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New York Yankees 2012 MLB Draft Review

The more I think about Peter O’Brien as a prospect, the more I think a comparison to Tommy Joseph makes sense. Both are big guys, both have some questions about their defensive future (Joseph has put most of these concerns to rest, but it has taken time), and both have the one plus tool that will keep them getting work for the foreseeable future: huge raw power. He had an auspicious pro debut, but that doesn’t change his basic scouting profile. If he can catch, he’ll be a star. Unlike many other catchers with questionable futures behind the dish, O’Brien should bring enough offense to give him a shot even if moved to first base. They key phrasing there is “give him a shot”: the bar is so darn high for the position that I’m not bold and/or stupid enough to say he’s a definite starting caliber big league first baseman. Not for nothing, but I had him ranked 94th on my final pre-draft big board…and the Yankees picked him with the 94th overall pick. Blind squirrel, acorn, etc.

100 plate appearances doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things, but I have to admit to being a teeny tiny bit worried about Nathan Mikolas’ professional debut. Worse prospects than Mikolas have had worse pro starts (.134/.290/.171) and still gone on to bigger and better things, so I think it is time to put that teeny tiny bit of doubt to bed. Mikolas may or may not be a good big league hitter, but those 100 plate appearances shouldn’t sway me one way or another. All that aside, I really believe in Mikolas’ bat. The limb I wouldn’t go out on for O’Brien is one that I’m happy to hop on for Mikolas. His bat is good enough for every day first base duty, though it will take some time. Matt Snyder was old for Staten Island, but he did the job he was asked to do. He has some righty-mashing platoon potential, though I’m not sure that the Yankees, or any team for that matter, has such a role in mind for their DH spot. You can copy that last sentence and apply the same logic to Saxon Butler. It’ll be interesting to see what the Yankees do with their three new lefthanded hitting first base prospects. I think Mikolas’ bat is advanced enough for full-season ball (ugly pro debut notwithstanding), but the presence of college sluggers Snyder and Butler creates a logjam in the system’s lower levels. The tea leaves seem to indicate that Butler will be in Tampa (A+), Snyder in Charleston (A), and Mikolas in Staten Island (R).

I love the OF to 2B conversion, so it should go without saying that the news of Robert Refsnyder moving from Arizona outfielder to Riverdogs second baseman made my day. Unfortunately, the transition appears to be on hold, at least for the time being. As a second baseman Refsnyder becomes a really intriguing prospect. He’s a great athlete with above-average speed, sneaky pop, and the grinder mentality that endears him to scouts, coaches, and teammates. He more than held his own with the bat at Charleston – strong walk rate, good success stealing bags – but it does without saying that his well-rounded offensive profile plays a lot better in the middle of the infield than it would as a corner outfielder. It still sounds like second base is in his future, but we’ll know more in a few months. A natural comparison here is Phillies draft prospect and fellow OF to 2B Andrew Pullin; it’ll be fun to track their two careers over the next few seasons.

Yankees fans have every right to be excited about Austin Aune as a prospect. As a former football star, there’s plenty of untapped raw talent and athleticism waiting to turn into actualized baseball skills with the help of consistent at bats and good coaching. If that was all Aune was, that would be enough. His tools are that good. There’s more to his game than just doing whatever comes naturally athletically.  Aune is more advanced as a ballplayer than many give him credit, from his sweet lefthanded swing to his ability to make consistent hard contact no matter where the ball is pitched. As his body fills out and his raw power begins showing up more often when the lights come on, watch out.

Aune is joined in the 2012 Yankee draft class outfield by Taylor Dugas. I won’t try to put too fine a point on this, so I’ll just come out and say it: I love Taylor Dugas. He’s got three average or slightly better tools (hit, speed, defense), one slightly below-average tool (arm), and one well below-average tool (power). That skill set isn’t entirely uncommon, but what sets Dugas apart is his phenomenal plate discipline. I understand those who think he’ll top out in the high minors after pitchers, with little fear of an extra base hit, begin daring him to hit pitches in the strike zone. But just because I understand it doesn’t mean I agree with it. If Dugas fails to make the big leagues, I’ll do something crazy. Like eat a sautéed mushroom, the most disgusting food I can think of at the moment. Now that’s confidence! I will admit that there is some weirdness with Dugas being a Yankee. He feels like he should be a Padre. That said, his being a member of the Yankees organization does give him a perfect player to emulate in pro ball: Brett Gardner. That’s a pretty fantastic comp, if I do say so myself. Dugas should follow the Gardner path – Staten Island in year one, then Tampa and Trenton in year two – if all goes according to plan. I’m hoping that’s the case since I’m only 50 minutes on the train away from beautiful downtown Trenton, New Jersey.

I consistently get Ty Hensley and Shane Watson confused, so it was only fitting that the Yankees selected the former ten picks before the Phillies popped the latter. The two righthanders, born roughly two weeks apart, are very similar prospects across the board. Hensley has a little bit of bulk on Watson, but they are like twins otherwise. Like Watson, Hensley has a pro body, plus fastball, curveball with plus upside, and quickly emerging changeup that should be at least an average pitch in time. The overall package is rather impressive. Both Hensley and Watson should rank at or near the top of their respective organization’s pitching prospect rankings. Both pitchers have big league average upside (no small feat for a starting pitcher) or better. I’m just spitballing here, but I think Hensley is second only to Manny Banuelos in the Yankee pitching pecking order with the chance to rank as high as fourth overall (also behind both Gary Sanchez and Mason Williams) in the entire system.

I’ve said before that I don’t really believe in the concept of a sleeper. Look at Corey Black, the Yankees fourth round pick out of tiny Faulkner University in Montgomery, Alabama. All signs point to a sleeper, right? I mean, I’ve read on other sites that he was a sleeper, so it must be true. Well, Black’s career doesn’t begin and end at Faulkner University. He was once a big name at San Diego State. Before that, like many so-called sleepers, he was a standout prep prospect. I don’t think it is a stretch to say that Black has been on the draft radar going on five years now. I get that I devote far more time and energy to this stuff than the vast majority of the baseball consuming population, but it still burns me up when mainstream media types tout players as sleepers who are in no way sleepers. To some it seems that any player taken after the first day is a sleeper. Pandering to an audience that, let’s be honest, doesn’t give a darn about amateur baseball 364 days out of the year may be part of the job at some of the industry leaders, but don’t pretend that you’re a draft expert when you aren’t. Baseball America and Perfect Game are largely exempt from my rant, by the way. To a man the employees of both outlets do consistently excellent work on draft coverage. Moving on…

Corey Black’s upside depends on how great of a chance you think he has to start. As a starter, he has mid-rotation upside thanks to an excellent fastball, above-average change, and whatever breaking ball he can get over on a daily basis. Bonus points should be awarded for his ability to hold his velocity late into games. He’s also likely to be one of the better hitting pitchers wherever he goes. If left to his own in the bullpen, however, he has a chance to pitch some serious late inning, high leverage innings. Like most guys, you’ve got to try him as a starter and let him pitch in the rotation until he shows you he’s a reliever.

New York hit up many traditional scouting outposts like the Oklahoma and Texas prep ranks, as well as poaching players from talent-rich universities like Miami, Arizona, and LSU. What stood out to me, however, was their willingness to go beyond the typical talent boundaries and expand their search to exotic locales like Wisconsin, Montana, Ontario, and Utah. Mikolas is the poster boy for New York’s nationwide quest for talent, but he’s not the only cold weather prospect of note. Brady Lail, out of Utah, is an unquestionably great pick way down in the 18th round. In many respects, Brady Lail is Mr. High School Pitching Prospect. Like so many high school pitching prospects, Lail sits mostly upper-80s yet has a frame that suggests more velocity is in his future. Lail also features a breaking ball that can and should be a well above-average big league offering in time. However, like so many high school pitching prospects, he currently lacks the necessary third pitch to make it as an effective starter in pro ball. Lail gives you a lot to work with, so much so that it isn’t a stretch to say he has the potential to someday be in a big league rotation. Bridging the gap between what he is and what he’ll be, however, is where the fun comes in.

The trajectory of Lail’s career will be fascinating to follow, especially if you buy my thesis that he’s Mr. High School Pitching Prospect. Every young player’s career can go in an infinite number of directions at this developmental point, with so much depending on factors that are ostensibly outside of the player’s control. We’re talking things like coaching, injury, and opportunity here. Different developmental staffs have different ideas on how much of a difference they can really make in any young player. Some young arms just seem to get it in pro ball, some don’t. Some staffs believe certain pitches – most often breaking balls – are either in an arm or aren’t, others believe that any pitcher gifted with a big time arm can be taught how to spin a ball over time. Lail’s career won’t offer any particular insight into prospect development, especially with the limited information available to those removed from the process; he will, however, become another cog in the proverbial high risk/high reward baseball prospect machine.

Nick Goody had an excellent start to his pro career, something that really isn’t all the shocking considering the excellent season he had at LSU. As a general rule, relievers who dominate SEC competition fare quite well in the low minors. I can definitely see Goody becoming a favorite of the numbers-first crowd. Those who have seen him pitch share similar affection thanks to a sneaky fast fastball and well above-average breaking ball. Taylor Garrison is cut from a similar cloth. Comparable fastball, command, and breaking ball all wrapped up in a diminutive (i.e. under 6-foot) package. Garrison has a better third pitch (changeup), but Goody’s overall package is still stronger. Both seem likely to start the season in Tampa with Goody holding an outside shot at beginning a step ahead in AA.

Derek Varnadore is mostly fastball/slider coming out of the bullpen. He’s a clear step below both Goody and Garrison in the pecking order, but could still be one of those guys who hangs on long enough and someday gets his chance in the bigs. My favorite (pre-draft) reliever drafted by the Yankees is Stefan Lopez. I think Lopez has a chance to be a really fine bullpen piece. His fastball is one of those pitches that hitters can know is coming and still not make solid contact. Combine that with an above-average slider and decent feel for the slow stuff, and you’ve got yourself a potential big league reliever. That’s a really nice outcome for a player taken in the 16th round.

The Yankees collection of draft lefties isn’t something to write home about, but there are a few interesting names that should be familiar to fans of college baseball. Eric Erickson is one of the better stories to emerge from the 2012 draft class. I know for a fact that seeing him pitch well in pro ball pleased a lot of the scouts who have followed him over the past few seasons. He’s overcome a great deal from an injury standpoint to get this far, and he has a lot of fans in the industry who would like nothing more than to see him continue defy the odds. Now here comes the splash of cold water. Erickson has an incredibly tough road ahead of him if he ever wants to reach the highest level. Erickson will start next season having already turned 25 years old. As a point of reference, Dietrich Enns, another college lefty drafted by New York, turns 22 in May of next year. The two guys had weirdly similar underlying numbers in their debuts, but those three years make a big time difference going forward. Age alone doesn’t make Enns the better prospect – I’d go so far as to argue age is overrated for pitching prospects, especially guys with ceilings that top out in the bullpen – but with similar scouting profiles, statistical backgrounds, and body types, the edge goes to the younger, healthier arm.

No matter what happens in Erickson’s professional future, I hope he takes comfort in being able to say he pitched for the Yankees (Staten Island) in pro ball. That’s something nobody can ever take away from him. Stories like Erickson’s bring us back to remembering that the players drafted each year are real life living people. Becoming a successful big league player is the goal for everybody, but keeping the incredible journey along the way in perspective is plenty important in its own right.

As for the aforementioned Enns, well, he’s a little bit like the MAC version of Michael Roth. Unless that’s Kent State lefty David Starn. Turns out that high pitchability lefthanders with unexciting stuff aren’t so uncommon in college after all. Who knew?

More words were typed on the other guys, but I like James Pazos from San Diego the most out of the bunch. He did a nice job out of the bullpen for Staten Island, though I’d like to see him get a chance in a rotation starting next season. He has enough of a three pitch mix to get by, and his ability to induce groundballs is encouraging.

I didn’t write much or anything about the non-Lail trio of prep arms the Yankees managed to sign for $100,000 apiece past round 10. Caleb Frare, from noted baseball hotbed Montana, is a lefty with reasonable upside, Dayton Dawe of the Great White North has an advanced arsenal for a high school arm and good athleticism, and Jose Mesa Jr. is, well, Jose Mesa Jr. The world is a better place with a Joe Table in pro ball.

C

2.94 Miami C Peter O’Brien

8. Miami SR C Peter O’Brien: nothing has changed when it comes to O’Brien’s basic scouting report: plus-plus power and a strong arm, but below-average everywhere else; what has changed is his level of competition – doing what he did in the ACC has opened some eyes, and rightfully so; his hit tool isn’t as strong and he’s a better bet to stick behind the plate, but I think a comparison between O’Brien and last year’s preeminent college power hitter CJ Cron has some merit – if O’Brien had been moved off of catcher coming into the year, I wonder if scouts would appreciate his bat more rather than focusing on the negatives of his defense; 6-5, 225 pounds

3.124 Bradford HS (WI) 1B Nathan Mikolas

1. 1B Nathan Mikolas (Bradford HS, Wisconsin): strong hit tool; above-average power upside; good athlete; really smart young hitter; quick bat; can hit to all fields; questionable defender and athlete; best position is batter’s box; has also played some OF; 6-2, 200 pounds

10.337 Mississippi 1B Matt Snyder

26. Mississippi SR 1B Matt Snyder: mature approach pairs well with mature, physical, strong as an ox frame; well above-average raw power; average at best hit tool, but better than that of most college senior sign sluggers; below-average defender; below-average speed; 6-6, 215 pounds

33.1027 Samford 1B Saxon Butler

39. Samford SR 1B Saxon Butler: unheralded junior college transfer who has hit a ton since getting to campus; above-average present power; not a lot of projection nor is there much to his game outside of the batter’s box, but should be quality pro hitter; 6-2, 225 pounds

2B

5.187 Arizona 2B Robert Refsnyder

129. Arizona JR OF Robert Refsnyder: plus athlete; 55 speed; big raw power, but currently to gaps (10 HRs a year?); strong arm for RF; gets most out of tools; strong hit tool; 6-1, 205 pounds

OF

2.89 Argyle HS (TX) OF Austin Aune

20. OF Austin Aune (Argyle HS, Texas): pretty lefthanded swing; great athlete; first round tools; football star who is a questionable sign; good runner; strong arm; can hit the ball anywhere it is pitched; 6-3, 190 pounds

8.277 Alabama OF Taylor Dugas

63. Alabama SR OF Taylor Dugas: advanced idea of strike zone; above-average speed; good athlete; gap power; average at best arm; little power; good CF range; leadoff profile; earned one of my all-time all-caps FAVORITE designations going back to his sophomore season; drills high velocity with no problem; smart on bases; as much as I love him, I understand he has a limited ceiling and will have to  continually drastically outperform more physically talented players to keep moving up through a system; 5-7, 175 pounds

Pitchers

1.30 Santa Fe HS (OK) RHP Ty Hensley

29. RHP Ty Hensley (Santa Fe HS, Oklahoma): 88-93 FB, 94-95 peak; velocity has been up at times, sitting 92-95, peaking 97-98; good FB command; really good 74-79 CB with plus upside that he relies on heavily; emerging 79-82 CU; 84-86 SL that he has difficult commanding; strong hitter; two potential plus pitches and a big league frame are a great start, but he’ll have to continue developing a third pitch, likely his nascent change, going forward; as is, he has first day stuff; 6-5, 220 pounds

4.157 Faulkner RHP Corey Black

56. Faulkner (AL) JR RHP Corey Black: 90-95 FB, 96 peak; holds velocity late; velocity way up in 2012: sitting 94-96, 98-99 peak; above-average 81-84 CU; occasional CB, average SL; transferred from San Diego State; good fielder; nice line drive swing; 5-11, 180 pounds

6.217 LSU RHP Nick Goody

180. LSU JR RHP Nick Goody: 88-92 FB, 94 peak; promising 78-82 breaking ball that falls somewhere between slider and power curve; good deception in delivery helps his fastball play up; has the small sample size of any one-year college reliever, but really hard to find fault with his 2012 performances (below); 6-0, 190 pounds

7.247 Fresno State RHP Taylor Garrison

187. Fresno State SR RHP Taylor Garrison: 89-93 FB, 94 peak; good command; good SL with cutter action; above-average CU; also throws CB; 5-10, 160 pounds

9.307 Auburn RHP Derek Varnadore

290. Auburn SR RHP Derek Varnadore: 89-92 FB, rare 94 peak; improved SL, has really firmed up – now 86-88 and an above-average pitch; shows CU; good deception; total package adds up to a solid mid- to late-round senior sign and a potential middle reliever if he hangs on long enough; 6-4, 215 pounds

13.427 San Diego LHP James Pazos

291. San Diego JR LHP James Pazos: 88-92 FB, 93 peak; good CU; SL with upside; has the repertoire, delivery, and demeanor to potentially start in pro ball; 6-3, 225 pounds

16.517 Southeastern Louisiana RHP Stefan Lopez

144. Southeastern Louisiana JR RHP Stefan Lopez: 89-94 FB, 95 peak; good FB command; relies heavily on FB; good 84 SL that he should use more of; might throw one CU per outing, if that; recovered from torn ACL in 2011; I’m on an island with this one, but I think pro coaching and continued progress as he heals from his knee injury could turn Lopez into a viable late-inning big league pitcher, potentially a closer; 6-2, 190 pounds

18.577 Bingham HS (UT) RHP Brady Lail

143. RHP Brady Lail (Bingham HS, Utah): 86-90 FB, 92 peak; good athlete; good 74-77 kCB; very good command, especially on breaking ball; shows CU, but still a raw third pitch; 6-3, 180 pounds

19.607 Central Michigan LHP Dietrich Enns

485. Central Michigan JR LHP Dietrich Enns: 88-92 FB; good CU; one of the country’s smartest pitchers and a lot of fun to watch him work; 6-1, 190 pounds

34.1057 Miami LHP Eric Erickson

356. Miami SR LHP Eric Erickson: 88-90 FB; CB; CU; 6-0, 190 pounds

 

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