Building depth using the middle and late rounds of the draft

Fan Confidence Poll: January 31st, 2011
Mariano's 2010 dip against lefties
The best 17th round pick in Yankees history, and it's not even close. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

First round draft picks and high profile international signings garner most of our attention and make us excited for the future, as they should. These players are the best of the best, at least when it comes to the amateur ranks. They’re drafted early and signed to seven-figure contracts because teams expect them to be above-average contributors at the Major League level, if not franchise cornerstones. The Yankees have one of the better farm systems in baseball right now, and although first round picks and international bonus babies contribute a great deal to that, scouting director Damon Oppenheimer and his staff have done an exceptional job of finding talent in the middle and lower rounds of the draft.

Of the 20 drafted players among the Yankees’ top 30 prospects according to Baseball America, nine were selected after the fifth round. Seven of those nine were selected in a double digit round, and four of those seven signed for no more than $150,000. This isn’t just a case of the Yankees throwing money at top amateurs who’ve fallen for whatever reason, though they’ve certainly done that aplenty (Dellin Betances and Austin Jackson come to mind). They’ve legitimately drafted and developed quite a few middle round talents into actual prospects.

Depending on who you ask, the best of the middle-to-late round crop is Brandon Laird, a 27th round pick that signed for just $120,000. It could also be David Phelps (14th round and $150,000) or maybe even D.J. Mitchell (10th round and $450,000), but that’s just players still with the organization. Late round picks Casey Erickson (10th round) and Dan McCutchen (13th round) were flipped for help at the big league level, as were middle rounders Mitch Hilligoss and Chase Weems (both sixth round picks). Two recent fifth round picks  – Zach Kroenke and George Kontos – have been selected in the Rule 5 Draft (Kroenke twice), so it’s clear other clubs value them.

Oppenheimer has been at the helm for six drafts now, and he’s had a total of ten players reach the big leagues (only counting players the Yankees actually signed, so they don’t credit for Doug Fister, Justin Turner, and Drew Storen). That doesn’t seem like a lot, but remember, the last few drafts are still a work in progress. Of those ten players, just three (Brett Gardner, Ian Kennedy, and Joba Chamberlain) were drafted before the fifth round. Of the remaining eight, five were taken no earlier than the eighth round. David Robertson highlights this group, a completely unheralded 17th round pick that signed for $200,000 and has turned into a strikeout heavy setup reliever.

Of course, it’s important to keep our expectations realistic. We’re not talking about stars here; getting Albert Pujols in the 13th round or Andy Pettitte in the 22nd round or Jorge Posada in the 24th round or Mike Piazza in the 62nd round is a once in a lifetime event. Most of the middle-to-late round players project to be back-end starters or role players or extraneous relievers, but that has value. For every D-Rob the team develops, that’s one less Jesse Crain or Matt Guerrier they have to sign as free agents. Each Colin Curtis or Kevin Russo is one less Randy Winn or Miguel Cairo. The Yankees are getting away from that reliance on veterans in this miscellaneous roles, which saves payroll and allows for greater roster flexibility.

The Yankees will surely need to rely on some of these non-top draft picks this season, especially given the current state of their rotation. Whether that means throwing Phelps or Mitchell to the AL East wolves or using them in trades for an established starter remains to be seen, but they’re an important cog in the pinstriped machine going forward.

Fan Confidence Poll: January 31st, 2011
Mariano's 2010 dip against lefties
  • Mike Myers

    Robertson looks like a beast in this photo.

    Scouting is such a strange skill. Any idea how much these guys make?

  • Preston

    Development is always an underrated thing. We always assume this guy or that guy was a bust because of some failure on their part. But sometimes it’s a result of the people around them not teaching them or not putting them into situations in which they can succeed.

    • Ted Nelson

      I wouldn’t really go too far in the other direction, though. Just about anyone good enough to be called a “bust” had multiple years at multiple levels (entirely different coaching staffs). They had the chance. The Yankees deserve credit for scouting and developing, but the individual players had some natural talent and a work ethic that allowed them to succeed.

      • Preston

        Agreed. My point is that we pretend it has nothing to do with it. We often credit teams for having an “eye” for talent or lamenting how another team could pick a “bust” or pass up on what in hind sight was a star. What made them a bust or star had a lot to do with stuff that the team did after draft day. Not neccessarily the scouting they did before hand.

  • Mister Delaware

    “For every D-Rob the team develops, that’s one less Jesse Crain …”

    Is this where I complain about us not going after Crain? No? Ok. Agree with everything in the article here. Draft 7 or 8 arms late and if 1 per year works out you’ve got yourself a perpetually refilling bullpen.

  • Johnny O

    So are you saying we shouldn’t have signed Raffy Soriano?? I kid.

    Good article. It would probably take massive amounts of research, but how does D-Opp’s performance in mid/late picks compare to other teams over the past 6 years? Seven post-round 5 guys making MLB seems like a lot. Also, almost half of our top drafted prospects are from after the 5th round? Seems like a very high percentage and therefore a great job by the Development side.

  • Fair Weather Freddy

    I would have liked to have seen Austin Jackson get a shot with the Yanks, but If Granderson picks up where he left off last year, the trade would be worth it.

  • feasor

    I’m not sure that I would point to D.J. Mitchell (10th round and $450,000) as a drafting heist. Might even consider it an overpayment, if not an overdraft.

    • Fair Weather Freddy

      Agree on Mitchell. He projects as another Darrell Rasner, relying on command and location and doesn’t miss many bats. Bryan Mitchell, a 16th rounder 2 years ago, could be a big heist. Yanks paid 500,000 I beleive to buy him out of college. He did very well in the Gulf Coast league last year, and has been called by one scout, ‘the best H.S. arm the Yanks have signed since Phil Hughes’

      • Ted Nelson

        If DJ Mitchell is another Darrell Rasner… That’s huge from your 10th round pick or for half a mill. A long-man or below average starter still has worth.

        Brett Marshall being a potential star has little to do with DJ Mitchell being a solid draft pick.

    • Ted Nelson

      Overdraft? 5 guys drafted #320 in the last 45 years have made the big leagues even for a cup of coffee…

      Mitchell may not be a stud, but I’ll take a 10th rounder for 1/2 a mill who makes AAA his second pro season. Just having that depth in AAA is probably worth the investment. If he actually contributes much of anything to the big league club at any point he’ll have paid for himself.

  • Gonzo

    I think the team has done a good job of having long-term plan and executing it.

    • The Captain

      And that’s exactly why nobody should have been freaking out at the lost 1st rounder due to the Soriano signing.

      The Yankees have a plan, they know they types of players they are looking for, and they have shown an ability to find talent later in the draft and then develop it through their Minor League system.

      • Gonzo

        Yeah, I didn’t think losing a 1st rounder was a big deal. The contract for Raffy, on the other hand, should have been better. I wasn’t a fan of the signing because of the contract. Losing a 1st rounder shouldn’t have been a dealbreaker.

      • Mister Delaware

        This isn’t entirely true. Losing the 1st rounder means that if a player is slipping due to a combination of huge demands and a deep draft, we aren’t there to stop the fall.

        • Preston

          The lost 1st rounder is softened by the sandwich pick we get from Vasquez. And if Soriano opts out we might get two picks from that as well.

        • Ted Nelson

          Even if that player is a good prospect, his chances of ever making a positive impact in the big leagues are still not that great. Sure, I’d rather have a pick than not all else equal. All else is not equal though, and the Yankees got a proven major leaguer instead of a risky pick. Plus they could get 1 or 2 picks whenever Soriano leaves. You can sign an IFA with huge demands and make up for the loss of a pick in the swipe of a pen too.

          • The Captain

            Good point. I’ll sacrifice the pick for one year, knowing the Yanks have the Vazquez pick and knowing they can get 1 or 2 more if Soriano has another big year and opts out.

            After this year, there’s a chance somebody from the Minors will have settled into the ‘pen to fill the void left by Soriano becoming a FA agent again. Or at the very least, the picture should be becoming more clear on what they plan to do with the Brackmans, Mitchells, and Stoneburners of the world in terms of starter vs. reliever.

            • camilo Gerardo

              because he lost the pick, $ might want to make up for it with overslot draftees because as we all know, It wasn’t his choice to sign rafi.

              praise to mo

  • AndrewYF

    From what I remember Robertson was actually a very highly touted college closer.

    Speaking of college closers, how much of a disaster was that Casey Weathers pick? Never ever pick a guy whose ceiling is a reliever in the first round. Whoever decided to draft that guy there doesn’t deserve to be in a position to make those kinds of decisions ever again.

    • Ted Nelson

      College success doesn’t mean people are that high on your pro prospects, though. If Robertson were “very highly touted” someone would have taken him before the 17th round and/or paid him more than $200,000.

  • http://none Aaron


    According to several sources (Gallup,salaryexpert) professional scouts mae a lot less than than the semi pros they sign in bonus. Averages have quite a high range, and depend on region (the South they get paid quite a bit more.. prob becasue there is more talent in the warm areas to peruse), but the range is between 86K and 140K per.

    Scout exectutives make considerably more I imagine. I think it is important to note that MLB has developed a team of scouts (50+) that have no direct affiliation with any team, and come up with scouting reprts that they forward to each team. This was developed over 20 years ago to “even the scouting playing field” (my words) and help reduce overall scouting costs for each team. The total number of scouts has grown over the years.

    For example, instead of having 20 MLB teams that are interested in a HS player in Miami send 40 scouts to check them out, MLB sends a team once, and takes plenty of video that all scouts can view fairly, after which teams can then decide if they want to take a trip and scout further.

    Now, we are seeing teams with dollars to spend looking more to the INTL market to develop and scout baseball awareness and talent. I think ths could be a result of teams trying to get that diamond prospect that few teams know about yet.

    That is about all I know on the subject. Check out a search in your browser for “MLB scouting practices” fr more information.

    All the best,

  • http://n/a Aaron

    Whatever happened to JB COX form Texas? I see his still bouncing around AA A, but what happened? One season he struck out 27 in 20 innings, and then poof.. he turned into Ramiro Mendoza.

    Do the Yanks have another Aaron Small (10 game winner at MLB level) in the Minors?

    • kosmo

      One year his idiot manager Bill Masse ran Cox into the ground by having Cox appear in 15 straight games .Fortune would have it he didn´t allow a run in those appearances but it might have taken it´s toll on his elbow .

      • Mike Axisa


  • Fair Weather Freddy

    Cox retired and then came back late last year. He did not do well in his return and is still in DOuble A I think. I doubt he’ll ever make it. He had attitude issues as well.

    • http://n/a Aaron

      Thanks Freddy. What a shame too! I really was excited when the Yanks drafted him eons ago. He made a big spash in the beginning too. You just never know when you are talking about 18-19 yr olds.

      Thanks again…

  • http://n/a Aaron

    I think losing the draft pick is something to be a little concerned about: The Rays have a billion picks in the first 99 and so do the Sox. That doesn’t leave very many of the top rated guys.. you know, the ones that have the best chance of being better than replacement in the next 4 years?

    All things being equal, the middle of the draft is where you can make a big difference in your farm… if you do your homework and due diligence you can turn your draft around; this is the hard part.. finding that diamond in the rough, and projecting. The first round, that’s a piece of cake.

    But All things are not equal: having one easy pick compared to your peers’ 7-8 easy picks, will make it that much tougher for the Yanks this draft.

    The Yankees have a lot of good talent in the farm right now, so they can afford to get squeezed this year; but they better have a turnaround year next year in the draft.. and hopefully, many of the picks that the Sox and Rayus take early will not get signed and return next year, or will sign so high that htey will not be able to spend the following year.

    Most baseball experts are touting this the best scout class in decades. This is prob a bad year to miss out.

    All the best,

    • Jerome S.

      I am convinced that the Rays could be given no picks and still find a way to build a kick-ass farm. It’s just futility with them.

      • Ted Nelson

        Yeah, as much as people love the Rays system most of their success has come with high picks. They had a top 10 pick for 10 seasons straight. 7 of those were top 3 picks. Out of that came guys like Price, Longoria, Niemann, Delmon Young (traded for Garza and Bartlett), Upton… Basically half their squad the last few seasons.

        Doesn’t work to the same extent with a Carl Crawford, but the guy was still the top pick in the 2nd round. Picking at the top of the round is nice, and were they a middle-of-the-pack or good team they might never get Crawford. Same goes for Reid Brignac, the #4 pick in the 2nd round.

        Impossible to say what they’d have done with later first round picks, but it’s a different ballgame talent wise in the late teens and 20s then the top 3. Take away the high firsts and you’re still left with a solid group highlighted by Crawford, Brignac, Wade Davis, Hellickson, Jaso, Desmond Jennings, etc. Still solid, but their success has really been built on those top 3 picks they had for 7 of 10 years.

  • king of fruitless hypotheticals

    …does he look anything like brett gardner in that picture or is it just me?

    on a related notes, screw mondays. give me baseball. fast.

  • Domenic

    I agree with the overarching theme – the draft is a fantastic way to build depth. It’s not quite reasonable to expect a stud per draft, but it’s realistic that a diligent team can build a fine bench and bullpen over the course of a few drafts.

    Dan Burawa and Tommy Kahnle are two 2010 draftees that should rocket through the system, helping the big team’s bullpen sooner rather than later. Both profile as high-end relievers, drawing a fair bit of praise in their professional debuts.

  • LemdaGem

    For all the Andy Strasburg’s 1st round cinch draft pick, there are PLENTY of college grad starting pitchers who had decent numbers throwing at guys with metal bats. THAT has to be factored into ANY equation when evaluating young starters. The number of overlooked quality college grad starters who went MUCH later in distant rounds of the draft that became MLB aces could fill a textbook.
    Good mechanics, the ability to pound the strike zone, not afraid to throw inside, good control of their entire arsenal of pitches ( 2 & 4 seam fastball, slider, curve, splitter and cutter ) all are more important than mere MPH on a speed gun. Velocity develops as nutrition,
    conditioning and PROFESSIONAL level coaching is introduced into a young
    pitcher’s development in the MINOR leagues where WOODEN bats sometimes
    can make a significant difference in a young pitcher’s career.
    There are SO many nearly intangible factors ( see AJ Burnett or Kyle Farnsworth ) that comprise an effective MLB pitcher that mere
    “stuff” = velocity is NOT the over riding determinant in how effective
    a young pitcher may become over time. It is a process where great pitching coaches, catchers and minor league managers can have a HUGE impact on a young pitchers overall career.