De Jon Watson, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ vice president, player development, was back in Albuquerque this weekend to watch the Isotopes. Prior to Saturday night’s game Watson sat down for an extensive interview about the current Isotopes and the other players coming up through the Dodgers’ farm system.
Three of the Dodgers’ top pitching prospects are probably a year or two away from becoming Isotopes. The trio are currently with Single-A Rancho Cucamonga, each with considerable upside.
Left-hander Julio Urias, who is just 17 years old, recently turned some heads at the All-Star Futures Game in Minnesota. Urias tossed a scoreless inning for the World Team, which lost 3-2 to the American Team.
“It was exciting for him,” Watson said. “I think for us organizationally seeing him go out and pitch against the Padres in spring training and him being poised and being able to keep it all together, it’s another stepping stone for him on his journey where he’s trying to go. He pitched in front of 30,000 at the Futures Game, he was really excited.
“I happened to be in Rancho when he got back from the game and he was smiling from ear to ear and really enjoyed the experience. But he’s really a gifted young pitcher with tremendous upside.”
Urias has gone 1-1 with a 3.25 ERA for Rancho Cucamonga in 18 games (14 starts) this season. He has 61 strikeouts in 55.1 innings as the Dodgers have kept him on a strict pitch count to preserve his young arm.
“This guy, he’s pretty special,” Watson said. “He’s got really good stuff. Knock on wood, he’s been healthy and he keeps taking the baseball and going out there and showing us his skillset.
“It’s four quality pitches — his fastball is anywhere from 92 to 96 or 97 (miles per hour), with command on both sides of the plate. He’s got a changeup that’s above average. He can add/subtract (velocity), even off of his changeup, which is pretty advanced for a 17 year old. He’s got a curveball that tends to blend with his slider at times. He tends to read swings very well.”
While there was some talk after the Futures Game that Urias could be ready for the Majors by next season, Watson cautioned anyone from getting too far ahead of themselves. After all, if Urias were from the United States instead of Mexico, he would not even be draft-eligible yet.
“The key is (remembering) we’re talking about a 17-year-old kid who would be a rising high school senior this year who’s facing players that are anywhere from 21 to 25 years of age in the California League and pitching exceptionally well,” Watson said. “He’s definitely ahead of the curve. Our goal is continue to give him the proper amount of innings. There is no exact number for any of these guys, but just trying to manage the situation, manage the player and yet still keep challenging him with different obstacles to make sure he’s pushing himself to be better.”
Joining Urias in the Quakes’ rotation are right-hander Chris Anderson (6-6, 4.91) and lefty Tom Windle (9-6, 4.61). They were the Dodgers’ top two picks in the 2013 draft.
“They’re both making positive strides,” Watson said. “Windle maybe slightly ahead of Anderson at this time, but they’re both right on time as far as quality, good-looking young starters. Anderson pitches at 94, topping out at 98 as a starter. He has four pitches, again for him it’s really enhancing his ability to use the secondary pitches, the breaking ball, changeup and understanding when to use them.
“The same for Mr. Windle, (a) left-handed starter, 92 to 95 with a changeup that’s almost average now and a plus slider. His curveball is more like a smaller version of his slider for me. He has the weapons to go in there.”
Watson also shared his thoughts on the 2014 draft class, where the Dodgers signed 33 of their 40 picks including the top 18. Look for that story Thursday.