Bonus baby tops the A's' list

Tuesday, March 10, 2009
**HOLD FOR STORY BY WRITER JEFF FLETCHER** Oakland Athletics pitching prospect Michael Ynoa pitches at the Athletics minor league facility in Phoenix, Monday, March 9, 2009. Ynoa throws a fastball in the mid-90s, along with a curveball and a changeup. He finished Monday's 25-pitch session with a few changeups that particularly impressed minor league catcher Anthony Recker. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

PHOENIX -- Michael Ynoa has the confidence to go along with his contract.

After the 17-year-old right-hander went through his first workout on U.S. soil since the Athletics gave him an eye-popping $4.25-million signing bonus in July, he set an optimistic timeline for reaching the majors.

"God willing, I believe two years, if I work very hard," Ynoa said Monday.

At least one person, minor league catcher Anthony Recker, isn't doubting it.

"It wouldn't surprise me," Recker said after catching Ynoa's first bullpen session. "He has great stuff. You can tell he was working at 75 percent and the ball was jumping out of his hand. He's got great movement. He's got great mechanics. He's definitely ahead of most 17-year-olds."

Last summer, the A's won a bidding war for Ynoa, who at the time was incorrectly referred to as "Inoa" in most reports. When they signed him, it was the largest bonus ever given to a non-Cuban international amateur player. It was the largest bonus the A's had paid to any amateur.

The 6-foot-7 Ynoa was referred to by the A's and other scouts as a "once-in-a-decade" talent. He often was compared to Mariners right-hander Felix Hernandez.

Keith Lieppman, the A's longtime director of player development, oversaw Ynoa's work last summer in the Dominican Republic and Monday's workout at the team's minor league complex.

"You just see how effortless his mechanics are, especially for a big guy," Lieppman said. "Some 6-6 or 6-7 guys are clumsy or their deliveries are a little herky jerky. He has none of that. He's coordinated. He's athletic. His arm action is free. It's effortless as the ball jumps out of his hand."

Ynoa throws a fastball in the mid-90s, along with a curveball and a changeup. He finished Monday's 25-pitch session with a few changeups that particularly impressed Recker.

"They had a little cut to them," Recker said. "It's not something you learn, especially at that age."

The question about Ynoa is how he'll assimilate to professional baseball. Growing up playing on the dusty fields of the Dominican Republic, he had never played in an actual game until the A's signed him. He pitched just 15 innings in the Dominican Summer League last year.

He had been to the U.S. for a physical, but had not worked out in the country until Monday.

"There is going to be cultural change, a language barrier, a lot of things he'll have to encounter," Lieppman said. "Plus, the added pressure of being the highest paid kid from the Dominican."

Lieppman said the plan is for Ynoa to work out with A's minor leaguers this week in Phoenix, then return to the Dominican Republic for a few weeks. He'll participate in extended spring training from April to June.

At that point, the A's will decide whether to send him to the Class A Northwest League, where he would compete against many recently drafted college players, or keep him in the Arizona Rookie League. There is a chance Ynoa also might head back to the Dominican Summer League, but Lieppman said that was a worst-case scenario. The A's plan for him to pitch about 75 innings this year, wherever he is.

Because Ynoa is often compared to Hernandez, there has been speculation that he might be in the majors at age 19, like the Seattle pitcher.

"You don't want to put him over his head, but you see guys like Doc Gooden [in the majors at age 19], so you want to leave yourself open to that time frame," Lieppman said. "But your expectation should be made as he progresses."

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