No. 1 lefty prospect said he would skip World Baseball Classic qualifier if given a shot at Majors
By Jesse Sanchez
PHOENIX -- There could come a time this spring when Dodgers pitching prospect Julio Urias will have to make a big decision: suit up for Mexico in the World Baseball Classic qualifying round next month in Mexicali, Mexico, or stay in Arizona and pitch for a spot with Los Angeles.
The 19-year-old pitcher already knows what he'll do if the situation arises.
"My first choice would be to be here with the Dodgers and see if there is an opportunity for me here," Urias said in Spanish. "I prefer to be with the Dodgers. But at the same time, I would enjoy being with the Mexican team."
Urias, named MLBPipeline.com's top left-handed pitching prospect for 2016, went 3-4 with a 2.77 ERA in 68 1/3 innings with Double-A Tulsa last season, striking out 74 and walking only 15. He had two forgettable starts at Triple-A Oklahoma City and still managed to throw a combined 80 1/3 innings last season.
Urias threw a bullpen session Tuesday at Camelback Ranch.
"In talking to people that were here in years prior, he's got a different look in his eye," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "He's got that confidence where he's no longer this young kid with a blessed arm. Right now, he feels that at the Major League level, there is a real opportunity to make an impact, and that's a good thing."
Contributing to Urias' comfort level this spring is a friendship/friendly rivalry with fellow pitcher Jose De Leon. De Leon, who is ranked No. 5 among right-handed pitching prospects, has a locker next to Urias and the pair have been inseparable this spring.
"He's one in a million as a pitcher and as a person," De Leon, 23, said in Spanish. "He does things and the way he carries himself is something to admire. I'm four years older than him and I admire some of the things he does."
The Dodgers drafted De Leon in the 24th round of the 2013 Draft out of Southern University, and he's quickly made a name for himself. He made 23 starts between Tulsa and Class A Advanced Rancho Cucamonga last year, posting a 2.99 ERA and nearly 13 strikeouts per nine innings.
"I want to be healthy and make it to the big leagues," De Leon said. "But you can't control that. I can focus on myself and being healthy. Everything feels great so far."
Where De Leon and Urias start the season is to be determined, but Roberts described them both as "tracking" to the big leagues. The manager went on to praise Urias' fastball command and secondary pitches, while also noting, "It's about being consistent with work as he grows and matures."
"When he arrives, we want him and everyone to feel good that he's ready to really take off," Roberts said.
As for Urias, he's concentrating on winning a job in the big leagues. He thinks about the World Baseball Classic only when he's asked. The Czech Republic, Germany and Nicaragua will also compete in Mexico's qualifying group.
"I've heard I appeared on a list, but nobody has said anything to me," Urias said. "Adrian [Gonzalez] is here and his brother is the manager, so I don't know what my status is there. I would love to do it, but it's also up to Mexico to choose me."
Jesse Sanchez is a national reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.