Julio Urias is a pitching prospect of the LA Dodgers. (Great Lake Loons)
GLENDALE, Ariz.—In a surprise announcement, the Los Angeles Dodgers announced top prospect Julio Urias would start the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader against the San Diego Padres.
The 17-year-old from Sinaloa, Mexico pitched one scoreless inning and got the win in a 5-4 Dodgers victory.
Urias fell behind the count against leadoff hitter Will Venable, but managed to recoup to strike out Venable on a fastball.
After getting Chris Denorfia to ground out, he proceeded to strike out Yonder Alonso on a slider.
Dodgers catcher Tim Federowicz lauded Urias’ spring training big league debut. He praised Urias’ fastball and slider, and his overall repertoire.
“He throws a good fastball, down in the zone, a really good slider, a decent change up. He’s got a good mix, throws hard, and kind of knows what he’s doing,” said Federowicz. “That’s hard to find in a 17-year old. I don’t know if I would want to face him in A-Ball. He’s got good stuff.”
Urias was asked how he felt coming in to debut on such short notice. He said, “Well I’m very happy, you know? It’s a dream of mine and I’m happy to be here with the Dodgers. They told me this morning [I would start instead of coming out of the ‘pen]. It was more comfortable that way.”
Urias is young and inexperienced, but he lacks very little in terms of confidence. When asked what his goals were for 2014, the young lefty candidly stated, “My goal this year is to finish in the big leagues, but if I can’t get there this year, I’d at least like to be in Double A.”
Urias was signed by the Dodgers in 2012. His fastball was clocked at 92 mph at age 16 and, according to legendary Dodgers scout Mike Brito, Urias has been working around the 94-96 mph range recently.
Because he’s a Mexican lefty with huge upside, the comparisons to compatriot and former Dodger phenom Fernando Valenzuela have come early and often.
“It’s definitely a goal for me [to become like Valenzuela] because I’m being compared to the best pitcher there’s been in Mexico” said Urias. “And if that’s what they think then I have to keep working to reach that goal.”
While Urias had a remarkable debut that exceeded expectations, considering his age and the current battle among pitchers to earn a place with the big league team, he isn’t likely to get make his regular season debut any time soon.
But what he is doing right now is letting management know what he’s made of and how he’ll adapt to life in the big leagues.
While he feels confident that he’ll make it to the big leagues soon, he also admits his age is still a factor and something that makes him different from the rest of his teammates off the field. But although he admits the age disparity in his case is a factor, he feels up to par with the rest of the team on the field.
“I think differently than they do regarding things off the field, but on the field it’s all the same,” he said.
Urias is still a wide-eyed teenager who has yet to learn the nuances and struggles of being a big league ballplayer. There have been so many young flamethrowers in the past who have flamed out, that jumping the gun and saying he’s the next big anything is a stretch by any measure.
But considering the Dodgers are in the very unique position of having an arsenal of arms and money at their disposal, along with a front office which stresses the development of pitchers above all else, you can bet he’ll be given as good an opportunity to succeed as he could possibly get in any other situation—which will make all the difference for him to fulfill his potential.
Unlike many teams, the Dodgers aren’t desperate enough to sell tickets and win games to compromise his trajectory to the big leagues.
So with all the aforementioned stars aligned, it’s all up to Urias to fulfill his potential and become what many expect him to become. If he can do that part, Los Angeles will gladly embrace the newest “mania.”