Dodgers prospect Julio Urias made a statement last spring in his first big league camp, as the then-17-year-old struck out a pair of Padres as part of a scoreless inning.

This year, Urias, now 18, is back in camp with the Dodgers and ready to prove to the organization that despite his age and relative lack of experience, he’s ready for the major leagues. Positive reports on Urias have already started to come in this spring, with veteran A.J. Ellis offering high praise for the teenager after a recent bullpen session.

“I’d like to know how old he really is because there’s no way a kid 18 years old can have that type of composure,” Ellis joked, via Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times. “That’s what was most impressive to me, his tempo, his ability to stay in the moment.”

But even if Urias dazzles this spring as he’s expected to, the Dodgers still are likely to send him to the minor leagues for the start of the season. At the same time, with all eyes on the left-hander this spring, he certainly stands to improve his estimated time of arrival in The Show.

The Dodgers signed Urias in August 2012 and sent him to Low-A Great Lakes in the Midwest League the following year for his professional debut. Though he was the youngest player at a full-season level, Urias, only 16 at the time, posted an outstanding 2.48 ERA with 67 strikeouts in 54.1 innings over 18 starts.

Urias solidified his status as one of the game’s top pitching prospects in 2014, as the precocious left-hander dominated older hitters in the hitter-friendly California League in his age-17 season. After celebrating his 18th birthday on Aug. 12, Urias capped his outstanding campaign by posting a 0.44 ERA with 31 strikeouts over his final 20.1 innings (five starts) for High-A Rancho Cucamonga.

On the season, the southpaw pitched to a 2.36 ERA and 1.11 WHIP with 109 strikeouts in 87.2 innings while also holding opposing hitters to a dismal .194/.292/.290 batting line.

Urias’ stuff and feel for his craft are truly special, and not just in the context of his age. The 5’11”, 160-pound left-hander’s mechanics are smooth and repeatable, allowing him to find a consistent release point from a three-quarters slot. His fastball already sits in the low 90s and bumps 94-95 mph, and he’s adept at manipulating the pitch to generate both sinking and cutting action.

The southpaw’s curveball shows plus potential in the 78-82 mph range, and he has a distinct feel for changing the shape and pace via adding/subtracting. Urias also throws a fading changeup in the low 80s with late fading action, though his feel for the pitch lags behind his other two offerings. 

Urias isn’t your average pitching prospect, and so far, the Dodgers haven’t treated him as such, challenging the teenager with aggressive full-season assignments.

“I’ve never had an 18-year-old that I’ve played with or managed with that kind of polish with four pitches,” said Rancho Cucamonga manager P.J. Forbes via “You watch him throw a bullpen [session], it’s special. You watch him attack hitters during a game, it’s special. There’s really not enough adjectives to explain or talk about his development this year because it just seems to continue to grow.”

While Urias’ stuff seems to be about ready for the major leagues, the Dodgers are understandably hesitant to cut him loose at the highest level with only 142 career innings under his belt (not including spring training or any minor league playoff appearances). Plus, the southpaw hasn’t been stretched out at this point in his promising career, as he’s been allowed to complete five innings just twice in 43 career games (38 starts).

“I think, with him, it’s just going to be using his total innings last year and building off that,” general manager Farhan Zaidi said about Urias’ potential workload, via Hernandez. “In general, you don’t want a guy’s innings to jump by more than 20 or 50 innings or so.”

By that logic, Urias will probably log around 100-120 innings next season, as the organization is expected to finally loosen its leash on the enormously talented left-hander.

“I’ll categorize it like this: They are going to take the gloves off a little bit. I don’t know the exact number of innings, the number of pitches, but it sounds like he’s growing up,” manager Don Mattingly said, via Eric Stephen of True Blue LA. “That’s part of the player-development side.”

Urias is a safe bet to debut in the major leagues as a teenager, but he’s far from a lock to do so in 2015, according to Mattingly:

“Probably not. I don’t think that is part of the plan. With our guys you want to give them the best chance to develop, so that when they do come it’s not back-and-forth. Everybody really has high hopes for him, and nobody wants to see him rushed.”

It would seem that the 2016 season is a realistic estimated time of arrival for Urias, though that obviously will depend on his performance during spring training and the regular season, which he’s likely to begin in Double-A.

That Urias is so off-the-charts advanced makes it easy to overlook his age and limited workload as a professional, but we’re still talking about an 18-year-old kid with less than 150 career minor league innings to his name.

Even if Urias were to reach the major leagues in 2015, it still might take him several years to settle in against the game’s top hitters and work his way to the front end of the team’s starting rotation.

However, given Urias’ overwhelming successes in previous years and the rave reviews he’s received from players, coaches and front-office personnel alike, it’s clear that no matter what happens this year, the young left-hander has an increasingly bright future ahead of him.

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