Rafael De Paula (RHP – New York Yankees- LowA)
Charleston River Dogs vs. Lakewood Blue Claws on May 3rd, 2013 in Lakewood New Jersey
5.0 IP, 3 hits, 0 ER, 7K/4BB
Rafael De Paula arrival to the US is a story that unfortunately is starting to become more and more common – a talented Dominican Pelotero with dozens of questions around his birth certificate. After years of controversy and confusion, including a year suspension by MLB baseball, De Paula made his US debut with the Charleston River Dogs as a 22-year-old on April 6th and promptly struck out 11 batters across 4.1 innings.
I was anxious to see De Paula for myself, so I made the hour and half journey from my house in Northern New Jersey to Lakewood on the Jersey Shore. While New Jersey gets a bum rap for being a state of mobsters named Sopranos or young out of control twenty-somethings, it’s actually a beautiful state that takes you no time to travel from the shore to the mountains. However, it’s a northern state and on a late April or early May evening on the Jersey shore, it can be brutally cold.
While the game time temperature said 52, it felt at least 15 degrees colder and the wind coming off the ocean went right through you. Given it was De Paula’s first visit to the Northeast, there were many Yankees brass at the game as well as dozens of scouts and all of us were dressed in winter gear. One scout asked me to watch his stuff as he went back to his car to fetch his Parka. Do you get it…it was cold!
The reports I had on De Paula was his fastball would sit 92-94 MPH and hit higher but on that cold Friday night, his fastball sat 89-91 MPH and topped out at 92 MPH. I asked a scout sitting next to me whether this was typical and he reiterated the same fastball velocity I had heard. In the first inning, he pounded his fastball on the Blue Claw batters and sprinkled in a couple of nice tight 84 MPH sliders. The second inning was as follows:
- 92 (FB – K), 90 (FB with some tailing action – K), 86 SL, 86 FB, 91 4-seamer, 78 hard curve for the strikeout
- 89 FB ball, 90 two-seamer – K, 91 FB (4-seamer ball – K), 81 change-up in dirt (ball), 91 four-seamer for the strikeout
- 90 FB tailing action (k), 92 four-seamer (overthrew for ball), 91 four-seamer (called strike), 92 four-seamer (deep flyout to right)
Except for the 92 MPH fastball he overthrew and the first change-up he threw, he showed excellent command by hitting the catchers mit on each pitch. The fastball had a lot of life with nice arm-side run. It was an impressive inning with two strikeouts and a deep flyout that was wind-aided.
He started throwing his changeup in the fourth inning as he went through the order for the second time and it was an 81 MPH offering with nice fade and downward action. The arm-speed was excellent and the Blue Claws had no chance with it.
He also started to throw a slurve in the 3rd inning and while it was a good pitch, it was the one pitch he couldn’t consistently throw for strikes. In fact, he walked two and loaded the bases but pitched effectively to get out of the jam. Several vocal scouts and front-office executives wanted to see De Paula rare back and bring his four-seamer when he got into the jam, but he stayed within himself and pounded the zone with his 90 MPH two-seamer.
The delivery and pitching mechanics are good but not great. First, the arm action is mostly clean, although there is some scapular loading. His delivery is balanced with good posture but the momentum to the plate could be better as he stops short on his pitches instead of extending to the plate. But overall, the delivery will work and while he walked four that night, it was more De Paula not having control of some of his pitches. His fastball command was very good and points to workable mechanics.
One thing I’m sure of…Rafael De Paula is too advanced for Low-A. The Blue Claws had no chance and candidly, it doesn’t look like other teams are having any success. De Paula has a gaudy 15.66 K/9 rate, which is tops in the minor leagues by a wide margin (2 K/9) for pitchers who have pitched at least 30 innings. His walk rate is a little high at 4.32 BB/9 but I don’t see anything mechanical that would worry me that he’ll have long-term control problems.
The X-factor for me on Friday was the weather and assuming it knocked his velocity down a couple of miles per hour, Rafael De Paula has top-of-the-rotation potential. I’m assuming the Yankees know this and given his age, it would be wise for the Yankees to promote him to High-A in early June. The true test though will be how his stuff translates to the upper minors and that could happen later this year or early next.
I must admit that the weather chased me away early that evening as I left after the seventh inning stretch as the other player I went to see, Roman Quinn, did not look good at all. Yes, Rafael De Paula was too much for him but the swing looked overall poor – more to follow on this.