Name: Yefri Carvajal
DOB: January 22, 1989
Signed during the summer of 2005 as an international free agent, Carvajal skipped the Dominican academy and began his professional career in the Arizona Rookie League the following season.
Carvajal was limited to 75 at-bats during his debut season, hitting .253 with three walks compared to 16 strikeouts.
Returning to the AZL Padres in '07, the outfielder hit .340 across 100 at-bats – tallying 13 doubles, a homer, 27 runs scored and 22 RBI – before moving on to short-season Eugene. With the Emeralds, Carvajal hit .262 across 31 games with eight extra base hits. He also fanned 39 times while drawing five walks.
In the Padres 2007 Instructional League, Carvajal appeared to be turning a corner with pitch selection. That did not, however, carry over into the season.
Moving to full-season ball for the first time in 2008, Carvajal hit .268 with 32 extra base hits across 121 games. He also drew 25 walks compared to 100 strikeouts for a .305 on-base percentage. His walk-to-strikeout ratio was one of the lowest totals in the Midwest League, as was his .304 wOBA (weighted On Base Average). On the positive side, he notched a .335 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play).
"When you look at it from afar and see .270 or .280 with 20 doubles – but my expectations for Yefri was a little bit better and not when it comes to average," Padres vice president of scouting and player development Grady Fuson said. "It doesn't matter to me if he hit .240 or .280 but those other core numbers I thought were prepared to be better – homers, walks, consistency in his approach. The batting average doesn't do a whole lot for me. Don't get me wrong, there is a difference between hitting .210 and .280. There is not a big difference in guys hitting .240 or .260."
A right-handed hitter, Carvajal hit .304 with runners in scoring position and notched 55 RBI for the season. A .357 slugging percentage and .090 ISO (Isolated Power), however, left a lot to be desired.
"We know he's a strong, young man, and both of those words you've got to put emphasis around, particularly the young part, "Fort Wayne manager Doug Dascenzo said. "He learned an awful, awful lot. I think this year he worked and worked and worked all year long trying to get the swing that he wanted to get. Even though his numbers were good; you look at them, .270 as far as an average goes, and the power wasn't quite there yet. He kind of got his hits."
Considered a multi-faceted player that has the potential to flash four of the five tools, Carvajal didn't produce the power numbers that many expected.
With a stocky build, quick wrists, and swing that have the ability to hammer balls out of any park, Carvajal failed to make a statement that he has arrived.
One of the problems that the staff had with Carvajal was his hard contact numbers. Not only was he chasing out of the zone, but he was also netting weak grounders that led to outs with an occasional seeing-eye single mixed in.
"At times, he showed flashes of power and gap power and home run power," Dascenzo said. "I think once he settles down his approach, his stance and where he needs to clean all that up and sticks with it and is comfortable with it, I think that's the most important thing. I think you'll start to see the power numbers come up."
The Padres approach to hitting has been to see good pitches and drive them. Carvajal's inability to take the breaking ball away has hindered his development.
"That pitch that they kept throwing like the breaking ball in the dirt, they fed him a lot of that," Fort Wayne hitting coach Tom Tornicasa said. "And he was biting on a lot of that, and the last couple weeks, he finally showed me that he's finally getting the idea, cause he actually started laying off. He swung at some, but I tell you what, he laid off way more than what he swung at in probably the last two weeks. Really, I thought he made a nice improvement those last two weeks the way he swung the bat than all year."
Instructs this past offseason offered change. The Padres altered their approach by putting hitters in against pitchers and having them simply watch the pitch and call out what it was – true pitch recognition. For the first time ever, Carvajal drew three walks in an instructional league game. He also led the club in extra base hits with five doubles and four homers – proof that waiting on a pitch will lead to positive rewards.
Carvajal has a wide base, soft hands, but struggles providing separation to give his trigger maximum power capacity. His bat head explodes through the zone, and he has a touch of lift that can be pronounced at times.
"That consistency in the approach – the way he is attacking the baseball, the type of pitches he is going after – that is what I watch," Fuson said. "Granted, I do give him credit when you look at the overall numbers. You kind of say, ‘Ok.' He is still very undisciplined, chasing breaking balls early in the count and late in the count.
"He is not staying behind pitches where he can drive them. I know this is an estimate, but I would estimate that half of his hits are undriven baseballs. There are shanks, rolled over and topped ground balls. But, he has a smile on his face, he is busting his butt and giving 100 percent. The season was a positive one for him."
The Dominican native also developed a rap in his swing – where he was pointing his bat head towards the pitcher as the pitch was being delivered, costing him in the pitch recognition department. He didn't have an opportunity to allow the ball to travel deep, as decisions on whether to swing or not had to be accelerated with his rap.
"He's just a free swinger, and he has a lot of power and potential," Tornicasa said. "He just needs to settle down a little and let his hands do the work instead of his whole body. He's another young kid that I love too and keeping him in the strike zone is going to really help him. He's right on top of the list for power on the team, even though he hasn't really shown it."
Balls destined for low and away were tasty morsels that Carvajal flailed wildly at. Pitching inside was a sure way to get him out, as he would get jammed trying to bring the bat head around or simply miss the pitch entirely. Pitches down the middle of the plate were also not hit with the meat of his stick, as he chopped balls into the dirt and rolled over rather than driving pitches he could handle.
Carvajal has improved defensively but still takes a lot of bad routes getting to balls that other outfielders track down with relative ease. He has a strong arm and makes all the throws but must work on his reads off the bat, as well as the first step he takes towards the ball.
"With all of the talent that he has, he still has a bad move in his swing where he doesn't want to separate," Fuson said. "He is the master of hitting a hard chopped ground ball to third base and not getting the barrel on the bat. Everyone wanted this to move at a quicker pace with the level of talent this kid has, but sometimes certain players are going to take longer."
Conclusion: There is a lot to like when looking at Carvajal and a lot to dislike. His progress in instructs points to a potential breakthrough. He has as much power potential as most prospects but needs to swing at better pitches. Instructs showed it is possible and his approach was cleaner with better separation.
If he hits to his potential, Carvajal has superstar potential. Allowing balls to travel deeper and staying away from the breaking ball away will be essential. Expect the power numbers to finally blossom in 2009 as a 20-year-old.
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