Mythical Pitcher Michael Ynoa Uncovered!
There has never been a more apt placement than the Oakland Athletics’s Michael Ynoa washing up on the Vermont shores. The moniker of the Athletics’ New York – Penn League affiliate is the “Lake Monsters” which, of course, do not exist. Suddenly after signing for $4.25 million the then 16-year-old Ynoa (or at that time “Inoa”) too vanished. At that point, there was little evidence Ynoa was more than a fair tale. Despite not making his professional debut Ynoa found himself rated highly by prospectors due to near legendary projectability and polish. But, it wasn’t until two years later that Ynoa made his debut, pitching a total of 9 innings in three starts for the Athletics Complex League team in Arizona. Following that incredibly short stint, Ynoa found himself on the operating table. The operation? Tommy John surgery. At this point it was all but confirmed that Ynoa was a lake monster. Mythical abilities and mythical existence. Would he ever surface? Four years removed from signing we were still awaiting that moment. I’m pleased to tell you, Michael Ynoa has surfaced and unlike most mythical creatures, I was able to catch him on film.
Ynoa is stands 6 feet, seven inches tall and is listed as 210 pounds. From his shoulders down, Ynoa is extremely slender and uber projectable. Without question, his body could support upwards of 50 pounds of muscle in his lower half and any gains in his torso would be welcome too. His overall lack of strength is of great concern. It’s hard to forsee Ynoa withstanding the grind of a major league starter’s workload with his current build.
His enormous hands engulf the baseball and are large enough to hide it entirely from sight. The size of a pitcher’s hands, or more accurately one’s fingers, have always been considered important has they, along with wrist pronation, are important in creating spin. As you’ll see later, his incredibly long fingers help him generate a potentially nasty breaking ball.
In just his second start of the year, Ynoa relied heavily on his fastball. Of the fifity pitches he predominately threw fastballs featuring solid armside run. For a right-hander like Ynoa, that’s in towards the belt of right-handed hitters and away from lefties. At this point his velocity is merely average, he sat between 90 MPH and 92 MPH and touched 93 MPH on rare occasion. Given his fluid arm action, it’s quite easy to project Ynoa’s fastball velocity to tick up as his mechanics are cleaned up and he becomes more consistent repeating his delivery and release point. Additionally, if he is able to add muscle to his frame he could see significant velocity gains.
The curveball is clearly a pitch that Ynoa is working on. You’ll notice in the beginning of the video below he uses a wooden dowel to work on his wrist pronation in addition to building strength. Just following that warm-up, Ynoa and his catcher, Bruce Maxwell, short tossed for a moment before the right-hander snapped off 10 curveballs in succession. At times the pitch features a slow 12-6 break and others it was a hard darting 11-5. During the game he threw 5-8 curveballs from 76 MPH to 79 MPH. The breaking ball Ynoa flashed today was clearly the pitch with the most potential. Again, however, his lack of strength comes into play. Our own Don Olsen notes, “[Ynoa] doesn’t have the forearm, hand or finger tensile strength to really snap curveballs consistently.” That’s exactly what the 20-year-old showed during this outing. Two great curveballs among a handful of dreadful ones.
I was seated behind Luis Mateo and some of the other Cyclone starters who were charting the game and Ynoa’s pitches. They were kind enough to give me Ynoa’s radar readings throughout the game. Peering down at their gun I noticed just a handful of change-ups around 85 MPH. It’s a work in progress and a pitch he’ll need to develop if he is going to become a starter. His tendency was to miss down in the zone so the pitch was rarely swung and thus not hit hard throughout the day.
Given the reports on Ynoa’s polish I expected him to have better command. He was mostly in and around the strike zone with his fastball outside of a few times when he completely lost his release point. In those situations, he missed badly down in the zone, the worst offenses resulted in two wild pitches. Throughout the start it was typical for him to leave the ball up in the zone in this brief outing. Of course, the change-up and curveball were pretty erratic and he couldn’t throw either of them with consistent rotation, shape or for strikes. But for now, he gets a pass. This was his second stint since recovering from Tommy John surgery which is notorious for hindering pitchers’ command.
Of course, a Bullpen Banter pitching report wouldn’t be complete without a pitching mechanics breakdown from our pitching instructor, Kevin Scobee. Kevin writes, “I’m intrigued. Very intrigued. Of course I could start here where I finish every other breakdown with “needs for the love of all things holy to speed up his tempo”, but today I’m feeling saucy and won’t go there. (Though he does need to speed up his tempo).
“There’s an easy, athletic, natural style that is evident first and foremost in the arm action from both the point of hand break and to release. The natural scap-load that isn’t forced, and works almost to a perfect T. (Elbow slightly lower than the shoulder, hand slightly positioning towards the check – not a 90-degree angle from shoulder-to-elbow-to-hand).
“I’d be interested to see what his workload was before he signed his professional contract with the A’s. Knowing the extent of injuries he’s had since joining the organization, judging by the arm action and deceleration (pause it at the 51-second mark and enjoy), the only health risks I can see occurring with Ynoa would stem from abuse or poor conditioning.
“As JD said, I love his arm action – I don’t need to go any further than that. In a world where arm action is king, Ynoa’s fluidness and natural throwing style is almost assuredness the reason he was so highly coveted as a 16-year-old. Well that and being 6’7”, and while I believe height to be an incredibly overrated factor in pitching, it still makes my pitching coach-heart swoon.
“However, I dislike his effort, or lack thereof. For the most part it is always easier to put the reigns on an athletes energy output than to force them to gear up, but everything about Ynoa’s warm-up to pregame bullpen screams “doesn’t know how to properly prepare to pitch”. That might have something (again, not knowing the full story, or seeing him on a daily basis) to do with Ynoa’s injured past. I’d be interested to see if his between start routine is the pitcher-typical “play catch, run your poles, shag BP”, of if there’s some actual full-body training going on with explosive movements and throwing program without the running. Because running is bad.
“I wouldn’t change much mechanically, Ynoa is a conditioning and strength-gaining project. Aside from purely putting on weight, Ynoa doesn’t always control his body sequencing, which is a strength issue. Think Tim Collins here: he’s small in stature but is one of the strongest pitchers in Major League Baseball, and that allows his body sequencing and positioning to be at it’s upmost effectiveness to create the proper trunk and body dynamics to produce velocity and command. Ynoa is just a little lacking in this area.”
Projecting a player like Ynoa is nearly impossible. He’s been missing in action for the past four years, the last of which he’s been recovering from major surgery. Give the mystery surrounding the 20-year-old, how can we say how much progress he’s made? How his body has developed? Forget detailed information like his pitches’ progress. Given the massive layoff and inexperience, it’s compelling to view Ynoa’s 2012 NY-Penn League stint as the start of his career. But, that’s not fair. It’s easy to call him projectable but he hasn’t developed for the good part of four years. It’s easy to say he could gain weight, but again, he hasn’t in the past four years. Ynoa’s return to the mound is great, but ultimately it reminds us all about how much uncertainty there is with prospects. As Kevin mentioned, there is still a lot to like here, but Ynoa is a project.
Ceiling: No. 3 starter
Floor: Minor League Washout
Likely: Minor League Washout