Jul 14, 2013; Flushing , NY, USA; World pitcher Rafael De Paula throws a pitch during the 2013 All Star Futures Game at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
If people weren’t scrutinizing the Yankees’ player development machine before the mostly middling 2013 campaign, you can be sure that they will now. With the success of young players all over the game, fans are growing more restless waiting for the next true impact player to graduate from the minor leagues and into the Bronx spotlight. While many of the Yankees’ top 10 prospects either suffered an injury or a developmental setback, De Paula was a bright spot.
A native of the Dominican Republic, De Paula was suspended before his career even began when MLB found problems with his documentation. After serving the suspension, the 6-foot-2 right-hander signed with the Yankees for $500k in November of 2010, only to wait 16 months to have his visa approved. Obviously that’s a big chunk of developmental time missed right out of the gate, so it was nice to see him do well last year pitching for the Yankees’ Dominican Summer League squad, posting 85 strikeouts in only 61.2 innings.
His long awaited U.S. debut came on April 6th with the Low-A Charleston RiverDogs. De Paula struck out 11 in 4.1 innings and immediately put himself on the Yankees’ organizational map. It would be the first of four double-digit strikeout games for De Paula with Charleston, as he went on to post a 13.4 K/9 ratio, which put him just ahead of top South Atlantic League prospects Tyler Glasnow and C.J. Edwards.
Overall, De Paula’s stint in Charleston was an overwhelming success. He posted a 2.94 ERA in 13 starts while striking out 96 and walking 23. His performance earned him a spot on Baseball America’s Midseason Top 50 prospects (No. 45) and he represented the Yankees in this year’s Futures Game while pitching for the World team.
After getting the bump to High-A Tampa on June 23rd, De Paula once again impressed in his debut, tossing five innings of scoreless ball while striking out six. Things wouldn’t go as smoothly after that, however, as he sputtered to end the season, posting a 6.06 ERA in his time with Tampa while walking 30 batters in only 49 innings.
While the end to De Paula’s season certainly isn’t what fans would have envisioned after his excellent start, the 22-year-old showed plenty in his U.S. debut. Scouting reports have clocked his fastball up to 99 MPH and show De Paula mostly sitting in the mid-90s. The changeup remains a work in progress by many accounts but his curveball continues to be projected as an above average offering.
As with many pitching prospects with control struggles, some have pegged De Paula to move to the bullpen in the future. While that’s always a possibility, the Yankees will continue to develop him as a starter. I would look for De Paula to start 2014 back at Tampa, with a midseason promotion to Double-A Trenton a possibility.
Many would agree that De Paula offers the highest ceiling of the current crop of Yankee pitching prospects. Now that he’s done it in affiliated competition, I expect him to earn recognition as a top 100 overall prospect and top five in the system. Though he missed some crucial development time in the past, De Paula is legitimate ace-type pitcher in my mind if everything falls the right way. That’s always easier said than done, but if De Paula takes another step forward in 2014, you could see him sooner rather than later in the Bronx.