As an unknown September call-up last summer, Rafael Ynoa out-performed everybody's expectations, slashing .343/.380/.463 (23-for-67 in 71 PA's) with an .843 OPS, just nine strikeouts, and a 122 OPS+ in 19 games, including 12 starts at third base. This September, Ynoa repeated the feat, slashing .342/.342/.500 (13-for-38) with four doubles and a triple.
...And yet, unfortunately, Ynoa also played in April, May, June, and July this year. In those months, he slashed a pitiful .225/.250/.270 in 93 plate appearances. (Ynoa spent most of July and the entire month of August in Triple-A.) Is Raffy benefitting from September at-bats against minor league call-ups, perhaps making him a stereotypical AAAA talent? Or does he have value as a utility infielder and just needs an opportunity to come out from behind players like Daniel Descalso?
I'll give Raffy credit; despite apparently only deciding to hit in September, he didn't just feast on call-ups. In the final month of 2015, he got his doubles (four -- two off Patrick Corbin, one versus Alex Wood, and one against Arquimedes Caminero), and his triple (against Mike Bolsinger) off legitimate big leaguers. So that's... something? (I'm trying, you guys.)
On the other hand, Ynoa has never shown patience at the plate, and the little patience we saw last summer evaporated this year. After logging a 5.6% walk rate and a 12.7% strikeout rate in 2014, Raffy went the wrong way with both this summer: only three walks (2.3%) against 28 strikeouts (21.4%) in 131 plate appearances. That's not a good trend.
Ynoa was also involved in two of the more disappointing choices made by Walt Weiss in 2015, though neither should be held against Raffy. The first occurred Monday, June 15 in Houston against the Astros, when Ynoa came to the plate in the top of the ninth inning as the tying run, with two runners on base and the Rockies down three. He hit into a game-ending double play. Carlos Gonzalez was healthy and available, twiddling his thumbs on the bench. No bueno, Walt.
The other occurred just two weeks later, on Wednesday, July 1 in Oakland against the Athletics. Ynoa started in left field in place of injured Corey Dickerson, and he went 0-for-4 with a seventh inning error that led to an unearned run in the Rockies' 4-1 loss. He was sent down that night, in favor of Kyle Parker (you know, an actual outfielder) and wouldn't return until September. (By that point, he would never again play left field, except for the wacky 16-inning game in Dodger Stadium that also saw Jason Gurka play right field.)
Raffy in the context of the 2016 Rockies
Ynoa's future in Denver depends on things he can't control, and specifically things that may or may not happen this winter. With DJ LeMahieu at second base, Jose Reyes at shortstop (well, as of today), and Nolan Arenado not going anywhere at third, three rosters spots are taken. Add to the depth chart Descalso, who's due to make $2.1 million in 2016, Cristhian Adames, who (in my opinion) has more than proven he's ready for the big leagues, and quickly-moving prospect Trevor Story. All of a sudden, there's no spot for Raffy.
That could all change, of course. Trade rumors will swirl around Reyes all winter. The Rockies could also choose to sell high on LeMahieu if they're offered something they like, I suppose, or even ship out Adames to clear a path for Story (though both of those hypotheticals are far more unlikely).
As it stands now, Ynoa is the odd man out and will likely spend more time in Triple-A than the Major Leagues next year -- and that's assuming he (a) even retains a spot on the 40-man roster, or (b) clears waivers if/when he is potentially designated for assignment should the Rockies need that roster spot.
Ynoa still has less than one year of service time, so he won't see arbitration until 2018 or free agency until 2021. Because of that, he's pretty damn cheap. And while he's not a left fielder, he is flexible, playing games across the infield over the past two seasons and switch hitting with relatively similar career splits from each side of the plate.
Injuries and other weird stuff always seem to happen, depth always gets tested, and Ynoa may well stay within the organization through whatever roster shuffles take place this winter. We probably haven't seen the last of Raffy in Denver. Let's just hope if (when?) he dons the purple again, he decides to start hitting before September 1st.