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).
An ox of a build with talent oozing from his pores, Carvajal again performed well in 2008 instructs. He walked more than ever and seemed to be turning the proverbial corner where talent and production meet.
The expectations were high entering 2009, as the outfielder began the season in High-A Lake Elsinore, a hitter-friendly league that could help boost his power numbers. Those lofty numbers, however, never came.
"Yefri's a young kid," Lake Elsinore manager Carlos Lezcano said. "He just didn't pan out here in his offense."
Carvajal played in 61 games for the Storm, hitting .262. While the average wasn't terrible, it was the lack of impact that sent him back down to Fort Wayne. He notched 18 extra base hits over that span with just four homers. He also drew just 11 walks while grounding into just as many double plays. His 4.6 walk percentage was the ninth lowest total in the league amongst batters with 220 or more plate appearances.
Weak hits were his forte and it earned him a demotion to the Midwest League.
"When that happened, I kind of thought that was going to be a hindrance tool because when guys are up in High-A and they get moved down to Low-A it's a disappointment," Fort Wayne hitting coach Tom Tornicasa said. "It actually takes a little bit of time for them to get over it. When he first got there, I think that had a big part to do with it. He wasn't swinging real well at that time.
"I think that had a lot to do with it because of the fact of the disappointment and trying to do so much and then starting out real slow with us again back in Fort Wayne. It kind of messed up his expectations, and it took him a while to really start coming around I thought."
Just as he did in the California League, Carvajal lacked pop. He ended up with 15 extra base hits in 65 games to go with a .253 average. He did, however, go 23-for-68 down the stretch, a .338 average that have insiders believing he may have found his confidence and stride. Still, just three of those hits went for two bags or more. His .084 ISO was amongst the lowest in the circuit.
"It took him a little while to really get back to where I think that he needed to be, where he felt more comfortable with what he was doing," Tornicasa said. "Not that he wasn't doing it at Elsinore at all. He just wasn't consistent doing what he needed to do. I thought towards the end, he was hitting like right around .200 for the longest time, and then, the last month, he actually started getting his hits and starting to drive the ball, even though the power numbers weren't there."
"He had a nice little spurt the last two or three weeks of the season and got him to be able to be the DH at least in the first round of the playoffs," former Fort Wayne and current San Antonio manager Doug Dascenzo said. "He was kind of up and down all year long. I think he actually number-wise didn't do that bad when you look at his numbers up in Lake Elsinore. I think he ended up finishing there like .260, but the power that he does have just wasn't showing up. That just had a lot to do with, I think, his approach and what's going on. It is something that he needs to continue to work on and to refine. I think once he does that we should be able to see some of the power go up a little bit more.
For a guy that has been billed as a potential five-tool talent, Carvajal has fallen short of expectations.
"Talk about a guy that had a disappointing year," Padres director of player development and international scouting Randy Smith said. "That's a guy that had a disappointing year. The one thing I'll say about him is that he showed some serious fight back in August...I went in there and saw him in August. you look at August till the end of the regular season, early September, he hit close to .300 over that period of time."
The outfielder has a powerful swing thanks to quick wrists and hands that take his bat through the hitting zone with fervor. Carvajal will, however, get out on his front foot too soon. That causes multiple things to happen. The first issue is his strength is sapped, as his body has already made its forward motion before his arms follow with the bat through the zone. The second problem is that he lands hard on his front foot and is not waiting on the ball to travel deep. That makes him susceptible to the off-speed pitch. While his bat control has improved, he is lunging at balls with little strength. Ground ball outs or pop ups have become routine.
At other times, Carvajal does not keep his front shoulder locked in place and it flies open towards the third base bag. While he can handle the inside pitch with such a move, the outside corner is no longer within reach when he pulls off.
"He started chasing balls in the dirt, and until you lay off of them, they're going to keep throwing balls in the dirt," former Lake Elsinore hitting coach Shane Spencer said. "You play the same teams over and over. We play Rancho Cucamonga and Inland Empire 62 times this year, so if you have a weakness, they're going to keep throwing it. It's not like the Midwest league where ‘this pitcher is a fastball/curveball pitcher. Here it comes.'
"If this guy's got a third best pitch and it gets you out, they're going to throw it. It starts from here and it goes up to Double-A, Triple-A, so, they're starting to see it and they've both gotten a little bit better. Carvajal is about where I expect him to be. I thought maybe the power numbers would be a little better. But, until he proves that he can stay on the curveball, his power numbers are going to be down."
Credit is due for his willingness to work on his craft. He continually tracks pitches when pitchers are throwing bullpen sessions and lays off more pitches than he had in the past. Still, mechanically, he has some issues that present trouble spots. And just when the staff believes he has gotten past those issues, he reverts back to bad habits.
"The tools are still there," Smith said. "He's a young guy. He's got to produce, though. He killed in instructional league and then goes out in the season and struggles for whatever reason it is. The bat speed is still there. The arm strength is there. The power's there.
"He's got to take that plate discipline that he showed us in the fall and carry it into the spring. I'm certainly not going to give up on the guy, but he's also getting to a point where he's got to produce. I'm still high on him because of his raw ability. Like I said, some of these guys do not progress in the timetable we want them to progress. Unfortunately, they all move at their own pace."
Carvajal is a smart player that understands he has talent but presses when things begin to go sour. He does not have an innate feel for his own body and swing to make the necessary corrections. Instead, things spiral out of control until a hitting coach can make him see the error of his ways.
"The kid still has natural power," Tornicasa said. "At the end, even though you weren't really seeing a lot of home runs and stuff like that, when he hit the ball, he was really driving it. He hit a few doubles that were just incredible. I remember that one time he hit at our place – he hit a double in the right center gap and it was like, that thing got going. As a matter of fact, I was coaching third that day for Dougie and that thing got through the gap like I haven't seen anybody hit a ball all year. So, it's there. He's still young. He's 20 years old. The thing is he's been around for a while and people expect a whole lot more out of him because he's been here for three or four years. But if you really look back at it, he's 20 years old. I think the kid has some potential. He definitely has some power. It just hasn't shown up yet."
Seventeen errors across two leagues told the tale of his defense. While he has a plus arm, he is not very accurate and often rushes his footwork. He takes better routes than he had in the past but remains inconsistent in his handling of balls off the wall and skidding on the ground towards him. He also does not do well with balls hit right at him or straight over his head.
"Next year, whether he goes to Cal league or Midwest or wherever, he'll be the same age as guys that were just drafted, so it's not like he's 25 years old and hasn't done anything," Smith said. "He's still a young guy. He has to produce. That's the bottom line.
"I'm still on him. I just can't be as high on him as I was in the past because the production hasn't shown up yet. But I still like the raw tools."
Conclusion: Carvajal will be 21 for the 2010 season and still has time to prove his worth. The issue isn't about age in this case. He has to show improvement. Everyone knows the potential is there. The upside remains tremendous. If he can prove that he can put learned skills into application with consistency, the leash will be longer. If he cannot push his skills further, the talent versus production debate will be moot. His time has come. Or it will come to an end.
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