(Damon Oppenheimer pic via NoMaas’ PhotoBucket album)
Yankee fans disagree about a lot of things: Melky Cabrera’s potential, the Johan Santana non-trade, Joe Torre’s dismissal, Brian Cashman’s body of work, and Phil Hughes’ fastball are just the tip of the iceberg. However, one thing we can all agree on is that Damon Oppenheimer has done a superb job since taking over as the Yanks’ Vice President of Scouting back in 2005. With the Yanks’ newfound philosophy of shunning overpriced, underachieving and over-the-hill free agents in favor of cheap, young players developed from within, Oppenheimer’s work has received more attention that any of his predecessors, and the man has delivered.
Baseball America recognized his potential way back in 2003 when they called him a “rising star in [the Yankees’] Tampa office,” and ESPN’s Keith Law recently said “[Oppenheimer] is freaking smart, doesn’t get enough credit … definitely among my top 10 GM candidates.” His drafts have already produced two big leaguers in Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy, and he’s mixed high ceiling talent (Andrew Brackman, Dellin Betances, Austin Jackson) with high probability talent (JB Cox, Zach McAllister, Colin Curtis) while adding depth (Justin Snyder, Alan Horne, Mitch Hilligoss). A whopping 17 players on my preseason Top 30 Prospects list were drafted during his tenure. It’s a rather impressive resume.
While we focus on players who are with the organization for obvious reasons, what often gets overlooked are the quality players that Oppenheimer has drafted, but was unable to sign. The Yanks are flexing their financial muscle in the draft more and more these days, but there’s plenty of signability guys that they’ve missed out on. Here’s the best of the unsigned, eight talented players that Oppenheimer & Co. have selected, but couldn’t add to the organization. The good stuff starts after the jump.
(2006 draft/34th round/1034th overall) Tyler Ladendorf, SS, Maise West HS (Illinois)
The Yanks grabbed Ladendorf in 2006 with the intention of following his progress during his first year at Howard JC (Texas) before attempting to sign him via the now defunct draft-and-follow process. Ladendorf had a monster freshman season, batting .425 with 32 RBI and a NJCAA leading 65 steals (in 65 attempts no less). The Yanks and Ladendorf were about $50,000 apart during negotiations, and he headed back to Howard for his sophomore year (the Giants drafted Ladendorf in the 34th round last year, but couldn’t sign him). In addition to his usual speedster routine, he also added power to his game as a sophomore this year, batting .542 with 29 doubles, 5 triples, 16 homers, 82 RBI and 31 SB in 53 games. Having exhausted his JuCo eligibility, Ladendorf has committed to Oklahoma for 2009, but will likely sign this because his stock can’t get much higher than it is right now. He could go as high as the sandwich round this year.
(2006/43/1302) Eric Erickson, LHP, Sarasota HS (Fl.)
A short (6’0″) command and control lefty, Erickson stayed true to his commitment to Miami and joined the Hurricanes after the Yanks tried to convince him to go to a JuCo so they can hold onto his rights as a draft-and-follow. Erickson quickly established himself as one of Miami’s top starters, going 10-4 with a 2.50 ERA as a freshman and being named a Freshman All-American in the process. Erickson missed a good chunk of his sophomore year after a bout with soreness in his forearm, but he’s basically picked up where he left off, going 7-1, 4.31 ERA, 1.23 WHIP and 4.67 K/BB. A classic example of a guy who wouldn’t be considered anything special if he threw righthanded, Erickson should be a solid top four rounds option in the 2009 draft.
(2007/18/574) Chris Carpenter, RHP, Kent State
Carpenter was rated rather highly heading into the 2007 draft (2nd-3rd round range), but durability questions (TJ and a separate elbow surgery to clean out scar tissue) and spotty control (57-50 K/BB in 91.1 IP during his first 2 years at school) caused him to slip all the way down to the 18th round. He left the Cape Cod League early after experiencing pain and inflammation in his throwing arm, and the Yanks never seriously pursued him as a draft-eligible sophomore after that. Carpenter has been the ace of the Golden Flashes’ staff this year, putting up a 75.2 IP, 55 H, 36 R, 32 ER, 33 BB, 88 K line, but more importantly, he’s been completely healthy and has improved his curve and change to complement his mid-90s heat. His stock has never been higher, and he’s a good bet to go in the first three rounds on Thursday.
(2007/24/754) Greg Peavey, RHP, Hudson’s Bay High (Wash.)
Peavey’s been a guy for so long that scouts had nothing left to do but nitpick his game during his senior year of high school. He struggled that year and reportedly floated some big bonus demands, and he dropped all the way to the 24th round despite being a solid top three rounds talent. The Yanks pursued Peavey aggressively, but the negotiations were difficult and eventually called off all together after the Yanks shelled out big bucks to some other draftees. Peavey took his 92-94 mph fastball and hard slider to Oregon State, the two-time defending national champs. Filling the typical freshman role (mid-week starter/long reliever), he’s had a respectable first year for the Beavers, going 2-2, 5.51 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, 1.71 K/BB. Peavey will move into the weekend rotation for good next year, and he’s got a chance to be a premium prospect for the 2010 draft, especially if he fills out his 6’2″, 190 lb frame a bit more.
(2007/34/1050) Drew Storen, RHP, Brownsburg High (Ind.)
Yet another player that dropped because of signability, Storen’s whole shtick is his polish and command of low-90’s sinker, slider and advanced changeup. He also employs a funky, twisting delivery that scared away some teams. Players just don’t skip out on commitments to Stanford, so the two parties never really got close during negotiations and Storen headed to Mike Mussina’s alma mater. He quickly established himself as coach Mark Marquess’s bullpen ace and ‘moment of truth’ reliever, and found himself on the mound in every big, late-game situation for a team consistently ranked in the Top 25. Despite putting up gaudy numbers in his current relief role (43.2 IP, 39 H, 16 R, 14 ER, 12 BB, 41 K), Storen should move seamlessly into the weekend rotation next year. Checking in at only 6’1″, 175 lbs, he stands to add some velocity as he fills out. With all due respect to the other players listed here, Storen is the best prospect the Yanks have missed out on during the Oppenheimer reign. He’s an absolute stud.
(2007/39/1191) Eric Thames, OF, Pepperdine
No relation to Marcus, the Yanks took a late round flier on Thames as a draft-eligible sophomore, but he felt he was worth more than his stats suggested (.320-.381-.415 with no homers in 2007) and he headed back to school for his junior year. He’s improved his stock considerably this year, being named WCC Player of the Year and hitting .407-.513-.769 with 11 doubles, 8 triples, 13 HR and 59 RBI in 49 games as the Waves’ 3-hole hitter. Considered a cinch top three rounds prospect for the ’08 draft, Thames recently sustained a quad injury and missed the remainder of the season. Injuries have a tendency to drop players in the draft, but Thames tacked several hundred thousand dollars onto his signing bonus with his stellar year, regardless. It’s also worth noting that he lists Killswitch Engage as his favorite band, and that’s pretty badass. (Hopefully he means before they got that crappy new singer, I mean really, WTF is that?!?)
(2007/45/1345) Pat Venditte, RHP/LHP, Creighton
Ah, the awesomeness that is Pat Venditte. Here, watch this before reading any more. How sweet is that? Of course, the Yankees would get murdered by the MSM if they ever actually trotted out a pitcher like that, but teams like Boston or the Cubs would be praised for their evaluation skills and willingness to try something so different. Anywho, Venditte made it pretty clear from the get-go that he intended to return to school for his senior year, and that’s exactly what he did. This season has been more of the same for Venditte, he was the team’s MVP and led the staff in wins (9), games pitched (37), innings pitched (86.1), strikeouts (101) and batting average against (.207). I want to emphasize that Venditte is not just a gimmick; there have been other switch pitchers in college baseball’s recent past, but he’s far and away the best of the lot. He’s also got the makeup and the personality to deal with the inevitable circus that will surround his debut if he ever reaches the bigs. Venditte could go as high as the 5th or 6th round this year.
(2007/48/1411) Scott Biddle, RHP, Mississippi
After a rather unspectacular career as a starter at Northeast Texas CC, Biddle transferred to Ole Miss his junior year and served a long reliever/swingman/part-time closer for the Rebels in 2007. The Yanks selected him late after posting a 2.79 ERA with a 59-17 K/BB ratio in 42 IP, but he chose not to sign and headed back to school for his senior year. Biddle has emerged as one of the most dominant relievers in the country this year, going 66.1 IP, 32 H, 13 R, 12 ER, 27 BB, 118 K, and leading the SEC (aka the toughest conference in the college baseball) in strikeouts as a reliever. He operates primarily off of a bane high-80s cutter that he throws 80-85% of the time, but he also mixes in a decent changeup. The cutter and his bulldog mentality have him close to ML ready, and a team not willing to drop its first rounder on one of the top college closers could snatch Biddle up in the 3rd or 4th round and have him in the bigs just as fast.