After a suspension for misstating his age and identity, and spending what seems like an eternity in visa limbo, hyped RHP prospect Rafael DePaula has finally received his visa from the US government (per Ben Nicholson-Smith on Twitter). This will allow the 21 year-old from the Dominican Republic, whom the Yankees signed for a $500,000 bonus in November 2010, to finally come stateside and make his professional debut.
DePaula was considered one of the top international free agents available several years ago, until it was revealed that he was in fact 19 (while he had been telling teams he was 17). Before the age revelations, DePaula was seeking (and likely would have received) a bonus well in excess of $1 million. The Yankees evidently saw enough in DePaula’s stuff to offer a big bonus, despite being two years older than reported. The reason for the Yankees’ (and other teams’) interest in DePaula is simple: he has excellent raw stuff, including a fastball that has been clocked as high as 97, and a sharp curveball. At 6’3″ he has the size to be a legitimate frontline starter going forward.
The visa allows DePaula to finally start his pro career, but he is far from a sure thing at this point. The odds are significantly against DePaula having a successful big league career, though there is very little precedent for his situation. DePaula is already 21 (the age of most college draftees), but he has had virtually no pro experience due to his inability to enter the US. He probably has gotten coaching in the DR since signing, but he hasn’t had the opportunity to get the benefit of the top coaches in the Yankee organization. The raw stuff is still there, but the lack of experience and refinement make DePaula much more of a risk than the typical 21 year-old pitching prospect.
I have no idea if he has anything resembling a legitimate 3rd offering at this juncture, or what his command and mechanics are like. He is basically a white whale for most prospect watchers, who have heard a lot of hype but seen very little of him. Here’s an old video from around the time he signed. For what it’s worth, Kevin Goldstein just tweeted that he would put DePaula at #9 on the Yankees’ top prospect list (which likely makes him the #4 pitcher in the system), so evidently the scouting community is still high on him.
It is always exciting to add another power arm to the Yankee system, and DePaula represents an intriguing prospect with serious frontline upside. However, it seems reasonable to be reserve judgement on DePaula until we see how he handles the transition to playing in the US. I’m not sure where the Yankees will have him start this year, but I could see him getting his feet wet in the Gulf Coast League to start, and possibly moving quickly through the system if he is as good as advertised. I will be very interested to see how the Yankees handle his development, and how DePaula handles the challenge of making his stateside debut nearly a year and a half after signing. The DePaula situation will really test the Yankees’ coaching and player development staff, and it will be interesting to see how DePaula responds to the new challenges that will face him.
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