Scouting Rangers Prospect #46: Johan Yan

After beginning his career as a toolsy infielder in 2006, Johan Yan is now knocking on the door of the major leagues as a sidearming right-handed reliever. Lone Star Dugout takes a look at the 23-year-old prospect with an in-depth scouting report.

Vital Statistics:
Name: Johan Yan
Position: Relief Pitcher
DOB: September 27, 1988
Height: 6'3"
Weight: 185
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
Acquired: 2005 International Free Agent

When Johan Yan began his career as an infield prospect, it was easy to see why the Texas Rangers gave him a reported $400,000 signing bonus in the summer of 2005. The 6-foot-3 Yan is an impressive athlete with long limbs, a plus arm, and raw strength that led to some batting practice power.

But Yan, who played third base at the short-season levels between the 2006 and 2008 seasons, was never able to translate those tools into game results. He appeared in 126 career games as a position player, posting a .207/.281/.318 slash line with a sky-high 37 percent strikeout rate.

After his third full season in professional baseball, Yan was still in the complex league, struggling to make contact at the plate and having plenty of issues in the field. The Rangers decided it was time to give the strong-armed athlete a shot on the pitcher's mound.

The Dominican Republic native began working on the mound during fall instructs after the '08 campaign. Using a traditional over-the-top delivery, he flashed an upper-80s fastball with some life but struggled with both command and secondary stuff. In 25 rookie-ball innings during his mound debut, Yan posted a 9.36 ERA while walking 17 and striking out 21.

At extended spring training in 2010, the Rangers had Yan make yet another adjustment––they dropped him down. Rangers rehab pitching coordinator Keith Comstock helped Yan acclimate to the new arm slot and mechanics by having him skip rocks across a body of water. The right-hander had immediate success from down below, pitching well in Arizona before posting a 2.70 ERA in 43.1 innings between Spokane and Single-A Hickory.

After showing promise as a sidearmer in '10, Yan took a major leap forward in '11 and broke out as one of the organization's more intriguing relief arms. He quickly became the most reliable reliever at High-A Myrtle Beach, converting all 10 of his save opportunities. In 41.1 innings, he yielded 33 hits, walked 13, and struck out 48––leading to a 1.52 ERA.

"He was pretty consistent for me the entire year," said Myrtle Beach skipper Jason Wood. "Like I said, he just kind of went where he left off in Myrtle, and I guess he took that on to Frisco and did as well, too. So he has good command. He throws that three-quarter type deal. He works fast. He gets his ground balls."

As Wood stated, Yan certainly rose to the occasion after his late-season promotion to Frisco. The 6-foot-3, 185-pound hurler quickly earned himself a late-inning relief role for the RoughRiders by surrendering only one earned run in 26.2 Double-A innings.

Although Yan has been pitching for only three seasons––and he's only been a sidearmer for two years––Wood was impressed with his often unfazed demeanor on the bump.

"(Situations) never really bothered him, from what I saw," Wood said. "He was like ice out there. You knew when Yan came out there––there were so many times this year that (pitching coach) Brad Holman and I felt that we just had to go to Yan because we needed that ground ball or needed that double play ball. With that sink on his fastball, we knew we were going to get it.

"We didn't have to worry about him coming in and not getting a feel for the mound and walking the first guy. His command was great––he didn't walk anybody. He had that sink on the fastball, the life on the fastball, and that sidearm angle that the hitters weren't always used to."

The heavy sinker in addition to the sidearm delivery helped Yan induce more than 3.1 groundouts per flyout in 68 total innings last season. The combination also made him tough on fellow righties, as he limited them to a .183/.260/.216 line with a 28 percent strikeout rate.

Pelicans pitching coach Brad Holman believes Yan's entire unique physical package factors into his success.

"I think that he definitely has some long limbs, and also long fingers and really big hands," Holman said. "I think that the two in combination definitely help the action on his pitches."

At first glance, Yan's delivery appears to be free and easy––almost effortless. But that also helps add deception to his lively upper-80s fastball, making it appear to jump on hitters.

"Watching him pitch, you just don't see any violence in his delivery," Holman said. "It's a really smooth, effortless approach. But the ball, when it comes out of his hand, has some violence to it as it crosses the plate, with the sinking action that he gets and his ability to throw the slider over."

Yan capped off an all-around successful season by making 11 relief appearances in the Arizona Fall League. Playing with the Surprise Saguaros, he allowed five runs in 12.2 innings (3.55 ERA), yielding 10 hits while walking two and striking out eight.

While he's no longer an infielder or an over-the-top pitcher, it appears that Yan––after all the changes––is finally on the verge of becoming a major leaguer. His ceiling isn't sky-high, but Yan could carve out a solid career as a middle reliever.

Before he gets there, though, Wood says there is room for more development.

"I think one thing that he could do a little bit more––and I know this is weird to say––but just from what I've seen and some of the people I've talked to, he could maybe use that curveball a little bit more when he needs to.

"He gets really comfortable with that fastball. He has got such good movement with that fastball and that changeup that sometimes he forgets about that curveball that he's got. And it's pretty darn good, too, coming from the side there."

Also See: Rangers Minor League Notes (March 19, 2011)
Rangers Minor League Notes (March 25, 2011)
Myrtle Beach News and Notes (April 23, 2011)
Lone Star Dugout Q&A: Brad Holman (August 17, 2011)
Rangers All-Prospect Teams (November 8, 2011)
Rangers 2011 Rule 5 Preview (November 18, 2011)
Lone Star Dugout Q&A: Jason Wood (November 22, 2011)

Prospect Video:

Johan Yan with Hickory in 2010 from Jason Cole on Vimeo.

Repertoire: Fastball, Slider, Changeup.

Fastball: Yan's velocity climbed slightly in his second season as a sidearmer, rising from the 84-88 mph range into the upper-80s. He sat around 87-90 mph late in the year with Frisco and in the Arizona Fall League. While the added velocity is a bonus, Yan's success mostly comes from his fastball's heavy sink and run. He's also highly deceptive due to his sidearm angle, long arms, and seemingly effortless delivery.

Myrtle Beach coaches Jason Wood and Brad Holman both praised Yan's level-headed demeanor––despite his relative inexperience on the mound––and willingness to attack the strike zone with his fastball regardless of the situation. His within-the-zone fastball command flashed plus at times in 2011 but still has some room for improvement.

Other Pitches: As one scout described Yan's breaking ball late last season, "It's not a slider, and it's not a curveball. It's a breaking ball." The 72-76 mph breaker isn't a wipeout swing-and-miss offering, but it can be effective in keeping hitters off-balance. With late horizontal break with some depth, it's somewhere in between the two traditional breaking balls. Yan also mixes in the occasional low-80s changeup, a usable third pitch with sinker-like action.

Projection: Though he isn't overpowering, Yan's heavy sinker and highly deceptive delivery should at least give him an opportunity to prove himself against major league hitters. He's likely more of a middle relief arm––and somewhat of a right-handed specialist––at the end of the day. Already armed with decent stuff and the ability to throw strikes, he's not far from the majors but will need to continue to refine his command while learning more about how to attack hitters and utilize his secondary stuff.

2012 Outlook: If Yan picks up where he left off last season, he could be contributing to the Rangers' bullpen at some point in 2012. That's not a given, though, and his first full-time look might not come until 2013. Yan will enter spring training on the bubble between Double-A Frisco and Triple-A Round Rock. Regardless of where he begins, he'll likely pitch the bulk of his innings with the Express after yielding only one earned run in 26.1 Double-A frames late last summer.

ETA: 2012.

2006 AZL Rangers (RK) .218 119 5 2 12 20 0/1 11 50 .311 .328
2007 AZL Rangers (RK) .200 60 4 1 9 6 1/1 5 26 .258 .317
Spokane (SSA) .156 96 3 2 11 7 0/0 7 44 .219 .250
2008 AZL Rangers (RK) .233 150 11 1 21 22 3/4 14 56 .305 .353

Year Team W-L IP H BB SO ERA
2009 AZL Rangers (RK) 3-2 25.0 31 17 21 9.36
2010 Spokane (SSA) 0-1 3.1 5 1 2 2.70
Hickory (A) 0-2 40.0 28 12 36 2.70
2011 Myrtle Beach (A+) 5-3 41.1 33 13 48 1.52
Frisco (AA) 0-0 26.2 18 9 18 0.34

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