SARASOTA, FLA. — Whether the Orioles uncovered another diamond in the rough with last week's acquisition of right-hander Gabriel Ynoa from the New York Mets remains to be seen, but executive vice president Dan Duquette likes the 23-year-old's potential to eventually crack the starting rotation.
Ynoa has a 59-30 record, a 3.36 ERA and a 1.174 WHIP in parts of seven minor league seasons. And even though Ynoa struggled in his brief stint with the Mets last season, Duquette said there are indications that Ynoa has the stuff to compete at the big league level.
Despite an unsightly 6.38 ERA in 18 1/3 innings in which Ynoa allowed 12.8 hits per nine innings, his fielding independent pitching (FIP), a stat that breaks down what a pitchers ERA would be if he receive average fielding behind him, was just 2.60, which is as dramatic a discrepancy as one can find. And while Ynoa allowed his share of hits, his strikeout numbers (8.3 K/9) and his strikeout-to-walk ratio (2.43) were impressive.
"This guy won 13 games last year," Duquette said. "The Mets have pretty solid starting pitching. I mean they had the starting pitching to win the pennant a year ago, and we weren't blessed with the starting pitching depth the Mets have, so that's why he was available and that's why we were happy to add him to the club. He's young, he's strong, he's durable. He's got a lot of good qualities as a starting pitcher. He's got a good arm. He throws up to 95."
Pitching in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League with Triple-A Las Vegas last season, Ynoa went 12-5 with a 3.97 ERA over 154 1/3 innings in 25 starts. So he not only had success, but also showed durability.
"He's one of the top pitchers in the [Pacific] Coast League, and you know how tough it is to pitch in the coast league, and pitch effectively," Duquette said. "He pitched a number of innings, so over course of his career, he's won two games for every game he's lost. His ERA is 3.36 and his WHIP is under 1.2, so those all speak to his capability as a potential major league starting pitcher with a little bit more experience."
Ynoa's reputation as a control pitcher can play well on an Orioles team that has had success by keeping balls in play, though he needs to show the ability to miss more bats at the major league level to be successful. That's where refining his secondary stuff – particularly a slider that is his best breaking ball – can help, and Duquette is optimistic.
Duquette said Ynoa came recommended not only from scouts but also Mets minor league pitching coach Frank Viola, who interviewed for the Orioles pitching coach job that went to Roger McDowell.
"Time will tell, but he's 23 years old," Duquette said of Ynoa. "He's got youth, strength and durability. He's got the pitches and he's got a good work ethic. The thing for all these pitchers that's going to determine whether they are starters or relievers is going to be their secondary pitches and if this guy can develop a consistent breaking ball, he could be a good major league starter."