Is there any wonder why we love this game… this game called baseball? It is arguably the most unpredictable of all major sports. Not only is baseball the most difficult team sport to play, it is unquestionably the most difficult to be successful at. What other professional sport can you fail at 70% of the time yet still make it into the Hall of Fame?
No matter how long we have watched this game, a game that has been around since the end of the Civil War, and many of us since the fifties, there is quite often something happening that we have never seen before. For instance, two Dodgers being thrown out at the plate on the same play by a former Dodger right fielder and tagged out by a former Dodger catcher. Expect the unexpected should be our rallying cry as anything can and most definitely will happen until the very final out.
It even keeps us in a quandary trying to predict which prospects will succeed or fail at the major league level regardless of their glowing minor league statistics and almost insurmountable odds. Often we are amazed at who succeeds and who does not. One need look no further than soon-to-be Hall of Famer Mike Piazza, who was drafted in the 62nd round of the 1988 draft. Yes, 1,026 players were drafted in front of the greatest offensive catcher the game has ever seen.
One of my favorite parts of every baseball season is following the Dodgers minor league farm teams, where the game is still a game and players are fighting for their baseball lives. Thanks to the internet, I can listen to most of the Lookouts games from Chattanooga and Loons games from Midland, both teams being in a more favorable time zone for me. I also occasionally listen to Raptors and Quakes games, depending on the times they are played.
Back to the amazing part regarding which players find success and which do not at the MLB level. I listen to minor league baseball not only for my love of the game but also to follow prospects and to acquire some firsthand information in what is happening at the various minor league levels. This year I had particular interest in Allen Webster, Zach Lee, Chris Reed, Ethan Martin and Steven Ames with the Lookouts. As I listened to those games, I noticed that one player in particular seemed to get quite a bit of “air time.” Although this player was not ranked very high (if at all) in the Dodgers system, he was always either making a fine defensive play, stealing a significant base, getting on base as a potential tying or winning run, or even driving in one of those runs late in the game. I had been aware of him in the Dodgers system for several years but looked at him, as most did, as minor league depth, not projecting him as a prospect with any opportunity to make it to the big leagues. That player is Rafael Ynoa, recently sent to the Arizona Fall League by the Dodgers. That was a bit of a surprise… or was it?
Rafael is from Santiago, in the Dominican Republic and was signed by the Dodgers as a non-drafted free agent on July 8, 2005. He is presently in his seventh year in the Dodgers system having played two years in the Dominican Summer League, one in the Gulf Coast League, one at three levels hitting only .163 in 2009, one year each with the Loons, the Quakes and the Lookouts. This past season with the Lookouts, Rafael hit .278 with an OBP of .364, stole 23 bases, walked 58 times and struck out 70 times. His last three years have demonstrated a pattern of consistency, but not enough to make it on any top prospect lists.
Yes, it was a surprise to me that Rafael, at age 25, became a Dodgers representative in the 2012 AFL. It either indicates a lack of talent in the AFL or there is something about Rafael that the team really likes. And knowing the tremendous talent involved in the AFL, it is undoubtedly the latter.
Christopher Jackson of the Albuquerque Baseball Examiner recently asked this question of De Jon Watson on July 20, 2012: “Can you name a position player… that fans do not know about but should start paying attention to?” De Jon’s answer: “I would say Rafael Ynoa would probably be that guy. If you watch him play he’s a good looking player…”
So where does that leave Rafael Ynoa? Obviously on the Dodgers radar – if for no other reason than his persistence, hard work and commitment to the game. These qualities have gotten the attention of the Dodgers brass but Rafael has other significant qualities as well – he can play second, short or third, is a switch hitter, has good speed, has excellent defensive skills and good plate discipline. He does display very little power but consistency sometimes trumps power. As such, it would seem that Rafael might very well find his way to big leagues in a super-sub role on the same path blazed by Luis Cruz and Elian Herrera.
Last fall, the Dodgers sent nine players to the AFL to play for the Salt River Rafters. Six of those players went on to spend part or all of the 2012 season with the Albuquerque Isotopes. Based on that history and on Rafael’s progression, the projection for him in 2013 will most likely be a roster spot with the Albuquerque Isotopes, especially since Luis Cruz will probably be the everyday third baseman for the Dodgers in 2013 and because Ivan De Jesus Jr. was traded away in the blockbuster deal with the Red Sox. And who knows, perhaps there is even a September call up on the horizon for Rafael Ynoa, who is obviously no longer flying under the radar.