Draft Q&A with Damon Oppenheimer

Mike Mussina and Carl Pavano probably don't exchange Christmas cards
Game 65: Is anyone out there?

As Ben mentioned earlier, Yanks’ Scouting Director Damon Oppenheimer chatted today over at the official site, taking fans’ questions about last week’s first year player draft. Obviously there was only so much he could reveal, so the answers aren’t all that juicy, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t some good info provided.

You can see the full transcript here, but here’s a few things that stood out to me:

mike: So when do you get to work on the ’09 Draft class?

Oppenheimer: We have been working on it the last two years, but we will really start this Thursday, with the High School Showcase in Minnesota.

That was my question, so I’m obligated to post it. It makes sense that they would start scouting players in advance, but it shows you just how far in advance they start to look. Were they scouting Gerrit Cole as a 14-yr old? Probably. I know they had their first report on Austin Jackson when he was 12.

tef86: How is Andrew Brackman progressing from his surgery?

Oppenheimer: He is progressing at a better rate than we had expected. He is really coming along quickly. I do not have an ETA for him to start pitching in games.

Last we heard was that the Yanks told Brackman not to worry about pitching in 2008, just to concentrate on getting healthy. Is it possible that his rehab is going so well that they’d let him take the hill in an affiliated game this year? I doubt it, but it’s good to see he’s on his way back.

cavs90: Why do the Yankees draft so many pitchers?

Oppenheimer: Pitching is the most important part of the game. To be a championship team, you have to have quality pitching from top to bottom.

We’ve said this a million times on RAB, but it’s worth repeating: there’s no such thing as too much pitching. Some people never learn…

nyy4life23: Why did you chose to pick a high school player rather then a college player? It seems a lot of other teams are picking more and more college players because they are more “league ready.”

Oppenheimer: We chose Gerrit because we thought he was the best available player, high school or college. If you don’t take the risk of selecting high school players, you don’t get Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Jake Peavy, Josh Beckett, etc.

I loved this question. Look around the league and see where the best players came from. The vast majority are high school draftees, and that’s because they were under professional instruction and training & conditioning programs at an earlier age. College players tend to have lower upsides because they’ve already done the bulk of their developing, they’re set in their ways when it comes to hitting mechanics, pitching mechanics, etc. It’s hard to break those old habits.

26wsringz: What do you look for in a prospect pitcher?

Oppenheimer: There are multiple things we look for in a pitching prospect. For us, we look at size, fastball velocity. We look at command of fastball, and we look for the ability to throw a breaking ball.

We like to see a guy have pitchability … i.e., the ability to use all your pitches, throw your stuff for strikes.

Something that is important for the Yankees is for pitchers to have good arm action and delivery.

It starts and ends with the fastball. If you have life on your fastball and can command it to both sides of the plate, you’re going to do well. I’m also a stickler for deliveries. Having a clean and repeatable delivery helps pitchers command the ball better, and it also lessens the injury risk somewhat. Just look at Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz – they all had terribly boring and incredibly efficient deliveries, and had long and tremendous Hall of Fame careers because of it.

closingin: What are the most important changes in mechanics that Gerrit Cole needs to make?

Oppenheimer: For us, the mechanical changes that he needs to make are very minor. That is something our pitching coaches will work on with him. We just need to keep him to stay on line toward home plate. If he does that, he’ll be fine.

I found that very interesting because Cole’s motion looks very … violent. Then again I’m no scout, so what do I know. Violent doesn’t necessarily mean bad, does it?

Mike Mussina and Carl Pavano probably don't exchange Christmas cards
Game 65: Is anyone out there?
  • CB

    I think Oppenheimer’s comment to Mike’s question about when they get started working on the draft for a particular season should really be kept in mind when fans react/ overreact to the draft on draft day. They seem to get started 3 years before a particular draft year.

    People kept asking Oppenheimer about why did you pick player X when he was ranked Y. Like why did you pick Chris Smith when he was the 105th pick in the state of CA. Or why did you pick Cole when he was rated #17.

    And Oppenheimer kept saying I’m not sure what your rankings are based on but clearly we didn’t rank the player that way e.g. they didn’t rank Chris Smith #105 in the state of CA.

    The yankees scouting is much, much more thorough and long standing than baseball america’s, baseball prospectus’s, john sickels, etc. In fact there’s no comparison. Baseball America does a great job but they didn’t start looking at the 2009 draft class back in 2006. They aren’t collecting information on players when they are 14 or 15, nevermind 12.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=594331910 Jamal G.

      That is a damn good point. I couldn’t agree more.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=594331910 Jamal G.

        Also I wanted to note that people only know what is available to them and some people will not just admit ignorance in this aspect because they are so passionate about it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=594331910 Jamal G.

    This one also caught my attention and for good reason:

    abc5: Does Gerrit Cole project higher, lower or the same as Phil Hughes when Phil was selected? Which one is more polished at the same stage?

    Oppenheimer: Gerrit has a very high ceiling as a Major League starter. I try not to compare other players, but at this stage, his stuff is further ahead than Phil at the same age.

    Yeah, what can you say to that? Nothing. Just drop your jaw like the rest of us.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike A.

      Cole’s stuff is better no doubt, but Hughes was much more polished coming out of high school. It’s not even close, frankly. Cole’s just a thrower right now, Phil came out of HS a pitcher.

    • dan

      Opp did say they look for fastball velocity, and Phil was topping out at 91 coming out of HS. So in that regard, Cole’s stuff is farther along that Phil’s was. Phil, of course, had impeccable control for a high school pitcher, something that Cole seems to need to work on. He didn’t necessarily say the whole package was better.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=594331910 Jamal G.

        Oh I know, but it’s not like Phil Hughes has chop liver for stuff so to say a pitcher has better stuff than a guy who was drafted as a potential #1 starter, that is pretty high praise.

    • Steve

      In terms of ‘stuff’ yes, but there are significant questions about Cole’s makeup. And when you’re talking about whether or not a player makes it, makeup is just as important for achieving your “ceiling” as your stuff is.

      How many times have you seen an immature pitcher with tremendous stuff who gets frustrated when he gets a few bad breaks and lays one down the pipe that ends up in the bleachers? A zillion times? Me too.

      • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike A.

        The makeup stuff is overblown I think. First of all, none of that stuff came out until he signed on with Boras, making it sketchy right from the start. Secondly, it’s been described as an immature mound demeanor. Moose has an immature mound demeanor. So does Beckett, and RJ, and Papelbon, and a bunch others.

        Plus don’t forget that he’s a 17 yr old kid. What 17 yr isn’t immature? What matters is how mature he is when he’s 22, 23, and so on.

        • Steve

          I hope it is, but tags like that get attached for a reason. Boras has a lot of other clients who didn’t have that tag attached to them, so putting it all on the ‘Boras factor’ doesn’t wash with me.

          • kanst

            I couldnt care less…if Albert Pujols was a convicted felon I would still want him on my team

            • Steve

              Thats missing the point. A felony conviction has nothing to do with how Pujols performs on the field.

              The makeup questions surrounding Cole could be the difference between him being Carlos Zambrano or Kyle Farnsworth. Or being a bust altogether.

              • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike A.

                What’s wrong with Farnsworth? His makeup is fine, he just doesn’t trust his stuff or throw enough strikes.

                And please, Zambrano was getting into fights with teammates in the dugout. He’s no saint.

                • Steve

                  OK, you missed the point too.

                  I chose those two guys because both of them are hard throwers. One of them (Zambrano) had a history of losing his cool on the mound when he was younger and grew out of it, going on to being a solid #1 pitcher.

                  Farnsworth is still known for blowing up in big spots and I’ve always believed its because he loses his cool and overthrows, resulting in straight fastballs with bad location.

                  BTW-You contradicted yourself within the same sentence. You can’t argue “His makeup is fine” and then go on to say that “he doesn’t trust his stuff” immediately after. Makeup is mostly about someone’s confidence in their abilities.

      • Steve

        Also about Cole, consider this. He’s about to have a few million bucks thrown at him as an 18 year old who is known for having temper tantrums on the mound. Do you think getting all that money will make him MORE receptive to changing his act, or less?

        If I achieved all that success doing something a certain way, I don’t think I’d be in any mood to listen.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=594331910 Jamal G.

          That’s the thing, we don’t necessarily know if he has to change yet. Like Mike noted, there have been several successful Major League pitchers who were/are complete dicks.

          • Steve

            Thats true, and its also true that on average only 2 of the 50 guys we drafted will be MLB players. With odds like that, I’d like to improve my chances whenever possible.

            Look, nobody knows who will pan out and who doesn’t. If I were the Yanks I would have picked Cole as well because he was BY FAR the most talented player available. You don’t find many HS pitchers who throw 99 MPH ands projects to have a plus-plus slider. But those are his plus column, I just want to be realistic about the minus.

        • Chris

          What exactly are the makeup issues with Cole? I heard things about being too emotional on the mound, etc, but nothing specific. What does he do, pump his fist and scream when he strikes someone out? Lord knows we shouldn’t have anyone like that on the team.

          • Steve

            Losing his cool on the mound, and its usually directed at the umpire.

            That will go over well in the bigs.

  • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike A.

    Too bad we couldn’t get Micah Owings instead of Ross Ohlendorf. He’s AWESOME.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=594331910 Jamal G.

      LoL, David Wright did rake that one.

      I still don’t see the wisdom in having a guy with a sub-.330 OBP in his Major League career lead-off for your team.

      • Steve

        Boy, Tom Seaver can be a tough guy to warm up to at times.

        Gary-“What are you going to miss about Shea, Tom?”
        Tom-“I don’t have any warm and fuzzy feelings for this ballpark”

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=594331910 Jamal G.

          Lmao, who does?

    • Steve

      The guy has an ERA in the high 4’s in the NL. If he wasn’t a natural born hitter, he’d just be another crappy pitcher.

      Oh, and we’d never see him hit in the AL now would we?

    • E-ROC

      Micah Owings could easily take Shelley Duncan’s spot on the team as the right handed bat off the bench.

      • http://www.ilikemygirls.com Seven Costanza

        good one. i actually chuckled reading that.

        plus, you’re probably right too.

  • the most felonious vocalist in the wide world of showbusiness

    I enjoyed the chat by Oppenheimer and was going to refer everyone to it if you hadn’t already. I certainly agree that the Yankees do much more and better scouting than Baseball America and the other scouting publications. However, Baseball America does scout kids as young as 14. I remember when they drafted Austin Jackson reading that he was very highly touted in Baseball America’s rankings as a 14 year old. Baseball America and their ilk do a great job, particularly in identifying the cream of the crop.

  • CB


    PeteAbe is reporting that Corban Joseph has signed. Do you think that he signed for slot? I was assuming they’d have to go over slot to sign him.

    I ask because I was surprised to see the yankees confirm that they signed him this early. I figured he’d go over slot and we’d have to go through the same song and dance with the commissioners office sitting on approval of the contract.

    If he just signed for slot I can see them announcing the signing. Either way its nice to get him signed and into the GCL season.

    Is Selig’s office possibly softening on the delay of over slot deals?

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike A.

      I would think he signed for slot since it was announced this quick. He was the 140th overall pick, which means slot was ~$180k. Not a bad payday (relatively speaking), but I’m certainly surprised.

      MLB softened to a degree, but not all that much.

    • Joey

      probably over, maybe not by as much as we all thought it would take. glad to see him sign early

      • Joey

        nevermind, listen to Mike :-)

  • http://yankeesfuture.wordpress.com Pablo Zevallos

    completely unrelated, but according to our troll (PeteAbe), Ben Broussard was released today

    • Brandon


  • pat mcloughlin

    as a pretty close follower of all that is yankees was anybody else as embarrassed as I was to read some of the questions posted for Opp?

    it clearly said this is about the 2008 draft and some idiots are like “hey when is brett gardner being brought up” and other stupid stuff like “hey why do you draft so many pitchers??”

    seriously wasnt anybody quality checking thse questions opp prob thinks we’re all idiots over here.