MLB.com just released their top 100 prospects list and only one Yankee made it. Gary Sanchez at No.47 and Mason Williams at 75 is the best the system could do after the 2013 season, but Jonathan Mayo believes that one Yankee prospect fell just outside of the final list: Rafael De Paula.
Mayo released a list of 15 players who could have made the list if he and Jim Callis had agreed on their rank. He leads the post with a warning, "keep in mind, this should not be regarded as a ranking for 101-115. It's really more of a "guys I like" list." According to him, De Paula "just missed the cut of this year's Top 100, has gotten past all the identity nonsense, missed a ton of bats in 2013. He has the chance to have three average or better pitches and could start moving fast."
Signed out of the Dominican Republic a few years ago, the 22-year-old finally made his American debut this season, taking Low-A by storm. Unfortunately, he wasn't nearly as impressive when he made the jump to High-A Tampa. His trouble adjusting to the different leagues was addressed by Ashley Marshall in a study of the BABIP among the top prospects in baseball.
The right-hander struggled when he earned a promotion from the South Atlantic League, where he was pitching in one of the least hitter-friendly ballparks on the circuit, to the Florida State League. The fact that Tampa's George M. Steinbrenner Field does not easily surrender home runs and that the league as a whole heavily favors hurlers was negated by the jump in competition, something that De Paula struggled with.
Opponents hit almost 100 points higher against him in Tampa. He gave up more home runs in fewer innings than in Charleston and his strikeouts dropped as walks increased. He proved at Class A that he can both command pitches and induce swings and misses. With more experience and a little more luck with the balls that are put in play (Tampa had the worst fielding percentage in the league), De Paula will have every chance to post better numbers in 2014.
The Yankees have to hope that De Paula's troubles are easily reversible if he's given more time to adjust to a higher level of competition. Maybe if they can surround him with better fielders his BABIP will improve and so will his overall numbers, but the drop in strikeouts are concerning. It makes me think that he wasn't fooling many batters anymore and the better players were laying off his borderline stuff.
He might be their best chance at a top of the rotation starter right now, though Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus has previously suggested the Yankees move him to the bullpen and push him quickly through the system, since he will likely end up there eventually anyway. If he can be more Charleston De Paula and less Tampa De Paula in 2014, then he might reach MLB.com's list and possibly cause Parks to rethink his stance.