With the amateur draft coming up soon and the rumors swirling, I thought I would share some thoughts about how the Yankees may approach the draft. Apologies for the length, but I haven’t really written about the draft yet this year, so I have a lot to discuss. There are two major factors in this draft that may influence the types of picks that the Yankees make. These factors are the lack of a first round pick, and the overall level of talent in this draft. This combination will make the draft an interesting one to follow, even though the Yankees don’t pick until #51.
With Damon Oppenheimer at the helm, the Yankees have never had a draft without a first round pick. As such, it may be difficult to determine how the Yankees will operate this year’s draft. It is likely that the Yankee draft budget will be fairly sizable, as it has been for the last few years. This will give them leeway to spend big if a first-round prospect with a outrageous bonus demand falls to #51 (or lower), and there may be several such guys who will do just that. Alternatively, the lack of a first-round pick could give the Yankees greater flexibility to spend the first round bonus on several tough signs who are looking for six-figure bonuses. If this approach is taken, the Yankees could wind up with a draft that is lacking in sexy top-end star power, but could make up for it with a lot of depth and quality talent at a variety of positions.
While the Yankees may lack a first-round pick in this year’s draft, the depth of talent at many positions (except college bats) has the potential to ensure that the Yankees are able to draft a quality player at #51. Either Keith Law or Kevin Goldstein was asked recently on Twitter about the number of first-round caliber talents in this year’s draft, and I believe the answer was around 40. Given the fact that certain teams have a lot of picks and may have to take some safe signs (and possibly overdraft a bit to save money), I think it is reasonable to assume that at minimum, 10 first-round caliber talents (in a normal year) will fall to the sandwich round or beyond.
While the depth of talent in this draft is great for the teams drafting, it is not beneficial for the players in the draft. A guy like Dillon Howard (who has been linked to the Yankees), a hard-throwing high school pitcher from Arkansas, is ranked by most experts as around the #30 talent in the draft. In another year, an athletic 6’3″ high schooler who can hit the mid-90′s and flash two secondary offerings would be a top 15 talent (and be in line for a much larger bonus). As a result, a number of these players will likely increase their bonus demands to be more in line with their perceived value in a typical draft year (say 2-3 million), rather than their depressed value in a deep draft (1-1.5 million). This could play into the Yankees’ hands, and lead some good talents like Howard to be available at #51.
In addition to Howard, there are a bunch of first round talents who for various reasons could be available at #51. These are mostly high school players who have sent letters to the mlb scouting bureau asking not to be drafted. This could come across as a sincere desire to attend school, or a manipulative attempt to steer themselves to a big-spending team who will give them the bonus they are looking for (or to a specific team, either through a connection with the organization or fandom). It will be up to teams to, through communication with agents, get an idea of which of these guys will be signable for the right price, and which ones are serious about their interest in attending college. The Yankees whiffed on Gerrit Cole when they took him at #28 in 2008 (though to be fair to the Yankees, it sounds like Cole had a change of heart), and given the lack of a first round pick, will need to do due diligence on these potential draftees.
Several of the most intriguing high school players who have asked not to be drafted are power-hitting outfielder Josh Bell (#15 on the BA list, with a commitment to the University of Texas), Blake Swihart (#17, another Texas commit), and RHP Tyler Beede (#35, Vanderbilt). What they have in common is they are all committed to strong academic schools with top level baseball programs, which can make signing them pricy propositions. If these guys slip to #51, it would likely because their bonus demands would be perceived of as out of line with their talent level, or they were perceived by the teams picking prior as actually committed to attending college.
Nonetheless, if signable, any of these guys would make great picks at #51, and the Yankees should have no problem throwing a first-round bonus at them. It may take $4 million to sign Bell, and maybe over $3 million for Swihart, but given the talent level of those two, I would have no objections to making them the pick (if they express willingness to sign with the Yankees). I like Beede as well, but am a little more hesitant about a Vanderbilt commitment (they seem harder to break), not to mention I think Bell and Swihart are better talents relative to their position (a lot of intriguing high school arms in this draft). I am somewhat concerned that these guys would not get past Boston (who picks 4 times before the Yankees pick once), as they have shown the willingness to shell out and have enough picks that they can risk one on a tough sign. That said, Boston’s high number of picks could also work against them, because they will have to keep to a budget (even if it’s a large one).
Aside from the potential falling high schoolers, there is another top tier talent who seems destined to fall: TCU lefty Matt Purke. Purke, widely considered a top 5 pick prior to the season, has seen his draft stock fall due to diminished velocity and a shoulder injury. When healthy, Purke can hit the mid-90′s with a wicked slider, but hasn’t been in top form all season. Purke’s draft stock remains a major wild card, as he will still likely have huge bonus demands (believed to be in excess of $4 million), which would be a huge risk to take on a guy who is not topping 90 with his fastball. Purke looks like an analogous situation to Anthony Ranaudo from last season, who had similar struggles with injury and velocity, but was drafted by the Red Sox in the sandwich round and signed for a $2.5 million bonus after impressing over the summer in the Cape Cod League.
Purke could take a similar path, but will likely have higher bonus demands because he was (IMO) a better prospect than Ranaudo before the injury, and has additional leverage because he is a draft-eligible sophomore.I am not sure how far Purke will fall, but I assume he will at least fall out of the first round. The Yankees would have to take a long hard look at him at #51 if available, though he could conceivably fall lower (even to their 2nd-rounder at #88). Shoulder injuries are fairly risky, though, so the Yankees would have to get a good look at his medicals before using a high pick on him.
It’s nearly impossible to make a prediction for #51 with all the rumors flying around, but I’m working on putting together a sort of big board/wish list for guys who could conceivably be available at #51. I’ll try to make some sort of prediction for #51 by the time the draft starts, if only for fun (and so I can gloat if I happen to get lucky and get it right). Right now, given the makeup of the draft class, I see the Yankees drafting a high school player. My reason for this guess is I see talented high schoolers more likely to slide due to high bonus demands (because they have the leverage of attending college), and in a deep draft, there are enough safe college picks to go around in the first round. We’ll have plenty of draft discussion and coverage over the next few days, so stay tuned.
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