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How teenage phenom Julio Urias became a Dodger

LOS ANGELES -- Working backward on the Julio Urias timeline, the wunderkind's progression has been nothing short of amazing.

At 19, the left-hander made his major league debut with the Los Angeles Dodgers in the pressure cooker that is New York.

At 17, the Mexico native was not only the Dodgers' minor league pitcher of the year, but also the youngest player ever invited to participate in the All-Star Futures Game.

At 16, he made his professional debut in the Dodgers' organization, striking out 67 with only 16 walks in 54 1/3 innings at Single-A Great Lakes.

At 15, Urias was "discovered" at a player showcase in Oxaca, Mexico, where Dodgers scouting director Logan White laid eyes on the young talent and declared, "My goodness, he has really got a chance to be something special.'"

It turns out the Dodgers actually discovered Urias earlier on the timeline.

"Like every ballplayer, your dream is just to get to the big leagues," Urias said through an interpreter this week. "But when I was 14, I talked to Mike Brito and he told me I was going to be a Dodger, so that was just part of my dream."

That would be the same Mike Brito who found Fernando Valenzuela and helped launch the phenomenon known as "Fernandomania" in the early 1980s. Brito has discovered 31 players who have played in the major leagues, and the scout with the title of "supervisor, Mexico," keeps delivering.

"When he showed a lot of potential, I said, ‘This kid, I cannot lose him,'" Brito said. "I told his father, I told him, ‘You're going to be with the Dodgers.'"

It was a bold statement, considering that a lot of what happened next was out of the hands of both Brito and Urias. Brito still had to convince the Dodgers the investment was worth it. White helped that process happen, when he made a side trip off a 2012 scouting trip to see Yasiel Puig work out, and he was immediately dazzled.

Yet, the Dodgers still had to submit a winning bid. Their $1.8 million offer for Urias and three other prospects did the trick.

"When they told me it was the Dodgers, I was pleasantly surprised," Urias said. "A lot of teams were looking at me, but when they told me it was the Dodgers, I was happy and I knew there would be good things to come."

At the time, Urias said he was a Boston Red Sox follower, mostly because he was a huge fan of David Ortiz. He did not know if the Red Sox submitted their own bid since bids and interested teams were not revealed by the Mexican team that held Urias' rights.

But it wasn't like the Dodgers were merely a nice second option. Urias knew all about the Dodgers, too, and about Valenzuela, the pitcher he would soon get compared to.

"Since I was 10, when you start realizing who the players are, my dad and my grandpa would always tell me about them," Urias said. "I always knew how good he was. They helped me realize who Fernando was then."

On the eve of Tuesday's start against the Colorado Rockies, the third of Urias' budding career, the youngster spent time in the dugout with Valenzuela and Orel Hershiser talking baseball as the two accomplished pitchers unearthed old stories for the next generation to hear.

Many have scoffed at the comparisons between Valenzuela and Urias. Clayton Kershaw said recently that unless Urias develops a screwball -- Valenzuela's famed out pitch -- then on-field comparisons are unjust.

Brito, the man who scouted both pitchers before the Dodgers signed them, also cringes when he hears it.

"That's two different types of pitchers," Brito said. "Fernando was here, there [with location], the screwball. [Urias] is all power. The hardest Fernando threw was 90, but Fernando, everything was on the corner. And then the screwball. Fernando knew how to throw that pitch. And then [Urias] has better velocity."

"When he showed a lot of potential, I said, 'This kid, I cannot lose him. I told his father, I told him, 'You're going to be with the Dodgers.'" Mike Brito, on Julio Urias

By modern standards, Urias is by no means a power pitcher. He tops out around 93 mph with his fastball. But as Brito saw when Urias was 14, he still thinks the youngster has more velocity in him. And pitching coach Rick Honeycutt sees Urias maturing physically as well.

"I thought this year, he was in camp, he was starting to fill out and become a man," Honeycutt said. "Just body-wise you see him and he's different. He's always had the right temperament. I think his temperament has always been extremely good."

Except that while the future might hold an even better Urias, it might not be because of added velocity. Midway through last season Urias added a slider to his repertoire. It is not a plus pitch yet, but it could reach that level one day, and it adds one more element for a batter to think about.

"I started working on it, and by the end of the season it started to feel more comfortable," Urias said. "Now in this season I think it's working well."

He will get another chance to mix that slider with his plus pitches -- fastball, changeup and curveball -- in Tuesday's start against the offensive-minded Rockies. Urias struggled in New York against the Mets on May 27, and showed some improvement almost a week later until the Cubs started to break him down.

"We had Clayton at an early age, too," Honeycutt said. "There are just those processes that you have to go through. You can't replicate whatever goes through your mind until you're out there. We all have nerves, we're human, and you just have to go through those situations.

"I know [Urias] is young and inexperienced for this level, but at the same time I know that his abilities play. He has the stuff. Now you have to get over that process of trying to do more than you are capable of. That takes time. That's saying, ‘If I execute these pitches, I get guys out.'"

What kind of pitcher will we be talking about when Urias is 21? There's a good chance he will be among the best pitchers in the game, with a long career still ahead of him.

Information from Mark Saxon's original story on Urias and the Dodgers from 2013 was used in this report.