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I like what New York does more than most people because I have a lot of respect for the way they let their strong scouting staff do the job they were hired to do. There isn’t a lot of upper-management meddling and nobody within the organization seems to worry about what the national pundits seem to say about the players they select. I do my best to not talk about “value” or “overdrafts” when discussing top ten picks because, in baseball more than any other sport, beauty is in the eye of the beholder on draft day. Maybe the Yankees could have waited until their second or perhaps third round pick before taking Dante Bichette; if they could have pulled that off, nobody would have claimed he was overdrafted and instead they would have praised the excellent value the Yankees got with their pick. At some point on draft day, however, you have to take the players you love. My one cross-sport reference of the day harkens back to last year’s NFL Draft when the Vikings “overdrafted” QB Christian Ponder. I didn’t particularly love Ponder as a prospect, but Minnesota did. If he was the highest rated player on their board and they had even the slightest doubt he’d be around for their next pick, then they were wise to take their guy, value be damned. The comparison isn’t perfect – the ability to trade down in football’s version of the draft complicates things a bit – and I realize they’ll always be an opportunity cost with taking players a round or two “earlier” than projected, but the point of the draft is to come away with as many players you love as possible. Draft who you want, ignore the haters.
Alright, now time for me to start hating…
The fact that Orangewood Christian HS (FL) 3B Dante Bichette hit really well during his first taste of pro ball is great. Even better are the reports on how quickly he adjusted his swing (shortened to help find consistency and designed to help him hit to all fields more effectively) and better than expected defense at the hot corner. Makes the pre-draft notes on him (below) seem downright prophetic, right? There is still a Dante Bichette Sr. sized gap between what Junior is and what he might be, and I’d be lying if I said I felt good about his future from an instinctual standpoint, but, hey, so far so good.
I’ve gone back and forth on Bichette for over a year now. The first thing I noticed when watching him hit is how his inside-out swing looks a lot like his father’s. This is a positive when he’s going well, as it is a really good looking swing that helps him generate plus bat speed and well above-average raw power. It is a negative when he is going poorly because, as much as I like the swing for an experience professional, it may have a little too much length and too many moving parts to allow him to pull it off consistently. I can’t help but wonder what his first pro hitting instructor’s advice will be. I should also note that I’ve slowly come around to the idea that Bichette might be able to stick at third base professionally because of his much improved athleticism and surprising nimbleness.
Not signing Texas LHP Sam Stafford is a serious black eye for the Yankees draft. It can be excused somewhat because of the reason behind it (a pre-signing physical showed something that scared the Yankees off from offering even slot money), but the final result of not signing a pick in the top 100 is bad news any way you slice it. Stafford has been a frustrating prospect to follow because of his general inconsistencies and lapses in command. If his stuff wasn’t so good, you might be inclined to write him off as a first day prospect altogether. Lefthanders with great size who hit the mid-90s and show the makings of two average or better offspeed pitches (love his low-80s power curve/slider hybrid, still hopeful the change gets better) get every chance to convince teams that they’ll figure out that pesky command thing in pro ball someday.
Texas JR LHP Sam Stafford: 88-92 FB, peak 94-95; FB command issues hold him back; holds velocity well; good 80-85 SL; 73-78 CB is ahead of SL; average 83-85 CU; 6-4, 190
Winnisquam HS (NH) RHP Jordan Cote was a surprise pick this early in the draft. The Yankees place a lot of trust in their area scouts, especially those based in or close to New York, to advocate for players they love. Somebody must have really gone to bat, so to speak, for Cote. That doesn’t mean Cote wasn’t deserving of a third round pick. His fastball is fine, he’s shown some aptitude with a pair of breaking balls, and his size and relatively fresh arm both hint at more velocity to come.
RHP Jordan Cote (Winnisquam HS, New Hampshire): 88-90 FB, 92-93 peak; good CB; SL; raw CU; 6-5, 200
If Cote represented the Yankees willingness to trust their scouts based in and around New York, the selection of New Rochelle HS (NY) 3B Matt Duran takes it up a notch. Not only is Duran a native New Yorker, but he’s also one of the draft’s youngest prospects. In addition to drafting heavily from the Northeast, New York has focused on another of the draft market’s inefficiencies: age. Duran, like last year’s first pick and fellow New York resident Cito Culver, is very young for a high school senior. He has but one plus tool, though, as said many times before, if you’re going to have only one tool, it might as well be power. I for one find it pretty nuts that the Yankees drafted three of the draft’s most interesting prep first base prospects (Bichette, Duran, and Rookie Davis), as well as the promising Austin Jones. New York could have a fun problem on their hands in a few years if Bichette, Duran, and Davis don’t take to their new positions.
If Grandview HS (CO) C Greg Bird can catch, his massive power makes him a big-time prospect. If he can’t, then he’ll join the potential logjam of Yankees first base prospects taken in this year’s draft. I had a scout compare him to Jesus Montero, but with a few huge caveats. First, he only made the comparison after the Yankees drafted Bird and admitted the appeal of comparing two players in the same organization influenced his typically stellar (right…) decision making. Second, he only was talking power upside and defensive ineptitude. That’s all. To build on that, he backtracked even more by saying Montero is way ahead of Bird as a hitter, in terms of both contact ability and plate discipline. In other words, Bird and Montero aren’t all that alike besides the fact they both play “catcher,” they both have ample present power (a rarity for young hitters more than people think – big difference between present power and raw power), and they are both Yankees. I love comps.
Bird came into the year a big prospect, but much of the hype that came with catching Kevin Gausman last year seems to have disappeared after Gausman went off to LSU. The Colorado high school catcher has a little bit of Cameron Gallagher to his game. Both prospects are raw defensively with impressive raw power that has been seen firsthand by area scouts at the high school level. That’s an important thing to note, I think. We hear so much about raw power, so it is worth pointing out when a player has plus raw power and average present power. That’s where I think Bird is currently at. There might not be a ton of projection to him, for better or worse.
I almost always guess wrong on what position a two-way prospect will play professionally, so it’s nice to see the Yankees think the same way I do about Kecoughtan HS (VA) LHP Jake Cave. True, almost everybody thought Cave would be a pitcher, but I’ll take any tiny victory I can get. On the mound he’ll give you an excellent fastball (93-94 peak), a potential plus mid- to late-70s change, and a breaking ball that has shown flashes but needs significant work. The reason I like Cave a lot more than even his raw stuff suggests is his elite athleticism. Long-time readers of the site know that I value athleticism (and all the ancillary benefits, most notably the ability to repeat one’s delivery) in young pitchers very, very highly.
LHP Jake Cave (Kecoughtan HS, Virginia): 88-91 FB, peak 93-94; 75-77 SL or CB; potential plus 74-79 CU; good athlete; power potential; good speed; strong LSU commit; 6-1, 180
Edmonds-Woodway HS (WA) 1B Austin Jones is a little bit like a less publicized version of Greg Bird. Bird received more pre-draft ink because he’s been on the radar longer due mostly to catching Kevin Gausman in high school. Bird also received more pre-draft love because, quite honestly, he’s a better prospect than Jones. Think of Jones as Bird-lite: not quite as much power, not quite as good defensively. That second reason has already been put into practice by New York as the Yanks have moved Jones out from behind the plate and made him a full-time first baseman.
Western Kentucky RHP Phil Wetherell has the two pitches needed to succeed in a bullpen and an arm with minimal wear and tear, but his pedestrian performance at the college level left me lukewarm about his pro prospects. Then he went out and dominated (41 K in 30 IP) for Staten Island. I’m not one to put too much weight in rookie ball stats, but you’d still rather see a guy perform well than not.
Like Wetherell, Lewis-Clark State RHP Zach Arneson is a reliever all the way due to a limited arsenal of pitches and questionable arm action. Also like Wetherell, Arneson put up good numbers (17 K in 17.2 IP) for Staten Island. I prefer Arneson’s fastball to Wetherell’s, but Wetherell has the better secondary pitch (his splitter). Both guys are iffy bets to pitch in the big leagues, but because quality relievers are always in demand, you just never know. I might not be getting paid to write this, but that’s some professional quality hedging right there.
Lewis-Clark State RHP Zach Arneson (2011): 96 peak FB
Eastern Oklahoma State JC RHP Jonathan Gray also fits the Wetherell/Arneson mold. As an unsigned prospect, he’ll have another year of development to mature into something more. He has the fastball/slider combo needed to at least get a look as a potential reliever at some point.
My favorite college relief prospect drafted by New York is Longwood RHP Mark Montgomery (Round 11). Montgomery has been overlooked in the past due to his lack of size and physicality, but he’s close to big league ready with his fastball and plus low- to mid-80s slider. All Montgomery has done is perform at a high level (48 K in 30.1 college IP) everywhere he’s been (41 K in 24.1 IP in the Sally). If he keeps pitching this well next year at Tampa, he’ll officially be a relief sleeper per the national pundits. Get on the ground floor with him now.
Longwood JR RHP Mark Montgomery: 88-92 FB; peak 94; hard 82-84 SL with plus upside; really consistent numbers over three years; 6-0, 205 pounds
Remember when I said I always guess wrong on what position a two-way prospect will play professionally? Come on down, Dixon HS (NC) RHP Rookie Davis! I would almost always rather a young prospect try hitting first – seems to be less variability in development and can get a young arm through the injury nexus in the event he moves back to the mound later on – but I can see why the Yankees prefer Davis, what with his potential for two solid pitches and imposing size, as a pitcher. I like him more as an athletic first base prospect with plus raw power, but I get it.
My biggest concern with ranking Rookie Davis this high is based on the nagging thought some team will pop him as a pitcher instead of a hitter. Currently equipped with two above-average future pitches (good low-90s fastball and an emerging mid-70s curve), Davis’ future could be on the mound. Like most two-way prospects, I think he’d be best served by giving hitting a go from the start. If that’s the case, then his plus raw power, classic slugger’s frame (6-5, 220), and strong track record hitting with wood could help him get drafted in the first few rounds and give him a chance to become pro baseball’s first ever Rookie.
For what it’s worth, I prefer unsigned Northridge HS (CA) RHP Mathew Troupe (Round 17) to the signed third rounder Jordan Cote. Troupe’s secondary pitches rank as some of the better offerings of this year’s high school class. His curve is a really good pitch when he commands it, and his changeup, thrown with the same arm speed as his fastball, flashes plus. His strong commitment to Arizona and fluctuating fastball velocity kept him from going earlier, but he could pop up as an early round pick in three years.
RHP Matt Troupe (Northridge HS, California): 90-92 FB, 94 peak; very good CB; plus CU; SL; inconsistent FB velocity so he sometimes sits 87-88, peak 91
The trio of Morris HS RHP Hayden Sharp (Round 18), Cathedral Catholic HS (CA) LHP Daniel Camarena (Round 20), and Bedford HS (NH) RHP Joey Maher (Round 38) make for an impressive compilation of late round big money prep pitching prospects. For good reason, the athletic lefty Camarena got the biggest bucks. His three pitch mix should help him adjust to a full-time starting pitching load as a professional. Of the three, he’s probably the safest bet going forward. The pitcher with the most upside of the troika is Sharp. His big fastball (upper-90s peak), plus athleticism, and pro body are all easy to dream on. Lacking the security of Camarena’s well-honed secondary stuff and the razzle dazzle of Sharp’s heat, Joey Maher is the least impressive prospect of the three. The raw righty from New Hampshire is a long way away from even reaching his modest (fifth starter?) big league upside.
LHP Daniel Camarena: high-80s FB with late life, 90-91 peak; above-average future 70-73 CB; average 70-75 CU; line drive hitter; good approach; power upside, but hasn’t shown too much yet; RF arm; 6-0, 200 pounds
Memphis RHP Ben Paullus (Round 19) is interesting for a couple reasons. First and foremost, his stuff (good low-90s fastball and plus hard curve) is big league quality. Second and not foremost, his delivery, while sometimes so herky jerky that it is hard to watch, gives him tremendous deception and makes him very tough to hit. Texas A&M RHP Adam Smith (Round 25) reminds me some of Robert Stock. I really liked Stock as a catcher and have been happy to see St. Louis stick with him behind the plate so far, despite the growing sentiment that wants his plus arm on the mound. Smith played third base for Texas A&M, but is expected to pitch full-time going forward for the Yankees. I wish he’d get a chance to put his awesome physical tools to use as an infielder – remember, he could always move to the mound in a year or three if needed – but, again, I get why New York would want to put an arm like Smith’s on the mound from the start.
At some point, he has to do it on the field, right? Adam Smith is such a force of nature from a tools standpoint that you have to believe someday he’ll put it all together and show why so many have touted his ability for so long. He has the plus arm and plus defensive tools you’d expect from a former pitcher/shortstop, and his pro frame (6-3, 200) generates plenty of raw power on its own. What he doesn’t have is a good idea of the strike zone or a consistent at bat to at bat swing that can help him put said raw power to use. I’d love for my favorite team to take a chance on him after round ten (tools!), but probably couldn’t justify popping him much sooner than that (production…). One thing that would make gambling on Smith the third baseman a little less risky: if he doesn’t work out as a hitter, his plus arm could be put to good use back on the mound.
Arizona State 1B Zach Wilson (Round 21) is a gifted natural hitter, but the bar is simply too high at first base and/or the corner outfield to ever expect him to earn consistent playing time in the big leagues. His professional future could evolve into a career path along the lines of “professional hitters” Dave Hansen’s or Mark Sweeney’s.
[very talented natural hitter; average power; average runner; no real defensive home]
Now that we’ve watched out last meaningful pro game until the spring, it is time to turn our attention to baseball’s next opening day. No sense waiting until April for the pros to start up again when college starts six weeks sooner, right? The Yankees couldn’t come to terms with three players expected to play major roles on some of college baseball’s finest teams this spring. Louisiana State SS Tyler Hanover (Round 40), Rice OF Jeremy Rathjen (Round 41), and Missouri 3B Conner Mach (Round 46) all return to school with plenty to prove. What Hanover lacks in physical tools he makes up for in plus plate discipline and veteran-level defensive positioning. I love him as a potential utility guy down the road and think he could have a career similar to – deep gulp – David Eckstein. Rathjen is the anti-Hanover, but still a really good prospect. He gets himself into trouble by being too aggressive at the plate and on the bases, but his tools rank up near any other right fielder in all of college baseball. If he returns healthy in 2012 as expected, he could wind up a top three round selection. Mach is a personal favorite as an above-average hitter with some defensive versatility.
Hanover: above-average speed, but more impressive as an instinctual base runner; very good defender – arguably his best present tool; competition for best tool includes a shocking plus-plus arm from his smaller frame; just enough pop to keep a pitcher honest, but mostly to the gaps; size gets him in trouble (attempts to do much), but this is inarguably a good college player; little bit of Jimmy Rollins to his game in that he is a little man with a big swing – again, this often gets him in more trouble than it should, as he is far, far less talented than Rollins on his worst day; great range to his right; definite utility future due to experience on left side; can get too jumpy at plate and swing at pithes outside the zone, but generally a patient hitter; 5-6, 155
Rathjen: [above-average speed, raw power, and arm; too aggressive at plate; good defensive feel; average range in corner; gap power at present that could turn into HRs in time; 6-6, 200 pounds]