Or 63 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance

July 24, 2012

Unpublished live report from Brooklyn[i]

Okay, I have to get this out of the way. Maybe I’m nuts, but Ynoa looks way too much like a younger Oliver Perez. You be the judge. He has the same low armslot, patchy beard, and high socks, albeit from the opposite side of the mound. Of course, unlike Ollie, Ynoa’s calling card is his infinitesimal walk rate, and he does spot his fastball well. When he was going good the pitch had some zip out of a loose, easy arm action, but he was another guy who didn't always finish his offerings consistently. I also worry that Ynoa’s arm slot and long action lets lefties see the ball for an awfully long time. Slider is kind of a mess, he tries too hard to place it and really slows down his armspeed. The arm action on the change-up is much better and the pitch has some potential, keeping in mind that even a 40 change is usually kryptonite to NYPL hitters. He started to elevate his fastball more as he tired and gave up some hard line drives as a result.

While he had the least impressive performance of the three Brooklyn starters that I saw [Rainy Lara and Luis Mateo being the other two], I would say Ynoa has the best shot at being an MLB starter down the road. (I think all three end up in the pen, I’m usually pretty conservative projecting arms in short season ball.) Ynoa is the youngest of the three and the slider issues are fixable. The fact that he even flashes a good change-up is rare at this level and should help with the platoon issues. His approach on the mound isn’t as advanced as Lara’s and he’s not as overpowering as Mateo, but I think there is some potential here.”

I think there is real value in seeing a prospect year-over-year. That’s not a luxury I have as much nowadays as a national guy. We’re always big game hunting and players bounce in and out of reasonable driving distance. If I was a national guy then, I may have only seen Ynoa by accident–a favorable pitching matchup with Tyler Glasnow, or a scheduled start during a three-game Michael Conforto look. He never made a Mets Top 10 list here at BP. He was never an arm you'd gas up the car for.

But I saw Ynoa six times across four seasons from 2012-2015. You have to be more concerned with the OFP 5/Likely 4 types when you only cover one org. So over the years I watched the change plateau. I watched him fool around with a curve to give hitters a different look when the slider didn't jump. I watched him add 50 pounds past his signing weight, but never really tick up past 91-94, T95. I got annoyed at his refusal to trust his fastball in tight spots. I observed higher-level bats square his fringy stuff more often. And I was once confused for him behind home plate by one of the fanny pack guys who wanted me to sign his Bowman card.[ii]

I had a pretty good feel for Gabriel Ynoa, the prospect.

October 18, 2013

Live Report, Amazin’ Avenue

After the 2012 season I referred to Ynoa as "the Rafael Montero starter kit," and like Montero in 2012, Ynoa had a strong season in Savannah where he showed outstanding control and three potential major-league-quality offerings.”

A simple A-Type proposition: All of these columns are written by a Mets fan.

This will be anathema to some, but bland neutrality to the results of games can hide much more unpleasant biases. It’s never been hard for me to compartmentalize.

Anyway, I doubt any Mets fan would accuse me of being biased towards Mets prospects.

At the BP Citi Field event I was asked how I balance my Mets fandom with writing about prospects. This is a fair question, and one I have been asked enough over the years that I have a well-rehearsed, mostly-fictitious, and slightly condescending response[iii]:

“Well, I am arrogant enough to rather be right than have the Mets be good.”

July 3, 2014

A recollection, 30 months later

I’m in the New Britain press box while it downpours in between games of a scheduled doubleheader. The third game of my scheduled four game look already got banged yesterday, and the Binghamton Mets decided to go to a six-man rotation literally this week, costing me a look at Steven Matz. I did get to see Kennys Vargas in a bright orange uniform for Halloween in July though. The second game is obviously getting banged, but I am hanging around off the offhand chance they try to squeeze in the scheduled Game 2. It would be Ynoa’s Double-A debut. That level was always going to be a big test of the profile. He struggled early in the season with St. Lucie, but an eight-start run with a 47:2 strikeout-to-walk ratio got him the bump to the Eastern League.

It keeps raining.

I also root for probable pitching matchups to hold.

2015, various

I catch Ynoa three times. The starts bleed together: too much hard contact on the fastball, the ability to get ahead in the count, but not put hitters away. The New Hampshire start in April is somewhat memorable for being below freezing[iv] at first pitch. It’s not so cold that Ryan Schimpf and Dwight Smith, Jr. can’t take him out over the short right field porch though.

There is one at-bat that sticks out, sometime in the summer. It’s the middle innings. He’s in a jam. The leverage index is high. A cross check of game logs suggest it was second and third, two outs. Ynoa won’t throw his fastball. He just won’t. Slider and curve and slider and curve. He sneaks a first pitch strike and gets a slap foul to get ahead, but he can’t get a swing-and-miss to get out of the inning. Slider and curve and slider and curve. Now is when you want 95 elevated, but the low arm slot and natural sink make that a physical improbability. Now is when you want to see him shrug and try it anyway. Eventually he concedes a walk. In my memory it’s one more breaking ball and a hard fielder’s choice to get out of the inning, but at that point the details don’t really matter.

February 25, 2016

Mets Top 10 List, Baseball Prospectus: Five who are just interesting

“Ynoa was never likely to achieve the same successes as the crop of pitching prospects that graduated ahead of him, but he looked for much of his minor league career like a future useful mid-rotation arm. Double-A has been a challenge for him though, despite a major-league-quality fastball and changeup. Ynoa's fastball is too hittable, and he lacks a breaking ball that projects as even average (he's dabbled with both a slider and a curve and was throwing them both at the end of 2015) to keep hitters from sitting on his heater. The low three-quarters armslot doesn't help either, as lefties get a long look at the ball. He might benefit from a move to the pen, much like his 2012 Cyclones rotation mate, Hansel Robles did. Ynoa can touch 95 now, and if he sits there in short bursts, he may have a useful major league career. Or just have him spend March with Dan Warthen. It seems to have worked with everyone else.”

I watched Amed Rosario on a wet track in Tennessee in 2013. He disappeared from sight if he turned sideways. He had an exaggerated hand path more suited for butter churning than squaring Appy League velocity. He was an awkward shortstop. He was also 17, but I walked away thinking “Man, I just don’t see 1.7 million dollars worth of tools here.” Rosario improved steadily year-over-year, smoothed out the swing, smoothed out the defensive actions, then everything clicked last year as a 20-year-old.

This isn’t an uncommon tale for a teenager in short-season ball, at least not the ones that eventually become elite prospects. It’s a fun story to follow. It is not Gabriel Ynoa’s story.

Ynoa is the fifth season of a previously well-regarded, quirky sitcom—the kind that got weekly reviews by The AV Club and Sepinwall for the first couple of years. It’s settled into a hangout show for the fraction of the demo that remains. NBC’s[v] slate of pilots for next Fall is too short to actually cancel it. You don’t watch it every week anymore, but you make a point catch up on Hulu in three episodes bursts on a rainy Wednesday night with some leftover risotto and the last of Saturday night’s bottle of red wine.

And you still get flashes of the really smart comedy it used to be.

August 13, 2016

I’m sitting in the center field bleachers at Fenway Park in a seat directly facing the right field foul pole, because I am sitting in the center field bleachers at Fenway Park. Rain is in the forecast[vi] and Clay Buchholz is proceeding at a pace similar to the Dublin pitch-drop experiment. I should get a beer, but it seems a ridiculous imposition on all around me, behind me, in front of me, to actually get out of the middle of this row and down under the bleachers for a Wachusett.[vii]

I don’t know how to go to baseball games anymore.

I have been told this is not an unusual occurrence for people with my job.

The sight lines are useless. The ball does still jump off Benintendi’s bat harder than I expect even at this level. That’s what I got for you. This is a social outing anyway. I am on my phone, following the Mets game intermittently, chatting with more famous people from our little cohort. Gabriel Ynoa has been called up as insurance for the three-fifths of the Mets rotation that are either hurt or Jon Niese—an extra long man to cover a burnt out bullpen. The Mets are clinging to a 2-1 lead in the late innings. The confluence of events needed to get Ynoa into this game are improbable, but then Jeurys Familia gives up his first (and only) home run of the year, Terry Collins forgets to double switch Erik Goeddel into the game[viii], and oh yeah, the rest of the bullpen is basically unavailable[ix].

My cell phone died an hour ago. So I watch Ynoa’s debut in the eleventh inning of this Mets game on a friend’s phone as we shuffle out of Fenway to the strains of “Dirty Water.” A short fly ball, a long fly ball, a borderline check swing call on a good slider. The Mets walk it off on the ol’ fielder’s choice/throwing error combo in the bottom half. I guess you still do the bunny hop for that.

Four or five Texas microbrews in a Copley Square hotel room later and I am still talking myself into that slider.

September 18, 2016

I’m in my mother-in-law’s basement, streaming Ynoa’s start against the Twins on my laptop. It’s his first major league start. The Mets have tried to triage their rotation with a myriad of extra arms over the last six weeks, and it’s Ynoa’s turn by virtue of having not gotten shelled recently. This is not a team playing out the string and giving a young arm a look-see. This is a team nursing a slim wild card lead. These are meaningful games in September.

This is also the Minnesota Twins, so Ynoa suddenly is getting swings-and-misses with the slider. He ramps it up to 88, touches 96 with the fastball. He gets lifted one out short of qualifying for the win, because it is a playoff race after all. I’m positively giddy.

But what exactly was I rooting for?

February 10, 2017

Murder your darlings. Common writerly advice for your first-semester creative writing MFA. It’s often been attributed to Faulkner, but any other master of 20th century literature you can name has had that pithy advice attached to them. The truth is it came from a Cambridge lecture by Arthur Quilly-Couch.[x]

My philosophy is better summed up by my BP Mets colleague, Sara Nović[xi].

I’ve just finished parallel parking a large car over a larger snowbank in Sunnyside, Queens. My last prospect list went up a few hours earlier. I have a long, lazy weekend ahead of me, which is about to kick off with a Sheffield Wednesday game in my favorite bar with the mates. I check to see if the starting XI has been posted yet.

I have 20+ new Twitter notifications.[xii]

Look, it’s a facially plausible deal. Ynoa was a more valuable trade chip than the five or six players they could have DFA’d to clear the same roster spot. It’s better for the player too. Baltimore has a clearer path to meaningful major-league innings in some capacity. If you really want to ding the Mets front office for this move, it continues a half-decade-long pattern of curious back-end roster management—both on the 25-man and the 40. Maybe worthy of a few grumbles from the particularly obsessed enthusiast, but hardly worth 3000 words.

And yet, thirty team prospect lists later, followed by a national 101 list that pissed off all thirty of those team’s fanbases, here I am writing them. Well…what am I actually rooting for nowadays?


Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Acquired RHP Gabriel Ynoa from New York Mets in exchange for cash considerations. [2/10]

The Orioles could employ worse organizational strategies than to outsource all their pitching development to Dan Warthen Industries, LLC. Ynoa is not quite yet another Mets pitching development success story, but he started to show signs that the Mark of Warthen was taking hold. Generally a 91-94, T95 guy in the minors, Ynoa came up throwing 93-96 with hard sink at the lower end of the velocity band. He flashed a plus slider that was also a few mph faster than the below-average one he showed as a prospect. He rounds out the arsenal with a curveball to give batters a different look, and a change that never developed to its projection, but is an average major-league offering. His long arm action and low arm slot has led to platoon issues, and his stuff isn't so good that he can get by with his present fringy command. He throws strikes and won't turn 24 for a few more months, so there may still be further development gains here. However, he is very much the opposite of a “change-of-scenery” guy.

Ynoa won't be all that higher on the Orioles starting pitching depth chart than he was the Mets, but while the Mets sextet of potential top-of-the-rotation arms are likely to either be injured or effective–and the Mets are now very much pushing all their chips in on the latter–the Orioles staff has the chance to be both injured or ineffective. Chris Tillman already has a barking shoulder, and past him and Kevin Gausman, the Orioles rotation could be wide open at just about any point in 2017. Ynoa's stuff may not play so well in the DH league or in the cozy confines of Camden Yards, but it will have a better chance to at least play, whether it is in a backend starter or middle relief role.

Just don't let Rick Peterson know that the Warthen slider is really more of a cutter.

Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Traded RHP Gabriel Ynoa to Baltimore Orioles in exchange for cash considerations [2/10]

The Mets needed to clear a roster spot for Fernando Salas and elected to deal their eighth starter instead of DFAing any number of fringy relievers who are unlikely to make it the full year on the 40-man anyway. This shouldn't be a particularly controversial move, but we can conclude a few things from it.

  1. The Mets are apparently more confident in Zack Wheeler's surgically repaired right elbow than I am. He hasn't thrown a competitive pitch in two years, and in his one-inning rehab stint last year–a stint that kept mysteriously getting pushed back by the team–he left with nerve pain. And they are already dialing back his bullpens this spring due to tenderness.
  2. They are apparently more confident in Matt Harvey's return from Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, a condition that has shortened the career of many pitchers, and rendered others less effective.
  3. They are apparently more confident in Seth Lugo's ability to take 15 or 20 starts if need be. He's maybe underutilized as a swingman or seventh inning arm, but he's also not the kind of starter you want to rely on as a first-division team on more than a spot basis.
  4. And perhaps they are even more confident that Robert Gsellman can be an above-average major-league starter in 2017, though probably not more than I am in that instance.

Recent Mets teams have been heavily reliant on the health of their pitching, and when their starters have gotten injured, they had a Jacob deGrom to plug in, then a Steven Matz and a Noah Syndergaard, then a Seth Lugo and a Robert Gsellman. Gabriel Ynoa wasn't as exciting a prospect as those arms–though arguably better than Lugo–but he was a perfectly plausible major-league fill-in arm for a team with playoff aspirations. I suppose if the Mets ended up relying on Ynoa to take 15 or 20 starts in 2017, their year would have gone rather pear-shaped already, but those starts would have been more enjoyable for the average Mets fan than the hypothetical ones that will now be taken by Sean Gilmartin or Adam Wilk.

[ed. note: Thank you to Rob McQuown for his assistance formatting this article]

[i] I have no idea why this is unpublished. I thought it had been published, but was stowed away in my drafts at Amazin’ Avenue when I went back to dig up the quote. I was writing 2000 words on Hansel Robles around the same time. So yeah, I was always like this.

[ii] Come on man, my beard is way better.

[iii] Criticisms of our 101 list included the epithets “sour hipster” and “depressed Woody Allen” directed at me. These are more accurate the actual ordinal criticisms.

[iv] For some reason I keep going to New Hampshire in April. Did it last year too, where it was cold AND rainy. Guess where I will be opening weekend this year?

[v] It’s always NBC.

[vi] I should be pleased that my work apparently shares a motif with Tarkovsky’s at least.

[vii] Walking around the city the previous day, we stop in at a bar boasting local craft beer offerings. It was Sam Adams, Wachusett, and Harpoon. Can’t accuse them of false advertising I guess.

[viii] Okay, that’s more probable.

[ix] And that was a given most nights.

[x] Easy plus-plus Cambridge lecturer name

[xi] Honestly, I should just hire Sara to ghostwrite everything I do.

[xii] As you may have surmised, I am not exactly breaking news here about how much I’ve seen and written about Ynoa.

Thank you for reading

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If the Mets had just thrown Ynoa himself into the 7th innings setup role, what are the odds he'd outperform Salas? The mid-90s FB with plus slider and good command sounds like it would play up in short bursts.
Hard to say. He looked better as a starter than out of the pen, but it's two small samples, and he hadn't relieved since complex ball (didn't stop Collins from using him on back-to-back days almost immediately natch'). I'd worry about opposing teams being better able to leverage the platoon issues in late innings, but that very well might end up being his ultimate role. And you could have voiced the same concerns about Hansel Robles a couple years ago, although he always looked like a future reliever.