Baseball Prospectus’s Kevin Golstein mentioned Washington Nationals rookie starting pitcher Yunesky Maya in his most recent Future Shock:
“A long-time star of the Cuban national team, after defecting he signed with the Nationals to a $7.4 million deal last year, with the thought that he could move quickly. He did just that, getting to the big leagues after just five minor-league appearances, but he turned out to not be the pitcher he was back in the day, going from a power pitcher with plus control to merely a strike-thrower with little velocity. An inability to miss bats led to troubles in the big leagues, but scouts noted some adjusted this winter, where he put up a 1.32 ERA for Escogido in the Dominican Winter League. His competition for the last two rotation slots in Washington are Luis Atilano and John Lannan, which helps his cause even more.”
We will find out very quickly whether or not the investment by the Nationals in Maya was the right move or a major mistake. Maya was an elite talent in Cuba before he defected, and the Nationals made a big splash signing him last year. Unfortunately, Maya, just 29, struggled to even be a shell of his former self in his first Major League stint. The Nationals are chalking that up to rust as the one-time workhorse was stagnant for a long period of time between his defection and his minor league debut.
If the Nationals are right, and Maya turns into an at least major league average starter, then Mike Rizzo made a solid investment. While $7.4 million is a lot to spend on an amateur talent, it’s not much to spend on an average MLB starter. Of course, if the Nationals are wrong, and Maya continues to be a high-80’s throwing junk baller with no major out pitches, then they made a horrible miscalculation akin to signing a major first round bust…to a huge bonus.
To put Maya’s contract in perspective, his $7.4 million deal is almost double the $4 million they refused to give Aaron Crow in 2008 (When Bowden was GM), and is over $5 million more than former opening day starter John Lannan has made in his entire career.
The good news is that Maya’s Dominican League performance indicates that he may be ready to bounce back. It’s unclear whether his improved numbers were a result of a return to Latin America, or a re-found confidence, but what is clear is his pitches missed bats once again, which is a great first step. It still remains unknown whether or not he will be the type of talent scouts had hoped, however, the one thing that is for sure is that the Nationals will get a great chance to see exactly what they have in Maya come this spring. Maya has been able to hone his skills this winter and is clearly pitching at his peak.
Let’s see if he can make some outs at the next level.