Scouting Yankees Prospect #17: Rafael DePaula

DePaula has a ton of ceiling, but work to do too

The New York Yankees agreed to sign right-handed pitcher Rafael DePaula out of the Dominican Republic back in November of 2010 but previous identity issues stalled his official signing until March of 2012. He was in the midst of a breakout season in 2013 after dominating the low-A level but struggles upon a promotion to high-A Tampa showed there was more work to be done to tap his huge ceiling.

Vital Statistics:
Name: Rafael DePaula
Position: Pitcher
DOB: March 24, 1991
Height: 6'2"
Weight: 215
Bats: Right
Throws: Right

It was a tale of two seasons for the young fire-baller. He dominated the South Atlantic League to the tune of a 6-2 record, a 2.94 ERA, a .189 opponents' batting average, and 96 strikeouts in just 64 1/3 innings for the Charleston RiverDogs en route to a Futures Game All Star selection.

As great as he was in low-A ball, however, he struggled mightily upon his promotion to the Florida State League, posting a 6.06 ERA, surrendering a .283 opponents' batting average, and walking more batters in less innings.

"Obviously in Charleston I felt like I killed it, I felt really good," he said through the help of a translator. "I threw a lot of strikes and I was able to move up, but once I moved up the [Florida State] league got a little tougher for me.

"They made me throw pitches that I didn't want to [throw] so they hit me a little bit. Overall though it was a pretty good year. I obviously envisioned something good for myself in my first year but it tailed off at the end and it wasn't as good as I had envisioned."

Progressing through the minor leagues is all about making adjustments from level to level and DePaula struggled in that regard once he moved up a level in competition.

"You can't show that you're weak, you've got to not only attack the zone but attack down in the zone and get ahead of hitters right away," he said of the higher level. "My control wasn't there and sometimes my mechanics weren't the same [consistently], that's why I fell behind sometimes."

He quickly learned the importance of fastball location, throwing his secondary pitches for strikes in fastball counts, and more importantly getting ahead in counts so he could set the tempo of at-bats and force hitters into swinging at his pitches, not the other way around.

"A couple of times in Tampa I felt just as good as I did in Charleston, not as good with the strikeouts, but my arm felt strong at times and I felt dominant during those times.

"I obviously need to be consistent with the mechanics, get ahead of hitters, stay aggressive, and keep the ball down."

"Repeat delivery," Tampa pitching coach Jeff Ware concurred. "I think it's pretty simple with him. One, when he's repeating his delivery it makes him get in the zone better, he works ahead more, and he has the two quality secondary pitches that can put hitters away.

"He's learning and realizing what he needs to do to get better to get where he was in Charleston."

Despite the not so great numbers in Tampa last season, DePaula's confidence has not be shaken at all. He went to work on improving his weaknesses this offseason at Instructional League and he knows what he needs to do in 2014 and beyond to once again become the pitcher he was in Charleston early last season.

"Staying back, staying closed with my mechanics, and I'm working on the slider. I need the slider because I need something offspeed to get hitters off of my fastball and you need that in Tampa and the higher levels. It doesn't need a lot of work but I need to stay consistent with it so it can work better.

"Once I do those things I know I can be the same effective pitcher I was [in Charleston], I just have to go out and do that," he concluded.





























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Repertoire. Fastball, Slider, Changeup.

Fastball. DePaula has a plus fastball most days, one which will sit mostly in the 92-95 mph range and top out at 97 mph routinely. He has bumped some 99s on rare occasions and there is some thought that once his mechanical issues are ironed out that his velocity range could tick up even more. More so than his velocity is his quick arm action which helps give his fastball good late life. There are times, however, when he tries to muscle up and it has the opposite desired effect, causing his velocity to dip down in the 91-92 mph range. His fastball command is average right now and could stand some improvement, especially in the lower-half of the strike zone.

Other Pitches. DePaula has two quality secondary pitches with his changeup and slider, both of which show above average or better long-term potential but neither are consistent weapons right now, especially since he doesn't throw them nearly enough. His changeup shows good fade and depth when he throws it right, but mechanically he's still working on using the same fastball arm speed every time. His slider is more of a 'slurve', sitting mostly 82-85 mph. It gets good movement down and away but the command of it within the strike zone isn't consistent yet.

Pitching. Despite getting ready to turn 23 years old, DePaula doesn't really have a defined pitching style yet. He's at his best when he attacks hitters early in counts with well located fastballs down in the zone and can go to his good moving secondary pitches to put hitters away, but he's also shown a propensity to shy away from pitching to contact at times and his command isn't up to snuff yet to overcome getting behind hitters in counts. At his core he's a grip it and rip it power pitcher but even that requires smoother mechanics, more strikes, and a willingness to pitch backwards at times by throwing more secondary pitches so hitters can't sit fastball. He also needs to refine his pickoff move and field his position a bit better as well.

Projection. DePaula has plus arm strength, a killer's instinct on the mound, and two secondary pitches that can be very effective when he uses them right, and all of that gives him the ceiling of either a back-end relief pitcher or a starting pitcher who can reside in the front half of a big league rotation someday. However, there is still a lot of work to be done towards tapping that potential, most notably improving the consistency of his mechanics, better command with all of his pitches, and improved pitch-ability. Whether he can make those adjustments will remain a wait and see proposition for the time being.

ETA. 2016. DePaula should pick up right where he left and begin the 2014 season in high-A Tampa. If he makes the adjustment and pitches like he did in Charleston a year ago he will see ample time in Double-A later in the season.

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