MLB.com Columnist

Bernie Pleskoff

First look: Yankees No. 4 prospect Rafael De Paula

First look: Yankees No. 4 prospect Rafael De Paula

In November 2010, hard-throwing right-handed pitcher Rafael De Paula, a native of La Victoria, Dominican Republic, signed a contract to pitch for the New York Yankees. Following the signing, an investigation regarding De Paula's age took 16 months before Major League Baseball approved the contract.

De Paula is now ranked the Yankees' best pitching prospect and No. 4 overall on the team's Top 20 Prospects list.

At age 21, in his 2012 rookie season, De Paula had a tremendous beginning to his career as a starter for the Yankees Dominican Summer League team.

He had an 8-2 record, pitching to an ERA of 1.46 while allowing 35 hits in 61 2/3 innings. He averaged over 12 strikeouts per nine innings, striking out 85 while walking only 18. His WHIP was an eye-popping 0.86.

Given his success, the Yankees assigned De Paula to Class A Charleston of the South Atlantic League this season. Once again, DePaul began the year showing his dominance. He had a 6-2 record with a 2.94 ERA in 64 1/3 innings pitched. He struck out 96 while walking 23. The opposition hit only .189 off him in his 13 starts.

In the first week of June, De Paula's work at Charleston earned him a promotion to the Class A Advanced Tampa Yankees.

Facing advanced hitters in the Florida State League, De Paula ran into his first real hiccup on the mound. He started 10 games, pitching to an ERA of 6.06. For the first time, he gave up more hits than innings pitched, yielding 54 hits in 49 innings. His walk rate increased as well, as he walked 30 while striking out 50.

Pitching in 24 total games this season, right-handed batters hit .223 while lefties hit .243 against his offerings.

At 6-foot-2, 212 pounds, De Paula has an effective build for the rigors of pitching. He has long arms and a sturdy frame. However, even with his size and strength, perhaps the heat of the summer and the increase in his work load had an impact on his second-half performance at Tampa.

De Paula has a very crisp 94 mph fastball that is the focal point of his three-pitch repertoire. He uses the fastball most of the time, with his biting 83 mph slurve-type pitch and his deceptive changeup sharing the rest of the arsenal frequency. Unlike many young pitchers, De Paula has a history of throwing secondary pitches consistently for strikes. He likes to work away from hitters.

His fastball is an advanced pitch, sinking well, and inducing hitters to pound the ball into the ground.

I got to scout De Paula in the 2013 All-Star Future Game at Citi Field in New York. He threw one very compelling inning. Included were a strike out of top prospect Byron Buxton and a single by Cardinals prospect Kolten Wong. He hit Astros prospect George Springer with a pitch.

I have two minor concerns regarding De Paula's mechanics. He drifts and lands to his glove side (toward first base), and he doesn't always "finish" his pitches by extending his arm toward the hitter. He cuts off the extension too soon as his body moves to the left. He is cheating himself of the power and comfort of using his lower body and long arms to their maximum potential.

From an experience standpoint, it is still early in De Paula's development program. Once he progresses, he offers an excellent rotation option to the Yankees. He has a balanced and effective repertoire, a mature mound presence and a desire to win. That's a solid recipe for success.

Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Follow @BerniePleskoff on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.