2016 Draft: Yankees focus on saving bonus pool space for Rutherford on Day Two

Generally speaking, teams have two goals on Day Two of the draft. First of all they want to acquire talent. That’s obvious. At the same time, they also want to make sure their bonus pool situation is in order, so they spend a lot of time on the phone cutting deals. No one likes surprises when it comes to bonus demands, especially now in the age of spending pools.

After making two picks on Day One, the Yankees made eight more yesterday, and most of them were used on players who figure the save the team bonus pool space. California HS OF Blake Rutherford, the team’s first round pick, is not going to come cheap. He was a projected top ten pick and figures to be paid accordingly. The Yankees had to do something to save pool space on Day Two. Let’s review the team’s picks in rounds 3-10.

Adding More Upside

The pool saving did not start right away. The Yankees kicked off Day Two by taking California HS RHP Nolan Martinez with their third round pick, No. 98 overall. That seems like good value; Baseball America ranked Martinez as the 67th best prospect in the draft class while Keith Law (subs. req’d) and MLB.com ranked him 93rd and 99th, respectively. Point is, this wasn’t a pick designed to save money.

Martinez is a 6-foot-2 right-hander who runs his fastball up to 95 mph on occasion, and last fall at the World Wood Bat Association showcase, PitchFX measured his fastball spin rate at 2,685 rpm. That was the highest spin rate at the event and well above the MLB average fastball spin rate of 2,226 rpm. Spin rate is still a new thing we’re learning about, though high spin rates correlate well to swings and misses and low spin rates correlate well to ground balls.

In addition to the high spin fastball, Martinez also throws an upper-70s slurve that is closer to a curveball than a slider. He also has a changeup and a good, athletic delivery. Martinez doesn’t have sky high upside, but he does have three pitches and okay control, which is a darn good starting point for a third round pick. He’s the best prospect the Yankees have drafted aside from Rutherford so far.

Back to the JuCo ranks

I’m not sure how well they compare to other teams, but the Yankees seem to do a really good job scouting junior colleges. Just last season they plucked OF Trey Amburgey out of a junior college. Two years ago they landed 1B Chris Gittens from a junior college. Go back to 2011 and they plucked RHP Jon Gray out of a junior college too. He only developed into a prospect worthy of being the No. 3 pick in the country.

The Yankees went back to the junior college ranks to select Florida JuCo RHP Nick Nelson in the fourth round (128th overall). Nelson was a two-way player in school — he led the team in innings (90.1) and was second in plate appearances (247) — who projects best on the mound. It’s a classic reliever profile with a low-90s heater and a good slider, and if there’s one thing the Yankees know how to find in the draft, it’s bullpen arms.

Thompson-Williams. (247Sports)
Thompson-Williams. (247Sports)

A Top Tool in the Fifth Round

Once you get to the fifth round, there’s not much more you can do than zero in on players with an above-average tool and either hope it carries him or the rest of his game catches up. The Yankees picked South Carolina OF Dom Thompson-Williams with their fifth round selection (158th overall) and his standout tool in his defense. He’s a ballhawk in the outfield capable of making highlight reel plays. Can he hit? That’s the question and most think the answer is a no. The Yankees will send Thompson-Williams out there and hope he learns to recognize spin and catch up to pro velocity well enough to keep his glove in the lineup.

Time to Save Money

Inevitably, the Yankees had to draft some college seniors on Day Two to save bonus pool money for Rutherford. It had to happen. College seniors have little leverage and often sign for five-figure bonuses. Some get even less than that. The best senior the Yankees drafted yesterday is USC RHP Brooks Kriske (sixth round), who added velocity this spring and now sits 93-95 mph. He also has a slider and could carve out a career in the bullpen.

Fullerton 1B Dalton Blaser (eighth round) and Southern Miss 1B Tim Lynch (ninth round) will reportedly be in the Bronx later today to try out for the big league team’s first base job. Okay fine, I made that up. It might not be a bad idea though given the team’s first base situation. Anyway, Blaser is the better prospect of the two as a lefty hitter with some pull power. He hit .359/.439/.485 with four homers, 30 walks, and 18 strikeouts this year.

Update: I didn’t realize this, but Blaser’s father Mark was the Yankees’ fourth round pick in the 1981 draft. He played in their farm system from 1981-85, reaching as high as Double-A. Here’s his Baseball Reference page.

Lynch has much better numbers — he put up a .364/.470/.545 batting line with ten homers, 39 walks, and 13 strikeouts this spring — and is another left-hander hitter, but the general belief is there isn’t enough bat speed to handle high caliber pro pitching. Lynch is going to hold down a roster spot in the lower levels and provide some lineup depth around higher profile prospects. Same with Blaser.

Skinner! (North Florida University)
Skinner! (North Florida University)

North Florida C Keith Skinner (seventh round) is another lefty hitter with great numbers — he hit .382/.466/.486 with two homers, 36 walks, and 14 strikeouts this year — and unlike Blaser and Lynch, he has the advantage of playing a premium position. Skinner’s defense is okay at best. He can throw and receive a little bit, but he’s not someone who will shut the running game down with his arm or steal strikes with his framing.

The final college senior the Yankees drafted yesterday is Illinois-Chicago LHP Trevor Lane (tenth round), who fanned 30 and walked eleven in 26.2 innings this spring. He’s a reliever with a classic left-on-left matchup profile. Lane is a little guy at 5-foot-11 and 185 lbs., and he sits in the upper-80s with his fastball. He also has a sweepy breaking ball. Kriske, Skinner, Blaser, Lynch, and Lane are slotted for $944,200 combined. I’ll be surprised if it costs the team even half that to sign them all.

* * *

The Yankees landed one very good prospect in Martinez on Day Two, and I’m interested to see what Kriske does in pro ball, especially if the team sticks him in the bullpen right out of the chute. Most of the day was spent manipulating the bonus pool to make sure they have enough money to sign Rutherford, who is the kind of top of the draft talent the Yankees rarely have access to.

2016 Draft: Day Two Open Thread

(Pic via @MLB)
(Pic via @MLB)

Day One of the 2016 amateur draft came and went yesterday with some pretty big surprises around the league. The Yankees surprised as well by going against their recent trends with California HS OF Blake Rutherford (first round) and Louisville 2B Nick Solak (second round). Rutherford was considered a top ten talent by all the major scouting publications, and New York was able to get him with the 18th pick. Pretty cool.

The draft continues today with rounds 3-10, the remaining rounds tied directly to the bonus pool. Over the last few years Day Two has been the least exciting day of the draft because teams focus more on getting their draft pool in order than adding talent. Chances are Rutherford will require an overslot bonus, and if the Yankees were unsure what it would take to sign him coming into the draft, they certainly spoke to his agent (Casey Close) to get a number last night. Expect some draft pool saving picks this afternoon. Here are some stray draft links:

  • In his Day One recap, Keith Law (subs. req’d) called Rutherford one of the best picks of Day One. “Rutherford came out of last summer as a probable top-five pick, a corner outfielder who could really hit and projected to above-average or better power … (We) all loved the guy’s hit tool last summer, and there isn’t anything really new that should have soured anyone on the bat,” he said.
  • Christopher Crawford (subs. req’d) said Rutherford is the “best prep bat” in the draft class and is “great value for the Yankees” with the 18th pick. He added that Solak was one of the few college bats available who could play an up the middle position. “He has a chance to hit at the top of a lineup and play competent defense at second,” wrote Crawford.
  • Jim Callis ranked Rutherford as one of the three best picks on Day One, calling him the “Draft’s top prep position player until (first overall pick Mickey) Moniak passed him … He could hit for power and average and remain in center field, making him a potential top-five-pick talent.”
  • Eric Longenhagen (subs. req’d) also called Rutherford a “great value pick.” He notes the Yankees are going to have to cut some under slot deals in rounds 2-10 so they can redirect some draft pool savings to Rutherford, otherwise they probably won’t be able to sign him.
  • Here are the best available players according to Baseball America and MLB.com. Teams were in contact with players overnight to gauge their signability, and if you see a top high school player slipping today, it’s because clubs don’t think they can pay him enough to turn pro.

The draft resumes today at 1pm ET and MLB.com will have a pre-draft show as well. There is no MLB Network broadcast today. The draft shifts to online only for Days Two and Three. Here is the MLB.com video feed and the MLB.com Draft Tracker. Talk about all things draft right here throughout the day.

2016 Draft: Yankees buck recent trends on Day One

The draft war room in Tampa. (Pic via @YankeesOnDemand)
The draft war room in Tampa. (Pic via @YankeesOnDemand)

Last night, the 2016 amateur draft got underway with Day One of the three-day event. A total of 77 picks were make yesterday, including two by the Yankees. They made their first (18th overall) and second (62nd overall) round selections, and with those two picks, the Yankees bucked some recent trends in a pretty significant way. Let’s review the team’s two picks on Day One.

Yankees go big with Rutherford

The Yankees have not had much success developing high school players over the years. Top picks like C.J. Henry, Slade Heathcott, Cito Culver, and Dante Bichette Jr. stand out the most, but others like Carmen Angelini and Angelo Gumbs received huge bonuses only to fizzle out in short order. As a result, the Yankees started favoring college players, especially early in the draft. Eight of the eleven players they selected in the top three rounds from 2013-15 were college guys.

Last night the Yankees went back to the toolsy high school demographic, which I truly believe is scouting director Damon Oppenheimer’s wheelhouse. He seems to be all about upside and loud tools at heart. The Yankees used their first rounder last night on California prep outfielder Blake Rutherford, who earlier in the spring was considered a possible top ten pick. Keith Law (6th), MLB.com (8th), and Baseball America (9th) all ranked him among the ten best players in the draft.

This is awfully exciting, isn’t it? Getting a top ten talent with the 18th pick? Fair or not, college players come with the stigma of being considered low upside. Also, the Yankees have a knack for making out-of-nowhere picks. We all remember Culver and Bichette, right? Right. With Rutherford the Yankees took a truly high-upside player who fell into their laps despite being one of the top available talents. This is the type of pick that hasn’t been happening the last few years.

Rutherford. (LA Times)
Rutherford. (LA Times)

Law says Rutherford has a “unique combination of hit and power and has shown an ability to spray well-hit balls to all fields,” so he’s not just a brute masher from the left side of the plate. Also, Rutherford can run fairly well and play solid outfield defense, with right field his most likely landing spot long-term. Simply put, he can impact the game in many different ways. He’s not a one-dimensional player.

“Blake’s a guy that we’ve scouted for a long time, and we couldn’t be happier with him falling to us,” said Oppenheimer in a statement. “He’s hit at a high level, he can run, he’s a really good defender in center field, and he’s got power. He’s got a chance to have all the tools to profile. The fact that he’s performed on a big stage with Team USA, where he’s been a quality performer, makes it really exciting for us.”

A little more than a year ago the Yankees made some fairly big changes to their player development staff, most notably replacing farm system head Mark Newman with Gary Denbo. They also reassigned coaches and instructors, and brought in others from outside the organization. That was all in response to the club’s development failures over the last last, well, years and years. I don’t know how many, but it’s a lot.

The Yankees targeted college players the last few years because they are closer to finished products and didn’t need as much help developmentally. That’s no secret. Rutherford will be the new development staff’s first real test. Oppenheimer and his staff did their job. They brought in the highly talented player. Now it’s up to the player development staff to turn him into a Major Leaguer.

Balancing risk with Solak

These days the draft is not very friendly to big market teams. The bonus pools eliminate their ability to spend freely, so while I’m sure the Yankees would have loved to follow the Rutherford pick with another high-end player in the second round, the draft pool means they have to watch their money. They can’t target the tippy top talent all the time. They can only go after the players their pool allows them to afford.

Solak. (Courier-Journal)
Solak. (Courier-Journal)

With their second pick the Yankees grabbed Louisville second baseman Nick Solak, who is pretty much the opposite of Rutherford. He’s not only a college guy, he’s also lacking loud tools and super high upside. Solak is one of those classic gritty grinder types at 5-foot-10 and 185 lbs., so yeah, he and Rutherford couldn’t be more different. There is no such thing as a “safe” pick, but Solak is definitely safer than Rutherford.

The interesting thing about the Solak pick is how different he is than the other middle infielders the team has drafted in recent years. Guys like Culver and Kyle Holder were defense first players who could maybe possibly hit in pro ball. Solak is a hitter first and a defender second. He doesn’t hit for power but he rips line drives to all fields and he knows the strike zone. Those are pretty good offensive tools.

“Solak is a really accomplished hitter,” said Oppenheimer. “He makes hard contact, he walks, he has plate discipline and he’s tough. He’s also a plus runner, with tools to stand on in the middle of the diamond.”

On the other side of the ball, Solak only recently moved to second base last year — he was an outfielder before that — and not everyone is sure he can stick there long-term. He has quickness and good hands, but he’s lacking infield instincts, though at least part of that is due to a lack of experience. Solak has some Rob Refsnyder in him as an outfielder who is trying to make it work on the infield. The bat is the primary tool here. Not the glove.

* * *

Both Rutherford and Solak are much different than the players the Yankees have been drafting the last few years. Rutherford is a high-upside prep player with a lot of development ahead of him, not a polished college player who figures to climb the ladder quickly. Solak is a bat first middle infielder, not someone who was drafted for his glove and has to learn to hit.

It’s two picks and we should be careful not to read too much into them, but I couldn’t help but notice how much the Yankees seemed to change their draft philosophy. They went after that high schooler who has a lot of development ahead of him and they went after the bat first guy who may or may not play the premium position well enough to get there. Day One brought a very different set of picks from the Yankees compared to what we’ve seen in recent years.

2016 Draft: Yankees select 2B Nick Solak with second round pick

The Yankees have connected to a bunch of college bats the last few weeks, and they landed one with their second round pick in the 2016 draft Thursday night. New York selected Louisville second baseman Nick Solak with their second rounder (62nd overall). They took California HS OF Blake Rutherford with their first round pick.

Solak, 21, put up a .380/.474/.576 batting line with five homers, nine steals, 27 walks, and 19 strikeouts in 45 games for the Cardinals this spring. He was all over the place on the various draft rankings. Baseball America ranked Solak as the 86th best prospect in the draft class while MLB.com ranked him 147th. Keith Law (subs. req;d) did not include him in his top 100 draft prospects list. Here’s a piece of MLB.com’s free scouting report:

He has a line-drive stroke and focuses on the middle of the field, an approach that leads to consistent contact but not much power. Once he gets on base, he has the solid speed and good instincts to make things happen … He has sure hands and his quickness gives him range, though he doesn’t have the smoothest infield actions and some scouts wonder if he might wind up in center field in pro ball. He receives praise for his gritty makeup.

It’s easy to assume Solak is a pick designed to save draft pool space for Rutherford, though I’m not entirely sure that’s the case. I’ve said that about other players over the years — Peter O’Brien and Gosuke Katoh, most notably — and it hasn’t happened. Slot money for the 62nd pick is $1.04M. I guess we’ll just have to wait to see whether Solak is a draft pool pick or just one of those players the Yankees like more than everyone else.

2016 Draft: Yankees select OF Blake Rutherford with first round pick

Over the last few weeks the Yankees were connected primarily to high school pitchers and college bats for their first round pick of the 2016 draft. So, naturally, when their pick came around Thursday night, they took a high school position player. Go figure.

With their first round selection in the 2016 draft (18th overall), the Yankees selected California HS OF Blake Rutherford. He’s from Chaminade College Preparatory School in Chatsworth, so scouting director Damon Oppenheimer once again went for a Southern California player. That’s Oppenheimer’s go-to locale. When in doubt, expect the Yankees to take the SoCal kid.

Rutherford was one of the very best prospects in the draft class. In fact, Keith Law says several folks consider Rutherford a better pure hitter than fellow SoCal prep outfielder Mickey Moniak, who was taken first overall by the Phillies. Law (subs. req’d) ranked Rutherford as the sixth best prospect in the entire draft while¬†MLB.com ranked him eighth and Baseball America ranked him ninth. Here’s a piece of MLB.com’s free scouting report:

The left-handed-hitting outfielder from the Southern California high school ranks can do just about everything on a baseball field. Rutherford has the chance to be an above-average hitter with above-average raw power. He’ll record average to plus run times, and his speed helps him on the basepaths and in the outfield. Rutherford is a solid defender in the outfield, though most feel he’ll move to right field in the future. The good news is his bat should profile just fine if that move does happen.

The Yankees have favored college players in recent years and they seem to have a knack for out-of-nowhere picks. Rutherford is the opposite of that. He was the best player on the board according to the various rankings, and the only real knock against him is his age. Rutherford turned 19 last month and is one of the oldest high schoolers in the draft class.

Because he was considered a top ten talent, chances are the Yankees will have to pay Rutherford an overslot bonus to get to pass on his commitment to UCLA. Slot money for the 18th pick is $2.44M. Expect to see the Yankees take some cheaper players in rounds two through ten. They need to save some pool space to sign Rutherford.

2016 Draft: Day One Open Thread

(Pic via @MLB)
(Pic via @MLB)

The Yankees are wrapping up their four-game series with the Angels tonight, and while that game is important given the team’s place in the standings, it is not the most important thing going on in Yankeeland tonight. The 2016 amateur draft begins tonight, which means the Yankees and every other team have the opportunity to add future rotation leaders and lineup anchors.

The MLB draft is a three-day event and a total of 77 picks will be made tonight. That covers the First Round, Supplemental First Round, Competitive Balance Round A, Second Round, and Competitive Balance Round B. The Yankees have two picks tonight: 18th and 62nd overall. That’s their first and second round selections. The full draft order is right here. The Padres lead the way with five picks tonight. The Cubs have zero.

The latest reports indicate the Yankees are leaning towards taking a pitcher, likely a high schooler. That is hardly set in stone though. There are conflicting reports about their interest — aren’t there always? — and it should be noted the team has favored college players in recent years. They’ve selected eleven players in the first three rounds over the last three draft, and eight of the eleven came out of college.

I personally don’t have much of a preference who the Yankees draft tonight. The player New York has been most connected to these last few weeks is California HS RHP Kevin Gowdy (write-up). A report this morning indicated he wants a huge bonus though, and the Yankees don’t have the draft pool space to do anything crazy. They have $5.77M in pool space for the top ten rounds. That 18th pick comes with a $2.44M slot value.

The draft broadcast begins at 7pm ET. You can watch live on MLB Network or stream online on MLB.com. You can also follow along on MLB.com’s Draft Tracker. Here are Baseball America’s top 500 draft prospects and MLB.com’s top 200 draft prospects for reference. As always, MLB.com’s draft content is completely free. The scouting reports and everything.

The Yankees are playing the Angels at the same time as the draft tonight. Here’s the game thread. Please help keep things tidy by keeping game comments in the game thread and draft comments in this draft thread. Thanks in advance. Enjoy the draft, everyone.

2016 Draft: Alex Kirilloff

Alex Kirilloff | OF

Background
The 18-year-old Kirilloff attends Plum High School in Pittsburgh. He jumped onto the draft map last summer with strong showings at various showcase events, which included winning the Perfect Game All-American Classic Home Run Derby. He’s committed to Liberty University.

Scouting Report
Kirilloff, who stands 6-foot-2 and 195 lbs., has a ton of natural power from the left side of the plate. The ball goes a long way when he connects. Kirilloff does have a little bit of a hitch before starting his swing — he loads his hands, pauses for an instant, then swings — that has led to concerns about his ability to hand high-end velocity. Defensively, Kirilloff is a good runner and he’s athletic for his size, allowing him to handle center field. If he has to move to a corner down the line, his arm is plenty strong for right. He’s also played some first base as well. There is true middle of the order potential here, assuming that weird timing issue doesn’t hold him back.

Miscellany
The Yankees hold the 18th overall pick in this year’s draft and Kirilloff is ranked right in that area; in their latest rankings Baseball America had him 15th, MLB.com had him 18th, and Keith Law (sub. req’d) had him 19th. The Yankees have been known to target brute mashers early in the draft (Eric Jagielo, Peter O’Brien, etc.), but Kirilloff offers good athleticism and defense, so while he is a bat first prospect, he’s not a bat only prospect.