Following the recent posts about Kyle Wright and Kyle Muller, I present to you another pitcher close to getting to the wrong side of the prospect age curve that’s had sporadic but encouraging big league success: Huascar Ynoa.
Ynoa was signed by Minnesota out of the Dominican and spent almost 3 years in their minor league system. His brother was also a major league pitcher, Michael Ynoa. Michael had a couple of seasons with the White Sox and was out of the league by age 25, ne’er to return. Huascar was traded to Atlanta at the 2017 trade deadline for Jaime Garcia in a one-for-one swap. Ynoa symbolizes the last of the trade deadline deals in Atlanta’s rebuild phase. Back in those old days, we traded a spare piece for a prospect. Now we trade a prospect for a spare piece. So it’s important for guys like Ynoa to work out for this run to continue.
Huascar has some encouraging trends and had a nice 2021 season that would have probably led to a full-time spot in the rotation had he not got himself injured. He started the year red-hot: through May 9th, he had a 2.23 ERA and 3.67 FIP in 8 games, 7 starts across 40.1 IP. He was striking out a batter an inning and keeping the walks down (9 in those 40.1 IP). But after a rough start next time out against Milwaukee, Huascar decided it was the dugout wall’s fault, landing a strong punch but, at the same time, a devastating blow to his season. He broke his pitching hand, landing him on the shelf for 3 months. When he returned, he was not the same: 5.05 ERA, 4.08 FIP, still more strike outs than innings pitched, but the walk and home run rates climbed.
So, what do you make of all of that? He was a 23 year old kid that made a mistake. If you split the difference between his first half and second half, you have a decent 5th starter, at minimum. If he’s still the guy pre-injury, then he’s a potential middle-of-the-rotation starter. Besides the fluke injury, he did stay healthy and was on pace for 30 starts. That’s encouraging.
His growth from his cup of coffee in 2019 to 2021 could be related to a pitch mix change. In limited sample, Huascar threw his 4-seamer 60% of the time in 2019 compared to throwing his slider only 34% of the time. By 2021, those numbers flipped: he now throws his slider 48% of the time and his 4-seamer 40% of the time. So he’s made a clear adjustment by leading with his slider, and it’s produced better results.
I expect Ynoa to continue to develop, and if he can keep his hands off the dugout wall, I expect him to command a rotation spot next year. Take a deep breath, Huascar.