19. Yonathan Daza (206 points, 17 ballots)
Yonathan Daza has the most tenure of any PuRP on this year’s list by almost three years, having signed out of Venezuela way back in 2010. It took a long time for the righty outfielder to emerge as a notable prospect though, as he didn’t even register any PuRPs votes until the Winter 2014 list. Even after that recognition, it took another four years for Daza to make his first PuRPs list (pre-season 2018) when he was added to the 40-man roster in order to protect him from minor league free agency—the first of five consecutive PuRP berths for Daza.
In other words, it hasn’t been a conventional prospect path for Daza. The 25-year-old has been in the organization a long time but is actually a week younger than fellow PuRP Sam Hilliard, a 2015 draftee. He spent three full years in the DSL before finally coming stateside in 2014 and crushing the ball in Grand Junction. It took him another four years to make it out of A ball, finally doing so in 2017 after he dramatically improved his physique and his approach the prior offseason. After getting added to the 40-man roster, Daza played well in 2018 in a AA campaign that was truncated by hamstring injuries. Because the Rockies needed his 40-man spot in September of that year, Daza even got some MLB service time when he was added to the 60-day DL.
In 2019, Daza was promoted to AAA to start the season but very quickly got thrown into the fire when the Rockies needed an injury replacement, getting called up to the big leagues in early April. He spent eight days in two separate stints with Colorado, going hitless in 12 PAs, before getting sent back down to AAA. Daza tore up Pacific Coast League pitching and was hitting .366/.403/.576 when he got another big league cameo in late May, getting his first MLB hit in seven additional PAs but heading back to AAA a few days later.
It wasn’t until early August that Daza returned to the Rockies for good, during which time he notably affixed the Las Cucarachas nickname/signals/etc. that became ubiquitous as the season wound down. In the field, the outfielder provided strong work defensively in center, but his dreadful .206/.257/.237 batting line with just two extra-base hits in 105 PAs across 44 games equated to a dreadful 17 wRC+ and a -0.8 rWAR.
That was the Major League story in 2019 for Daza anyways. In AAA, Daza took full advantage of the offense-friendly Pacific Coast League. Over 418 PAs with Albuquerque mostly hitting leadoff, Daza was dangerous in a way he simply didn’t show himself capable of in MLB, hitting .364/.404/.548 with 45 extra-base hits (11 HR), good for a 132 wRC+. In today’s Three True Outcomes environment, Daza’s low walk (6%), low strikeout (12%) game represents a different way of getting it done.
Here’s video of Daza from July 2018 courtesy of 2080 Baseball:
Despite all the time Daza spent with the Rockies in 2019, he still finds himself rookie-eligible entering 2020. As a result of that MLB time though, it seems that Daza wasn’t considered a prospect for the FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus system rankings this time around.
MLB Pipeline still lists Daza though, putting him 10th in the system in their ranking:
Daza has a knack for barreling up the baseball and picks up hits in bunches, and while he’s perfectly happy to shoot line drives the other way, he did start turning on pitches and driving them to his pull side more effectively in 2018, though over-the-fence power is never going to be a big part of his game. He’s not a burner, but he runs well enough to be an effective baserunner and uses his speed well in center field.
Considered the best center field prospect in the system, he has plus instincts, reads and routes to go along with excellent first-step quickness. He makes it look easy out there as a true ball hawk. How he continues to impact the baseball might determine his ultimate ceiling, but at the very least, he’s a very valuable fourth outfielder.
Baseball Prospectus was high on Daza entering 2019, ranking him ninth. 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.
A high contact line-drive hitter with excellent center field defense and a cannon for an arm like Daza is a prospect worth watching during spring training this year, even if he did look terrible in 2019 with the Rockies. After all, a similar player in Mike Tauchman just produced an above average line at the Major League level in 2019 when given an extended chance to prove himself.
There are certainly warts in Daza’s profile, most notably a lack of power and real concerns that the hit tool won’t play well against MLB pitching, so I don’t blame voters for being skeptical of Daza’s future role with the Rockies. Still, he’s the best defensive outfielder in the system (he was recently listed as one of the top three defensive outfielders among all prospects) and has clearly mastered the AAA level offensively, so Daza provides a safe reserve outfielder floor with potential for a second division regular ceiling if the hit tool and defense play up.
Opinions vary on how valuable that range of outcomes is, but for me it was valuable enough for me to rank Daza 14th on my personal list with a FV 40 grade. Even if Daza just becomes what Raimel Tapia has turned out to be thus far 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 will be in the mix for an outfield gig to begin 2020, but he appears to be slotted for the AAA center-field job to begin the year. I see an Opening Day outfield of David Dahl, Charlie Blackmon, Sam Hilliard, and Raimel Tapia with Ian Desmond and Garrett Hampson figuring into the mix on the grass somehow as well. With that said, I foresee Daza getting an extended look at some time in 2020 when injuries and ineffectiveness thins the ranks.