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Tuesday, June 18, 2013
How the Dodgers found the youngest prospect in MLB

By Mark Saxon

If not for Yasiel Puig, the Los Angeles Dodgers wouldn't have the most advanced 16-year-old pitcher in the world

Dodgers scouts, led by scouting director Logan White, were in Mexico City last June to watch Puig's workouts when they decided to swing by a showcase of some young Mexican League players in Oaxaca, a two-hour flight south.

Urias
Julio Urias was 15 when Dodgers scouts saw him, and a year later he's pitching in the minor leagues at Class-A Great Lakes.
The Dodgers had money again and they were in a hurry to sign as many international players as they could before new limits went into place on July 2.

White has a 14-year-old son who plays high-level club and travel baseball, so he has a good idea what players that age are capable of. When he witnessed Julio Urias, a 15-year-old left-handed pitcher, touching 92 mph with his fastball, he knew he might be onto something.

"When I saw this kid, I said, 'My goodness, he has really got a chance to be something special,' " White recalls.

He already is. The Dodgers had to wait until Urias turned 16 on Aug. 12 before signing him. They were able to land Urias and three other prospects for $1.8 million. Some teams heard rumors that Urias couldn't see well out of his left eye, which has a saggy appearance due to a tumor he had removed as a child. The Dodgers did enough medical research to know that Urias could see fine out of both eyes.

Because three-quarters of that money goes to their Mexican professional teams, only $450,000 of that counted against the Dodgers' no-luxury-tax limit of $2.9 million.

Urias was so special, the Dodgers decided to start him at low Class-A ball in Great Lakes, Michigan. He's 1-0 with a 3.12 ERA so far in five starts and, oh yeah, he's the youngest player to compete at that level in at least 20 years.

In fact, according to excellent research by the Midwest League Traveler blog, no 17-year old has pitched there since Felix Hernandez in 2003.

Typically, players as young as Urias begin their careers in rookie ball in Arizona or the Dominican summer league.

"It would have been like putting a child prodigy in kindergarten," White said. "At some point, you're not doing a kid service putting them at a level they're way above."

The Dodgers are strictly limiting Urias' innings and most of his starts are held to three innings or less. It's not out of the question he could pitch in the big leagues at 18. If he did, he would be the first player since Alex Rodriguez in 1994 to make his debut before his 19th birthday.

"Bob Feller pitched in the World Series, then went back to high school. There have been guys pitching in the big leagues that young," White said. "But when you really think about it, what's amazing is this kid would be a sophomore in high school."

Urias is from Culiacan, about halfway down the Pacific Coast from the U.S. border, or about 200 miles from where Fernando Valenzuela grew up.

"This is not a typical 16-year-old," Great Lakes manager Razor Shines told the News-Herald of northern Ohio. "When he walks into the clubhouse, he's just one of the guys. When he gets into his uniform and walks on the field, he has that special 'It.' "

Sounds a little bit like Puig and a little bit like Valenzuela. No pressure or anything.