Five bullpen mounds separated Julio Urias and Jose De Leon as they took aim Tuesday. The two young pitchers are expected to begin the season in the minors, but Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts said he enjoyed the opportunity to watch the two potential future rotation frontliners.
"For young players, it's just a good thing to be around major league players, to learn and see how they go about things," Roberts said. "A lot of times, young players get by on talent alone. But the challenge is to really be a student of the game and learn why you have success and why guys don't have success. The sky's the limit for both those guys."
Urias, a 19-year-old left-hander from Mexico, is ranked by Baseball America as the No. 4 prospect in the game. De Leon, a 23-year-old right-hander from Puerto Rico, is No. 23. They are slated to begin the season with triple-A Oklahoma City.
A.J. Ellis caught Urias earlier this spring and noticed the improved sharpness of his pitches as compared to last year. Roberts said others have seen evidence of Urias' growing maturity.
"In talking to the people that were here in years prior, he's got a different look in his eye," Roberts said. "He's got that confidence, where he's no longer this young kid with the blessed arm. Right now, he feels like at the major league level, there's a real opportunity this year to make an impact. And that's a good thing."
Trying to catch on
The catching situation for the Dodgers appears to be set, with Yasmani Grandal and Ellis expected to split time. But Roberts continues to talk up Austin Barnes, who will take ground balls in the infield to expand his resume.
"You can't ignore Austin Barnes," Roberts said. "You've got to like the bat and the athleticism, the versatility he creates."
Barnes, 26, hit .315 with nine home runs and 17 doubles in 81 games for Oklahoma City in 2015. He hit .207 during a 20-game cameo with the Dodgers.
Hyun-Jin Ryu threw a 30-pitch bullpen Monday and reported "normal soreness" a day later, Roberts said. Ryu is recovering from shoulder surgery that cost him all of 2015. Ryu threw only fastballs. Roberts and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt have discussed when to incorporate offspeed pitches into Ryu's workouts, but have not decided upon a date. "As it stands now, we're thinking the priority is just upping the volume," Roberts said. ... For Kenta Maeda, what's the biggest difference between spring training in Japan and his new home? "In Japan," he said through an interpreter after a bullpen session Tuesday, "we run more and we definitely take more ground balls." Does he enjoy the new schedule? "Yes," he said in English. Maeda threw with Ellis behind the plate Tuesday. Grandal caught him Monday. The Dodgers want Maeda to establish a rapport with both men. "Both Ellis and Grandal have been really proactive in asking me my preferences," he said. "So I feel like I can have a good relationship with them."