I don’t know what I should have expected. I was excited when I heard that Michael Ynoa was in the Midwest League this season, and when I found out he’d be pitching in Beloit this past Tuesday I just had to go out and see him. The stories that were thrown around when Ynoa signed for a record $4.25 million in 2008 were unbelievable – scouts who’d seen him and the writers who had the privilege to talk to those scouts simply could not stop talking about him. I knew about the arm injuries that had limited him to just a handful of innings since signing, and I’ve seen firsthand the kind of destruction elbow and shoulder injuries can wreak upon a pitcher’s stuff. But that didn’t register with me as much as it probably should have, because I was extremely excited to see Michael Ynoa pitch. He was still 6’7″ and relatively young, right?
I arrived at Beloit’s ballpark an hour before the game hoping to catch the end of batting practice and to watch Ynoa warm up. When I saw him step onto the practice mound about 20 minutes before game time, I could barely contain my excitement. I took about 50 pictures of him in various states of mid-delivery, asking all two of the people around me if they were excited to see him throw. Ynoa looked good in warmups, with an easy delivery with no effort to it at all. My excitement only continued to build as he stepped onto the rubber to warm up for the first inning. He spun a beautiful curveball on the second warmup toss (seen in the video below).
And then the game started.
Michael Ynoa is not an exciting guy to watch pitch anymore. His fastball only sits 90-92 nowadays, he doesn’t trust or isn’t allowed to throw his off-speed stuff right now, and he works slowly. 80 grade slow. He did strike out two batters, one on three straight fastballs, but in the first inning he was challenged by a Whitecaps team that is, by all accounts, completely devoid of talent.
Ynoa did settle down and posted a very solid outing overall, throwing 3 innings, recording 4 groundouts, and giving up 1 run on 1 hit and 2 walks. But I was hoping to see flashes of a pitcher with elite stuff still hidden inside him somewhere, and I saw only the tiniest glimmer of a plus curveball, which I only saw once. As I have done for other pitchers I have seen, here is my breakdown of Michael Ynoa, former 5 Star Prospect.
Ynoa has a delivery that highlights just how much of a physical specimen he still is. He doesn’t have a high leg-kick, but he generates strong momentum his lower-half as he drives towards the plate. It’s not quite a drop and drive delivery, but it’s in that vein. His hip-shoulder separation allows him to generate good torque, and with it, adequate arm speed. Ynoa finishes in a well balanced position, chest over his front knee, and releases the ball very close to the plate out of a 3/4 arm slot. It’s a fine delivery, and in person looks very methodical, or slow, in the same way Boeing 747’s look slow in the air.
I worry about the timing of the arm and foot strike, though. I’m not the biggest believer in all the inverted-W causes elbow failure stuff (that’s for a different article, but the cliffnotes: the biggest problem with it is that, when a pitcher is fatigued, it’s harder to repeat and the arm falls behind the body. That’s not a problem with the inverted-W, but with the pitchers utilizing it.), but in any situation where a pitcher’s arm is lagging behind his body, injuries become a concern. A few times in the video I have recorded, Ynoa’s arm is still horizontal with the ground at foot strike, which is way behind the rest of the body’s timing. If such a timing issue continues, the risk of another elbow injury only increases.
Ynoa’s height and 3/4 arm slot allow him to be a groundball machine. He creates enough downward plane to make hitting the ball in the air a tough task, and the arm slot gives him serious tail on his fastball and changeup. Even if the velocity never gets back to where it was, Ynoa has a fighting chance to make it just because he’s going to get so many outs on the ground (obviously only if he stays healthy).
Ynoa worked 90-92 for as long as I was sitting near the scouts (I was forced from those seats when the 5th bus of hyperactive middle schoolers arrived), with good tailing action. Down in the zone his fastball is going to be extremely difficult to lift in the air, due to the angle it’s coming in on and the sinking, tailing movement of the ball. Up in the zone it still has it’s tailing movement, but flattens out quite a bit. Ynoa got a few swings and misses on the fastball, and encouraging sign.
I’d classify his fastball as a two-seamer, and while it is definitely serviceable in its current state, the A’s would obviously love it if he could put a few more miles per hour on it.
I only saw a few of these out of Ynoa, the aforementioned beauty in warmups and a poor, non-breaking curve early in the first inning. The curve in warmups was, honestly, breathtaking – big, sweeping, two-plane break that was easily the best breaking ball I’ve seen in the minors this season. Of course, much like how S. Allie didn’t really have a 102 mph fastball because he couldn’t control it, Ynoa doesn’t have a beautiful curveball right now. The only curve I noticed in game was very flat and barely broke at all. He clearly has trouble throwing it in game situations, and I imagine the A’s are also limiting its usage. If he can find the feel for his old curveball, the one that made him very rich, it’ll be an easy plus-plus pitch.
The changeup looks a lot like Ynoa’s fastball. The arm action on it is about the same as the fastball, and he seems to be comfortable throwing it. While it’s not a great pitch right now, with repetition it could be an average pitch down the road.
I had really hoped I was going to see a dominating force of nature when I saw Ynoa. I was a fan of his frame and his delivery, but that was it. His stuff is good enough now that he could continue to progress through the minors, but in no way is he the same pitcher he was before the arm injuries. I wish him and Oakland all the best and hope he develops into a major league pitcher, but right now there is precious little that is special about Michael Ynoa.