When Ross Stripling made the Dodgers’ opening day roster having never pitched an inning at the big league level, the move was widely scrutinized. While Stripling was once regarded a top-10 prospect in the Dodgers’ farm system, he missed all of the 2014 season and much of 2015 recovering from Tommy John surgery. With a need for a back-of-the-rotation starter to start the season, the more obvious choice would have seemed to be Zach Lee, whom (while still being an ongoing project after receiving the largest first round draft signing bonus in history in 2010 but whom has subsequently plateaued over the past 3 seasons) has at least had a taste of the bright lights of Chavez Ravine.
Of course management looked like geniuses when all Ross did was take a no-hitter into the 8th inning (against the archival Giants, no less), making a bid to become just the second pitcher (and first since Bumpus Jones in 1892 — gotta love those old school baseball names) in history to debut with a no-hitter. They were then questioned but ultimately praised for protecting Stripling’s fragile and valuable arm when Dave Roberts pulled Stripling after his 100th pitch, thereby denying him the opportunity.
With such fanfare regarding rookie Stripling, one would think the first name thought of in considering who might be called up in September (or sooner) to bolster the playoff pitching staff would be a foregone conclusion. It’s two more familiar but even younger names, however, that have pushed the issue of late, and any die-hard Dodgers fan has already heard plenty about these two…
1) JULIO URIAS (LHP)
Urias, whom Dodgers scouts were lucky enough to sign for the bargain price of $1.25MM as a 16-year-old out of Mexico after other scouts wrote him off due to a largely cosmetic flaw in his left eye that was wrongly thought to impede his vision, is currently ranked the #2 prospect in all of the minor leagues at the young age of 19. While he initially struggled after being promoted to AAA Oklahoma City in 2015, Urias has recently regained his confidence and yesterday pitched 6 no-hit innings over 77 pitches before being lifted as per his prescribed usage limitations. He currently carries a 1.88 ERA and has only issued three walks against his 29 strikeouts over 24 innings pitched.
Dodgers’ general manager Andrew Friedman has already hinted that we’re likely to see Urias in Los Angeles this year. When asked for specifics regarding Urias’ workload, Friedman answered only vaguely that they hope to “creatively build that up while putting him in the best position to win us games.” It can be safely assumed that “us” is not inclusive of AAA Oklahoma City down the stretch in 2016.
Urias has continued to improve each of his pitches, particularly his breaking pitches, and has always showed precocious poise on the mound, though his first taste of frustration last season brought out some emotions he has worked to successfully control thus far in 2016.
2) JOSE DE LEON (RHP)
After delaying his AAA season debut a month — signaling again the Dodgers’ interest in managing the workload asked of their prized young arms and an interest in availability late in the season — Jose De Leon struck out the side in his very first inning pitched and went on to strike out six more over 5 scoreless innings Tuesday. Though De Leon did demonstrate some command issues, working deep into many counts, his stuff was strong enough to avoid getting into any real trouble. His changeup has emerged as his out pitch and he has shown maturity in his ability to adjust in later innings.
De Leon edged out Urias as the more big-league-ready prospect last season, largely due to his 4 years advantage in experience (De Leon is 23). Both pitchers are looking to be ever closer to their eventual call-up to The Show, however, and while the Dodgers’ rotation appears solid front to back at the moment, arms are always valuable and potentially needed on short notice. It is hard to imagine that either Urias or De Leon will miss the opportunity to be announced on TV by Vin Scully in this, his last season — something they’re both as anxious to hear as the True Blue faithful.
Gerry Schwartzmeyer is a featured author at Around the Horn Talk, an official affiliate of MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @pgeradactyl.