A premium prospect who has been involved in one of the longest, most fascinating sagas in the Dominican Republic has taken a major step toward beginning his professional career.
Righthander Jose Rafael DePaula, who agreed to sign for a $500,000 bonus with the Yankees in November 2010, has had his visa approved by the U.S. Consulate, according to Charisse Espinosa-Dash, who is one of DePaula's representatives. DePaula is expected to travel to the United States next week for his physical, one of the final contingencies of his contract being approved and his bonus being paid. The physical is not expected to be an issue, as DePaula has been working out regularly under the Yankees watch dating back more than a year. A Yankees official could not be immediately reached for comment. MLB Trade Rumors reported the news this afternoon.
DePaula had originally presented himself as Rafael DePaula Figueroa, born April 1, 1992. By that date of birth, DePaula would have been eligible to sign on July 2, 2008. Scouts said DePaula back in the summer of 2008 was throwing in the mid- to high-80s with his fastball, but as 2009 rolled around he became one of the hotter items on the international market with a fastball that was registering in the low-90s and touching 94-95 mph. DePaula received attention from several teams, including the Yankees, Red Sox, Rangers, Mariners and Athletics, but in May 2009 Major League Baseball told Baseball America that it had suspended DePaula for one year over issues with his documentation, even though he had not yet signed a contract at the time.
DePaula's suspension ended on Jan. 7, 2010. At that time, many scouts considered DePaula and fellow Dominican righthander Carlos Martinez (then known as Carlos Matias) the two premier pitching prospects available in Latin America, with Martinez showing more top-end velocity but DePaula more size and physical projection. Martinez signed with the Cardinals in April 2010 for $1.5 million, had his contract approved later that year after a lengthy investigation and has since developed into the No. 27 prospect in baseball.
In June 2010, BA reported that DePaula had come forward with a new name (Jose Rafael DePaula) and a new date of birth, March 24, 1991, which was one year older than he had previously presented himself and means he turns 21 on Saturday. In November 2010, DePaula agreed to a $500,000 deal with the Yankees, with the contract contingent upon DePaula receiving his visa, which given his history meant more than the standard red tape. DePaula remained in limbo for 16 months. He worked out at the Yankees academy in the Dominican Republic, but he was not allowed to travel to the United States and could not pitch in official games.
When DePaula signed with the Yankees, BA's reports had him throwing a plus to plus-plus fastball that regularly reached the mid-90s. More recent reports from sources have had him touching the high-90s, though those have yet to be independently confirmed because scouts from other organizations have not been able to watch him pitch recently. DePaula also has shown a sharp power curveball, feel for a changeup, good size at around 6-foot-2, 200 pounds with long arms, huge hands and a clean, athletic delivery. If the contract does get finalized, it's not yet known where the Yankees plan to send DePaula, though given his combination of stuff and polish, like Martinez, he figures to move quickly.
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