Nearly two months into the 2016 season, the break-even Los Angeles Dodgers have elicited shrugs with their 25-23 record, but they've also inspired excitement over the dawn of a new era.
Clayton Kershaw has been worth the price of admission every fifth day, and now it looks like he will be getting more help.
When top prospect Julio Urias makes his major league debut Friday against the Mets, it will be just one more in a string of impressive young players who are starting to make the Dodgers' future look bright.
Urias has not only posted a 4-1 record with a 1.10 ERA at Triple-A Oklahoma City, he will also head to New York having thrown 27 consecutive scoreless innings in the Pacific Coast League.
How long he stays with the Dodgers remains to be seen. Urias has never pitched more than 87 2/3 innings in a season while in the minor leagues, where he began playing in 2013. He has already logged 41 innings at Triple-A this season.
Getting Urias to 150 innings this season could be pushing it. So what will the club do if the young lefty shows that he is ready for full-time life in the big leagues?
There has already been some conjecture about turning Urias into a reliever later in the season. He could be the answer to some of the bullpen’s consistency issues, and that move might help ease him into a higher innings count for next season.
Asked earlier this month about how Urias’ innings will be kept in check and whether he might be turned into a reliever, Dodgers director of player development Gabe Kapler said that no firm decision has yet been made.
“Anything is possible,” Kapler said. “There are so many variables and, therefore, roles are difficult to predict. Julio's job is to be flexible and athletic so that he's ready for any opportunity that presents itself.”
Projecting out his season, if the Dodgers keep Urias’ outings to the six-inning range, he can still make 10 starts before reaching 100 innings. That could take him to the beginning of August. At that point, he could be turned into a reliever for the final two months.
Another young Dodgers pitcher who has shown huge upside is Ross Stripling. The right-hander was recently sent back to Oklahoma City, but he too could be called back to bolster the bullpen. Stripling’s innings are also being monitored since he is just two years removed from Tommy John surgery.
And yet a third promising young pitcher is Jose De Leon, a 24th-round pick in 2013 who has yet to see time in the major leagues. The right-hander posted a combined 2.99 ERA at the Single-A and Double-A levels last season. This year has been a bit of a challenge, though, as he dealt with an early ankle injury and now is getting through shoulder soreness.
But the youth movement is not confined to the pitching department. Dodgers starting shortstop Corey Seager has looked comfortable in his first full major league season, proving to be adept both on defense and at the plate.
Seager was batting .263 through 47 games, but he carried a .452 slugging percentage -- third best on the club -- into Thursday’s off day. The only two with better slugging percentages were youngsters who have also been proving themselves.
Joc Pederson has not been hitting home runs at the impressive rate he was last season, but he still leads the team with eight of them. He also leads the club with 24 RBIs, while his .512 slugging percentage is second on the club.
Slugging percentage leader Trayce Thompson (.544) has proven to be an impressive young find after he was acquired from the Chicago White Sox in a three-team deal that also included the Cincinnati Reds this past offseason.
Thompson, who probably only made the roster because Andre Ethier started the season on the disabled list, has forced his way into more playing time of late by taking advantage of early opportunities. Used more against left-handed pitching earlier in the season, Thompson has now started every day for a week straight regardless of the opposing pitcher.
Though he was known more for his defense before the season started, Thompson still has yet to show his full ability with the glove. But he has grown with the bat, taking a .282 batting average into the upcoming road trip, plus seven home runs, which is tied with Seager for second most on the team.
While the Dodgers did not seem to be as aggressive in offseason player acquisitions as they had in previous winters, the method to their madness could have been making sure spots were available for their top young players to fill.
A playoff run now could depend on the continued consistency of the amazing Kershaw, combined with the play from the youngsters and production from veterans like Adrian Gonzalez, Justin Turner, Yasmani Grandal and Howie Kendrick, who all seem to be progressing after slow starts.