Will Gabriel Ynoa secure a spot on the Baltimore Orioles 25-man roster out of spring training? Not likely, but we are sure to see him at some point in 2019.
The Baltimore Orioles return to the field on Saturday for their first Grapefruit League game of spring training, taking on the Minnesota Twins who will send a split-squad to Sarasota for the 1 pm game. Say what you want about spring training baseball, but it marks the return of baseball and it is on TV, so I, like many of you, will be watching.
The 25-year-old righty was originally signed out of the Dominican Republic by the New York Mets back in 2009 and traded to the Orioles prior to the 2017 season for cash considerations.
Ynoa instantly entered Baltimore’s top 30 prospects list on MLB Pipeline and put up decent numbers in AAA with the Norfolk Tides, including a 3.78 FIP and a 5% walk rate. He entered 2018 with a legitimate shot at making the active roster out of camp, unfortunately, a shoulder injury and shin splints kept him out of action and limited him to just two outings (seven total innings) with the Bowie Baysox in mid-June.
How will the Baltimore Orioles use Gabriel Ynoa in 2019?
Now healthy and in Sarasota as a non-roster invitee, Ynoa will battle for a roster spot this spring with a large contingent of pitchers, all vying for one, maybe two, starting rotation spots. Ynoa does have major league experience, making nine appearances with the Orioles back in 2017.
Ynoa made four starts, going 2-3 with a 4.15 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, and posted a 26/8 K/BB ratio across 34.2 big league innings.
Mainly a fastball/slider pitcher, Ynoa also mixes in a changeup, which was shelled in his brief stint in 2017. His fastball doesn’t produce a ton of swings and misses, however, his slider has been an semi-effective out pitch, producing a 27% whiff rate in 2017 and limiting hitters to a .213 average and .241 wOBA. You can see the movement his fastball generates in the highlight video below.
After missing essentially all of 2018 and his removal from the 40-man roster, Ynoa will have an uphill battle to crack the Opening Day roster. He will likely begin the year in AAA to continue his climb back and prove he is healthy, but fans will see plenty of different names take the hill at Camden Yards in 2019, Ynoa’s included.
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There’s talk about the Orioles possibly using an opener at times, but taking a page out of the San Diego Padres book could be another option. Instead of employing a regular 5th starter in the rotation for a large chunk of 2018, the Padres sent Matt Strahm out for three innings starts every fifth day and used a “Johnny Wholestaff” approach, as the local media in San Diego called it.
The Orioles have the personnel to pull off this approach, which could benefit pitchers like Ynoa, Dillon Tate, Hunter Harvey, Josh Rogers, John Means, Yefry Ramirez, and others who are all returning from injuries or attempting to prove they belong in a major league rotation.
Don’t discount Ynoa’s ability to contribute at the major league level this season. He brings solid control to the table (never walking more than 6.1% of hitters in any season of 100+ IP), a fastball with noticeable movement, a potential strikeout pitch with his slider, and now has a coaching staff diving into a new analytical approach to baseball (new to the Orioles). Maybe something can be unlocked.
Ynoa will get his innings this spring, but after essentially missing a year, don’t expect him to be used too heavily over the next few weeks.