2017 Draft: Yankees sign third rounder Trevor Stephan to over-slot bonus

(Arkansas)
(Arkansas)

June 20th: MLB.com says Stephan signed for $797,500, not $800,000. Jim Callis says the standard contract for draftees includes $2,500 in bonuses so easily reachable that teams were counting it as part of the player’s bonus. Now they’ve stopped. The player still gets the $2,500 bonus, but it doesn’t count against the bonus pool. Huh.

June 16th: According to Jim Callis, the Yankees have signed Arkansas RHP Trevor Stephan, their third round pick in this week’s amateur draft, to an over-slot $800,000 bonus. Slot money for the 92nd overall pick is $588,700. You can keep tabs on the draft pool situation with our Draft Pool Tracker.

Stephan, 21, had a 2.87 ERA with 120 strikeouts and 20 walks in 16 starts and 91 innings for the Razorbacks this spring. MLB.com ranked him as a 87th best prospect in the draft class. Here’s a snippet of their scouting report:

He touched 97 mph in the fall and has sat at 90-95 this spring, using his deceptive crossfire delivery to create running life. He commands his fastball well to both sides of the plate … He has scrapped a soft curveball in favor of a slider/cutter that shows flashes of becoming an average pitch, and he rarely uses a changeup that’s even less advanced. His delivery and arm action may not be conducive to starting every fifth day in pro ball, where he’s likely to become a reliever who relies heavily on his fastball.

Once the signing is complete, I imagine Stephan will join Short Season Staten Island to begin his pro career. Their season begins Monday. Here is some video of Stephan in action:

In addition to the usual bonus pool saving college senior picks in rounds 8-10, the Yankees are also expected to save some cash with first round pick South Carolina RHP Clarke Schmidt, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery and doesn’t have much leverage. Most of those savings figure to be funneled to second rounder California HS RHP Matt Sauer, however.

2017 Draft: Beck, Mangum, Williams, Abbott, Burns, Brown

Burns. (@MLBDraft)
Burns. (@MLBDraft)

Now that the Yankees have made their selections and the 2017 draft is over, it’s time to see who they actually sign. The signing deadline is Friday, July 7th this year, so three weeks from tomorrow. That’s really close! Anyway, here are my Day One, Day Two, and Day Three recaps. Here are all of the Yankees’ picks, and here’s some draft news and links:

  • In his AL recap, Keith Law notes he doesn’t like the deliveries of South Carolina RHP Clarke Schmidt (1st round) and California HS RHP Matt Sauer (2nd), though he does say, “some teams were fine with the way (Sauer’s) arm works despite all of that and saw a mid-rotation starter.”
  • In their AL East draft recap, Baseball America wrote “college RHPs Trevor Stephan (3), Glenn Otto (5) and Dalton Higgins (7) and LHP Dalton Lehnen (6) all have at least one swing-and-miss offering.” The Yankees always use those middle rounds on Day Two to hoard power arms.
  • Catawba College RHP Bryan Blanton (21st) has a deal in place and is traveling to Tampa today, reports Mike London. Blanton, a reliever, had a 2.70 ERA with 50 strikeouts and 15 walks in 33.1 innings for the Indians.
  • Stanford RHP Tristan Beck (29th) is not going to sign, reports John Manuel. Bummer, but not surprising. Beck was a consensus first round talent before a back issue caused him to miss the season. He was reportedly seeking upwards of $4M to sign.
  • Missouri State OF Jake Mangum (30th), a draft-eligible sophomore, is going to return to school for his junior year, he announced on Twitter. Mangum was a top five rounds pick based on talent, though he slipped due to signability concerns.
  • If you’re into such things, Chris Mitchell’s KATOH system projects Duke OF Jimmy Herron (31st) as one of the best college picks on Day Three at +1.5 WAR. “A draft-eligible sophomore, Herron smacked 17 doubles, stole 17 bases, and struck out in just 12% of his plate appearances this year … Herron doesn’t turn 21 until late July, so he’s a few months younger than most of his draft-eligible college peers, making his performance all the more impressive,” said the write-up.
  • Georgia HS C Steven Williams (35th) will not sign and instead follow through on his commitment to Auburn, he wrote on Twitter. Williams was considered a possible top five rounds pick as an offense-first catcher, though his strong commitment to Auburn caused him to slide to Day Three.
  • Virginia HS LHP Andrew Abbott (36th) is not planning to sign, based on his Twitter feed. That’s not really a surprise. He was considered unsignable from the start. Abbott throws three pitches, including an excellent curveball, though he sits mostly in the upper-80s right now with his fastball.
  • Alabama HS RHP Tanner Burns (37th) will not sign, according to his Twitter feed. Jim Callis mentioned him as one of the most notable picks on Day Three. “Burns drew comparisons to recent first-rounders due to his big arm and advanced command, but his commitment to Auburn must have been too strong for teams to take a chance on him early,” wrote Callis.
  • The Yankees have signed Missouri State OF Cody Brown as an undrafted free agent, according to MSU. He’s heading to Tampa to sign tomorrow. Brown, a lefty swinger, hit .323/.433/.539 with nine homers and ten steals in 64 games this spring.

By the way, our annual Draft Pool Tracker page is now up and running. You can keep tabs on the Yankees’ bonus pool situation there between now and the signing deadline. It is available at all times under the Resources pull down menu in the nav bar at the top of the site.

2017 Draft: Yankees grab several top prospects on Day Three, but will they sign any of them?

Beck. (@MLBDraft)
Beck. (@MLBDraft)

The 2017 draft is now in the books. All together 1,215 players heard their names called over the last three days, including 40 by the Yankees. You can see all of New York’s picks here. The Yankees loaded up on pitchers on Day One and Day Two. On Day Three they grabbed plenty of organizational depth, but also selected several highly ranked prospects who slipped due to signability concerns. Will the Yankees get any to turn pro? That’s the million dollar question. Let’s review the Day Three haul.

The Top Dollar Prospects

When the draft resumed yesterday, three of Baseball America’s top 41 prospects remained on the board. The Yankees selected two of them: Stanford RHP Tristan Beck (29th round) and Alabama HS RHP Tanner Burns (37th). Both were considered potential first round picks coming into this spring. Bonus demands caused Burns to slip. Bonus demands and injury caused Beck to slide.

Beck was one of the top pitchers in the country in 2016 — he joined Mike Mussina and Cal Quantrill (Paul’s kid) as the only freshmen to start Opening Day in Stanford history — but he did not pitch at all this spring due to a stress reaction in his back. During that freshman season he had a 2.48 ERA with 76 strikeouts and 26 walks in 14 starts and 83.1 innings, and he did it with good stuff (low-90s fastball, above-average changeup, good breaking ball) and an excellent feel for pitching. Beck really knows what he’s doing out on the mound.

In addition to being really good, Beck has added leverage as a draft-eligible sophomore. Man of the people Chris Crawford hears Beck wants anywhere from $2.5M to $4M to sign, and if true, there’s basically no chance the Yankees can sign him. Maybe that’s the opening ask and Beck is willing to settle for less? Either way, his options are take gobs of money from the Yankees, or go back to school and re-enter the draft next year as a potential top ten pick.

Burns, meanwhile, is a legitimate two-way prospect with a mid-90s fastball and an out pitch mid-80s slider on the mound, and a powerful right-handed bat with a keen eye at the plate. He is considered a better pro prospect on the mound. (The Yankees announced him as a pitcher.) Burns was not drafted on Day One (or Day Two) because he wants a lot of money to skip out on his commitment to Auburn, and teams weren’t convinced they could get him to turn pro.

While Beck and Burns are the crown jewels of Day Three, the Yankees drafted several other high-end prospects with signability questions yesterday as well. Louisville RHP Riley Thompson (25th) is a rare draft-eligible freshman after having Tommy John surgery and taking a medical redshirt in 2016. He threw only 14.2 innings this spring between coming back from surgery and being buried on a deep pitching staff. When he did pitch, Thompson showed first round stuff with a mid-to-high-90s heater and a power low-80s curveball. He has a chance to come out as a first round pick next year.

Georgia HS OF Pat DeMarco (24th) grew up in New York before moving to Georgia in 2014, and he’s an advanced all-around player with contact skills and good center field defense. Georgia HS C Steven Williams (35th) was one of the top high school catchers in the draft class, thanks mostly to his offense. He’s got big power in his left-handed bat and a history of annihilating elite prep competition with wood bats in showcase events. Williams might not catch long-term, but his bat will play anywhere. He’s committed to Auburn. DeMarco is committed to Vanderbilt.

And finally, Mississippi State OF Jake Mangum (30th) offers outstanding leadoff skills, including high contact rates from both sides of the plate, a patient approach, and top of the line speed. He also plays a mean center field. Mangum is an animal on the field who plays all out, all the time. People love watching him play. Mangum is a draft-eligible sophomore with plenty of negotiating leverage. He can either turn pro, or go back to school for a year and re-enter the draft next summer.

Based on talent, all six of these players should have been Day One or early Day Two picks. Two of them, Burns and Beck, have true first round ability. The Yankees selected all six of them because, well, why not? They could either continue to mine for hidden gems in the late rounds, or grab the most talented players on the board and try to convince them to sign. There’s always a chance they’ll change their minds and decide to turn pro, after all. Take the best players and figure out the rest later.

The Yankees hope to sign one of these players. That’s the realistic goal. Get one to turn pro. Beck or Burns would be preferable, but Thompson, Williams, DeMarco, or Mangum would work just as well. The Yankees will take whatever draft pool savings they have from Days One and Two, shovel it in front of these guys, and force them to say no. In all likelihood, all six will wind up in school next year. That’s usually how it goes. The fact the Yankees grabbed so many of these highly ranked players with signability questions increases their chances of getting one to turn pro, I think.

Balancing Out Days One & Two

Wagaman. (Los Angeles Times)
Wagaman. (Los Angeles Times)

I don’t think it was intentional, but the Yankees did select nine pitchers with their ten picks the first two days of the draft. That’s probably just the way the board fell in the top ten rounds. But still, when you go that pitcher heavy early in the draft, you kinda have to balance it out with position players later. The minor league rosters still need to be filled out, after all. On Day Three, the Yankees skewed toward college bats.

The best position player prospect the Yankees selected yesterday, at least among the guys they have a realistic chance to sign, is probably Orange Coast 1B Eric Wagaman (13th). He’s a right-handed hitter with big raw power and a knack for getting the bat on the ball despite a big long swing. Wagaman is a first baseman only defensively, so he’s going to have to hit and hit big to climb the ladder.

Duke OF Jimmy Herron (31st) is a ridiculous runner and a slap hitter from the right side of the plate. He puts the ball in play and runs like hell, plus he’ll draw walks and play good defense. There’s the potential for something exciting here if Herron ever figures out how to get some power out of his 6-foot-1, 195 lb. frame. California HS SS Alika Williams (32nd) has tools but is so raw that he’s probably best off going to college and developing there rather than against pro caliber competition.

Louisiana-Lafayette OF Steven Sensley (12th), Mount Olive SS Rickey Surum (16th), and Rhode Island 2B Chris Hess (17th) are all college performers without carrying tools. Surum can at least play shortstop, so he has position scarcity on his side. The Yankees drafted 40 players and only 12 are position players.

The Power Arms

When you get to Day Three of the draft, you’re looking for pitchers with one of two things: stuff or command. The guys who have both are usually long gone. The Yankees have long preferred the guys with stuff, I guess because they consider that an unteachable skill. They think it’s easier to teach someone to locate than it is to get him to throw harder or develop a better breaking ball. You don’t have to agree with that, but that’s what the Yankees seem to think, and they draft accordingly.

The best power arm the Yankees drafted on Day Three is Seattle RHP Janson Junk (22nd), who will inevitably be nicknamed “Junkballer” even though he is anything but. His heater will sit 95-96 mph in short relief outings and touch 98, and his best secondary pitch is a changeup with some fade. Junk has arm strength. Now he needs to refine either his changeup or breaking ball or give him a consistent second pitch, and allow him to climb the minor league ladder. Man can not live on fastball alone.

Maryland HS RHP Harold Cortijo (14th) made a name for himself in showcases last year by showing a low-to-mid-90s fastball with a promising curveball. Cortijo is a great athlete who also has some potential as a center fielder, and the hope is that athleticism will allow him to iron out his command and improve the quality of his secondary stuff. Slot money for every pick on Day Three is $125,000 — every penny over that counts towards the bonus pool — and it might take an over-slot bonus to convince Cortijo to turn pro.

Among the college pitchers taken on Day Three, New Orleans RHP Shawn Semple (11th) probably has the best chance to start long-term. His fastball is mostly low-90s and he has feel for both a breaking ball and a changeup, and he throws strikes. That’s someone you can send out as a starter for a year or two, and if it’s not working out, try him in relief. Delaware RHP Ron Marinaccio (19th) found new life after moving to the bullpen this spring and can miss some bats with a fastball and slider.

Norfolk State RHP Alex Mauricio (27th) used to throw very hard, up to 99 mph, but the wear of tear of college ball has him sitting mostly low-90s and touching 95 mph these days. He doesn’t have much to offer besides his fastball, however. Ventura College LHP Andrew Nardi (39th) has a nice fastball/slider combination and he models his delivery after Clayton Kershaw, though throwing strikes is a problem.

The Bounceback Candidates

In Virginia Tech RHP Aaron McGarity (15th) and Alabama-Birmingham RHP Garrett Whitlock (18th), the Yankees selected two pitchers who showed Day Two stuff in the past, before getting hurt. McGarity was low-to-mid-90s with ease in the Cape Cod League in 2015 before breaking down. Whitlock was mid-90s with a nasty slider on the Cape last summer, then he came down with a back problem early this spring. When he returned, the fastball was mostly 90-92 mph and flat.

The thinking here is pretty obvious. The Yankees grabbed McGarity and Whitlock with late round picks hoping they’ll regain their previous form as they get healthy and further away from their injuries. If it works, great! If not, you’re only out a late pick, and who cares about that? Sometimes these broken late round guys turn into Brian Wilson. (Wilson was coming off Tommy John surgery and his stuff was way down when the Giants drafted him in the 24th round in 2003.)

Other Unsignables

Beyond the high-profile prospects highlighted at the beginning of this post, the Yankees did grab several high school prospects in the late rounds with some tools, but basically no chance to sign. Florida HS LHP Jordan Butler (34th) is the best prospect of the bunch. He’s a side-armer with a low-90s sinker and a big sweepy slider that cuts across the entire width of the plate. The arm slot has most thinking he’s destined for the bullpen. It’s going to be tough to buy him away from Florida since he’ll have an opportunity to play a prominent role for the Gators from the get-go.

Virginia HS LHP Andrew Abbott (36th) has three pitches, including an upper-80s fastball and a great curveball, though he is considered completely unsignable and will follow through on his commitment to Virginia. If Abbott adds velocity in college, he could come out as a potential Day One pick in three years. Louisiana HS SS Hayden Cantrelle (40th) has speed and good defense at shortstop. He’s a legitimate football prospect as a quarterback and wide receiver, though he’s committed to play baseball only at Louisiana-Lafayette. Never say never, but Butler, Abbott, and Cantrelle are all dead set on college and not expected to sign.

The Rest of the Class

Lidge. (@NDBaseball)
Lidge. (@NDBaseball)

Notre Dame C Ryan Lidge (20th) is a catch-and-throw guy most notable for being Brad Lidge’s cousin … Catawba College RHP Bryan Blanton (21st round) is a reliever with a breaking ball he throws an awful lot … Arizona HS RHP Colby Davis (23rd) can locate three pitches, though none of the three stand out as a potential put-away pitch … Lane College LHP Austin Crowson (26th) has a big 6-foot-5, 210 lb. frame and a low-90s heater. He’s trying to figure out everything else … Florida HS RHP Shane Roberts (28th) is mostly upper-80s with the makings of an okay breaking ball. College might the best place for him going forward … Boston College RHP Jacob Stevens (33rd round) pitches at 88-89 mph and relies on a wide array of secondary pitches to get outs … Spartanburg Methodist RHP Brent Burgess (38th round) was a catcher in college who the Yankees want to try on the mound. The Rangers couldn’t convince him to do the same in the 40th round last year.

* * *

The draft signing deadline is Friday, July 7th this year — doesn’t the deadline seem to get a little closer each year? — and because of all those high-end prospects who fell into the Yankees lap on Day Three, the deadline could be exciting this year. I don’t expect any of those guys to actually sign because those types of players never seem to sign, but hey, I’m open to being surprised. Maybe the Yankees saved enough bonus pool space on Days One and Two to get one of them turn pro.

2017 Draft: Day Three Open Thread

2017-draft-logoThe 2017 amateur draft concludes today with rounds 11-40, which are the rounds where organizational depth is built. The Yankees have found guys like Tyler Austin, Chase Whitley, Rookie Davis, and James Pazos on Day Three in recent years, and they’ve all proven useful in one way or another. Everyone wants stars and impact players. Depth guys are important too.

So far this year the Yankees have gone heavy on arms. We’re talking nine pitchers and one position player in the first ten rounds these last two days. I think that’s a coincidence more than anything. That said, the Yankees may try to balance things out a bit with a few position players here on Day Three. Here is my Day Two recap, here are the Yankees’ picks, and here are some draft links to check out:

  • Make sure you check out Brendan Kuty’s chat with Clarke Schmidt, the Yankees’ first round pick. He played coy when asked about signing. His agent trained him well. “We’re still in talks. Still have to sign, deal with all the contracts. That’s the side of the ball I haven’t gotten into yet,” he said.
  • Here are Eric Longenhagen’s Day One and Day Two notes. “Arkansas RHP Trevor Stephan (3) will touch 96, sit 92-94, and throw enough strikes to start. His sweeping curveball is average but plays up against righties because of his cross-bodied delivery,” says the write-up.
  • If you’re into such things, Craig Mitchell’s KATOH system projects Stephan as the third best college player taken on Day Two. “The right-handed Stephan put up big strikeout numbers in the SEC this year, trailing only Alex Faedo, Alex Lange, and Kyle Wright, all of whom were no-doubt first rounders,” says he write-up.
  • Here are the best available players per MLB.com and Baseball America. Most of the highly ranked high school kids are unsignable at this point. Teams will still pick them though, just in case they to change their mind and decide to turn pro.

The draft concludes today with rounds 11-40. Thankfully, the conference call is now rapid fire, one pick after another. That’s the way the entire draft used to be (and always should be!). Anyway, the draft resumes at 12pm ET, and you can tune in on MLB.com. Here is MLB.com’s draft tracker. Chat about all the day’s draft-related stuff here.

2017 Draft: Yankees load up on pitchers on Day Two

Otto. (Getty)
Otto. (Getty)

The first two days and ten rounds of the 2017 amateur draft are in the books. The top ten rounds are tied to the bonus pool, and because of that, Day Two is typically the least interesting day of the draft. Teams take players they know they can sign because they don’t want to lose draft pool money should the player decide to go to school, which usually means selecting lower profile prospects without much leverage. The Yankees went heavy on arms yesterday. Very heavy. Let’s recap their Day Two draft haul.

The Lone Position Player

Day Two covers rounds 3-10 and the Yankees selected exactly one position player in those rounds: Texas HS OF Canaan Smith (fourth round). Smith was mostly a catcher in high school but the Yankees announced him as a right fielder, so I guess he’s changing positions. Also, he was quarterback for the football team, and the Yankees have a history of targeting two-sport players. They love two-sport guys with athleticism and big time compete tools.

Smith is a left-handed hitter with very good bat speed and power potential, giving him exciting offensive potential. The problem? Scouts didn’t get to see him swing the bat much this spring. He was always walking! Smith drew over 60 walks in approximately 40 games this year, which is a top ten all-time walks season for a prep player. The combination of teams pitching around him and high schoolers just not being able to throw strikes meant Smith didn’t get many pitches to hit.

In all seriousness, I can’t help but wonder whether all the walks hurt Smith on the scouting trail. He’s got good size (6-foot-0 and 215 lbs) and he’s a good athlete based on the two-sport thing, plus it sounds like there’s some thump in his bat. Did scouts not see him take enough swings to recommend drafting him higher? Either way, with lefty power and patience, not to mention good athleticism, it’s not hard to understand why the Yankees were drawn to Smith.

By the way, Smith’s draft slot comes with a $433,100 bonus value. I get the sense he’s going to wind up getting an over-slot bonus, however. Smith is committed to Arkansas and the two-sport thing gives him some extra leverage because he has more options. That doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll get a huge seven-figure bonus, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see Smith’s bonus exceed his slot value.

The Possible Starters

Stephan. (Arkansas)
Stephan. (Arkansas)

Over the last few years the Yankees have gone after power arms in the middle rounds of the draft and that continued this year. Arkansas RHP Trevor Stephan (third round) and Rice RHP Glenn Otto (fifth round) have the best chance to start among the team’s Day Two picks. Both are lacking a reliable changeup and that will be their pet project in pro ball, should they sign. (They will.)

Stephan is a big kid at 6-foot-5 and 225 lbs., and he sits mostly low-90s with his fastball and low-80s with his slider. The slider helped him strike out 120 batters in 91 innings this spring. His changeup is okay at best. He’s not afraid to throw it though. It’s just a matter of improving the quality of the pitch. If Stephan can do that, he has a chance to start to long-term and become a pretty interesting prospect. If not, to the bullpen he’ll go.

Like Stephan, Otto is another big guy at 6-foot-5 and 240 lbs. — the Yankees drafted large pitchers? I’m shocked — though it should be noted he has been worked very hard in college. That’s standard for Rice pitchers. The coaching staff pushes them very hard. Otto missed time with a sore arm earlier this year, and when he returned, his fastball was mostly 91-94 mph, down a tick from the 93-95 mph he showed in the past. His hard curveball is an out pitch.

Otto’s changeup is further along than Stephan’s, though he doesn’t have much confidence in the pitch, so he rarely threw it in college. One guy has a bad changeup but is willing to throw it. The other guy has an okay changeup but won’t throw it. Go figure. The Yankees will let both guys start because that’s what they should do. If things don’t work out, they’ll look to move them quick as relievers.

The Daltons

The Yankees selected a pair of Daltons with back-to-back picks on Day Two. They used their sixth round pick on Augustana LHP Dalton Lehnen and their seventh round pick on Dallas Baptist RHP Dalton Higgins. Lehnen is, by frickin’ far, the highest drafted player in Augustana history. They never had a player drafted before the 23rd round prior to yesterday. Not too many baseball prospects coming out of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, I guess.

Lehnen is the better prospect of the two Daltons because he has a true three-pitch repertoire: 89-92 mph fastball, a slurvy breaking ball, and a decent changeup. The breaking ball sometimes looks like a slider and sometimes looks like a curveball, and it’s not intentional. The pitch is inconsistent. Even if he refines the breaking ball, Lehnen’s margin for error is pretty small, and his command isn’t great. He strikes me as a lower level depth starter.

The other Dalton, Higgins, is a power reliever who figures to remain in that role in pro ball. He’s mostly 92-94 mph with a good slider that on its best days will be allergic to bats, and he doesn’t have a changeup. Two years ago the Yankees took another Dallas Baptist reliever, Chance Adams, and turned him into a starter, but I don’t see that happening with Higgins. Not unless he makes big strides with his changeup in a short period of time.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Yankees have had success getting pitchers to add velocity the last few seasons. It’s their throwing program and training methods. Guys like Adams, Jordan Montgomery, and James Kaprielian have all added some velocity. Should either of the Daltons add some oomph to their heater, they’ll become interesting in a hurry.

The Senior Signs

Whitmer. (The Southern)
Whitmer. (The Southern)

As always, the Yankees selected several college seniors on Day Two as a way to save draft pool space. College seniors have no leverage. They can either turn pro or go get a real job, and who wants to do that? The Yankees used their final three Day Two picks on seniors: Radford RHP Kyle Zurak (eighth round), Texas-Arlington RHP Austin Gardner (ninth round), and Southern Illinois RHP Chad Whitmer (tenth round).

Zurak is, by no small margin, the best prospect among the three seniors. He’s similar to Tyler Webb in that he’s a career college reliever with enough stuff and command to climb the minor league ladder and maybe one day be a big league option, if not for the Yankees than for another team. Zurak can run his fastball up to 95 mph and his money pitch is a nasty mid-80s slider. He struck out 73 batters in 60 innings this spring.

“It’s so freaking amazing. I honestly couldn’t be any freaking happier. It just worked out perfectly to be with the greatest, most recognizable sports team in the whole entire world — the New York freaking Yankees,” said Zurak to the freaking Roanoke Times. “I worked my butt off. It finally paid off, hearing … my name be called. It’s been my dream forever to be a professional baseball player and it finally came true.”

Neither Gardner nor Whitmer bring a ton to the table aside from experience and the willingness to sign very cheap. Gardner is a reliever with a low-90s fastball and an iffy breaking ball. Whitmer is a durable starter with a decent three-pitch mix and enough pitching know how that he’ll probably carve up the low minors and have folks talking about him as a potential sleeper. Zurak is the guy though. At least among the seniors. He has the best chance to develop into something worthwhile, even if he’s stuck in the bullpen.

I should note the new Collective Bargaining Agreement changed the way the bonus pool money is distributed. It’s top heavy now. The first round bonuses are huge and the tenth round bonuses are tiny. That means the college seniors won’t save teams as much as they had in the past. Zurak ($157,200 slot), Gardner ($141,200 slot), and Whitmer ($133,300 slot) all figure to sign low five-figure bonuses. Those three picks might save the Yankees something like $400,000 combined, and hey, that could go a long way to landing another player.

* * *

You can see all of the Yankees’ picks right here. Through ten rounds they’ve selected one position player and nine pitchers, though I don’t think that’s part of a concerted effort to load up on arms. That’s just the way the cookie crumbled, you know? It’s not like the Yankees are short on arms in the lower levels anyway. The Yankees did select some interesting arms on Day Two — Stephan, Otto, Higgins, and Zurak, most notably — plus one powerful position player. And, as always, they’ll grab some high-profile high school players on Day Three and try to convince them to sign with any bonus pool savings generated from Days One and Two.

2017 Draft: Day Two Open Thread

2017-draft-logoNow that all the pomp and circumstance of Day One of the amateur draft is in the books, it’s time for teams to really get down to business. The first rounders get all the attention and understandably so, but Days Two and Three separate contenders from pretenders. The teams that turn those mid-to-late-round picks into valuable (or just useful) players have a big advantage over the teams that don’t. How many teams right now wish they used a third or fourth rounder on Jordan Montgomery in 2014? Exactly.

The Yankees selected two players during Day One: South Carolina RHP Clarke Schmidt (first round) and California HS RHP Matt Sauer (second round). Here is my Day One recap. The draft continues today with Day Two, covering rounds 3-10. Day Two is, typically, the most boring day of the draft. Teams typically use most of their Day Two picks on cheap college seniors to save bonus pool money. Lame, but it is what it is. Here are some stray draft links:

  • In his first round recap, Jim Callis says the Yankees took Schmidt “close to the high point of where he would have gone before he had Tommy John surgery this spring … He could be a quality starter when he’s healthy … He has a hard sinker and a pair of breaking balls that can both be plus at their best.”
  • In a separate piece, Callis listed Clarke has one of his biggest surprises and Sauer as one of his best value picks. “Another high school righty who easily could have fit in the first round, he can run his fastball up to 97 mph and his slider up to 87. Sauer needs some polish, but he has a ceiling of a No. 3 starter or a closer,” said the write-up.
  • Keith Law (subs. req’d) said he “never bought into (Schmidt) as a first-round talent given the rough delivery, but his stuff did tick up this year to the mid-90s and he was still throwing strikes when he blew out his elbow in April,” in his Day One recap. As for Sauer, Law said “perhaps they’re just not worried about the things that worry other teams (or me!) in pitcher mechanics.”
  • John Manuel singled out the Schmidt pick as a surprise given how high he was selected. “It’s expected Schmidt’s bonus will be below the pick value at No. 16 ($3,458,600) while Sauer’s will be significantly above the value at pick 54 ($1,236,000),” he wrote.
  • According to Joe Bailey, Sauer said he will likely sign with the Yankees rather than follow through on his commitment to Arizona. Bailey says the team reportedly offered a $2.5M bonus. That all but confirms the Yankees have a below-slot deal in place with Schmidt.
  • Here are the best available players per MLB.com and Baseball America. Keep an eye on California HS SS Nick Allen (RAB profile) and California HS OF Garrett Mitchell. They both fit New York’s typical profile as toolsy up-the-middle athletes. The Southern California thing doesn’t hurt either.

The draft resumes today at 12:30pm ET and you can stream it online at MLB.com. There is no MLB Network broadcast today. The draft shifts to online only for Days Two and Three. Here is the MLB.com Draft Tracker. Talk about all things draft right here throughout the day.

2017 Draft: Yankees play the bonus pool game on Day One

Schmidt. (AP)
Schmidt. (AP)

The 2017 amateur draft is now underway. A total of 75 picks were made Monday night, during Day One of the draft, including the Yankees’ first (16th overall) and second (54th overall) selections. With those picks, the Yankees did something they had never done before in the draft pool era. They (presumably) cut a deal with their first round pick so they could spend big on their second rounder. Let’s review New York’s two picks from Day One.

Yankees gamble on Schmidt

At first blush, I wasn’t thrilled with the Yankees first round pick, South Carolina RHP Clarke Schmidt. I imagine I wasn’t alone. Schmidt’s a good prospect, don’t get me wrong, but he also had Tommy John surgery in April. Why take an injured college pitcher when healthy comparable college pitchers were still on the board? The Yankees had been connected to Oregon LHP David Peterson for weeks and he was still available, for example.

“Schmidt’s got four pitches that at times are all plus. He has command, he has makeup,” said scouting director Damon Oppenheimer in a statement. “We really like his delivery. He’s got a chance to be a top end of the rotation type of guy who combines pitchability with power stuff. And you always like it when they’re the Friday night guy, pitching and having success in that conference … The (surgery) results were positive and we feel really good about the rehab. He should be back pitching at full strength in approximately 12 months.”

Schmidt was a potential top 10-15 pick before blowing out his elbow thanks to a power arsenal with strikeout stuff. He struck out 70 in 60.1 innings for the Gamecocks this spring before needing elbow surgery, and Baseball America’s scouting report (subs. req’d) makes you can’t wait to see Schmidt healthy and back on a mound:

(This) spring he was routinely touching 95-96 mph with his four-seamer and sitting comfortably in the low 90s. He also throws a heavy two-seamer, although his four-seamer shows good movement as well. Schmidt’s slider has developed into one of the better breaking balls in the college class, a strikeout pitch in the mid-80s with tilt. He also flashed an above-average changeup at times, with sinking movement to his arm side … Before the surgery, Schmidt’s stock was steadily rising, and to some evaluators, he had inserted himself into the uppermost tier of college pitching.

Sounds good! But, you know, the elbow. Sure, Tommy John surgery has a very high success rate, but it’s not perfect. The Yankees have steered clear of injured pitchers in recent drafts, most notably Brady Aiken two years ago, and I’m sure the Andrew Brackman flame out was one of the reasons. The Yankees drafted Brackman knowing he needed Tommy John surgery, and all the missed development time was too much to overcome.

So again, why draft an injured college pitcher when comparable healthy college pitchers were still on the board? There are two possible answers. One, the Yankees really like Schmidt. I mean really like him. They must think he’s a no-doubt top ten guy to take him that high despite recent elbow construction, and they must also think he is very likely to make a full recovery. Or two, they know they can sign Schmidt to a below-slot bonus to manipulate their bonus pool.

Given their second round pick, the latter seems much more likely. They’re going to sign him cheap. The Yankees either got Schmidt to agree to a below-slot number before the draft or feel comfortable enough with his willingness to take a below-slot bonus to draft him in the first round. That 16th overall pick comes with a $3,458,600 slot bonus. Cutting a deal with Schmidt would free up a lot of bonus pool space to spend on other players, such as …

Planning to spend big on Sauer

With their second round pick, the 54th overall selection, the Yankees selected California HS RHP Matt Sauer — a Southern California kid, of course — and suddenly it all started to make sense. Sauer was a consensus late first round who really shot up draft boards this spring and was considered by some to be a potential tough sign given his commitment to Arizona. Now we know where any bonus pool money saved with Schmidt is going.

Prior to the draft, both MLB.com and Baseball America ranked Sauer as the 28th best prospect in the draft class — Keith Law (subs. req’d) isn’t as much of a fan and ranked him 67th — because he possesses a live arm with two knockout pitches. From MLB.com’s scouting report:

Sauer brings the potential to have premium velocity from his 6-foot-4 frame. He’s reached 97 mph at times this spring and has sat comfortably in the 91-95 mph range in most starts. He combines that with a nasty slider, up to 87 mph, thrown from a three-quarter slot with good power, bite and deception. The changeup is a distant third pitch, but he hasn’t needed it much against high school competition.

The lack of a reliable changeup is one of the biggest knocks against Sauer, though it’s not terribly unusual for a top high school pitcher to lack a changeup. They rarely need it to get outs. Another popular knock against Sauer is his delivery, specifically his arm action, which some believe is too long in the back and robs him of command. Here’s some video. The quality of his stuff is obvious, as is the lengthy arm action and command issues:

It’s easy to understand why Sauer was drafted so high. (Going 54th overall is pretty cool!) The kid throws fire. It’s also easy to see he’s a work in progress. The Yankees will have to work with Sauer to iron out his mechanics and develop a changeup. Won’t be easy! But the Yankees are banking on Sauer’s upside and their improving track record of developing arms.

“Sauer is a projectable high school right-hander who is athletic, with a ‘now’ fastball and a plus slider,” said Oppenheimer in a statement. “He really has a good way about his aggressiveness and makeup on the mound. We see a chance there for a starter with power stuff.”

We should look at the Schmidt and Sauer picks together because they are connected through the bonus pool. Like I said, Schmidt is slotted for $3,458,600. Sauer, on the other hand, is slotted for $1,236,000. That’s $4,694,600 between the two of them. Maybe they’ll wind up with even split? Roughly $2.35M each? Schmidt gets below-slot because he recently had his elbow cut open and Sauer gets over-slot because, well, that’s what it’ll take to get him to turn pro.

Why didn’t the Yankees take Sauer in the first round and Schmidt in the second round? Wouldn’t you rather take the high upside kid first to make sure you actually get him before cutting deals? Yes, in theory, but keep in mind that if a player doesn’t sign, the team loses all the pool money associated with that pick. Taking Sauer in the first round and having him walk away means losing $3,458,600 in bonus money. Yikes. The Yankees would rather roll the dice with the $1,236,000 in second round bonus pool money.

Chances are the Yankees did not specifically target Sauer for an over-slot bonus in the second round. He was probably one of several players they were looking at for that 54th overall pick. Among the other notable prospects to come off the board shortly after Sauer were Minnesota HS RHP Sam Carlson and Florida HS SS Mark Vientos, for example. California HS SS Nick Allen and Louisiana HS RHP Blayne Enlow are still on the board now and could have also been in the mix for that second round pick.

Ultimately, it boils down to this: the Yankees like Schmidt and think he can be a really good pitcher when healthy, but they also recognized his leverage is shot following Tommy John surgery. By taking him in the first round and (again, presumably) getting him to agree to a below-slot bonus, it would leave them bonus pool money to spend on another player(s) later. In this case that player is Sauer. If Sauer had come off the board before that 54th pick rolled around, maybe it would have been Carlson. Or Allen. Or whoever.

Last year the Yankees did the exact opposite of this strategy. They took the top available talent, Blake Rutherford, with their first round pick, then figured out how to save enough bonus money to pay him later. This year they saved the bonus pool money first, then waited to see who would be available later. And who knows? Maybe they’ll save enough with the Schmidt pick to go over-slot with their third round pick as well. That would be cool.

I should note this strategy is not particularly new or unique to the Yankees. Teams have been doing it since the draft pools were put in place. Most of the time it happens with teams at the very top of the draft, with the picks tied to huge slot values. They turn that one big bonus slot into multiple high-end prospects. Not many teams have done it in the middle of the first round, so in that sense the Yankees are unique. Overall though, this has been done before. It’s not new.

For now, the Yankees landed two nice power arms with upside on Day One. One of them happens to be broken at the moment. I didn’t like the Schmidt pick when it happened because Tommy John surgery is a big risk and I still don’t love it overall. Healthy players are cool. It’s not like Schmidt is getting a tooth pulled or something like that. Once the Yankees went for Sauer, arguably the best player still on the board, with their second pick, their strategy became clear. They were planning to pounce on whichever highly ranked prospect slipped into the second round.