Prospect Stock Watch: Julio Urias, and Some Blue Jays

Dodgers lefty prospect Julio Urias has made 17 starts this season. Julio Urias, as you may have heard, is 17 years old.

Fifteen of his starts came before his birthday less than two weeks ago. The Mexico native spent the majority of the season playing professional baseball — and full-season ball, at that — at the age of 16. Naturally, people are intrigued. Naturally, he’s received a fair bit of hype — especially with a 2.68 ERA, as well as just 16 walks to go with 62 strikeouts in 50.1 innings.

But is that hype justified?

Sort of.

What Urias is doing is nothing short of unbelievable. At the age of 16, he was showing the pitchability that we would expect from a 21- or 22-year-old pitcher. Not from one that may or may not be able to shave. But it’s a little different story if we look at his projection.

The southpaw is listed at 5-11 and 160 pounds. In actuality, you can probably add another 20 pounds on there and be more accurate. This is important because, even at 17, Urias’ body lacks projection. In fact, he’s going to have to be very careful and watch his weight to ensure he doesn’t swing in the direction of Bartolo Colon. Right now, I’d place a No. 3/4 starter ceiling on him. But, a lot can happen in the next few years. He could shoot up five inches. Or even three.

I recently saw the young hurler pitch against the Toronto Blue Jays’ A-ball affiliate, the Lansing Lugnuts. The left-handed pitcher stepped onto the mound in the first inning and set about attacking the hitters. Utilizing a three-quarter arm slot, he showed above-average command and control. Urias also did a nice job of creating deception with his delivery and it helped his 92-93 mph fastball look even quicker.

He received some favourable calls in this game from the home plate umpire (who had a blind spot on the outer half of plate when he set up inside with a left-handed hitter at the plate) but he struck out batters with each of his three offerings: fastball, curveball and changeup. If I had to nitpick, I’d like to see a little more velocity separate between his heater and his changeup — a pitch he threw too hard at times. He utilized his breaking ball, which broke like a curveball at certain times and like a slider at others, to strikeout a left-handed batter, while he went to the fastball and changeup with right-handers up at the plate and two strikes.

Urias threw 6.0 innings on July 3 and hasn’t topped three frames since, as the organization attempts to protect the untapped potential in his left arm. He pitched a trio of innings on Aug. 22 and his command deserted him in the final frame. He lost his release point, which resulted in his only walk of the game (which also came to the No. 9 hitter). Even so, he managed to keep the older competition off the scoreboard.

Urias still has quite a mountain to climb if he’s going to reach the Majors. With his current trajectory, though, it wouldn’t be unfathomable for him to become a big leaguer while still a teenager. That immediately invokes memories of Fernando Valenzuela — a Mexico native and a former long-serving Dodger who debuted in the Majors at 19 in 1980. Valenzuela won 173 games and was just shy of pitching 3,000 innings despite struggling with injuries in the latter half of his 17-year career.

You’d have to be insane to suggest Urias could come close to matching those numbers one day, and we need to temper the enthusiasm surrounding this young player. With that said, what he’s done is worth talking about and he’s certainly poised to appear on a plethora of top prospects lists during the offseason. Including mine.

The Others

With the new draft rules and signing bonus restrictions, the Toronto Blue Jays like to get cute with their drafts. Over the past two seasons, the organization has targeted college seniors (with little to no negotiating abilities) in the third to 10th rounds. Case in point, Mississippi State senior right-hander Kendall Graveman was selected in the eighth round of the 2013 draft and signed for $5,000. The slot for that round was just slightly more than $150,000, allowing the organization the opportunity to allocate the leftover funds elsewhere (although things didn’t exactly go as hoped for the club when the dust settled).

Graveman, 22, faced off against the 17-year-old Urias on Aug. 22. I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw out of the Jays prospect. He showed a smooth, easy delivery and worked quickly. He also, perhaps more importantly, threw strikes. I saw him use three pitches: a fringe-average fastball, an inconsistent breaking ball and a solid changeup. The breaking ball was actually better than advertised and showed a nice 12-to-6 break at times from his three-quarter release point.
He could be a fast mover for the Jays and likely has the ceiling of a No. 4/5 starter or middle reliever.

* * *

Canadian outfielder Dalton Pompey opened the year as one of my personal favorite sleepers. He hasn’t been a runaway success story but his momentum continues to head in the proper direction. He’s a tall but skinny athlete — possessing a projectable body. Speed is perhaps his strongest tool right now — along with his center field defense — and, in this game, he did a nice job of getting out of the batter’s box from the right side and legged out an infield hit.

In his second at-bat, he showed his willingness to work the count. After watching the opposing pitcher walk the hitter ahead of him on four pitches, Pompey, who should hit at the top of a big league batting order, didn’t take the bat off of his shoulder until the young pitcher threw him a strike. He then worked what appeared to be a walk, although a missed call from the umpire ran the count full, instead. He ended up flying out to right field but showed a willingness to take the ball where it was pitched and use the whole field.

* * *

Emilio Guerrero was an older signee out of the Dominican Republic. He inked his first pro contract in 2011 at the age of 18. Now having just turned 21 a few days ago, the shortstop is in full-season ball for the first time after trips through the Dominican Summer League, as well as two rookie leagues: the Gulf Coast League and the Appalachian League.

Guerrero is a tall, lanky player and is listed at 6-4, 190 pounds. I find it hard to believe that he’ll remain at shortstop for much longer. He’s tall for the position and doesn’t have great range, although he’s not a paperweight, either. His actions at shortstop are clunky at times and he lacks fluidity. On one play, he got caught between letting the ball bounce and catching the low line drive on the fly. The hitter was given a single when it squirted through Guerrero, but it really should have been an error. With 33 miscues in 87 games it’s not hard to envision him moving to the hot corner (where he’s played 64 times in his career) in the near future.

At the plate, he showed decent bat speed and a willingness to use the whole field. He went the other way in each of his first two at-bats and recorded a single each time. He also stole a base thanks to an excellent read of the pitcher, and he showed just average speed, thanks perhaps to his long legs.

If he can find a way to keep his long limbs in check, I can see Guerrero — who has a .933 OPS in August — as an offensive-minded utility player at the big league level. He’s an overly aggressive hitter but, if he learns to wait for better pitches to drive, he could tap into his raw power on a more consistent basis.

* * *

I just have a couple quick notes about catcher Santiago Nessy, who actually DH-ed on this day, and is listed as a 20 year old. In this game, his bat seemed slower than ideal and his pitch recognition… showed room for improvement. Urias (the 17 year old) got ahead of the catching prospect with a fastball and then doubled-up on the changeup, to which Nessy swung over. Twice. Based on that look, I’d have a hard time seeing him advance much past Double-A or Triple-A without some significant adjustments.

* * *

Dan Klein, who was actually behind the plate in this game for the Jays, was selected in the 28th round of the 2012 draft. He’s a NP (non-prospect) but he’s filling a need at the lower levels of the minors as a depth player. He gives a nice target to his pitchers and is very still when he receives the ball, but I did have one concern that affects the pitchers he works with in games. Klein, who turns 23 in a couple of days, moved into position to receive the ball extremely early. His quick setup may actually be tipping off pitch locations for the hitters. He almost hops into position at times, which can no doubt be seen, if not felt/heard, by the competition.

Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

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10 years ago

How would you compare Urias to Roberto Osuna who recently had TJ surgery but had been pitching at the same level and is also from Mexico.