Archive for Rafael DePaula
After nearly two years in visa purgatory, right-hander Rafael DePaula finally made his stateside debut yesterday. He struck out eleven in 4.1 innings with the Low-A Charleston River Dogs, throwing a ton of fastballs, a handful of sliders, and just a few changeups. Forty-nine of this 71 pitches were strikes and there were a ton of swings and misses, like the one you see above. I didn’t count, but it was easily over ten whiffs and probably closer to 20.
Baseball America ranked the 22-year-old DePaula as the Yankees tenth best prospect a few weeks ago, calling him “the biggest X-factor in the system” while saying his “ceiling is as high as any Yankees minor league pitcher.” New York desperately needs some young impact pitching to emerge, so it sure would be nice if DePaula builds off yesterday’s start and climbs the ladder in a hurry. More .GIFs after the jump.
Our season preview series continues this week with the starting rotation, though the format will change just slightly. Since there’s no clear starter/backup/depth lineage when it comes to starting pitchers, we’ll instead look at each type of pitcher — ace, number two, back-end, etc. — at different levels.
The term “ace” gets thrown around far too liberally these days. Technically every team has an ace in the sense that someone has to start Opening Day, but very few pitchers are true, bonafide number one starters. Those are the guys who provide both quality and quantity — they take the ball every five days and pitch deep into the game. Just as importantly, they do it every single year. It’s possible for a pitcher to have an ace-like year in any given season (coughEstebanLoiazacough), but the guys who do it year after year stand out from the pack. Those are the true aces.
CC Sabathia is a true ace. Despite two DL stints — including the first arm injury of his career — the 32-year-old still rattled off his sixth consecutive year of 200+ innings with a sub-3.40 ERA in 2012. The number of other big leaguers who have done that: zero. Raise the bar to a sub-3.60 ERA and it’s still zero. Sabathia was the difference in the ALDS against the Orioles, allowing just three runs in an LDS round record 17.2 innings. That’s an 8.2-inning start in Game One and a complete-game in Game Five. The Yankees and Orioles played five very tight games, but the difference was Sabathia shoving it in the first and last games of the series.
Going into 2013, CC is more of a question mark than he has been at any other point as a Yankee. He had surgery to remove a bone spur from his left elbow in late-October, which slowed his pace in Spring Training ever so slightly. The good news is Sabathia has been throwing with no complications or pain or even unexpected soreness in recent weeks, so he remains on target to start Opening Day. That said, his fastball velocity did drop more than one mile an hour from 2012 to 2013. It’s a concern because of his age and all the mileage on his arm, if nothing else.
Despite the DL stints and reduced fastball, Sabathia was excellent last season — 3.38 ERA and 3.31 FIP — so excellent that his strikeout (8.87 K/9 and 23.7 K%) and walk (1.98 BB/9 and 5.3 BB%) rates were the second best of his career behind his monster 2008 campaign with the Indians and Brewers. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild came to New York with a reputation for increasing strikeout rates and reducing walk rates, and sure enough Sabathia has posted a 8.79 K/9 (23.5 K%) and a 2.16 BB/9 (5.8 BB%) during his two years under Rothschild after managing a 7.59 K/9 (20.6 K%) and 2.71 BB/9 (7.4 BB%) during his first two years in pinstripes. One year is a fluke but two years are a trend, as they say.
The Yankees have internally discussed scaling back Sabathia’s workload going forward in an effort to keep him healthy and just fresher late into the season. That could mean treating him as a 200-inning pitcher rather than a 230-inning pitcher — one fewer inning per start, basically — but that’s much easier said than done. Sabathia is, by his own admission, a rhythm pitcher who is at his best with more work, not less. Finding the balance between lightening the overall workload and remaining super-effective will be difficult.
Either way, Sabathia is a benefit of the doubt guy. I assume he’ll remain a workhorse of the first order and highly effective until he isn’t. The elbow surgery and reduced velocity are red flags, but they have yet to manifest themselves in a meaningful way. I still expect CC to strike out a ton of batters in his 200-something innings while keeping his ERA under 3.50. He’s been doing it nearly a decade now and I’m not going to doubt him. At some point Sabathia will decline, but I don’t expect it to happen just yet.
Knocking on the Door
There are only a handful of minor league prospects who project as future aces — don’t confuse ace stuff with being a projected ace — and the Yankees don’t have any of them, especially not at the Triple-A level. The only pitcher who is slated to open the season in the Triple-A Scranton rotation with ace-caliber stuff is Dellin Betances, who lacks everything else a pitcher needs to be an ace: command, durability, etc. Brian Cashman already acknowledged the club will start the 24-year-old Betances in the Triple-A rotation despite his miserable season a year ago, but this is his final minor league option year and I don’t think the Yankees would hesitate to move the big right-hander into the bullpen if he doesn’t show improvement within the first few weeks of the season.
The Top Prospect
The Bombers have a farm system that is top heavy in position players — the top five prospects on my preseason top 30 list were all position players — especially since their best pitching prospects all seem to be coming off injury. The best combination of ace-caliber stuff and command in the system belongs to 22-year-old Manny Banuelos, who will miss the season due to Tommy John surgery. His command started to waver in 2011 though, maybe due to the elbow problem.
Right-hander Jose Campos lacks a defined breaking ball while right-hander Ty Hensley lacks command in addition to having basically zero professional experience. Righty Bryan Mitchell has nasty stuff, missing bats with a mid-90s fastballs and a knockout curveball, but he lacks command as well. Perhaps the best current ace package in the system belongs to 23-year-old Jose Ramirez, who is organization’s consistently hardest thrower with a swing-and-miss changeup and a promising slider. That said, he’s battled arm injuries and command throughout his five-year career. The Yankees don’t have a minor league pitcher who clear projects as an ace, but Ramirez is probably the closest. He’s a long way from that ceiling, however. A very long way.
The Deep Sleeper
The Yankees were very, very patient when it came to signing soon-to-be 22-year-old Rafael DePaula. They originally agreed to sign him for $500k back in November 2010, but it wasn’t until March 2012 that the right-hander was approved for a visa and the contract became official. Because he wasn’t allowed to play in actual games while waiting for his visa, DePaula lost a lot of crucial development time these last two years. With command of a mid-90s fastball and low-80s curveball, he’s the best bet in the organization to emerge with the “future ace” label over the next 12 months. DePaula figures to start with High-A Tampa this year, but the Yankees could opt to hold him back with Low-A Charleston given the lack of experience.
* * *
Sabathia is one of the game’s ten best pitchers and pretty clearly the second most important Yankee heading into the 2013 season. He’s truly irreplaceable. The Bombers don’t have any clear-cut ace-caliber pitching prospects in the minors — just a collection of guys with good stuff or good command or good health, but not all three. It’s a problem going going forward given the team’s plan to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold in 2014 (and beyond), so they’ll have to get creative to pull it off. Either that or hope for good luck.
Ben Badler at Baseball America posted a list of the 20 best prospects in the Dominican and Venezuelan Summer Leagues today (no subs. req’d), though it’s just an alphabetical listing and not an actual ranking. RHP Rafael DePaula unsurprisingly made the list after his dominant showing this summer, and in the subscriber-only write-up Badler says he “has an electric fastball that sits at 93-96 mph and touches 98-99 (plus he) mixes in a sharp, power curveball that should be an out pitch and shows feel for a changeup.”
The only other Yankees farmhand on the list is SS Abi Avelino, who New York signed for $300k back in 2011. Badler says he “could be an above-average defender at shortstop (because) his actions are clean, his hands and feet work well and he has good body control.” Avelino’s offensive approach is described as “a simple, line-drive swing with good bat path that helps him make plenty of contact … He squares up balls regularly but doesn’t have much power, so his offensive game will be more about getting on base than extra-base hits.” Both Avelino and DePaula should make their stateside debut in 2013, the former with the Rookie GCL Yankees and the latter with Low-A Charleston.
Rafael DePaula | RHP
Hailing from La Victoria, Dominican Republic, the 21-year-old right-hander originally presented himself to teams as Rafael DePaula Figueroa with an April 1st, 1992 birthday in 2008. He didn’t garner much attention as a prospect that summer, but his velocity spiked later in the year and he was in line for a seven-figure bonus. MLB suspended him for one year in January 2009 for problems with his documentation.
Following the suspension, DePaula came forward with a new name (Jose Rafael DePaula) and new date of birth (March 24th, 1991). MLB approved his free agency, and he eventually agreed to a contract worth $500k with the Yankees in November 2010. It took 16 months for the U.S. Consulate to approve his visa. DePaula’s visa was finally approved this past March, and his contract became official when he passed a physical a few days later. In the meantime, he worked out at the team’s complex in the Dominican Republic but could not pitch in official games.
Baseball America published their list of the top ten Yankees prospects today, and the list is free for all. The scouting reports, however, are not. You need a subscription for them. The four names atop the list shouldn’t be a surprise (the order might), but things do get a little wacky after that. Let’s break it down…
- OF Mason Williams
- OF Slade Heathcott
- C Gary Sanchez
- OF Tyler Austin
- RHP Jose Campos
- RHP Brett Marshall
- 2B Angelo Gumbs
- LHP Manny Banuelos
- RHP Ty Hensley
- RHP Rafael DePaula
Two things stand out about the list. First, the Yankees are suddenly very top heavy with position player prospects, particularly outfielders. Outside of Jesus Montero, their recent top tens were mostly dominated by upper level arms. The Yankees are going to need that infusion of young bats and relatively soon, but Heathcott is only position player on the list who I think will open next year at Double-A. Austin has a chance, but it would surprise me a bit.
Secondly, everyone’s hurt. Five of those ten guys missed significant time this season due to injury, and that doesn’t include Hensley’s shoulder “abnormality” or the month Austin missed with a mild concussion. Heathcott (shoulder) obviously came back healthy and Gumbs (elbow) has as well (based on the fact that he’s playing winter ball), plus Williams (shoulder) was just cleared to resume workouts. Banuelos will miss all of next season with Tommy John surgery though, and a club official said Campos (elbow) will “hopefully” be ready for Spring Training in the subscriber-only write-up. That doesn’t sound promising, but what can you do.
The write-ups include scouting grades (on the 20-80 scale) for each team’s top prospect and the grades for Williams are just insane — 60 hit, 60 power, 70 speed, 70 defense, 50 arm. That’s four above-average tools and one average one. Those are future grades and not present — they think he’ll grow into a 60 hitter, not that he is one today — but they still seem a little optimistic, particularly the power. A 60/60 bat is a .290-.300 hitter with 25 or so homers. Add the 70 speed and 70 defense and you’ve got 30+ steals and near Gold Glove defense. That’s a star player, it’s Grady Sizemore in his prime, but again the grades strike me as optimistic based on everything we’ve heard about Williams to this point.
Elsewhere in the write-up they note that Heathcott offers “explosive tools” — yesterday Keith Law said Heathcott has louder tools than Williams, though Mason is more refined — and that while Sanchez doesn’t stack up to Montero offensively, he has a much better chance of sticking behind the plate. Campos was “electric” before getting hurt while Banuelos was still struggling to command his fastball. They call DePaula the biggest x-factor in the system and say his “ceiling is as high as any Yankees minor league pitcher.” He’ll make the big jump to High-A Tampa next year.
With Banuelos essentially out for the season, the only top ten prospect who figures to spend significant time at Triple-A next year will be Marshall. The Yankees will have Adam Warren and maybe a veteran signing or two ahead of him on the call-up depth chart, possibly even Dellin Betances if things break right. The talent gap that has been slowly climbing the ladder in recent years has hit Triple-A, meaning the Bombers will have to make sure they bring in some depth pieces via free agency to shore up potential holes on the big league roster. The team’s top prospects just aren’t in a position to help next year, and maybe not in 2014 as well.
Just a quick reminder, the minor league season starts this Thursday. Here’s some various minor league links to hold you over…
- In this week’s Ask BA, Jim Callis said he would rank Rafael DePaula ahead of Austin Romine and J.R. Murphy on the team’s top prospects list. “His talent is legitimate,” wrote Ben Badler. “The fastball really is touching the high 90s, power curve, good body, good mechanics, he’s just had an extremely atypical developmental path because of the suspension and visa issue … DePaula is 21 and has now stuff.”
- Jose Campos is the first prospect listed on Marc Hulet’s list of five prospects teams will regret having traded this past offseason. “The prospect is still a long way away from reaching his potential but he has the stuff to develop into a No. 1 or 2 starter,” he wrote. “He’s definitely not the type of arm you usually get as a throw-in to a deal.”
- Outfielders DeAngelo Mack and Austin Krum have both been released according to Josh Norris. Mack had some sleeper potential, but it just didn’t work out.
[Campos video via Josh Norris]
Update (6:16pm): Here’s is Ben Badler’s report. He says recent reports still have DePaula running his fastball up into the high-90s. The physical should be a non-issue — he’s been working out at the team’s Dominican complex for the last 14 months or so — and I assume the Yankees will hold him back in Extended Spring Training for a bit before bumping him to Low-A Charleston. DePaula figures to be on a faster track than most international free agent pitchers.
2:33pm: Via Ben-Nicholson Smith, Dominican right-hander Rafael DePaula has finally landed a visa. The soon-to-be 21-year-old was having trouble getting to States because of a suspension stemming from age and identity fraud several years ago. The Yankees agreed to sign him for $500k back in November 2010, though the deal was contingent on him securing a visa. With that taken care of, now all he has to do is pass his physical. DePaula is a significant prospect, arguably top ten in the system, but he lost a big chunk of development time this last year or so. Here’s some video.
The Yankees agreed to sign Rafael DePaula for $500k back in November 2010, but the 20-year-old right-hander is still waiting for his visa to be approved so he can come to the U.S. and finalize his contract. He was one of the top arms on the international market back in the day, but was suspended for a year after lying about his age and his identity. Apparently the government doesn’t like to let people into the country after they do that.
As we wait for DePaula to secure a visa, the always resourceful Andy in Sunny Daytona dug up some quality (and recent!) video of the 6-foot-3 right-hander throwing a bullpen at what appears to be the Yankees’ complex in the Dominican Republic. The video above is all fastballs, a pitch that can touch 97 mph according to reports from back when he agreed to his contract. The video below is primarily low-effort breaking balls from in front of the mound. It’s pretty slurvy, looking like a slider one pitch then a curveball the next. It’s still February though, he’s just getting back into the swing of things like everyone else .
DePaula will turn 21 in March according his official documents, so while he’s still very young, he’s also lost a lot of development time over the last few years between the suspension and visa-related hiatus. He’s not allowed to participate in any games because he’s not officially under contract, so he’s just been working out at the team’s complex for the time being. That’s all well and good, but he’s got to get into games and face actual hitters to make real progress in his development. For now, the Yankees and DePaula can’t do anything but continue to wait.
Just five questions this week, and the answers aren’t even that long. So yeah, pretty straight-forward mailbag. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything, including mailbag questions.
Dan asks: Let’s say Raul Ibanez gives the Yankees a good reason to release him, thus giving Russell Branyan, Bill Hall, etc. a shot of making the team. What would the Yankees have to pay Ibanez?
Assuming it’s a guaranteed big league contract, which is probably is, the Yankees would have to pay Ibanez the full $1.1M no matter when they cut him. If it’s not a guaranteed deal, they could release him by March 19th and only pay him 30 days termination pay (~$191,860), or 45 days termination pay (~$287,790) if they release him between March 20th and Opening Day. If it’s non-guaranteed and they released him after Opening Day, they’re on the hook for the full $1.1M. Like I said, chances are it is a guaranteed contract (Eric Chavez‘s is) and they owe him everything regardless.
Arnold asks: Why do I get the feeling that the Yanks never intended to keep Jesus Montero? Supposedly, they were concerned about keeping the DH slot open for the senior citizens, but now that Montero’s gone, they sign every octogenarian in sight (see Ibanez) to clog up the DH slot. Will the youngsters ever get a chance in this organization?
I can understand why you feel that way, but I don’t necessarily agree with it. I do think the Yankees have been overly cautious promoting youngsters to the big leagues over the last two or three years after being overly aggressive in the past, almost like they’re overcompensation by going from one extreme to the other. It’s not like they gave Montero away though, the only time his name popped up in (legitimate) trade rumors was when there was a bonafide ace (Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee) or a young hurler with that kind of upside (Michael Pineda) on the table.
It’s not easy integrating young players into the ultra-competitive AL East though, especially with this ham-fisted “win the World Series or the season is a failure” mentality embedded in the fanbase. Growing pains and are tough to stomach when you’re trying to win the World Series.
Daniel asks: If this is indeed Mariano Rivera‘s last season, next season the Yankees have Rafael Soriano, David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain, and now David Aardsma as well as various minor leaguers vying for the closer position. None of them are Rivera and no one ever will be, but as far as closer options go, the Yankees wont be in too bad a position will they?
No, I don’t think so. Not only do they have plenty of quality in-house closer candidates, but they also have the means to go out and get an established closer (Ryan Madson? Joakim Soria?) if they want (I’d rather see them exhaust the in-house options first). Replacing Rivera’s production will be hard but not impossible, at least in terms of save percentage and actually recording that 27th out for the wclosing out games for the win. No one will be as utterly dominant and flawless as Mo, of course.
The one thing no one will ever be able to replace is the sense of security Rivera provides. No matter how chaotic the situation or big the game, there is never a sense of unease when Mo’s on the mound. I can’t imagine anyone will ever make us feel that way again. I hope he doesn’t retire after the season, but if he does, the team is well-prepared to replace him. It just won’t be as pretty.
Alec asks: With recent news about Russell Martin’s extension talks and Yadier Molina’s talks of extension with the Cardinals, I hope neither signs so the options are open for the Yankees in 2013. I know you value Miguel Montero a bit better than Martin since he is a better hitter, but what do you think about Yadi? I prefer him over Martin, Montero, and Mike Napoli in the 2013 FA crew. Cash must think otherwise since he is trying to extend Martin. Your take?
I’d rank those four guys: Napoli (moderate gap) Montero (small gap) Molina (small gap) Martin. I do value catcher defense but I also don’t think it’s the most important thing in the world, so the two defense-first guys lag behind the big bats for me. Yadi would be an upgrade over Martin especially if he shows that last year’s offensive spike (.349 wOBA) is a real thing during his peak years, but the big question is money. I have a feeling Molina’s going to get huge bucks only because the Cardinals won’t want to lose him after losing Albert Pujols.
Martin’s not the best catcher in the league, but he’s better than the average catcher offensively and is a strong defender. The Yankees also value makeup, and Russ does come across as a tough dude. I’ve thrown out that three-year, $25-30M deal for Martin with these rumors in recent weeks, and that’s pretty much my limit. Joe Torre ran him into the ground earlier in his career and I worry that a big crash is coming in his early-30′s. Ideally, Martin would mentor Austin Romine for a few years then hand over the reigns. Molina’s a great catcher, but I think I’d rather have Martin at his price than Yadi at his, especially if the Cardinals get desperate.
Mike asks: Where would Rafael DePaula have ranked in your top 30 prospects if he had obtained his visa?
If he’d have gotten the visa this offseason, I probably would have had him in the 20-25 range somewhere, likely behind Nik Turley. If he’d gotten the visa last offseason and spent the entire 2011 season in the farm system throwing real innings, he probably would have ranked even higher barring injury, 11-15 possibly. The kid’s got a fantastic arm, but he’s losing a lot of precious development time.
Via Ben Badler, soon-to-be 21-year-old right-hander Rafael DePaula is still in the Dominican Republic waiting for a visa, which would make his $500k contract with the Yankees become official. The two sides agreed to terms in November of 2010, but DePaula has been stuck in visa limbo because he’d previously lied about his age and identity. He spent last year working out at the team’s academy in the Dominican Republic, and I suspect he’ll do the same this summer if he doesn’t get a visa anytime soon. DePaula has a great arm and could still become one of the team’s better pitching prospects, but he’s lost a lot of development time with all these delays.