Dodgers are cautiously optimistic for Julio Urias' debut

One thing that Los Angeles Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman knows for certain is that Friday’s debut of 19-year-old top pitching prospect Julio Urias will be a “great organizational moment.”

Lesser known is how Urias will fare in his outing against the New York Mets at Citi Field.

The Dodgers will purchase Urias' contract, and he'll pitch in the spot that had been occupied by Alex Wood. The left-handed Wood is dealing with triceps soreness and will be pushed back to Monday’s series opener at Chicago against the Cubs.

“[Urias] is a Dodgers signee, developed through our system, and will debut in a Dodgers uniform, and I think that is a really special thing for a lot of different departments and people that are involved,” Friedman said Thursday. “That makes it a fun thing for everybody.”

With shortstop Corey Seager starting the season on the Dodgers’ Opening Day roster, Urias moved to the top spot among all Dodgers prospects at the start of the season. ESPN baseball analyst Keith Law even had the Mexico native as the top minor league prospect in all of baseball.

Urias was signed as an undrafted free agent in August 2012 and has impressed baseball observers ever since. The scout who signed him was none other than Mike Brito, who in the late 1970s unearthed another gem out of Northern Mexico: Fernando Valenzuela.

The comparisons between Urias and Valenzuela are striking. Both will be at Citi Field on Friday, as Valenzuela is a member of the Dodgers' Spanish-speaking broadcast team.

When Urias makes his debut Friday, he will join Valenzuela in arriving at the major leagues at age 19. Not only are both left-handed, both were or are considered undersized, with Valenzuela at 5-foot-11 and Urias at 6-foot. Valenzuela went on to throw a rookie-record 35 consecutive scoreless innings in 1981. Urias will depart from Triple-A Oklahoma City having thrown 27 scoreless innings.

But there are comparisons to be made of another kind. Urias and Clayton Kershaw have plenty in common as well.

Kershaw threw 220⅓ minor league innings before his debut, while Urias had 263⅓. Kershaw’s 2.49 ERA was slightly better than Urias’ 2.63 mark, but Urias had a better WHIP (1.08-1.12) and a better strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.7-3.0). Kershaw did have 11.3 strikeouts per nine innings compared to Urias’ 10.5 mark.

But Friedman would rather give Urias his space and let him develop at his own pace. While the club’s top ranking executive doesn’t know how Urias’ start on Friday will turn out, he knows enough about his young lefty to not fret if it doesn’t happen to be mind-blowing.

“I have been around some really good young pitchers who have immediately hit the ground running,” Friedman said. “I have been around really good young pitchers who have taken some time to feel their way through it.

“We will continue to read and react as long as Julio is up. And when he is back down, do everything we can to continue to put him in the best position to succeed for the long term.”

And there is the possibility that Urias does not go back down at all. He already is at 41 innings pitched on the season, and isn’t expected to go as high as 150, but he could get some starts into July and then be asked to help an inconsistent bullpen the rest of the way. He has never thrown more than 87⅔ innings in one season as a professional.

“I think there are different ways to do it, and my sense is that balancing between rotation and bullpen is what is going to end up being the route we go,” Friedman said. “Obviously at this point there is a lot in the air, but it is paramount to get him further along from an innings standpoint and to push the envelope a little bit with that. It will put him in that much better position going into next year.”