It's typical for young Latin American prospects to go through an acclimation period when first introduced to pro ball in the United States.
Rafael De Paula is no different in that regard, although he appears to be greatly accelerating the learning curve.
The Yankees prospect pitched five hitless innings and struck out 10 in just his fourth stateside start Sunday afternoon before Class A Charleston dropped a 1-0 decision to Hickory in the second game of a doubleheader.
While the RiverDogs ended up getting swept, the effort may have been a watershed moment for De Paula.
"That's the first time I've seen him this way," Charleston manager Al Pedrique said. He looked good a couple times in Spring Training. First outing, first time in front of the crowd, under the lights, he was a little nervous and erratic with his command but mostly fine. He lasted only two innings in his second start and a little better the next one. Today was as good as I've seen him."
Through four starts, the 22-year-old right-hander has at least shown he has the raw stuff to develop into an impact prospect. He registered a career-high 11 strikeouts over 4 1/3 innings in his South Atlantic League debut on April 6 and 12 more over eight innings in his next two outings, though he was touched for five runs on seven hits.
Over 17 1/3 innings, De Paula has 33 strikeouts, a total exceeded only by Archie Bradley -- MLB.com's No. 24 overall prospect -- among Minor Leaguers. He works with a fastball-changeup combination, according to Pedrique, and on Sunday pitched between 90-94 mph.
"Danny [Borrell], the pitching coach, worked with him in the bullpen. They made an adjustment in his mechanics, not to be out too far in front too soon, stay back and on top of the ball so his fastball will have a better angle. And that paid off today," said Pedrique, who spent three seasons in the Majors as an infielder from 1987-89.
De Paula had an impressive, albeit brief, track record of success before coming to Charleston. Last season in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League, he went 8-2 with a 1.46 ERA, fanning 85 and walking 18 over 61 2/3 innings. He shared the league lead in wins and ranked second in strikeouts and seventh in ERA.
This season, he has a 3.63 ERA with a 33-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
After some hiccups in his first couple outings -- and acknowledging there almost certainly will be more to come -- De Paula showed Sunday what he's capable of as he continues to settle in.
"He's a very quiet kid, very low-key," Pedrique said. "I'm sure he needs to feel comfortable, get a full season of pitching, being around his teammates. When young Latin players come to the States for the first time, there are adjustments to make.
"I think he's starting to feel comfortable in front of a crowd, and he showed it today. His composure was much better, more confidence in his stuff. He had a great game."
Hickory's Connor Sadzeck did his best to keep pace with De Paula, allowing three hits and striking out eight over six innings. The game remained scoreless until the ninth, when Ryan Rua doubled home Nick Williams for a walk-off win, the Crawdads' seventh straight.
In the opener, Rangers No. 12 prospect Nomar Mazara homered and drove in three runs and No. 15 prospect Lewis Brinson went 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles and two runs scored out of the leadoff spot to lead Hickory to a 10-2 romp.