In his two starts so far this year for the Cyclones, Ynoa [1-0, 1.50 ERA] has pitched a combined twelve innings, allowing only six hits in 41 opponents' at-bats, with a batting average against good for third amongst starters in the New York-Penn League [.146].
His WHIP [0.58] ratio and walks per nine innings [0.75] both rank fourth for NY-Penn League total pitchers and starters, respectively.
"I became mentally and physically ready this offseason," Ynoa said through the help of a translator. "After finding out I was coming into this league, I knew I'd have to keep myself mentally and physically ready this season."
Ynoa began 2011 with the Gulf Coast Mets before moving up to Kingsport last August. After solid stints with both teams and a productive Spring Training this year, he didn't quite expect to be playing Brooklyn.
"I pretty much thought I was going to [low-A] Savannah, but didn't happen that way," Ynoa said of his disappointing placement. "I thought Spring Training went well for me, but I'm here and there's nothing I can do but work hard."
He was quick to embrace his role in Brooklyn, claiming he was "honored to be the No. 1 pitcher."
"It's great to pitch in that atmosphere, I was just very excited," he added.
To earn the role of Cyclones' ace, Ynoa was hard at work during Spring Training, which came in the form of fixing a broken pitch and maintaining physical form.
"In particular, I worked mainly on my slider. I had some trouble locating it, but I worked on it a lot and it's definitely gotten better," he said. "I didn't make any big physical changes, maintained my weight."
Ynoa had a lot to feel good about in his first two starts, where the strikes came out in droves. He was especially pleased with his ability to get his breaking ball over the plate, as well as being able to bounce it and still getting guys to chase it away.
"I could be more consistent though," Ynoa admitted. "It could help me become more efficient with my breaking ball and get guys out."
Extended Spring Training helped Ynoa as well as he took the extra time to get even more comfortable on the mound before the start of the season, which could be the explanation behind his hot start. Cyclones pitching coach Marc Valdes could tell Ynoa was ready to take the mound on Opening Day.
"We gave him the first start just because this is a guy who comes in, he commands and he throws all his pitches for strikes," Valdes said.
"Sometimes we worry a little bit because he throws too many strikes. But he's gotten off to a hot start, showing a little more movement on his fastball with some sink and he's just getting ahead right now. He's in a good comfort zone."
Valdes spoke highly of Ynoa's pitching artillery, which includes 2-seam and 4-seam fastballs that range from 88-92 mph, a slider for his out-pitch, a changeup [which Valdes said Ynoa has learned to command a lot better since Spring Training], and a curveball he uses in the middle innings to get over for a strike and get hitters off of the other pitches.
Like any young pitcher, Gabriel does have his fair share of kinks to work out and although the sample size is small, Valdes has already seen problem spots in Ynoa's first two starts.
"Right now we'll continue to let him go where he's going because he's definitely on a hot streak," Valdes said, "but he's gotten away with some pitches up in the zone, behind the count, and that will not happen when you get to Double-A and higher.
"I try to get my pitchers ready for the next level. He'll need to throw more fastballs in to right-handed hitters to get them off of his fastballs that are away."
Valdes also noted that the young Ynoa still has room to grow.
"He's a good 6-foot-2, a tall kid, but he's pretty strong. He's probably gonna put on an extra five to 10 pounds muscle and that comes in the offseason. It's tough to keep your weight in a high position during the season for him."
Brooklyn Cyclones manager Rich Donnelly was quick to sing Ynoa's praises and that if not for a birth certificate, it would be hard to guess Gabriel is only 19 years old by watching him pitch.
"He has the mound presence of a 28-year-old," Donnelly said. "He's very mature, knows what he's doing. He has a plan, things don't bother him.
"Some young kids don't have a plan, they just go out there and throw. He knows what he's doing. He throws strikes and hits his spots."
Both Donnelly and Ynoa agreed that the weakest takeaway from his first two starts was his lack of durability and inability to pitch deeper into the game.
"He needs to be more consistent and get stronger," Donnelly said. "Last start he went six and got two outs in the seventh, so he needs more stamina. He's not a big kid.
"We're trying to teach these kids to go into the sixth and seventh inning, not five innings and take a hike. Go six, seven, eight, try to pitch deep in the game. That's really important now."
"I want to throw the least amount of pitches possible so I can go seven or eight innings each start," Ynoa added.
As long as he keeps pitching the way he has in his first two starts, there's every reason to believe Ynoa can make a swift ascension up the minor-league ladder and make it to the promised land of a big-league roster someday.
"Down the road, the way he's throwing, commanding, getting quick outs, attacking the zone, this guy can definitely be a starter in the big leagues," Valdes said. "There's no question about it."
Ynoa Pitching Beyond His Years
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