DePaula Starting To Break Through

DePaula has a 1.27 ERA in his last 5 starts

TAMPA, FL -- Rafael DePaula is one of the better international pitching prospects for the Yankees, and was a rising star in Charleston last season. So far with the Tampa Yankees, however, DePaula is just managing to hit the upswing to a sophomore slump after a slower start to begin the 2014 campaign.

“Obviously last year in Charleston he was lights out, from the time started until he got to Tampa. But it is growing pains,” Tampa pitching coach Danny Borrell said. “You know, it is typical for a power guy that gets in grooves, is really good, and then he struggles a bit.”

Struggle he did. He posted a 6.06 ERA in Tampa last season after his promotion from low-A Charleston. And while he appeared to turn a corner earlier this season, posting a 2.96 ERA in his first five high-A starts, he went to post a 5.95 ERA over his next ten games.

After hitting his rough patch, DePaula adjusted his focus and has since strung together five straight starts allowing two earned runs or less after Wednesday's six-inning, three-hit performance against Palm Beach. It may not be the season he saw for himself, but he is taking the opportunity to better himself in every way he can before he takes the mound.

“It is not something you wait for, that you prepare for,” DePaula said through the help of a translator. “The second half is going a bit south right now, but I am working hard on it. I think I’m getting better.”

Much of the problem is not about DePaula’s capabilities. His pitches are breaking the way they should be, the fastball velocity is steady, and even the slider that he was concerned with at the start of the season can now be thrown for strikes. Manager Al Pedrique believes that the problem is more about the thoughts inside DePaula’s head that are holding him back.

“I think it is the mental approach," Pedrique opined. "He needs to mature and he needs to be able to handle situations, regardless what kind of situation he is in.

"Whether a runner is on, or nobody is on, ahead of the score or behind the score, he needs to mentally stay focused on every pitch. And be able to make the adjustments as the game goes on.”

Remembering his own time coming to America, Pedrique knows that this type of problem can be ironed out with time. While for some it may come quicker, but developing the mental maturity for professional baseball is a process all players go through. Development for DePaula is going to come from a place outside of the simple mechanics of the game.

“Just trying to slow the game down, things start to snowball in the wrong direction. Right now, we are just trying to help him out and try to slow the game down when things are not going the way he wants them to,” Borrell said.

DePaula’s recent success after a string of bad innings comes from a newly gained focus. It is what he notes as the largest difference in his game.

“Mentally right now, going in and not throwing too many pitches for the hitters. I’m trying to control and throw for a strike every time," DePaula said. "Whether it is a fastball, changeup or slider, everything for a strike. Everytime I do that, I have a good resource."

Despite the losses DePaula has seen this summer on the mound, he has made steady improvements over the season. During Spring Training, he saw his slider as the pitch that needed the most work.

Now not only does he throw it for strikes, but he has developed a steady shape and angle that has helped to maintain that pitch over time. He also has made strides in the daily aspects of the game, on and off the field.

“He’s healthy, he wants the ball and he wants to pitch," Pedrique said. "I think keeping the ball down, he is getting better. That is one thing he needs to improve – being able to work down on the knees down the zone with the fastball.

“I think the fact that he is picking up the daily routines, what it takes to be a professional athlete -- I think he is getting better little by little.”

There is still a lot for DePaula to prove before the end of this season, and he already has goals for where he wants to be by the end of his first full season in Tampa. The plan is to be able to improve the duration of his game, and he already feels stronger. Yankee fans have not seen the best of him just yet.

“This kid is only, what 21 or 22 years old? He is a strong kid and I think once he starts maturing and does some growing up, we will see some more good things out of his power,” Pedrique said. “He needs to be consistent with his job, his preparation, the mental part.

“He needs to work very hard in order to get control of the emotions. Once he gets more in control of his emotions I feel 100 percent sure that everything else will get better.”

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