Ynoa Ready To Make Long-Awaited Debut

The legend of Michael Ynoa took an interesting twist after he signed a $4.25 million deal with the Athletics in 2008 at the age of 16.

He disappeared.

Most of the baseball world didn’t hear from Ynoa over the next two years as he recovered from an elbow inury. Sure, there were occasional reports of activity by the Dominican Republic native—whose bonus was a record for a Latin teenager that still has not been surpassed. A live batting practice session here, an intra-squad game appearance there—but otherwise news about Ynoa was infrequent and sometimes unreliable.

That’s about to change.

Ynoa, now 18, is scheduled to make his professional debut this summer in the Rookie-level Arizona League. To add perspective, he’ll be the same age as many of his American teammates just coming out of high school.

Needless to say, Ynoa is ready to get on the mound in an official game.

“I feel good,” said Ynoa through interpreter Ariel Prieto, Oakland’s Arizona League pitching coach. “I feel healthy and more comfortable now. Last year I was a little frustrated . . .  I’m past that already. It’s in the past.”

That recent past has included very little baseball.

Ynoa spent last summer at the Athletics training complex in Phoenix but did not appear in an official game due to ongoing elbow soreness.

The inactivity left Ynoa a lot of time to watch his teammates during the Arizona League season, taking his turn as bat boy in the complex league games, working out in the weight room, and generally becoming accustomed to life in a new country. Sitting around watching ballgames wasn’t time wasted as he improved his knowledge on how to set up the sequence of pitches during games.

He also picked up a new off-field pastime—learning how to cook, especially working on his recipe for the Dominican staple of rice and beans. It was a natural progression for Ynoa, since he really likes to eat. The 6-foot-7 210-pound righthander is long and lean, and will probably always stay that way despite his healthy appetite.

But the Athletics paid Ynoa to play baseball, not to become the next Food Network star, although with his handsome looks, sly smile and striking green eyes he’d likely be a natural in front of the camera.

Ready To Pitch In

The wait will soon be over. The Athletics will take it slowly with Ynoa, at first limiting him to three-inning stints in the AZL. He’ll be restricted to using his fastball, curveball and changeup, although he’s also working on a two-seamer, sinker and slider.

“We try to be focused on those three pitches first,” Prieto said. “He’s a young guy, he has a good arm . . . Now he’s learning to pitch, so why let him use five pitches. He can use those when he’s a veteran.”

Ynoa recently added a little velocity, averaging 93 with the fastball and topping out at 95. That’s higher than any previously reported speeds.

He’s closely following the Athletics prescribed pitching program, including long toss on the second day after pitching.

In fact, it was the reputation of the Oakland program that steered Ynoa to the organization when he was a highly recruited 16-year-old pitcher.

Athletics minor league pitching and rehab coordinator Garvin Alston has also been instrumental in getting Ynoa ready for the season. Alston, along with pitching coordinator Gil Patterson and other Athletics coaches, worked on putting the program in place for Ynoa.

“It’s put him in a good position to succeed,” Alston said. “He’s listening, he’s learning and he’s getting better.”

New York (Penn) State Of Mind

The New York-Penn League will have a new look after an offseason shuffle. The Oneonta Tigers, one of the circuit’s elder clubs, relocated to Norwich, Conn., under second-year owner Miles Prentice. The move became possible when the Double-A Connecticut Defenders (Eastern League) left town for the vacant market of Richmond.

Oneonta had struggled to attract fans in recent years, regularly finishing among the league’s worst draws. Prentice, who purchased the team from longtime owner Sam Nader in July 2008, had agreed to keep the team in town through 2010. But the Norwich opportunity proved too good to pass up, and Prentice paid Nader an undisclosed fine for breaking the contract.

Complex Issues

The complex leagues have also been tweaked for this season. The Reds move from the Gulf Coast League to the Arizona League after relocating its spring training base this past offseason from Sarasota, Fla., to a complex it shares with the Indians in the Phoenix suburb of Goodyear.