While there are several reasons to finally get pitcher Michael Ynoa on the fast track in his first year of full-season ball, for now the Oakland A's organization is content to ease him into the flow.
The 6'7'' right-hander, he of the record $4.25M signing bonus in 2008, will start out as a member of the pitching staff at Low-A Beloit. And that's alright for all parties involved.
"It was a long time of being in Arizona," Ynoa said. "I feel excited to be here. I want to stay healthy and keep working hard like always.
"Just two years ago I was injured, but now I feel pretty well and am playing in games. I'm throwing a few innings at a time right now and that's good. I'm glad to be throwing so many at a time. I just want to stay healthy and keep going."
Since the A's signed Ynoa nearly five years ago, there has been little progress in his path towards the big leagues. He battled through elbow problems for two years before finally having Tommy John surgery in August of 2010. That cost him the entire 2011 campaign, setting up a make-or-break 2012 season.
After finally getting back on the mound for the AZL A's and short-season Vermont, Ynoa was far from dominant but remained healthy and picked up some valuable mound time. It was enough to convince the A's brass to add him to the 40-man roster, thus protecting him from the Rule 5 Draft.
"I give thanks to the Oakland A's for protecting me," Ynoa said. "I'm trying to do a good job and doing what I have to do to keep going, My first three years, it was really weird. I signed the biggest bonus and all. I prayed a lot to God every day and every night. I was trying to be a good guy and be the same person. It's still coming around for me."
After pitching 10 innings over six games last summer in rookie ball, allowing six earned runs on 11 hits, Ynoa earned his first trip outside the state of Arizona to the New York-Penn League. He made eight appearances for the Lake Monsters down the stretch and didn't miss a start.
When the dust settled on his first extended playing time since 2010, Ynoa had thrown 30.2 innings. His numbers weren't impressive (6.46 ERA, 25:25 K:BB rate and WHIP of nearly 2.00), but he managed to close the season on a high note, flashing promising stuff in his last two outings and earning an invite to the A's US fall instructional league camp.
Following instructs, Ynoa retreated to his home in the Dominican Republic and enjoyed some down time before picking up where he left off.
"I was on a throwing program and worked within that," he said. "I worked on my breaking ball and change-up. Now I'm feeling more comfortable with those pitches."
Perhaps the first item of business for Ynoa this spring was improving the command of all his pitches, in order to cut down on the free passes.
"Last season I was not throwing my breaking ball like I always did," Ynoa said. "I walked a lot of batters. This year I'm working on throwing more strikes and working on my breaking ball. I'm trying to stay ahead in the count."
Ynoa says he's now throwing his fastball and mixing in a curve, changeup and a newly learned cutter. The results were mostly good in his first outing of 2013 at Cedar Rapids, where he only allowed a first-inning, lead-off homer to last year's second-overall pick Byron Buxton in three innings. Ynoa walked two and struck out one.
"I think I did pretty well after the home run," Ynoa said. "I tried to throw a 2-2 fastball outside and he got me. But after that, I threw my fastball, change-up and curveball pretty well.
"I need to stay focused on throwing strikes. They hit it a lot and made a lot of contact. I was trying to get ground balls and double plays, and I did that pretty well. I'll keep working on that."
Ynoa was supposed to take the mound for the second time this season on Wednesday at Peoria, in relief of Dakota Bacus as part of a piggy-back, tandem starter situation in Beloit. That outing has been pushed back to the Snappers' home opener tonight (weather, of course, permitting).