High expectations only make Urias work harder

Dodgers southpaw named the top lefty pitching prospect in baseball

January 21st, 2016

LOS ANGELES -- The acquisitions of veteran starting pitchers Scott Kazmir and Kenta Maeda were clear signs from Dodgers management that Julio Urias mania will be contained a little longer.

But MLBPipeline.com named Urias the best left-handed pitching prospect in the game on Wednesday, so there's only so long the Dodgers can keep the 19-year-old Mexican down on the farm.

The Dodgers know what they have in Urias, which is why they rejected the kind of Deadline trade last summer that might have brought Cole Hamels to Los Angeles for a better shot at the World Series. They also recently sent Urias to MLB's Rookie Career Development camp in New York, where clubs send their can't-miss prospects for a mini-camp on how to deal with high expectations.

Not that Urias hasn't been dealing with those all along.

"The truth is, I'm proud that they've given me that high praise," Urias said in New York. "It gives me strength to keep working, work harder and achieve the goal I have in my mind."

If Urias is frustrated by the collection of veterans blocking his path to the Dodgers' starting rotation, he won't say so.

"As I've always said, you just have to do your job," Urias said. "A lot of times you might know that you could have what it takes to be on the big league team, but they're the ones who know what's best. I've always said that the team wants what's best for you and as I said before, I hope this is the year they can give me an opportunity. But if not, I'll have to keep working and above all, have patience."

In 2015, Urias made most of his appearances at Double-A Tulsa, where he went 3-4 with a 2.77 ERA in 13 starts. In two late-season starts at Triple-A Oklahoma City (where he is expected to begin the 2016 season), he allowed nine runs and six walks in only 4 1/3 innings.

He also had a two-month in-season break to have cosmetic surgery on his left eye, which was disfigured by a benign cyst.

"From the start of Spring Training, the team told me that if I wanted to have the operation, it was my decision," Urias said. "So at the beginning of the year, I began at Double-A and the boss visited me. He said, 'You know what? For now the team doesn't have any plans, so I'd recommend that if you want to have the operation, go ahead and we'll give you that time so you can recover and get back to your activities.' So I decided to do so and I was able to get back, thank God."

The time off also provided a timeout for Urias' talented young arm, which the Dodgers have babied since he signed at age 16. While Major League starters are expected to pitch 180 innings or more in a season, Urias has never thrown more than 87 2/3 innings in one season.

Building up the required arm strength for the grueling Major League campaign might be the biggest hurdle ahead for Urias. He's had no trouble clearing the hurdle of playing with, and against, his elders.

"I know I'm the youngest guy in the clubhouse for the most part, but I always try to treat my teammates with respect, so that they in turn treat me with respect," he said. "Since they're older than I am, I try to get along with them and just respect them more than anything else.

"[Playing against older opponents] is the same, really. Thank God I've always had that gift, since I was very young, to play in the Pan American Games and world tournaments with guys that were older than me and play against older players. So I think you could say that I'm used to that."