The Los Angeles Dodgers made a few interesting international signings last year. Everyone knows about Yasiel Puig by now as he's taken the majors by storm with a blazing .409/.437/.677 start to his career. When he signed in June of 2012, Baseball America called the deal “puzzling” and wondered if the Dodgers knew what they were getting. So far, it looks like they had a pretty good idea.
Last August, the Dodgers signed another international free agent in left-handed pitcher Julio Urias. Compared to Puig's signing, which was a long-term deal worth tens of millions of dollars, Urias' signing flew under the radar. Even entering this season, Urias was left off Baseball America's top-30 list of Dodgers prospects and Baseball Prospectus' top-10 Dodgers prospect list. Urias, signed out of the Mexican League, had no professional experience at that time and I also left him off my preseason top-200 fantasy prospects. He's 16 years old, I must have thought; how good could he be?
Well, after seeing Urias throw the best outing of his young professional career last week in Midland I might have some idea. He dominated from the outset. To say that Urias was impressive would be a gross understatement.
He throws from a high three-quarters delivery and despite his 5-foot-11 frame, he's a strong guy who generates torque with his lower half. Urias' delivery includes a big leg kick and a long stride that loosely reminds me of Jorge De La Rosa. He kicks his leg high and that keeps him from being quick to the plate, but Urias still overpowered the Low-A West Michigan lineup, which consisted of 19-year-old Danry Vasquez and many players over 21.
In the first inning, Urias sat 91-93 mph with his fastball and was spotting it inside and out. However, it was his curveball (78-79 mph) that was even more impressive. Nobody had a chance at squaring this slurvey pitch up, especially left-handed hitters. Judging by the ugly swings he induced with his curveball, everyone had a tough time picking this frisbee of a pitch up.
Urias retired the first nine batters of the game before Vasquez singled to leadoff the fourth inning. Connor Harrell had a double in the fifth. Outside of those two hits, Urias was completely untouchable. His final line included just two hits over six shutout innings along with eight strikeouts (78 pitches, 53 strikes).
After the game, Urias said through an interpreter that he'd been using the same work ethic all season and that the difference in this outing was that he had very good command of his fastball and curveball.
He also said he tried to throw the fastball inside early in counts to get ahead of the hitters and then go to the curveball away to finish them off. Urias also confirmed that he threw just one changeup in the entire game. The changeup clearly isn't something he needs to dominate at this level, but he'll need it as he moves up the minor leagues. Given his age, Urias has plenty of time to refine that pitch.
Since I've heaped a ton of praise Urias' way already, I'll give the last word to his manager.
"For a 16-year-old to dominate a professional baseball game like that...It's unbelievable," Loons manager Razor Shines said. "He's got a bright future, that's all I can tell you."
"What did I see (tonight)? I saw all those zeros he put up," Shines said. "He was commanding both of his pitches to both sides of the plate for strikes. I tip my hat to him."