Historically the Dodgers have been known for developing young players into stars, and the next potential ace coming is currently pitching at the AA level in the Texas League. He has emerged as the top left handed pitching prospect in the minors despite being just 18 years old at this point, and while he may not have an impact this year for fantasy, it wouldn't surprise me to see him in the bullpen at the end of the year. So let's take a look at wunderkind Julio Urias and see what he could do in the future for your team.
The Dodgers signed Urias out of the Mexican League during the 2012 signing period, with someone receiving a bonus of $1.8 million according to Baseball America (signing Mexican League players generally ends up giving a majority of the bonus to the team that had the player, rather than the player himself). Urias was very highly regarded as a pitching prospect, but concerns about his left eye may have dampened his market somewhat. He had a tumor removed in the past, but the surgery does not appear to affect his ability to pitch.
The Dodgers were extremely aggressive with him based on how polished he was considered, sending him to the full-season Midwest League in 2013 as a 16 year old. Pretty much anything other than an absolute implosion for a player that young is a successful year, and Urias was well better than that. He finished the season having thrown 54 innings across 18 starts, striking out 67, walking 16, and allowing just 44 hits. The Dodgers kept his innings very limited, but he did have a couple starts where he went five or more innings.
He moved up to High-A Rancho Cucamonga last year, remaining the youngest player at the level at age 17. The expectation was that the numbers would be a bit ugly, given how friendly the southern half of the California League is toward hitters. So much for that theory. The Dodgers moved him up to a total of 87 innings pitched, allowing a ridiculously low 60 hits with 109 strikeouts and 37 walks.
Still waiting for him to be challenged to the level he needs to, Urias is now pitching at AA Tulsa this year, where he is a full six years younger than the league average. He has made six starts, throwing 32 innings already, with 39 strikeouts against five walks and just 21 hits allowed. The broadcasters in his start on May 7th noted that the Dodgers have put him on a pre-set pitch limit for the total of the season, and will be keeping his pitch count down in some early starts, most notably so far pulling him on April 27th with 10 strikeouts through six innings and only 70 pitches.
The scouting report on Urias helps to illustrate how he has gotten these results, and gives us a lot of good indications that he can continue to repeat the performance as he moves up toward the majors. He features a very fluid delivery (which we'll see below) that he is able to repeat consistently in terms of both arm speed and release point. He is extremely athletic, and features a three-pitch repertoire of a fastball, curveball, and changeup.
His fastball has the potential to be a plus offering, sitting in the low to mid-90s and touching 96-97 at times. The pitch appears to get onto hitters even faster than that in part due to the deceptiveness of his delivery, but he does struggle with his command sometimes when he appears to be trying to dial it up.
His second best pitch is his breaking ball, which is a curveball that he can throw for strikes and potentially add and remove some velocity from. It is already an above-average offering, and will generate a ton of strikeouts.
He will actually throw it with a little more velocity at times, giving it more of a feel like a slider than a curve, but still with a lot of movement laterally as opposed to vertically.
The changeup is behind the first two offerings, but still has the potential to give Urias a third above-average pitch. Reports on the pitch from last year were positive, and it's not surprising that it still needs a little work. He didn't throw it a lot in his start on the 7th, but chose to hold it until later in the start.
Urias stands just 5'11", 180 lbs according to multiple reports, although given how young he is, there is still the potential for growth both in terms of muscle and even potentially height still. Even though he is shorter than a lot of pitchers, it doesn't seem to keep him from getting a good downward angle to the plate.
Overall, the potential with Urias is that he can be a top-of-the-rotation or near-top starting pitcher in the major leagues. There are concerns regarding how long it might take him to build up to a full season workload given that he probably only moves up to the 120-130 inning range this year. He does still have some things to continue to work on in the minors, which primarily seem to surround his command, but I don't think it's a stretch that he could be useful in the last month of the season should the Dodgers decide to utilize him out of the bullpen.
At some point in the next couple years, we are going to see a rotation headlined by Kershaw and Urias, giving the Dodgers an extremely productive top two starters. I honestly think that Urias is in the majors to stay sometime during the 2016 season, and can provide elite ratios and solid strikeouts even if he only throws 150-160 innings in his first couple seasons. By 2018, I can see a 200 inning pitcher providing those same elite ratios, and right around 200 strikeouts per season to go with it.