When the Dodgers signed Julio Urias in July 2012, it was closer to a footnote than a headline. Signed as part of a package with several teenagers from the Mexican League, Urias was considered a notable pickup, but fell outside of Baseball America's top International Free Agents. Urias was expected to be treated like most young non Latin American prospects in 2013: a stint in extended Spring Training, followed by a closely monitored trip through the Arizona Rookie League. Instead, the Dodgers did something near unprecedented and pushed the 16 year old Urias into full season ball at the end of May. The results were better than anyone could have hoped, as Urias tore through the Midwest League like a losing ticket at the dog track despite being the youngest pitcher in the league by a year and a half.
The Dodgers haven't seen a prospect get this much justifiable hype since Clayton Kershaw, but despite his general awesomeness, he isn't perfect. Let's take a look at what Urias is, and isn't.
What Julio Urias Is
- One of the most exciting young arms to grace the Dodgers in ages. At only 17 Urias has shown the upside of a strong number two starter. This is not a knock against him, it's just saying he won't be as good as Kershaw. Strong number twos include Zack Greinke and Jon Lester. Guys you would be happy leading your rotation and occasional Cy Young contenders.
- Command of two plus pitches, a fastball that can sit low to mid 90s that but supposedly has been clocked at 981 and a nasty slider, which is extraordinary for someone Urias' age.
- One of the most quickly pushed players in recent memory. Urias will open the year in high A, and there's a very good chance he'll be the youngest player in the California League by two years2 and the youngest player in high A by a year.
- Pretty cool.
What Julio Urias Isn't
- A historically unprecedented arm. 16 year old pitchers show up with the kind of stuff that Urias flashes occasionally, they just spend a few years in short season ball. Felix Hernandez, for example, received similar glowing reports at 16.
- A guy with any real certainty in his future. The thing keeping Urias down on most prospect lists is that he's undersized. This is a symptom of being 17, but it's asking prospecters to take wild guesses about his future workload. Urias may have the upside of being one of the best starters in the league, but he also has the downside of pen arm if he never develops physically.
- A guy with big league polish. Urias has gotten huge praise for how consistent his delivery is but it's important to remember there's always a "for a 17 year old" attached to it. Right now Urias has two plus pitches, but his change only shows flashes of brilliance and that will need to develop for him to become a successful starter.
If you need to sum up Urias, I would say "he could be amazing, but be patient". There are so many different directions Urias' career can go that people are rightfully hedging their bets. If he continues to develop and physically mature, he can be one of the top prospects in baseball by the end of the year, but it's just as likely the same questions that surround him will remain. It's possible that Julio Urias will be a valuable member of the Dodgers rotation when he's a teenager, just expect that he'll be able to legally get a Costco membership to celebrate his callup.
1. I tend to be skeptical of one time numbers like these and assume it's a hot radar gun↩
2. The pitcher that was a year and a half older in the Midwest League, Victor Sanchez, is getting pushed to AA.↩