Curtis Granderson may be the first hitter that Julio Urias faces in the big leagues Friday night, and sometime before that moment, Granderson will likely read a scouting report that details all that is good about the left-hander's moneymaker -- a vicious slider.
Urias has long been pegged as a top prospect, a great young pitcher with a great arm. But as spring training began, the Dodgers felt that Urias' primary breaking ball was good but had room for improvement; it was too slurvy, the player development folks believed, and so Urias worked with a different grip, more of a true slider.
Clayton Kershaw once had a similar adjustment early in his career, tinkering with a slider, so that he could augment his fastball and curveball. In a bullpen session in Wrigley Field, he tried the slider for the first time, and as catcher A.J. Ellis later recalled, everything about that first pitch was perfect, from the spin to the placement.
How was that, Kershaw asked in some many words. Just keep doing that, he was told, and now the slider is a crucial weapon for Kershaw, a high-velocity breaking ball that hitters swing over as they anticipate his fastball.
This is what happened with Urias: Right away, he took to the slider, and the slider started working for him, a perfect complement to his fastball, and maybe tonight, he'll throw it to the left-handed hitting Granderson, amid all the hope that he carries with him.
But that hope should be tempered, because Urias' impact for the Dodgers cannot be anything close to the "Fernandomania" of 1981. In Fernando Valenzuela's rookie season of 1981, he led the league in innings in a strike-shortened season, completing 11 of his 25 starts. The next year, he threw 285 innings. Pitchers of that time were horses who pulled until they dropped.
The Dodgers' braintrust of 2016 won't allow anything close to that, in an era in which pitches and innings of prospects are monitored. As Dylan Hernandez writes here, Urias threw 80 1/3 innings last season and the Dodgers probably won’t let him go beyond 115 or so this year. He's already used up more than a third of that allotment this season in Triple-A, where he has a 1.10 ERA in 41 innings.
A realistic expectation for Urias is for a temporary and limited injection of success, as the Dodgers try to wade through their morass of injuries to starting pitchers. He can be a Band-Aid for the rotation for a very brief time, probably no more than 10 starts of five innings, and then it's possible he could transition into a very controlled bullpen role at year's end.
But the more he pitches now, the less likely it is that he'll be used at season's end.
Tonight, his fastball might zip past hitters, and his slider could veer past hitters. None of that will alter the reality that his time in the big leagues will be only be a taste.
This could be the start of something big for Urias.
From Paul Hembekides of ESPN Stats & Information: Urias is the top left-handed pitching prospect in baseball according to Keith Law, and will become the youngest player in MLB. He is described by Law as a pitcher with a "top-of-a-rotation ceiling."
At 19 years, 289 days, Urías will become the youngest Dodgers left-handed pitcher to debut since Sandy Koufax in 1955 (19-176). The other three southpaws on this list combined to win 7 Cy Young Awards:
Urías naturally draws comparisons to Dodgers legend and the team's Spanish color commentator Fernando Valenzuela, whose start to the 1981 season spawned "Fernandomania."
-- Both are from northern Mexico.
-- Both are left-handed pitchers.
-- Both are undersized (Valenzuela -- 5'11", Urias -- 6'0").
-- Both were discovered by Dodgers scout Mike Brito.
-- Both will debut at 19 years old.
In a very similar sample of innings, Urías posted a better WHIP and strikeout-to-walk rate in the minor leagues than Kershaw prior to his MLB debut: