Jun
16

2010 Draft: Damon Oppenheimer’s post-draft chat

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Every year, each team’s scouting director will sit down and chat with fans at the team’s official site about a week after the draft just to talk it up and interact with the fan base and all that jazz. They usually aren’t very long or in-depth, but they’re still a small little peek into the amateur scouting world. Damon Oppenheimer held his yesterday afternoon, and as you can imagine some of the questions (and answers) were more interesting than others.

I went through and picked out a few that stuck out to me for one reason or another, and kind of expanded on Oppenheimer’s answer, or just added some kind of commentary. I think this is more interesting than just dumping a link to the transcript and telling you to give it a read, no? Anyway, here we go…

alm81: How much do you base your selections of high school players on statistics?

Damon Oppenheimer: Stats about high school players is a very minor aspect. If you see that a guy has exceptional stats, it helps a little. If you see a red flag such as a hitter with a lot of strikeouts or a pitcher with a lot of walks, that might play a part.

This one seems like a bit of a no-brainer. Even in the traditional hotbed states like California, Arizona, Texas, and Florida, there are just so many kids playing high school ball that will never go on to play in college, let alone pro ball. Gaudy stats, like Chris Smith had when the Yanks made him their fifth round pick in 2008, mean nothing. If you’re looking at a high school and he’s struck out fewer than a batter an inning, or a hitter that’s swinging and missing a lot, then forget it. Professional baseball will eat them alive. That’s about the only thing high school stats are good for.

jrod809: What about Cito Culver excited the Yankees most?

Damon Oppenheimer: There were a lot of things that excited us. Very rarely do you get a 17 year old, athletic, switch hitting shortstop. He has great tools, makeup and performs. He’s a great shortstop and can hit. You have to take risks on guys like that in high school because if they do that in college, they don’t make it down to pick 32.

That last part is a really great point. If Culver were to follow through on his commitment to Maryland, there’s a chance he’d come out of school in three years as a legit first round talent, and he wouldn’t remain on the board very long with that profile. It’s definitely a risky pick, but with great risk comes great reward. Just look at the current team, you don’t play for the Yankees if you’re a safe and conservative non-athletic type. There’s nothing wrong with being bold.

csamma: Is a player’s attitude just as important as his ability?

Damon Oppenheimer: His makeup is an important part of the whole package. He can’t play in the big leagues without ability. So ability is still more important, but the attitude is right there behind it.

Ah yes, the intangibles question. Without question, stuff like makeup comes into play, especially in New York. I don’t think the impact is as big as it’s made out to be, but it’s definitely something that has to be considered when scouting amateurs. The grind of a 144 game minor league season, nevermind a 162 game big league season undoubtedly takes a certain level of mental toughness, because there will be so much failure to experience along the way.

meliss8907: When scouting pitchers, do you tend to look for speed over variety of pitches?

Damon Oppenheimer: The higher you take a guy, the more complete a pitcher you are looking for – complete meaning velocity and other pitches. As you move down further in the draft you are looking to get one or the other.

The Yankees were left scraping the bottom of the pitching barrel this year because their first four picks were position players, and that’s fine. When they did get around to selecting pitchers, Oppenheimer clearly targeted power over polish, which makes sense simply because you can’t teach a guy to throw hard. A breaking ball can be taught, taking something off your pitches to locate them comes from experience, but you can either throw hard or you can’t.

meliss8907: Are there specific leagues, (i.e. Cape Cod League) that seem to develop better players?

Damon Oppenheimer: The Cape Cod League is really important to our evaluation. It is generally the better college players in the country playing on a daily basis and using wood, so it gives us an accurate depiction of what the player will represent. Some other leagues we scout are the Coastal Plains League, Northwoods League and the Alaska League to name a few.

It’s now painfully obvious that the Yankees put a lot of weight in Cape Cod League performance. Not so much performance as in stats and production, but how they handle themselves and the skills they show. Wood bats, elite competition … it really is the best way for an amateur to showcase himself. You just have to make sure that you follow a player during the spring the year after he plays on the Cape to make sure the scouting report doesn’t change.

bronxmissles: How come the Yankees usually draft catchers?

Damon Oppenheimer: Catchers are a premium position as they are hard to find. When you find one that you think can be a major leaguer, you have to jump on it. We didn’t draft one this year because we have quality catchers throughout our organization.

Position scarcity, plain and simple. Quality catchers are like quality pitchers, there’s no such thing as too many. Draft/sign them, develop them, and if you have too many catchers for too few spots, you break out into the Dance of Joy.

tkcmo39: Do you prefer college players over high school players?

Damon Oppenheimer: No. I just prefer the best players available. Actually, we’d rather have them young so that they can learn the Yankee way. Culver and Gumbs are both young and have a chance to learn the Yankee way really quickly at a young age. With the way our player development system is structured, I’d actually rather draft guys out of high school.

Well, he says he’d rather draft players out of high school, but saying and doing are two different things. The 20 prep players Oppenheimer drafted this year are by far the most he’s ever taken in his six years at the helm, and the fact that seven of their top ten picks were high schoolers makes it look like a conscious effort. Here’s a few charts breaking down the Yanks’ drafts since 2005 (by school, by position, by school & position), and clearly high school kids take a back seat. We have to acknowledge that the data is somewhat skewed by the later rounds, where college players are commonplace because they make the best organizational fodder. Still though, we’re taking about just one out of every four picks (78 of 301, or 26% total) being a high school kid.

I’ve said this a million times, but I prefer high school players because the sooner you get them under professional instruction the better. I think it’s rather obvious that Oppenheimer prefers polish, which leads him more toward college players. I guess there’s a chance that that’s just how the draft board and best players available shook out, but I suspect that would be a rather large coincidence.

sirvlciv: How organized is your draft board before the draft occurs? Do you have a very clear order of players, and strike them out as they’re taken, taking the best player still available at your draft spot?

Damon Oppenheimer: There’s probably two weeks of preparation put into the final draft board. The names are strategically placed on the board by ability and as teams make selections, we take them down and generally select the next available player on the board.

I don’t have anything to add here, I’ve just always been curious about this. I always imagined that they had one list, maybe 300 players deep, based on talent and they took the highest ranked player left on the board each team. Then for the later rounds, they had rankings by position, and selected based on need or whatever the system was lacking overall.

That’s maybe half the questions, but the rest are the usual easy lay-ups. It would be nice if they took some questions that were a bit more inquisitive, but I suppose this is better than nothing. I’m curious to know how they allocate their draft budget and prioritize whom to sign. Basically who are the guys they really want (Gerrit Cole), and who are the backup plans (Brett Marshall).

Categories : Draft

27 Comments»

  1. Opus says:

    What is learning “the Yankee way” and how does it differ from others?

  2. A.D. says:

    Actually, we’d rather have them young so that they can learn the Yankee way.

    Surprised on this, given lack of HS taken, and figure the main knock on college players would be pitchers being abused, and the Yanks haven’t really shyed away from college pitchers.

  3. Jay says:

    Mike,

    Do you think Culver has the upside of the Colon kid that the Royals picked?

  4. Templeton "Brendog" Peck says:

    Position scarcity, plain and simple. Quality catchers are like quality pitchers, there’s no such thing as too many. Draft/sign them, develop them, and if you have too many catchers for too few spots, you break out into the Dance of Joy.

    and even when texas had a glut of catchers we see how that can turn out as they’re now looking for one

    • rbizzler says:

      Agreed. It is also a lesson in not hoarding guys as they could have maximized at east one of those assets when they had the chance.

      Now Teagarden is in AA, Max Ramirez profiles more as a 1b/DH and Salty has regressed (in a bad way).

  5. Chris says:

    I’ve said this a million times, but I prefer high school players because the sooner you get them under professional instruction the better. I think it’s rather obvious that Oppenheimer prefers polish, which leads him more toward college players. I guess there’s a chance that that’s just how the draft board and best players available shook out, but I suspect that would be a rather large coincidence.

    I’d be curious what the breakdown for other team’s selections are – specifically in the first few rounds. Just looking it up quickly, since the 2005 draft 38% of the Yankees picks in the first 10 rounds were HS kids (23 of 60, and compared to 26% overall). That compares to 51% for the Rays (32 of 63). The difference amounts to about 1 more HS per draft in the first 10 rounds for the Rays. The nature of the draft is that most picks are going to be college kids and I’d be curious where the Yankees rank in terms of picking HS vs College.

  6. YankeesJunkie says:

    Well I can’t say that I am in love with Culver pick, actually I was pretty pissed by it. However, it is now time to root for this kid and it sounds to me like he will sign quickly. Hopefully, in June 2013 this kid is a legit prospect in AA and AAA which would have been his next time to go to the draft and proves me wrong.

  7. rbizzler says:

    One reason for the move away from college guys is that maybe Opp and co. achieved their goal with drafting college guys and feel the system has a solid base to build on. A lot of the college arms have served as a pipeline for cheap and flexible bullpen help or served as trade bait.

    Now they can inject some youth and athleticism-based up-the-middle players and still take a flier or two on some college power arms later in the draft. One of the semi-frustrating things about the last few drafts is that very few of the limited upside college position guys that they have drafted has shown much promise (minus Gritt, of course).

  8. Gonzo says:

    Mike, do you think that the FO saw the entire drafting process as a one long-term project?

    I mean, picking college, polished players in earlier years to fill out a farm system and for trade bait would fit in the earlier years. Then when you have trade bait along with some players doing well in the system, you start to switch to a more HS approach because your farm system can withstand the higher bust rate of HS’ers.

    I am sure you always try to pick the best player, but you probably pay more attention to polish in the earlier years and then potential later on in the years.

  9. Pete says:

    In regards to the college/HS thing, I think it’s also possible that the mindset of the organization has changed – they may have once felt that with the better competition came simply better information on kids in the college ranks, along with polish, especially with pitchers, but maybe have become frustrated by too many pitchers with too much mileage on their arms already, or stuck into bad mechanics, or hitters who are stuck in bad/metal bat swings. It’s also possible that they’re beginning to recognize that the organization itself does have a great deal of control over how a young player with great tools turns out. So it’s possible that this year’s draft is a reflection of a new organizational mindset, rather than an aberration from the same mindset.

  10. V says:

    One of those questions is mine, heh. I asked a few, and of course the ‘simplest’ one was taken. :shrug:

  11. dan says:

    did anybody ask damon why he did’nt draft rob rowland?

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