Before 2009: De La Rosa certainly has a more interesting “Before 2009″ than some other guys, that’s for sure. The Yankees signed him out of the Dominican Republic as a 16-year-old…outfielder, not a pitcher. He wasn’t totally horrendous as an outfielder — he was a .224 career hitter with three home runs in 920 at-bats…OK, maybe he was — but he didn’t get past Low-A ball in five years, and he made the transition to the mound after the 2006 season.
De La Rosa debuted as a left-handed reliever with the Yankees Gulf Coast League affiliate in 2007 and started immediately getting the results he couldn’t as a hitter. In 12 games, he was 1-0 with a 2.63 ERA and struck out 32 batters while walking just 11.
Already 23 years old at the time of the 2008 season, the Yankees needed to see if De La Rosa could handle being fast tracked through the system, so they started him at Low-A Charleston. De La Rosa was lights out, going 7-3 with a 2.29 ERA in 29 appearances, including eight starts. It was there where he first started experimenting with pitching every fifth day, and that’s what he would permanently do starting with his late season call-up to High-A Tampa. For as good as he was with Charleston, he was even better with Tampa, posting a 2-1 mark and 1.10 ERA in three August starts.
2009: The 24-year-old southpaw began the year in Tampa’s starting rotation, but after allowing just two runs through his first three turns in the rotation, it became clear that he was ready for a promotion to Double-A.
Added to the 40-man roster prior to the start of the season, De La Rosa ultimately pitched pretty well for the Thunder before eventually being shut down late in the season due to a biceps tendon injury that was not believed to be serious. In 16 starts, De La Rosa was 4-5 with a 3.48 ERA. In 82.2 innings of work, he walked 41 and struck out 77 and held the Eastern League to a .221 average against, which is actually 15 points higher than his career average against numbers.
After 2009: Does De La Rosa figure into the Yankees immediate plans? Probably not. But he’s likely to figure into the Thunder’s rotation come Opening Day in 2010. He entered 2009 as the Yankees 19th best prospect according to Baseball America, and likely will end up somewhere around there next year as well. He didn’t do anything to hurt his prospect status, but didn’t do much to give it a big boost, either.
Given he’s a consistent lefty, De La Rosa will likely get a shot in the big leagues at some point with the Yankees. And given his status on the 40-man roster, that’s an opportunity that may come in September of 2010.
Sooner yet though, given his age and sudden lack of upper level starters in the organization, De La Rosa will likely earn a promotion to Triple-A Scranton by mid-season, and it wouldn’t be a total shock if a strong camp earned him a spot in the back end of their rotation in April.
Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com