Dodgers @ Mets May 27, 2016: The Julio Urias era begins

We’ve written many words about Julio Urias ’round these parts. He’s been a phenom since he debuted as a 16-year-old in Low-A all the way back in 2013. Now, he’s making his MLB debut for the Dodgers in New York against the Mets.

4:10 p.m. PT
New York
2B Utley  RF Granderson
CF Seager  SS Cabrera
3B Turner  3B Wright
1B Gonzalez  LF Cespedes
LF Kendrick  2B Walker
CF Pederson  CF Lagares
RF Puig C Plawecki
C Grandal  1B Campbell
Urias (L)
deGrom (R)

Urias is the first sub-20-year-old pitcher to make his MLB debut since Felix Hernandez in 2005. Pretty good company for Julio, and the workload Hernandez had in his debut season (84 1/3 innings) is probably the high-end for Urias the remainder of the season — with the LA and/or OKC Dodgers.

Urias made his professional debut three years and one day ago today (May 26, 2013). Unsurprisingly, he dominated in that outing: 3 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 6 K. He has defied the odds ever since that outing.

“In an extremely surprising and aggressive move, the Dodgers on Sunday added 16-year-old Julio Urias to the Great Lakes Loons’ roster. He made his professional debut while skipping the three lowest levels of the minor leagues.

Not often do teenagers — especially 16-year-olds — pitch in the Midwest League. All signs had him pitching in the Dominican Summer League or, at best, the Arizona Rookie League. Alas, here he is pitching in full-season ball at the age of 16.”

And he has done nothing but dominant (save a short stint in Triple-A last year) since that outing.

I was fortunate enough to see him in spring training 2014, and that was quite the day. He only threw an inning, but it was an impressive inning.

And here’s the outing in text form.

He fell behind 3-0 to the Padres’ leadoff hitter Will Venable only to come back and strike him out. He then got Chris Denorfia to ground out to Miguel Rojas on three pitches. Finally, Urias faced Yonder Alonso. He got a called first strike, a check swing on what looked like a slider for strike two and, after a ball, made Alonso look silly on a slider.

The park was buzzing after that and it was a slight letdown when he didn’t come back out for a second inning. Seriously, this is the most disappointed I’ve ever been to see Kenley Jansen come into a game.

Longtime Dodgers’ scout Mike Brito watched Urias’ start from the scout seats and liked what he saw.

‘I am very happy because he showed greater stuff than what I expected,’ Brito said.

Brito would go onto call Urias’ curveball and slider ‘nasty,’ while his changeup was ‘good.’ This is the first I’ve heard of Urias using a slider. Perhaps it’s something he worked on over the winter, because he’s been known as a fastball-curveball-changeup guy in his brief professional career, even if his curveball has slider tendencies.

A scout said Urias was working from 92-95 MPH, while Brito had him clocked at 94-96 MPH — which is insane for a 17-year-old.

We’ve written about Urias at great length and frequency in the couple years, including me saying earlier this year that his time could come sooner rather than later and Chad writing that calling him up just to be a reliever is risky.

So, what should we expect out of Urias? Here’s what I wrote in my preseason prospect rankings (where Urias checked in at No. 2 behind some guy named Corey Seager):

“Urias has the stuff to be a near-elite starting pitcher. His fastball ranges from 91-95 MPH and has touched 96-97 in the past. He gets arm-side run on it and can locate it on either side of the plate to either handed hitter. His command is touchy at times, but he has shown the ability to do what he wants with the pitch. Urias has three above-average-to-plus-plus off-speed pitches. His curveball is a 2-8 sharp breaker in the mid-to-high-70s. It has flashed plus-potential and is good against either kind of hitter. He also has a slider that kind of runs into his curveball at times. It’s slurvy and despite being unrefined, still flashes solid-average potential. His changeup might be the best of the lot. It’s a low-80s offering that falls off the table and neutralizes right-handers. He’ll throw it in any count and can put it where he wants.

He has a fluid delivery that is repeatable and leads to his flashing plus-command. When he gets out of rhythm, that’s when the command/control drifts. He delivers pitches from a three-quarters arm slot and is able to stay on top of his pitches consistently. He’s athletic and has put on some weight since he signed. What might be the best thing working in Urias’ favor is his poise, mound presence and maturity — all things that cannot be taught. He has supreme confidence in his pitches and ability and is not easily intimidated. He’s going into his age-19 season. It’s tough for 10-year veterans to show what Urias has shown on the mound in that regard. That will make everything play up and give him an elite ceiling. The biggest thing working against him is his lack of innings. He has 222 1/3 innings in his three seasons. While it’d be ideal for him to slide into the 2017 rotation, that just isn’t terribly realistic. The Dodgers could bring him along in the bullpen in the majors as a long/swingman to help stretch him out. He should log somewhere in the neighborhood of 120 innings this season — most of those (hopefully) coming in Triple-A.”

While his stuff is great, his poise, makeup and confidence are off the charts. That might be the most impressive thing about this

Urias has been limited to six innings and no more than 82 pitches in a game this season. Naturally, Dave Roberts said the following:

His career-high in pitches is 89. I’ve been bitching about the Dodgers’ coddling of Urias this season, so I’d be shocked if he made more pitches in his first MLB start than at any other point of his pro career.

And there’s this historical tidbit from Eric Stephen.

I wouldn’t expect Urias to be Dwight Goodengood … and you shouldn’t, either. He’s 19. There’s plenty of success in his future. Don’t freak out if he has a bad start. Conversely, don’t anoint him the second coming if he shuts down the Mets.

Urias has a career 29.5 percent strikeout rate in the minors. For context, that number would be the seventh-best in baseball. He also has a 7.9 percent walk rate. That isn’t bad, but it’s far from ideal. It’s also inflated by a 10.4 percent walk rate in High-A in 2014. Most impressive might be the fact he has allowed 16 home runs in his 263 1/3 minor-league innings (0.5 HR/9). It’s even more impressive considering he pitched in the California and Pacific Coast Leagues. He’s coming off a 27-inning scoreless streak in the PCL, has a 44:8 strikeout-to-walk-ratio and a minuscule 1.10 ERA. The kid is for real.

The Fernando Valenzuela comparison is to be expected, but it’s really lazy and not apt. They’re completely different pitchers. I’ve comped Urias to Johan Santana since his first outing. I’m not saying he’s going to be a borderline Hall of Famer, but Urias has immense potential and a similar pitching profile.

This is a fun day for folks who have followed Urias’ trek through the minors and those who have heard about him non-stop for the last couple years. The Dodgers did the right thing by not moving him for a short-term upgrade, and here’s hoping he rewards that decision in the coming decade or so.

Clayton Kershaw is a generational talent. Urias was 11 when Kershaw debuted in 2008. About time for the next generational guy, no?

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About Dustin Nosler

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Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin' Kinda Blue. He co-hosted a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He was a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times and True Blue LA. He graduated from California State University, Sacramento, with his bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in digital media. While at CSUS, he worked for the student-run newspaper The State Hornet for three years, culminating with a 1-year term as editor-in-chief. He resides in Stockton, Calif.