Name: Yefri Carvajal
DOB: January 22, 1989
Skipping the Dominican Summer League, Carvajal broke in professionally stateside. Having the hook of the hamate bone removed limited Carvajal to just 75 at-bats in his first season as a professional. He hit .253 with the Arizona Rookie League (AZL) Padres and struck out 16 times compared to just three walks.
That, in turn, led to a sure bet that he would redo the AZL to continue gaining experience.
Carvajal registered another 100 at-bats in the AZL this season, clubbing .340 with 13 doubles (leading the league at the time), a homer, and 22 RBIs over 25 games. He also upped his walk total to 10 and swiped five bats in as many attempts. That was enough progress for the Padres. They sent him up to Eugene to continue the education process.
"A lot of people were questioning whether he was the type of player we thought he was," former Latin American scout Felix Francisco began. "This year, he showed what we saw when we signed him."
Ups and downs followed the 18-year-old prospect and he ended the year with a .262 average over 31 games with 19 RBIs. He walked just five times, however, and fanned 39 times in 122 at-bats.
"He is 18 years old – they are only seven years older," Eugene manager Greg Riddoch said of the competition he faced in the Northwest League. "You measure his skills and they are all above average. He is a good kid. He needs to improve in every aspect of the game and the only way is to play. At 18, what is he doing – I almost played him everyday. We are going to find out what he can do. He got better. He is not selective. Name me a Latin kid that is selective."
"It takes time," former Padres minor league field coordinator and current MLB scout Bill Bryk said. "I was blowing this guy's horn since he was 16 and he is starting to scratch the surface of his ability and making everyone see what I was talking about. He has potential."
"First of all he got in great condition," former AZL Padres manager and current roving hitting instructor Tony Muser said. "The trainers and strength guys cleaned his diet up. He ate better. We played him every day in the heat and got in great condition.
"His pitch selection and seeing the baseball improved enough to move him to Eugene. When he got to Eugene, he had problems with the pitch selection because every level you move up, the ability to throw the breaking ball gets a little bit better. That is why he was in Instructs – pitch selection and knowing what he can hit."
The free-swinging Carvajal struck out in 28.8 percent of his at bats on the season. Besides chasing off-speed pitches away, Carvajal developed a tendency to go after any fastball if he was ahead in the count. Rather than waiting for a pitch in his preferred zone on 2-0 and 3-1 counts, the outfielder would hack away regardless of its proximity to the strike zone.
"Carvajal is a great talent," former AZL Padres hitting coach Manny Crespo said. "As far as his patience – you can't take away that he is a free-swinger. That is what we want. We want him to get good pitches and hit them. We don't want him to sit up there and just being taking. We don't want to take his aggressive side away but at the same time he learned that he can hit with two strikes. He doesn't have to hit the first pitch he sees."
That habit often put him into a two-strike situation and he was not adept enough to stay within the pitcher's sequence, leaning out over the plate to reach for a ball or coming up lame on balls targeting the inside corner.
Possessing an attitude that says he can hit anything has been his downfall. While there is some truth to the statement it does not mean he will get good wood on the ball. That has resulted in lazy pop ups and weak ground balls as he rolls over on the pitch.
"The key with him is he needs to continue to get more at-bats," former Eugene hitting coach and current AZL Padres manager Jose Flores said. "A lot more times to recognize off-speed pitches. The key for him is to start really recognizing those things – knowing in certain situations that they are going to throw him that breaking ball. When is the best opportunity in the count to sense when a breaking ball is going to come?
"He is a great fastball hitter. As you get older and move up in levels, you are going to have guys who are more consistent throwing breaking balls over for a strike first pitch or any count they want."
"Same mental process as Alexis Lara but Carvy does it with the bat in his hand," Muser noted. "I am constantly telling him that 90 percent – you are strong enough to hit the ball hard at 80-90 percent. He wants to hit it far instead of hitting it hard. That process we are working on to get him to calm down – using more of the field to hit in. The power will come. Quality at-bats and a good swing creates power and power consistency. Calm him down."
Much of his progress will be measured by time and more looks. He is new to the game and still learning his own strike zone and how it fits into what the pitchers are trying to feed him. He can catch up to any pitch and has a short, compact swing with good balance and weight transfer – when he is dialed in and not leaking out front to chase pitches off the outside corner.
"His key is to have more patience and not going up there with a 2-0 count or 1-0 count that they are going to automatically throwing him a fastball," Flores added. "He is in that gear where he says, ‘Ok, they are going to throw me a fastball. They are behind in the count and have to throw me a fastball.' No matter where it is, he is going to be swinging at it.
"Patience – he has to learn and understand which pitch he hits the best and in what location. Whether it is a fastball middle-in or middle-away, a little high or a little low – whatever he thinks his red zone is that is where he needs to look for that pitch when he is ahead in the count."
He improved his ability to recognize pitches tremendously in the Padres fall Instructional League and was voted the MVP as a result. Carvajal wasn't caving in at the first sign of an off-speed pitch on the outside corner and began to trust his own strike zone, working within the confines of his strengths and staying on pitches he could drive.
"This kid is a smart kid," Bryk said. "He has aptitude and instincts for the game."
Carvajal has incredible power packed into a stout frame and the benefits to him learning what pitches he can drive will go a long way towards his future pop potential. He is still raw on the hitting front but the explosion in his hands gives him excellent bat speed through his swing.
There is an audible sound when his bat meets the ball in perfect harmony, causing many to widen their grin at his potential.
Given the abundance of tools, Carvajal should be drawing more walks and be happy to just reach base. There is an old saying regarding Latin American prospects, ‘You can't walk off the island' that hinders what the Padres want him to be. As he matures and grows up in the system, he should understand the philosophy more.
"He didn't get a shot to play last year because he was hurt," Crespo explained. "This year, with the constant talking about the approach he understood a little bit more. The biggest thing with Carvajal is just staying on him and reemphasize that he is good enough and has the ability to go out there and be patient and get a pitch he can hit.
"He learned a lot this year but he still has a long way to go."
It may sound funny, but fielding at night isn't easy, especially when all of your games have come during the day in the Dominican and the early part of your professional career.
"They don't have lights where they come from," Riddoch agreeed. "You have to have more experience with that and they are checking into his eyes."
Hesitancy became the norm in the outfield at Eugene for Carvajal. Rather than attacking a ball off the bat, he had to adjust to where it was going and then react. Reading balls off the bat will be a priority for him moving forward and can only come with repetition. It wasn't evident when he was playing day games last season, and surprised some people who thought he was a solid defender – until they asked what had been ailing him.
He does have plus arm strength but needs to get in better position to throw. While he can rifle the ball, he has to work on its accuracy and it begins with aligning his feet.
Carvajal remains a true five-tool talent. The only concern is keeping his body frame in an athletic state. He has a wide base and tree trunk thighs that need to be kept in check to maintain any semblance of speed.
"This guy, as I have said the last couple of years, has a chance to be an impact player," Padres director of international scouting Randy Smith said. "He has a chance to hit for average, hit for power, drive in runs. He finally got out there on a regular basis and showed everyone what he is capable of doing. I think if there are any doubters he might have changed their opinions.
"From the time he was 17, it sounded different coming off his bat than any others. I think Tony Muser helped him a lot to understand that it doesn't always take 110 percent of your strength every swing. Dialing it down just a little bit works better."
ETA: Time remains an asset to Carvajal and the sting of full season ball could be on the agenda. If he can continue to make strides at the plate and improve his routes in the outfield, his potential is unlimited. Talk about this story on our subscriber-only message boards