14. Yonathan Daza (433 points, 32 ballots)
Purple Row might not agree on everything, but the 32-member Purple Row Prospect list electorate was unanimous in their decree that Yonathan Daza deserved a place in the system’s top 30, the first such player (out of 13) to be revealed in the preseason 2019 version of the list. He’s also the player on this list who has by far (about 3 years) the longest tenure in the Rockies organization, having been signed way back in late 2010 out of Venezuela.
It’s been a tough road for Daza, who took almost eight years as a prospect to even make his first PuRPs list. The road began with a year in the Dominican academy after signing followed by three full campaigns in the Dominican Summer League, and only in the last of these seasons did Daza produce a line better than league average. As a result, by the time Daza finished his stateside debut in 2014, a successful campaign in which Daza hit .370 and posted a 137 wRC+ with Grand Junction, he was nearly Rule 5 eligible. The Rockies didn’t protect him from Rule 5 after a 2015 season in which he demolished Short Season A (218 wRC+ in 72 PAs) and held his own in Low A (106 wRC+ in 279 PAs over two separate stints). They didn’t protect him from Rule 5 after Daza proved the previous year wasn’t a fluke in Low A (115 wRC+ in 516 PAs) with a brief High A cameo in 2016.
Only when the Rockies were forced to choose between losing Daza to minor league free agency or giving him a 40 man roster slot after the 2017 season did Colorado bring Daza into their long-term plans. Of course, Daza no doubt had a lot to do with that change of mind, as he made dramatic improvements to his physique and game during that 2016-17 off-season. This hard work paid off with his best season as a pro in 2017, a 126 wRC+ campaign in Lancaster in which he hit .341/.376/.466 with 48 extra base hits and 31 steals out of 39 attempts in 569 PAs. He then tacked on a successful Arizona Fall League coda to the season in which he hit .318/.333/.379 against other top prospects.
In 2018, Daza got his first taste of Double-A after the better part of a decade as a professional. Unfortunately, hamstring injuries led to multiple DL stints in May, June, and July and ended his season in late July. As a silver lining, Daza actually accumulated 27 days of MLB service time in 2018 as the Rockies needed an extra 40 man roster slot in their stretch run this past September and put him on the 60 day DL. He did recover enough to play in the Venezuelan Winter League, where he hit .296 in 21 games.
In the 54 games he was actually able to participate in at an age-appropriate level in Double-A, Daza again surpassed the .300 mark, something he’s done each year he’s played in the US. Over 228 PAs, Daza hit .306/.330/.461 with 24 extra base hits for Hartford, good for a 118 wRC+. As he has done throughout his minor league career, Daza didn’t strike out much (10.5% of PA) but neither did he walk much (3.1% of PAs). In fact, Daza is the anti-Three True Outcomes hitter with only 4 homers to add to those low K/BB numbers.
Here’s video of Daza from July 2018 courtesy of 2080 Baseball:
Bobby DeMuro of Baseball Census has additional video of Daza from this Lancaster days within his Daza write-up from this preseason 2018 report, well worth reading in its entirety.
Baseball Prospectus has been Daza’s most prominent champions of late, and their placement of him at 9th in the system recently is no exception. Here’s Jeffrey Paternostro on Daza:
He’s a quick-twitch athlete, a plus runner who’s a steady defender in center field, and he shows enough arm for right. His bat needs to take a step forward to get him over the hump from fourth outfielder to starter, though.
Daza’s swing is loose—in a good way—with quick wrists. It’s bat speed over barrel control at present. He has the raw physical tools for average hit, but struggles with spin and his general aggressiveness at the plate looks ripe for exploitation by major-league arms. There’s enough strength and loft—he’ll put a charge in a mistake—to project average power, but you wonder how much of that he will get into games against elite pitching.
Daza currently ranks 18th in MLB.com’s organizational roundup:
Daza is a gifted hitter with a knack for serving line drives to the opposite field. His approach yields very little home run power, however, and the ease with which he makes contact cuts into his walk totals. He has gotten faster as he has firmed up his body and now has plus speed and some basestealing acumen.
While there’s some question whether Daza can make enough offensive impact to warrant playing every day at the big league level, his speed and defensive ability give him value as a fourth outfielder. He’s the best center-field defender in the system, with his quick first step and fine instincts allowing him to cover plenty of ground. He also has the strongest outfield arm among Rockies farmhands, enabling him to play all three spots.
The 24-year old Daza represents a rarity in Colorado’s system — an honest to goodness right-handed hitting outfield prospect. More important than handedness is Daza’s status as likely the organization’s best defensive outfielder. If you believe MLB.com’s evaluation, he possesses a 70 arm and plus speed, as well as a 55 hit tool. Certainly there are also warts with the profile, most notably a lack of power, concerns that the hit tool won’t play as well against more advanced pitching, and the fact that he only got to Double-A as a 24-year old.
Still, put it all together and you get a very likely (again, right-handed!) MLB 4th outfielder with the potential to be a big league regular if the defense and hit tool both play up. That’s a valuable package and a big reason why I ranked Daza 11th on my personal list with a 40+ Future Value. Even if Daza just becomes a poor man’s version of Raimel Tapia (to whom I’ve previously compared Daza) or even just a rich man’s Noel Cuevas, that’s a big win for a prospect who a year or two ago was on his way out of pro ball altogether.
Daza finds himself on the outside of the 2019 Major League roster picture and may be ticketed for a return engagement to Hartford to begin his second option year. I see him ascending to Triple-A before too long in 2019 though, where in September his speed and defense would make him a good stretch run call-up. He’ll be competing for “right-handed outfield reserve” reps with Cuevas and I think this year that’s a competition Daza will win.