Heading into spring training, every scout, fan, and team pundit wonder what prospects top the list and who has a shot at the bigs. When it comes to pitchers in the Yankees farm system, the conversation usually revolves around Manny Banuelos, Jose Ramirez, and Jose Campos. Way down in High-A ball, however, the Yankees may have their best prospect of them all.
The Yankees signed Rafael De Paula way back in November of 2010 out of the Dominican Republic. After a 16-month investigation involving his identification and age, De Paula finally got to show his stuff for the Yankees Dominican Summer League in 2012. He tore it up, going 8-2 in 14 starts with a 1.46 ERA and an 85/18 K/BB ratio over 61.2 innings. In 2013, De Paula made a strong debut at Single-A Charleston with a 6-2 record over 13 starts while posting a 2.94 ERA and a 96/23 K/BB ratio over 64.1 innings. His promotion to High-A Tampa didn’t go as smoothly, where he went 1-3 posting a 6.06 ERA over 10 starts with a 50/30 K/BB ratio over 49.1 innings. He did well enough to earn a spot in the 2013 Futures Game at Citi Field where he struck out top prospect Byron Buxton in an inning of work.
What makes Rafael De Paula so special that the Yankees covet him so much? Scouts report that he has a powerful build, standing at 6’2″ and weighing in at 212 pounds, with long arms that give him top of the line arm speed. His fastball has a lot of life and tops out around 95 MPH. He is considered a ground ball pitcher with the sink on his fastball, which certainly helps at Yankee Stadium. De Paula has a hard, power curve, which many scouts consider a slurve, that hits between 77-80 MPH and a change-up that bottoms out in the low 80s. De Paula can use all three as his out pitch as he has no fear of throwing them for strikes.
On the downside, many feel he doesn’t complete his motion, which limits his power potential. In Tampa, he posted a high walk rate, but most scouts feel this was from over throwing and not so much his mechanics. His fastball isn’t as consistent as most would like as it’s speed drops off in the 4th or 5th innings. Much of this can be pinpointed to increased work loads and longer seasons. Lastly, with the setback to start his career, De Paula turns 23 in March. Time is running out if the Yankees want him in the bigs during his prime.
Rafael De Paula’s path to the bigs won’t be an easy one. He has some factors on his side, especially with the Yankees having some aging arms at the top of their rotation. He also knows there are a lot of young guns that stand in front of him ready to take the leap. With a full season in the minors, the hope is that by the end of the 2015 season or the start of the 2016 season, the Yankees will have a solid, homegrown addition to their Major League pitching staff.