Boise Hawks outfielder Yonathan Daza broke out last year, hitting .370 with the Grand Junction Rockies a step below Boise and earning a spot on the Rockies’ MiLB.com organizational all-star team as one of the top three outfield prospects for Colorado.
And the 21-year-old from Maracay, Venezuela, hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down this summer with the Hawks, entering Wednesday night as the Northwest League’s leader in batting average (.395), extra-base hits (10) and slugging percentage (.767). He was also tied for the lead in hits (17) and triples (three).
He only added to his totals Wednesday, going 2-for-5 with a double and two RBIs to raise his average to .396.
That’s a far cry from how Daza began his pro career.
He scuffled to a .231 average as a 17-year-old rookie in the Dominican Summer League, then followed up with a .213 average as an 18-year-old, earning him a third season at Colorado’s facility in the Dominican Republic.
But that extra time paid off as he admitted he needed to mature and learn what it takes to become a professional baseball player.
“It’s how you show up every day and work during batting practice, in the field during outfield, all the things you do to prepare yourself to be a big league player,” said Daza, with Hawks manager Frank Gonzales translating. “You have to do it every day. If you don’t do it every day, then you have no chance to play in the big leagues.”
That maturity allowed him to hit .291 during his third year in the Dominican Republic, earning him a promotion to Grand Junction last season. Latin American players making their American debut typically need an adjustment period when coming to the states. Not only do they have to adjust to new ballparks, stronger opponents and long bus rides like any other minor leaguer, but they have to do it in a foreign country.
But Gonzales said Daza’s advanced maturity helped him handle all of the adjustments as he posted the second highest batting average in the Pioneer League in 2014 and stole 19 bases, fifth in the league.
“I think he came probably more prepared,” Gonzales said. “Some guys come here and they’re more nervous. They’re real tentative and we just don’t know how they’re going to show up.
“But if you haven’t noticed, he’s got a little swag to him. So he walks around with a little chip on his shoulder, which I think is great.”
Daza has set up a home in the heart of Boise’s lineup this season, batting third in 12 of the Hawks’ 14 games thus far. But he hasn’t forgotten the lessons he learned as a teenager in the Dominican Summer League.
“I felt like I wasn’t always as focused as I need to be,” he said. “I had to figure out what it took to be a baseball player every day. … The maturing as a baseball player and doing all the things you need to do to play everyday, I didn’t realize how important it was. And my focus is just that much better.”
FOURTH-ROUND PICK WITH HAWKS: Right-handed pitcher David Hill, whom the Rockies selected from the University of San Diego with the 107th overall pick in June’s MLB Draft, joined Boise while in Eugene last week. But he has yet to make an appearance with the club.
Gonzales said the highest draft pick with the team threw a bullpen session Wednesday as the team determines when he’s ready to make his pro debut.