GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Julio Urias got on a mound in front of 13,000 people or so on a brilliant sunny day in Arizona, about to compete against three major league baseball players who are 14, 17 and 10 years older than him.
He took off his cap, held it to his chest with his right hand and rapidly, almost frantically, crossed himself, over and over, with his left.
Then, he got on the mound and pitched the biggest inning of his 17 years on earth. Afterward, the left-hander would say he wasn’t nervous at all.
“Normal,” he said.
He looked normal, though his talent is well beyond that. Urias, the Dodgers’ top-rated pitching prospect, blew away Will Venable on a 93-mph fastball, got Chris Denorfia to hit a weak ground ball to third base and struck out Yonder Alonso on a slider during the Dodgers’ game with the San Diego Padres at Camelback Ranch on Saturday.
A veteran major-league scout, sitting behind home plate, watched Urias’ 14 pitches and typed in his first impressions of the youngest prospect in the game, in a text message. One of the first words he came up with is “Poise.”
“Stuff was good,” the scout added. “He pitches to both sides of the plate, with tail and sink. He has deception with his changeup.”
All of those things will come in handy if -- or, maybe it’s when -- he pitches in the major leagues, but the first description seems the most apt at this point. Poise. He must have plenty of it, to have signed a professional contract the day he turned 16, to have been one of the youngest players in the history of the Midwest League last season and, now, to have crossed this hurdle against players nearly his father’s age.
Urias said his goal is to pitch in the major leagues this season, “or, if not that, Double-A.” If he did somehow reach the majors between now and August -- which seems like a stretch considering he will be starting at Class-A -- he would be just the second Dodgers pitcher to reach the majors before his 18th birthday. Charlie Osgood did it as a 17-year-old in 1944, but never pitched in the majors again.
Here’s one way to put Urias’ age in context. I asked him if his father, Carlos, had told him stories about Dodgers broadcaster Fernando Valenzuela, the greatest Mexican pitcher of all time and Urias said, “My grandfather.”
The Dodgers found Urias, who is from Culiacan, on the same trip to Mexico that landed them Yasiel Puig. Scout Logan White decided to fly to Oaxaca after watching Puig’s workout in Mexico City to take a look at some players from the Mexican league. Urias was 15 years old at the time and White saw him and remembers thinking, “My goodness, he has got a shot to be something special.”
The Dodgers signed him for $450,000, most of which went to the Mexican team, the day he turned 16. Other teams had been scared off by Urias’ droopy left eyelid, the result of a tumor he had removed as a child. Teams worried he couldn’t see out of the eye, which isn’t the case.
Urias said he sees just fine out of both eyes and doesn’t feel the need to get any cosmetic surgery to address the droopy eyelid. He spoke with reporters calmly, looking far more at ease than many prospects six or seven years older often do in such situations. He said that one inning on the mound in an exhibition game convinced him he can one day do this on a regular basis.
“I feel prepared,” Urias said. “When the opportunity presents itself, I’ll be ready.”