In early May, four months before Yunesky Maya was signed to a 4-year/$8M dollar major league deal and introduced to the nation's capital, and eight months after the Cuban-born pitcher fled his home country for the United States in September of '09, Philadelphia Daily News writer David Murphy reported in an article entitled, "Phillies Notebook: Phillies' Ibanez bats seventh for first time since 2004", that the Phillies' scouts were traveling to the Dominican Republic to watch Maya throw in spite of the fact that, "...they do not currently view him as a serious option for either their rotation or bullpen." According to reports from the WEEI SportsRadio Networks' Rob Bradford, in an article entitled, "Red Sox Interested in Cuban Pitcher", the Sox were thought, as far back as September '09 when he defected, to be working on a deal with Maya, who was described by Mr. Bradford as a 28-year-old right-hander, "...who is most likely at the minor league level who could eventually fill into the back-end of a rotation."
So it was somewhat surprising to hear DC GM Mike Rizzo in the team's introductory press conference announcing that Maya had signed with DC, describing the pitcher, "...as a person we thought could give us instant impact at the major league level," and even more surprising when Washington Post writer Thomas Boswell wrote in an August 19th chat entitled, "Redskins, Stephen Strasburg, Nats and more -- Ask Boswell", that the Nats' "...think [Yunesky Maya is] the third best pitcher in the organization right now, after Strasburg and [Jordan Zimmermann]."
That sort of talk, however, if you followed the rumors in the months leading up to Maya's signing is probably what convinced the right-hander to sign on with the Nats when teams like the Phillies, Red Sox and Yankees were all reportedly interested in the international free agent. In an MLBTraderumors.com report by Nick Collias in early May, Mr. Collias, after reading several Spanish-language reports on the teams who'd expressed interest in Maya, wrote that, "Maya was more likely to choose a team where he had a better shot of immediately cracking the rotation," and, according Mr. Collias' reading of the situation:
"What is seemingly more important to the player and his agent, judging by their respective quotes to the Spanish-language press, is that teams approach Maya as a polished talent who is big-league ready right now."
Maya himself (or through a translator) did, in fact, say during his introductory press conference that, (as I wrote at the time), "the Nats were one of the organizations that were very aggressive with him from the beginning, and did a good job of communicating they wanted him to join the team, and he felt that the organization also presented a great opportunity for him to make it to the majors." The same sort of hype (hyperbole?) the Nationals used in wooing and introducing Maya to Nats fans, however, may have led to unrealistic expectations. The right-hander was out of organized baseball for over a year before he signed with the Nationals and reported first to their training facilities in Florida and then the Gulf Coast League for two starts, Class-A Potomac for one appearance, and Double-A Harrisburg for two outings, in which he was a combined (1-2) with a 3.38 ERA and 10 hits, 8 ER, and 10 walks allowed in 21.1 IP.
As Nats Insider.com's Mark Zuckerman asked in an article this morning entitled, "23 tried and true Nats facts", when remarking on Maya's relative lack of success so far on the mound in the Majors, "How many pitchers can be expected to be big-league ready after five minor-league starts?" Maybe before judging the right-hander as many Nats fans have done, comparing him in some cases to fellow Cuban pitcher Aroldis Chapman, we should all allow the now-29-year-old right-hander to get through his first Spring Training and then see what he can do when he's actually been able to face Major League hitting for a few months and develop scouting reports on opposing team's batter's strengths and tendencies.
Nats' Skipper Jim Riggleman, at least, likes what he's seen from Maya so far, telling reporters in the post game press conference following Maya's most recent start, a 5.1 inning outing in which he allowed 8 hits, 5 runs (4 ER) and 3 walks in a 5-0 loss to Atlanta, that, "I thought his perfomance was fine,":
Jim Riggleman: "[Maya] really did what he does. He pitched kinda backwards, threw breaking balls in fastball counts and pitched to the edges a little bit. I thought he just did a good job. The one pitch that [Braves' infielder Alex] Gonzalez got, that ball obviously didn't do what Maya wanted it to do (resulting in a 3-run HR), he kinda left it right there to be hit, but he competed, [and was] outstanding, was in trouble a two or three times and just kept battling...I think he's just gotten better each time, I thought he was better today than he was the last time, and he was a little better than the previous time, so I think what he shows us is what he is, and I think it's going to work. I think that style of pitching, there's a lot guys that pitch at that velocity, right around 90 [mph] in and out, change speeds, good breaking ball, good changeup, and fearless. The guy down there in Florida that beats us a lot, [Anibal Sanchez], he reaches back and gets 93 [mph] now and then, but he pitches at 90 [mph] right around that area and just continues to baffle you, and I see a little bit of that in Maya."
A 29-year-old Anibal Sanchez with a 90mph fastball, change and 12-to-6 olde-style bender? I think most Nats fans would take that, let's just give Maya a chance before writing him off as a failed signing.