|RHP Gabriel Ynoa's player card from milb.com|
It's easy to get lost in the shuffle if you're a right-handed pitching prospect in the Mets system. However, if your name is Gabriel Ynoa, you shouldn't. Not with what he's currently doing.
Here's what he's doing: Not walking anyone, pitching deep into games, inducing weak contact and missing enough bats to correlate this recent streak to dominance and not just batted ball luck.
The Mets signed Ynoa in 2009 during their international signing period. The Dominican teenager received a Mack's Mets-reported $150,000 signing bonus (a low dollar amount for a top Dominican prospect) and was pitching in the Mets DSL by 2010. Now 22 years of age and at double-A, Ynoa has steadily improved as he has climbed the ranks of the Mets system. One thing you will notice about Ynoa if you look at his stat sheet is his impeccable control:
Gabriel Ynoa BB/9:
2010: 1.0 (DSL)
2011: 0.6 (Rookie- Kingsport/GCL)
2012: 1.2 (low-A: Brooklyn)
2013: 1.1 (A- Savannah)
2014: 1.5 (A and AA: St. Lucie and Binghamton)
2015: 1.76 (AA)
While the walk rate has climbed, his overall career rate of 1.3 is absurdly good. For reference, if he walks batters at that rate for a innings-qualifying amount of time in the major leagues, he would rank 19th in baseball history. The active leader for qualified pitchers is Doug Fister at 1.75.
While Ynoa is a pitch-to-contact arm, he can miss bats. His career strikeout rate of 5.9 K/9 is not going to get him on any leader boards but it has led to a career 4.60 K/BB ratio which is outstanding by any standards.
After his promotion to double-A last year, Gabriel Ynoa struggled against the improved competition and those struggles carried over into 2015. After his start a month ago on June 10th, his ERA sat at 5.72, prompting many in the prospect world to dismiss his early success as dominance over inferior competition instead of a guy with the stuff and skill that would get him to the major leagues. Since then:
6 GS, 45.2 IP, 1.58 ERA, 28 hits, 2 walks, 20 strikeouts for a 10:1 K/BB ratio and a 0.66 WHIP.
You read that correctly above. Ynoa has walked just two batters in his last 45.2 innings pitched and zero in his last 32 innings.
So who is Gabriel Ynoa? What does he throw? Ynoa has been a low-90s guy for years but last year started touching 95 MPH with more regularity. While his fastball is not the high-octane variety you might see from a Noah Syndergaard, Ynoa controls it with near-80 grade command and complements the pitch with a slider and change, both that have been rated "plus" by various scouts. He commands all three pitches well...as you might expect for someone with a career 1.3 walk rate.
Ynoa stands 6'4" and his player card has him listed at 160 pounds. My guess is he has a bit more on his frame at this point but he is still very much a lanky kid. With some added muscle mass, his velocity could take another jump. Despite being 22 and in Double-A already, dare I say he does still have some projection left.
Ynoa is no stranger to prospect pundits, either. Prospect expert Jonathan Mayo opined that he foresees Ynoa making his top-100 list next year unless, of course, he graduates off the list. He continues on in a glowing report of his top five sleeper candidates for 2015, in which he ranks Ynoa first:
(Read more here: http://m.mets.mlb.com/news/article/108852054/jonathan-mayo-mets-pitcher-gabriel-ynoa-no-1-on-list-of-top-five-sleeper-prospects)
Baseball Prospectus included Ynoa as one of their "Prospects on the Rise" and my favorite prospect guru, John Sickels, wrote that "like many young Mets pitchers, he has a solid low-90s heater, a good change-up and throws strikes", adding that he could end up as a #4 starter.
So, what is the hesitation with Ynoa? Well, simply put, he is not a lights-out pitcher. He doesn't strike out a ton of batters, he has gotten knocked around twice in double-A and while he is young, throws hard and has solid secondary pitches, he goes about his business without the flash that you see from other prospects in the system and around baseball.
None of that means he is not currently nor will end up being a good pitcher. While there are warning signs that his numbers will continue to get worse as he climbs the minor leagues and faces tougher hitting, his impeccable control should give him a solid chance of being a major league regular at some point in his career. The concern I have is that I have seen other control pitchers with gaudy minor league numbers fail in the big leagues. Take a look at Kevin Slowey's career minor league stats and tell me you wouldn't have been excited about him when he was a prospect in the Twins system. And, unfortunately for Ynoa, Slowey's stats blow his out of the water. Slowey struck out more batters and had a better balanced ascension through the system.
Control pitchers are tough to peg. On the one hand you see an athlete that has such good body and arm control that he can put his pitches anywhere he wants to. You think that someone with even average stuff (which I'd think Ynoa's is above average already...at least his fastball and change) could succeed as a starter but you also worry about hittability when it comes to facing the best bats in the world.
For now, pay attention to what he's doing. On July 2nd, Ynoa had the best start of any Met prospect at any level. He threw a 9-inning shutout in which he allowed just one hit. No walks. Six strikeouts. The only other base runner reached on Gavin Cecchini's 400th error of the season.
That shutout is part of a four start streak in which he has averaged 8 IP/start, no walks and only five hits. That's insane. No matter how you cut it, that's insane. This sort of streak should get fans even mildly interested in Mets prospects to start following him. No, control pitchers do not always pan out but sometimes they really do. Having a pitcher like Ynoa in the system is great even if he is blocked by superior arms at the big league level and never sees time in Flushing.
For now, admire what this young man is doing.