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Yonathan Daza brings, potential, fun to the Rockies

Daza is still in a growth period, but his presence in the clubhouse is already felt

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You’re reading the 2019 edition of Ranking the Rockies, where we take a look back at the season had by every player to play for the Rockies in 2019. The purpose of this list is to provide a snapshot of the player in context. The “Ranking” is an organizing principle that’s drawn from Baseball Reference’s WAR (rWAR). It’s not something the staff debated. We’ll begin with the player with the least amount of rWAR and end up with the player with the most.

★ ★ ★

No. 45, Yonathan Daza (-0.8 rWAR)

Although his -0.8 rWAR is disappointing, 2019 was a big year for center fielder Yonathan Daza. (If you’re not familiar with him, back in January, Jeff Aberle provided a nice overview of Daza’s journey to the majors. At that time, he was the number 14 PuRP.)

First, Daza had an excellent season with the Isotopes. In 387 at-bats, he slashed .364/.404/.548 and was one of three Isotopes selected to the PCL All-Star game. (This James Yodice piece describes the story of Daza raking in ABQ.)

Second, Daza made his Coors Field MLB debut on April 9 when David Dahl went on the 10-day IL. Because he was largely ineffective, Daza was soon sent back to Albuquerque, where he again found his stroke. He returned to Coors in September to finish out the season with the Rockies. In terms of offense, Daza showed some progress but still struggled to adjust. During his two stints with the Rockies, he had 97 at bats for 20 hits and a slashline of .206/.257/.237.

Defensively, he has fared better. He has been called the Rockies’ best outfield prospect and is, notably, right handed. In 2019, he earned an Outs Above Average of 1, behind Raimel Tapia (5) and David Dahl (2) and better than Garrett Hampson and Sam Hilliard (0), and Ian Desmond (-8.) and Charlie Blackmon (-9). And don’t forget Daza’s defense that helped save the second game against the Brewers. At the top of the ninth inning, he barely missed a Ben Gamel fly ball before quickly making a perfect throw to the plate that allowed Tony Wolters to get out Lorenzo Cain. Daza’s defensive potential is real.

Daza has also become part of the Rockies clubhouse. Enjoy this video of Daza and Chi Chi González taking fans on a tour of Coors Field.

It’s wonderful that this video is presented in Spanish with English subtitles. First, it reaches out to Spanish-speaking Rockies fans. Second, it echoes the cultural bridge roles Carlos González and Gerardo Parra played in the Rockies’ clubhouse. Third, it’s a reminder of the language barriers non-native English speakers face when playing baseball in America.

It’s worth noting that as a teenager, Daza (like CarGo) left his home in Venezuela to pursue a career as a professional baseball player. He’s been in the Rockies’ system since 2010 when he was signed as an international free agent. Daza’s 2019 may not be remarkable in terms of the numbers, but it is as a personal story. As Daza told Patrick Saunders of his MLB debut, “Being here fulfills a dream — I called my mom back in Venezuela and she cried — and I’m ready to get to work and help the team win games.”

In his “Do the Rockies Have a Fun Problem?” article, Nick Groke pointed to the key roles González and Parra played in keeping clubhouse mood light. Those players are no longer with the team, but in 2019, the Rockies had Las Cucarachas, the work of (mostly) younger players like Daza, Tapia, McMahon, and Márquez. Daza added this about the evolution of Las Cucarachas:

“All the Latin guys, really,” Daza said. “I’m trying to bring something positive. Don’t think about the game too much, you know? Play loose, play fun no matter what happens. I want to play the game like a kid, no pressure. And if we win, we win together. And if we lose, we lose together and get ready for the next day.”

Daza’s comments here are significant (though I doubt that was his intention) in that they articulate the important role the young players (who struggle for playing time) are assuming in trying to change the clubhouse atmosphere.

Fun aside, these numbers, probably, are not the Coors Field debut that Rockies fans hoped for, but Daza finds himself at the whims of an organization that struggles to help minor league players transition to major-league baseball. Mike Tauchman has spoken about this, and the player development of Raimel Tapia, Ryan McMahon, and Garrett Hampson suggest that routine playing time is key to a successful transition. Daza did not see that in 2019.

I would argue that we don’t yet have enough information to determine how Yonathan Daza will perform at the MLB level, but in the final week of the season, he showed potential. Hopefully, he’ll get more opportunities to show what he can do.

Hey, Rockies, #LetTheKidsPlay.