The Braves acquired Huascar Ynoa from the Twins back in 2017 in exchange for half a season of Jaime Garcia (who would then be traded once again, this time to the Yankees, a few days later). He spent his 2018 season split between A-ball and High-A, working as a starter and putting up good peripherals, albeit with far too many walks. He was added to the 40-man roster in November 2018 to protect him from the Rule 5 draft. Ahead of the 2019 season, Fangraphs rated him the team’s 16th-best prospect, giving him a gaudy 65 PV / 70 FV on his fastball, but only a 35 PV / 45 FV for his command, resulting on a 40 FV overall grade.
What were the expectations?
Given that Ynoa was cut from the Spring Training roster on March 8 and hadn’t yet pitched above High-A, there was little reason to think that he would appear in an Atlanta uniform at some point during the 2019 season. (Spoiler alert: he did.) The expectations were for him to continue refining his craft and climb the minor league ladder.
What went right in 2019?
Ynoa made the majors and pitched three innings, so that’s probably pretty exciting for him. He was promoted to Double-A on April 19, and then pushed further upward to Triple-A less than a month later. He had been at Gwinnett for only about a month before the Braves called him up on June 15, after optioning Dan Winkler down following what would be his last appearance in a Braves uniform.
It didn’t take long for Ynoa to get into a major league game, despite being the roster’s 25th man. He was called up amidst the team’s eight-game winning streak, notable because the team had allowed 38 runs in the final six games thereof. The bullpen was overworked and not particularly effective, and coughed up a lead that led to a streak-snapping loss the first night he was in uniform. The very next day, though, the Braves romped to a 15-1 victory over the Phillies, and Ynoa made his major league debut, hurling two scoreless innings with a 14-run lead to close out the game. Here’s him getting his first major-league strikeout, which was the first of six straight outs he recorded after allowing a leadoff double to his first major league batter faced.
What went wrong in 2019?
Given the above, it’s hard to say much went wrong for Ynoa. He was sent back to Gwinnett the very next day, as Grant Dayton was called up as part of the near-perpetual bullpen merry-go-round that took place over the first four months of the Braves’ season. But, two days later, after Sean Newcomb hit the 7-day concussion IL, Ynoa was recalled back to the big-league club. He didn’t get into a game, and was sent back down again, this time for nearly a month.
When Jacob Webb hit the shelf with an elbow issue, Ynoa was asked back to the club. The very next day, he was asked to pitch in another blowout, and made things far worse. The Braves were down by four runs in the seventh, and Bryse Wilson had been lifted from the game after failing to record an out in the fifth. Ynoa made the deficit much worse:
Why yes, that is a Christian Yelich grand slam in there. The Braves would go on to lose 13-1 (Touki Toussaint allowed two runs of his own in the ninth). Incidentally, that was the most lopsided loss the Braves suffered in 2019, tying their NLDS Game 5 keelhauling by the Cardinals.
What to expect in 2020?
Ynoa could be in the mix for some bullpen work with the big-league club in 2020, depending on he progresses. He didn’t actually pitch all that well at Gwinnett in 2019 (5.33 ERA, 5.52 FIP, 4.82 xFIP) and really needs to rein in the walks. He’s got plenty of years and option years to figure it out, however. Or he could be dealt as part of the Braves seeking upgrades to their big league club over the winter.