Taking the smart approach to Dodgers' phenom Julio Urias

Taking the smart approach to Dodgers' phenom Julio Urias
Dodgers pitching prospect Julio Urias signs a ball for a fan during the team's first pitchers and catchers workout Feb. 20. (John Locher / Associated Press)

Easy now, tiger. I know you're excited and all. Hype does tend to get the masses all slobbery.

Certainly there's been no lack of hype over Dodgers pitching phenom Julio Urias. He's only 18 and is already in the Top 10 of everyone's national prospects list. This for a kid who's pitched all of 142 innings in the minors.


Yet people are comparing him to Fernando Valenzuela, Felix Hernandez and Dwight Gooden. That's what you call rarified company. What all had in common besides their dominance is, all were in the majors by the time they were 19.

So what do you do with a budding sensation like this? That's the Dodgers' situation. The choices are 1) continue to bring him along carefully; 2) plan to call him up this season; or 3) trade him now while the interest is high.

Trading him seems unappealing, regardless how little he's proven and uncertain the future is with any 18-year-old prospect. There are no guarantees with a player that young, but he's pitched in parts of two seasons and only heightened lofty expectations. He throws in the mid-90s and has four pitches. Teams tend to want to hang on to prospects like that.

Maybe his command is still coming, and if there are those who think the left-hander could be pitching in the majors this season, the prudent approach still seems the one the Dodgers are headed in.

They understandably have been very careful with Urias, limiting him last season to the number of batters (22) he was allowed to face per start. Last year at Class A Rancho Cucamonga, he threw just 87 2/3 innings, striking out 109 and walking 37, before they closed him down.

General Manager Farhan Zaidi told The Times' Dylan Hernandez they'd only like to see his innings total jump by 20 to 50. Urias said he doesn't expect to pitch more than 120 innings this season. That leaves little chance of a September call-up. Either he's called up by early summer or the cautious approach prevails.

Urias figures to start the season at double-A Tulsa. If he dominates there, maybe a midseason jump to triple-A Oklahoma City. The Dodgers hope there will be no need to rush his development, but with that fragile rotation the temptation could easily arise.

Valenzuela had thrown 174 innings at the double-A level when called up in 1980. He was a year older but also had thrown in only parts of two minor league seasons.

Urias, like Valenzuela from Mexico, needs to be handled astutely. The Dodgers have to ask themselves at what point are they being overly cautious, while still allowing caution to rule the day.

He's so very young, regardless of his talent and composure, best to err on the side of restraint. Easy does it.

Follow Steve Dilbeck on Twitter @SteveDilbeck