The Orioles and executive vice president Dan Duquette continue to work on the 40-man roster as pitchers and catchers are about to report to Sarasota, Fla., on Monday.
In one move Friday morning, Duquette added a pitcher and took a catcher off the roster.
The Orioles acquired 23-year-old right-hander Gabriel Ynoa from the New York Mets for cash considerations and placed him on their 40-man roster. In doing so, they designated catcher Francisco Pena for assignment, meaning the club has 10 days to trade, release or ask waivers on Pena, who was expected to battle Caleb Joseph for the back-up catcher’s job.
Ynoa, a Dominican Republic native, made his big-league debut for the Mets in August, picking up his first win while throwing a scoreless inning of relief against San Diego. Overall, he made 10 appearances, including three starts, and posted a 6.38 ERA in 18 1/3 innings (26 hits, seven walks, 17 strikeouts) for the Mets. In 25 starts at hitter friendly Las Vegas last year, Ynoa was 12-5 with a 3.97 ERA. He headed into 2017 as the Mets’ ninth-ranked prospect, according to Baseball America.
“He’s young, has some good pitches and is very durable and competitive,” Duquette said. “Our scouts think he can develop into a competent big league starter if he can develop a little more consistency with his breaking pitches.”
Ynoa’s best pitch is his sinker, which averaged 93.65 mph last season, according to mlb.com’s Statcast. He throws his four-seam fastball in the low 90s, but Duquette said he can touch 94 with it. He has a slider and changeup that aren’t yet quality pitches, but he is a strike thrower, almost to a fault. He has walked 141 in 813 2/3 pro innings (with 515 strikeouts), and is around the plate so much that he has given up plenty of hits, 826 in his career.
“He won 13 games last year (between the minors and majors),” Duquette said. “We just think he needs a little more experience.”
I take a stab at some questions involving this deal here:
Where’s Ynoa headed?
He’ll be in spring camp with the Orioles and, technically, he’ll be competing for a major-league job. But the Orioles want him to continue to work as a starter, so he almost certainly will be in Triple-A Norfolk’s rotation to begin the year.
Why did this move intrigue the Orioles?
First, Ynoa’s youth. He immediately becomes the second youngest pitcher on the Orioles’ 40-man roster, just behind 21-year-old Jesus Liranzo. Ynoa is the third youngest on the 40-man roster overall – behind only Liranzo and Rule 5 outfielder Anthony Santander. And Ynoa has upside; Baseball America’s John Manuel said he’d put Ynoa as ninth on the Orioles’ 2017 prospect list now, just ahead of Santander.
Secondly, the Orioles need starting pitchers that are knocking on the big-league door if injuries occur. Right now, that list consists of Tyler Wilson and Mike Wright – who were given a chance last year – and Logan Verrett, Joe Gunkel and Chris Lee, who is attempting to come back from injury. Ynoa might have the ability and experience to leapfrog all of them.
Third, it cost cash, not players, to acquire him.
Why did the Mets do this?
The Mets are one of the few teams in baseball that have depth when it comes to young arms. They needed to strengthen their late-inning relief and are reportedly re-signing reliever Fernando Salas. They have to clear a roster spot for Salas, and so they likely would have had to designate Ynoa anyway. This way, they get something for him now – and the kid isn’t in limbo at the start of spring training.
Are the Orioles done adding starting pitching depth?
Nope. Duquette said that’s still on his priority list. And, in the right deal, he said he could add a starting pitcher on a big-league deal. That means someone else would have to come off the 40-man roster. Not worth speculating whom that would be at this point.
What does this mean for the Orioles’ catching situation?
Pena was supposed to get a real look at back-up catcher this spring. And now he may be out of the organization. Right now, Joseph and Welington Castillo are the only catchers on the 40-man roster, and Castillo will be lost for several weeks in the spring as he plays for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic. So, suddenly, the Orioles look short on catchers for the spring. They could always sign a minor-league free agent to bridge the gap. And there’s no guarantee Pena will be claimed. He is 27, out of options and a career .239 hitter in the minors. He could be back within days if no one claims him off waivers.
Does this mean anything for Matt Wieters?
Probably not. If the Orioles’ re-signed Wieters, Pena would definitely be the odd man out in the organization, because that would mean Joseph and top prospect Chance Sisco would share Triple-A catching duties. But I think we’d be reading too much into the DFA of Pena if we speculate this move means Wieters is coming back. There are a lot of more important factors in any Wieters move – for both sides – than what happens to the club’s backup backstops. It’s about fit and money and playing time and defensive needs and filling a leadership void. Not about backups.
What’s Connolly’s bottom line here?
Ynoa is definitely worth a shot, especially with minor league options available. It’s a classic Duquette under-the-radar move that could pay dividends.