19. Yonathan Daza (297 points, 29 ballots)
Yonathan Daza has been in the Rockies organization almost two years more than anyone else who even received a vote for this list and only Jairo Díaz has been a professional for longer. After seven years, Daza has made his first PuRPs list. It’s been a long road for the 23-year-old righty outfielder, who was signed by the Rockies back in October 2010 out of Venezuela.
Daza began his professional career by spending three seasons in the Dominican Summer League, finally producing above league average numbers in the third campaign. He made his stateside debut in Grand Junction in 2014. Daza was an immediate hit there, producing a .905 OPS and 137 wRC+, garnering him his first PuRPs votes. In 2015, Daza was assigned to Low-A Asheville, where he initially struggled and was demoted back to Short Season A Boise. With the Hawks, Daza quickly proved he’d solved short season ball with a 72 plate appearance tear that saw him hit .418 with a 218 wRC+, so it was back to Asheville again.
In his second stint with the Tourists, Daza hit .320/.345/.431 to bring his season-ending wRC+ at the level up to 101. In 2016, Daza began the year with Asheville again, and he picked up where he left off, producing a similar high average, low walks, low strikeouts line: .307/.341/.408 with 40 extra base hits and a 115 wRC+, which earned him a brief cameo in High-A.
The big change for Daza though came when he transformed his body before the 2017, catching the eyes of several national scouts. A more explosive Daza spent the whole regular season in Lancaster, where in 569 plate appearances Daza put up an excellent .341/.376/.466 triple slash, 48 extra base hits, and 31 stolen bases (up from just 8 the year before). Even in a hitter-friendly California League at an age-appropriate level, that 126 wRC+ batting line (he won the batting title with his high average) and improved tools put him on the prospect radar seriously for the first time. Daza was assigned to the elite Arizona Fall League by the Rockies, where he posted a typical Daza line: .318/.333/.379 in 69 plate appearances. Daza was added to the 40 man roster shortly afterward to prevent him from departing in minor league free agency and he enters 2018 firmly in Colorado’s future plans.
Baseball Census has a video of Daza from April 2017:
Most recently, Daza was placed among Colorado’s top 20 prospects by Baseball Prospectus this off-season. Here’s Wilson Karaman on Daza, making a case for him to be in the top ten:
Over the course of the full season I saw a kid adjust to newfound physicality and take off in his new body, gaining confidence at every turn and making huge strides on both sides of the ball. The centerfield defense can be downright electric to watch, with decisive reads, an outstanding burst into the gaps, and tremendous instincts to finish plays on the run. He’s a no-doubter at an up-the-middle position, far as I’m concerned, and with a plus arm he’s more than capable of moving around as situations dictate.
His aggressiveness on the bases proved a notable asset as well, as he progressively gained confidence in his reads and releases, evolving into a legitimately skilled thief over the second half of the season.
His aggressive approach at the dish shouldn’t be discounted as a potential detriment, as he swings early and often at balls around the zone. But we’re coming up on 1,200 at-bats over the past two years of A ball and off-season leagues in which he’s hit a combined .324, and it’s not a fluke. He puts his barrel on the ball an awful lot, with a natural proclivity for shooting low, hard contact the other way. And he made progress situationally turning on balls on the inner third this season, as well. Neither the approach nor the swing plane are geared to drive balls in the air with much carry at present, but he’s strong enough, and the bat speed good enough, to envision some nascent over-the-fence pop hiding under the surface. Even if it doesn’t materialize, it’s not hard to picture him creating hella value shooting gaps at Coors on the regular.
Daza was written up by Jared Wyllys of 2080 Baseball this past July:
Daza sprays line drives to all fields, and although he does not have a lot of power, even in a league that generally beefs up power numbers, his ability to drive the ball to both alleys has made him a doubles machine. He also impresses with his arm strength in the outfield, even if at times his accuracy is inconsistent. If the young hitter can continue to develop his already impressive hit tool and improve the accuracy of his throws from the outfield, Daza could earn himself a regular corner-outfield spot on the Rockies in the years ahead.
Old friend Bobby DeMuro of the Baseball Census had a lengthy profile on Daza in July as well with more in-game video. That one’s well worth reading in its entirety.
I see this profile and think of Raimel Tapia with a lower offensive ceiling but more defensive utility, though admittedly Daza is doing it at an older age than Tapia did. Karaman is more bullish on his ability to stick up the middle than others, but all seem to agree that Daza’s arm and speed out there are assets. Add it all up and I ranked Daza 19th in the system on my personal list, in line with the electorate.
Daza’s minor league option clock is now ticking thanks to his 40 man roster slot, and he hasn’t even made it to Double-A yet. We’ll see if he can carry his improvement over to Hartford in 2018. Either way, Daza’s speed and defensive utility make him a candidate for a big league cup of coffee as soon as this September, though it’s more likely a major league debut would be delayed until 2019.