 innings at High-A Rancho Cucamonga under his belt this season, it’s difficult to envision a scenario where the Dodgers call on Urias to contribute at the highest level. His combination of stuff and poise would at least give him a chance to compete; however, there’s absolutely no reason to rush the promising young left-hander’s development and potentially compromise his future in the game.
A promotion to Double-A Chattanooga at some point this season is more realistic, as it’s seemingly only a matter of time until Urias puts it all together and masters the High-A level. Plus, given the organization’s handling of its top pitching prospects in previous seasons, it’s doubtful they will want to overexpose Urias in the traditionally unforgiving (at least for pitchers) California League.
If Urias does reach Double-A this year—which he should—then there’s a realistic chance he’ll receive his first crack at the major leagues in 2015, assuming he stays healthy and his development is unhindered. If that’s ultimately the case, then Urias could be pitching for the Dodgers next season as an 18-year-old.
Even if he doesn’t receive a promotion to Double-A this season, Urias—who will turn 20 on Aug. 12, 2016—will still be on pace to make his Dodgers debut as a teenager.