Rafael De Paula: A True Coming of Age Story
When I released my Updated Top 500 Dynasty League Ranks last week, there were a few players with noticeable jumps, including a bunch of new players on the list. Of those Top 500 newbies, the prospect with the highest debut was Yankees RHP Rafael De Paula at #359. In fact, he was 35 spots higher than the next best debut, potential future teammate, Jose Ramirez. This may seem like a rather large jump for a prospect after just one quarter of the season, but then again, there aren’t too many other prospects like Rafael De Paula.
De Paula has been a name that’s been well known among those who cover international prospects for almost five years now. In the summer of 2008, then known as 16-year old Rafael De Paula Figueroa, he did not show enough in workouts to get a contract to his liking. However, when his velocity shot up from the high-80’s to the mid-90’s by early 2009, teams came knocking in droves. Yet still, no contract. In May 2009, it was reported by Baseball America, that the 17-year old Figueroa had been suspended for one year by Major League Baseball for providing a false identity. He re-emerged in 2010 as the now 19-year old Jose Rafael De Paula, but with the same electric fastball that drew scouts to him the prior year.
In November of 2010, De Paula signed his contract with the Yankees for a bonus of $500,000–an extremely high number for a nearly 20-year old pitcher from the Dominican Republic. However, the contract was contingent on him receiving his visa, and instead of being able to come stateside for the 2011 season, his visa issues extended for over a year, as they were complicated by his previous false identity. It ended up taking until March of 2012 to get his visa approved by the U.S. Consolate, with his contact being finalized the following week. The Yankees played it cautiously with De Paula, who had been working out at their facility for a long time, but had not played in any sanctioned games, and they assigned him to the Dominican Summer League. Now, the DSL is a league way below where a 21-year old legitimate prospect should be assigned, but the intention was just for him to get his feet wet again.
From his DSL debut on, De Paula has been taking out all of the frustrations from his long road to signing a professional contract out on opposing hitters. In 2012, he threw 61 2/3 innings in the DSL, with a 1.46 ERA, 0.86 WHIP and 85-18 K/BB rate. But that type of domination surprised no one, and it served only to make scouts and baseball folks more excited to see what he would do in his stateside debut in 2013.
While he is still old for the level, De Paula made his U.S. debut for Low-A Charleston in the South Atlantic League on April 6th and hasn’t looked back since. Through his most recent start on Thursday, De Paula is 4-2 with a 2.75 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and a ridiculous 69 K’s in 39 1/3 innings. Yes, that’s nearly 16 strikeouts per nine. And the reports are backing all of this up. It all starts with the fastball, and De Paula has that in spades–sitting in the low to mid-90’s with sharp life and ticking it up when he needs to. He complements that with a potential plus pitch in his curveball, and a change-up that is lagging behind the curve on the developmental spectrum, but still boasts a similar level of upside.
At some point in the near future, De Paula is going to get a more challenging assignment–the only question is whether it’s going to be to High-A or straight to Double-A (which would not shock me). There are still plenty of things he needs to work on, as his control can come and go at times, due to ongoing work on his mechanics. But with that said, this is a potential #2 starter with high strikeout ability and the potential to be in the major leagues before the end of 2014. This means he needs to be taken seriously in dynasty leagues right now. He’s already a top-100 dynasty prospect, and I would not be surprised if he charges into the top-50 by the end of the year.
So, the next time someone makes a blanket statement about age relative to minor league level, as far as potential goes, remind them about De Paula. Not all 22 year olds dominating at Low-A are created equally or have the same journey to get to that point. Not all 22 year olds dominating at Low-A are Matt Skole. (Sorry Matt!)
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