Baseball writers have exhausted superlatives in their attempts to describe LHP Julio Urias’s talent and performance. Nineteen-year-old Urias, who pitches for the Triple-A Oklahoma City Dodgers (Dodgers) of the Pacific Coast League, entered the 2016 season as our #5 overall fantasy prospect. Remarkably, he entered the weekend as the PCL’s leader in ERA, WHIP, and batting-average against while also carrying a sixteen-inning scoreless streak. Teenagers are not supposed to make the Triple-A level look so easy. In fact, by the time he turns 20 this coming August Urias likely will have made his Major-League debut. His outings are now must-see TV for all minor-league baseball fans, which is why I tuned in for Saturday night’s home start against the Las Vegas 51s (Mets).
Thanks to Las Vegas starter Rafael Montero, the Urias Show became a legitimate pitchers’ duel.
Urias had it going from the beginning and kept it going all evening. In the first inning he established his slider, recording a pair of swinging strikeouts on the pitch. He also had his plus fastball, though on a few occasions he appeared visibly frustrated when he could not locate it. Still, the young lefthander was dominant. Not until 2B Dilson Herrera led off the 4th inning with a sharp single to left did a Vegas batter even make hard contact. Urias then used a deadly pickoff move to erase Herrera from the basepaths; it was the second time in two innings and fourth time in three games that Urias picked off a baserunner. Urias, in fact, did not allow a runner into scoring position all night. He finished the game with another impressive pitching line (6 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 6 K) and extended his scoreless streak to 22 innings.
Montero, meanwhile, matched Urias pitch-for-pitch. The 25-year-old Vegas righthander fell behind each of the game’s first four batters but rallied to strike out three in the first two innings and never again faced any difficulty. He had his changeup working all night and at times seemed even more in control of the game than Urias. Not until OKC 2B Micah Johnson stole second with two outs in the 6th inning did Montero allow a runner into scoring position. He threw 95 pitches and finished the game with an Urias-like pitching line (6 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 7 K). It was Montero’s second consecutive scoreless outing.
Urias, of course, carries far more long-term fantasy upside than does Montero. LA’s precocious lefthander features multiple plus offerings in his repertoire and has amassed a 10.56 K/9 ratio during a minor-league career in which he always has been one of the youngest players in his league. Were the Dodgers to promote Urias, which they will do, and then insert him into their rotation, which they’re not likely to do, it is quite possible that he would prove to be no worse than their #3 starter behind Clayton Kershaw and Kenta Maeda. Urias looks like a future star. I’m not sure there’s much to add until he arrives at Chavez Ravine later this season.
Although Urias was the headliner, it was Montero’s outing that got me thinking. At 25, and with 56.2 Major-League innings under his belt, Montero no longer qualifies as a prospect. Furthermore, the Mets’ rotation appears set for the foreseeable future. So where does Montero fit in New York’s plans? He’s coming off an injury-plagued season in 2015, and he lacks Urias’s pure stuff, but he does have plus command (2.22 BB/9 in his minor-league career), and it’s not as if he can’t pitch; for three consecutive years he was a Baseball America top-ten organizational prospect. Now he seems to be getting back to full health and rounding into his old form. Were I in charge of a pitching-needy club, which describes more than half the teams in baseball, I at least would get Mets GM Sandy Alderson on the phone and see what he’d ask in return for Montero, who I believe could slide into the back of Major-League rotation today and would have mid-rotation upside going forward.