Is a pitcher taking his lumps at the big-league level a developmental hurdle or being put in a position to fail?
I try to catch every starting pitcher's big-league debut or, failing that, one of their first few starts. It's a good way to get familiar with everyone's stuff and approach, and I like seeing how rookies react to the stress and pressure of their first game.
I've done this for about four years now, and I’ve noticed a few patterns. First, almost to a man, these guys are pulsating with adrenaline. Not surprisingly, they tend to overthrow, frequently missing with their offspeed pitches and often sitting a couple miles per hour higher than they normally do. I’ve also found it amusing that umpires will sometimes stop the game after the first pitch so that certain pitchers can keep the ball for a souvenir (Jameson Taillon) but not others (sorry, Adrian Sampson). Finally, particularly if a pitcher speaks English, you’ll get the obligatory interview with his parents. Most of these are run-of-the-mill awkward mid-game interviews, but occasionally you’ll hear a gem; Zack Godley’s parents are hilarious.
And so begins the greatest round of "I feel so, so, so old" we've ever seen.
The Situation: The Dodgers’ thin rotation took at least a brief hit with the announcement that, fresh off a 13-strikeout performance in his last start, Alex Wood would have his turn skipped on Friday on account of ominous “triceps tendinitis.” He’s been bumped to Monday for now, and with Ross Stripling procedurally demoted to Oklahoma City in the wake of The 17-Inning Game the Dodgers have elected to turn the ball over to a teenager for the first time since Fernando Valenzuela in 1980. Urias will make his big-league debut riding a streak of 27 innings since allowing his last earned run.
Background: Signed as part of a package deal by the Dodgers on a scouting trip through Mexico in the summer of 2012, Urias is…unique. There just isn’t much in the way of valuable precedent for what he has managed to accomplish at such tender ages in his career to date. He has rung up five and a half strikeouts for every walk this season at Triple-A while pitching eight (that’s right eight) years younger than his average league-mate. His ERA, WHIP, and batting average-against all pace the circuit.
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A look at the unique problems posed by a unique prospect.
There’s been some chatter recently regarding Dodgers pitching prospect Julio Urias. The conversation is concerned less with his talent (though there are some minor quibbles about that) than with how exactly one is supposed to properly evaluate a pitcher at his stage and in his setting: advanced polish and stuff, but "raw" in his ability to actually play his projected role.
At times, it is easy to fall into the trap of believing a prospect’s path from amateur ball to the big leagues is relatively standard; then we get snapped back to reality where every prospect’s path is wildly different. Enter, Roemon Fields. After first playing JUCO ball and then transferring to NAIA Bethany, where he ran track and played baseball, Fields was working for the Seattle Postal Service when the Blue Jays signed him out of an amateur exhibition series. Fields stands out for his lean body with fast-twitch athleticism, and his explosiveness on the field. An exceptional runner, Fields consistently got down the line in 4.01-4.08 seconds over the weekend, putting pressure on defenders every time the ball was in play, and he showed an ability to easily utilize his speed both on the bases and in center field. Fields is still raw at the plate, but he hung tough during at-bats, fouling off difficult pitches before finding one he could put in play; typically via a solid line drive or ground ball. At nearly 25 years old, Fields has a limited window to impress and reach the big leagues, and while his future likely resides on a major-league bench, if anywhere, he has some potential to develop into a top of the order, slap-hitting burner. While Fields has taken a unique path to Double-A since signing late in 2013, his journey becomes a nice secondary note after seeing him play for several games. – Mark Anderson
Notes on prospects who stood out yesterday, including Dodgers lefty Julio Urias and Diamondbacks first baseman Jonathan Griffin.
Hitter of the Night: Jonathan Griffin, 1B, Diamondbacks (Mobile, AA): 5-6, 4 R, 4 HR.
This space is typically reserved for prospects, and a 25-year-old first baseman who appears to be stalling at Double-A hardly qualifies as one, but I’ll make an exception for what might go down as the individual game of the year. Griffin is a massive human being who exploited low-minors pitching but has had trouble hitting for power in Double-A, Wednesday night notwithstanding.
Pitcher of the Night: Julio Urias, LHP, Dodgers (Rancho Cucamunga, A+): 5 IP, H, 0 R, 0 BB, 5 K.
It’s been a little rougher transitioning to the California League for Urias than it was in the Midwest League last year, but he’s hardly the first pitcher to have that problem. He may, however, be the youngest. Still just 17, Urias’ control has abandoned him at time this season, but this is a good start to get things back on track.
Scouts' takes on Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal, Julio Urias, and other interesting players.
Many of our authors make a habit of speaking to scouts and other talent evaluators in order to bring you the best baseball information available. Not all of the tidbits gleaned from those conversations make it into our articles, but we don't want them to go to waste. Instead, we'll be collecting them in a regular feature called "What Scouts Are Saying," which will be open to participation from the entire BP staff and include quotes about minor leaguers and major leaguers alike.
Notes on prospects who stood out yesterday, including Astros outfielder George Springer and Royals lefty Sean Manaea.
Hitter of the Night: George Springer, OF, Astros (Oklahoma City, AAA): 2-3, R, HR
There’s not much left for me to say about Springer, who is clearly ready for a big-league challenge, but I’m going to continue to include him in the MLU when he does well to point out the absurdity of a system that encourages a team to keep an obviously superior player in the minors while putting an inferior major-league product on the field.
Pitcher of the Night: Sean Manaea, LHP, Royals (Wilmington, A+): 5 IP, 4 H, 0 R, BB, 5 K.
Manaea sat between 90-92 with his fastball on Monday and hit 95, and he missed bats with his slider. He’s still learning to be consistent with his stuff and how to use all of it, but his power arm is one that can’t be taught. (H/t to @CJWittJr for the velos).
The minor leaguers who made a major impression this spring.
LHP Julio Urias (Dodgers)
A 16-year-old pitching in the Midwest League can turn heads, and when that pitcher can pump a fastball in the 91-96 range in each start, backed up by multiple breaking ball looks and a quality changeup, the heads start spinning. I watched two spring starts from the now 17-year-old southpaw, and I came away knowing that this was the most polished young arm I have ever seen.
Reports on Julio Urias, Aaron Sanchez, Gregory Polanco, Hunter Dozier and other prospects it would be irresponsible to ignore.
(3/19) LHP Julio Urias (Dodgers) Okay size; probably closer to 6’1’’ than listed height (5’11’’); strong build; definitely more body than listed weight (160 lbs.); could end up being high maintenance but not a problem at present; in delivery, lifts leg high before brief (straight) extension; soft landing; stays very balanced; everything looks very easy and repeatable; stays over the ball from ¾ slot; creates angle; fastball ranged from 91-95 in three-inning pop; mostly worked 93; command was solid-average to plus; line to the plate veered a little into the LH box; tendency to miss arm-side/up; showed excellent feel for altering movement; was cutting the ball and making it run; fastball is easy plus at present; could play even better with sharper command.
Mookie Betts, Travis d'Arnaud, and Jorge Soler are among those who came off the board between picks 29 and 56.
In the first episode of the BP Mock Expert Draft, we went over the backstory and parameters of this draft, so there’s no need to rehash that here. Plus I know you’re all just going to skip past the intro anyway to see who else got picked and when. Sometimes you just have to give the people what they want.
So, without any further ado, here are the next two rounds (three and four) of the Baseball Prospectus Expert Mock Prospect Draft with analysis from the participants themselves: