With a much-hyped phenom about to arrive in Los Angeles, hyperbole is sure to ensue. In fact, it’s just a sentence away. When Julio Urias debuts for the Dodgers Friday night, the baseball world will see the best teenage pitcher to reach the Major Leagues since Dwight Gooden. His arrival is both a scary development (long-term) and an encouraging sign (short-term) for the San Francisco Giants.
The comparison to Gooden, who burst onto the MLB scene in 1984, is made in all fairness to Felix Hernandez, who debuted at 19 in 2005, and has gone on to do great things. But Hernandez took a few years to reach stardom, while Urias has a good chance to get there almost immediately—though he isn’t likely to dominate in his first couple MLB seasons the way Gooden did.
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Regardless, seeing a young Dodger southpaw topping the MLB prospect chart and proving he’s ready for the Big Leagues before college players his age are even eligible to be drafted—well, it’s eerily familiar, isn’t it?
Sandy Koufax and Fernando Valenzuela both debuted at 19, while Clayton Kershaw entered the Dodgers rotation at 20. And no, it’s not crazy for the sight of Urias to conjure up thoughts of these legendary Dodgers lefties. But yes, Giants fans, that should make you cringe—or gasp in dismissive denial.
At 16, Urias dominated Single-A. At 17, he was even better in High-A. Last year, as an 18-year-old, he thrived in Double-A, despite his season being interrupted for a couple months when he had a benign tumor removed from his eyelid. And in 41 Triple-A innings this year, at 19 years old, Urias has a 1.10 ERA, while holding opponents to a .176 batting average.
But Urias is still 19, and it’s 2016. So he’s not going to get a chance to strike out 276 batters the way Gooden did as a rookie, or to toss eight shut outs, like Valenzuela did as a rookie in 1981.
He will start some games, but probably spend most of the season in the bullpen. He might not even stay in Los Angeles all season, with a return to Triple-A right after his debut a possibility. However he is used, the Dodgers could very well shut him down before season’s end.
That is because Urias has never pitched more than 87-2/3 innings in a season, so at such a young age, the Dodgers will only allow him to increase his innings incrementally. He also has never thrown more than six innings or 89 pitches in a game. It would be surprising if he throws much more than 120 innings, which is about how many he would have thrown in 2015, had he not missed those two months. He’s already thrown 41 innings at Triple-A, which roughly puts him on pace for 120 innings.
While he might not be huge difference maker this season, the long-term forecast shows Urias being a major headache for the Giants. But the bright side to his promotion is the implication that the Dodgers, who trail the Giants by 4½ games in the National League West standings, are pressing—perhaps even feeling a little desperate.
The promotion is largely due to the Dodgers’ rash of injuries to their starting rotation including the tight triceps that is sidelining the Dodgers’ originally scheduled Friday starter, Alex Wood. It’s also due, in no small part, to Urias’ immense talent.
But, while the Dodgers front office is certainly uber-conscious about doing anything to jeopardize Urias’ future by overusing him now, they wouldn’t be bringing him into the fold at this point if they weren’t feeling some pressure from San Francisco’s scorching May, during which the Giants have gone 18-6. So, for the time being, the Urias promotion helps affirm that the Giants are serious contenders.
But whatever has led to Urias debuting at this juncture, it’s happening. And for the Giants community, there’s no ignoring that the hated rival to the south has another devastating lefty for years to come.