There's a good amount of subjectivity regarding baseball prospects. With the evaluation of talent being in the eye of the beholder, finding consensus is often difficult. Even Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo of MLBPipeline.com don't always see eye to eye. They discuss their viewpoints regularly in a feature called Pipeline Perspectives. Submit a topic for them to debate.
Without a doubt, Julio Urias is the most precocious prospect in the Minor Leagues.
The Dodgers acquired the left-hander from the Mexican League's Mexico City Red Devils as part of a $1.8 million package deal on Aug. 17, 2012, one day after Urias turned 16. For his pro debut in 2013, they sent him to the low Class A Midwest League, where he was at least two years younger than any other pitcher in the circuit. Because of Urias' youth, Los Angeles limited him to 54 1/3 innings over 18 starts, during which he posted an ERA (2.48) and strikeout rate (11.1 per nine innings) that would have led the MWL had he qualified.
"When I went to watch him pitch in the Midwest League, my hands started sweating," Dodgers farm director De Jon Watson said. "We had Clayton Kershaw in the Midwest League during my first year with the Dodgers, and my hands didn't sweat with him. I've never seen a kid this talented, this young. It's crazy.
"When Urias was in the Midwest League, he could have gone to Double-A if you took his age out of it and just went with his ability and stuff. His ability to read swings and to adjust what hitters are trying to do to him is impressive."
Because Urias was still just 17 for most of the 2014 season, Los Angeles has tried to avoid rushing him too much or piling too many innings on him. He has stayed in the high Class A California League, where he's at least three years younger than the other pitchers, and once again he has been kept on tight inning (82 2/3 over 24 outings) and pitch counts. Urias has continued to dominate, as his ERA (2.50), strikeout rate (11.4) and opponent batting average (.201) all would top the Cal League if he had enough innings to be eligible.
So when Jonathan and I were asked, for the purposes of the latest Pipeline Perspective, which prospect we'd most like to see promoted for a September callup, Urias immediately came to mind. So did Cubs third baseman and Minor League home run leader Kris Bryant, whom Jonathan argues for, but I opted for the greater degree of difficulty.
Of course, the chances that the Dodgers will bring up Urias are roughly equivalent to the odds that the franchise will move back to Brooklyn. The reasons are many: he's barely 18, he's three levels away from the Majors, they don't want to add more stress on his arm, he doesn't have to be protected on the 40-man roster until after the 2016 season. If he did get the call, Urias would be the youngest player in the big leagues since Willie Montanez in 1966 and the youngest pitcher since Larry Dierker in '64.
All that said, Urias could help Los Angeles down the stretch as it tries to nail down the National League West. He's the best left-handed pitching prospect in baseball, and the Dodgers have exactly one reliable southpaw in their bullpen in J.P. Howell. They don't have many other options for help either, with Paco Rodriguez on the disabled list with back problems, Onelki Garcia still not back on the mound after arthroscopic elbow surgery last November and no obvious candidates at Triple-A Albuquerque.
Urias has the stuff to cope with Major League hitters. He can throw his 91-96 mph fastball to either side of the plate with solid life. Urias also can make batters look silly with his big-breaking curveball, and his changeup is a quality third pitch with deception and fade.
Using Urias in a situational role in September could shore up a vulnerability on Los Angeles' roster without taxing him too much physically. Adding another 10 or so innings of work would help the Dodgers' present and wouldn't jeopardize his future. Urias is not wearing down at the end of the Minor League season at all, posting a 1.35 ERA with 58 strikeouts in 40 innings since appearing in the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game.
At 17, Urias was the youngest player ever to appear in the Futures Game. He worked a perfect fifth inning, entering the prospect showcase for the World team right after then-Rancho Cucamonga teammate Corey Seager exited for the U.S. squad. Seager, one of the best offensive prospects in the game was asked if he rued missing the opportunity to hit against Urias.
"No, not at all," Seager said. "I wanted no part of him."
Big league hitters might say the same if Urias got the chance to face them this September. Though that's unlikely to happen, at the rate he's developing, he might push his way to Los Angeles before the end of 2015.