Thoughts following the 2016 Draft

Rutherford. (Lenny Ignelzi/AP)
Blake Ruth. (Lenny Ignelzi/AP)

The marathon 2016 amateur draft is complete. The Yankees drafted 40 players from Thursday through Saturday — here are our Day One, Day Two, and Day Three recaps — and now we have to see how many of those 40 they actually sign before the July 15th deadline. It’s usually somewhere around 25-30. We’ll see. Anyway, I have some thoughts.

1. It’s hard not to love the California HS OF Blake Rutherford (1st round) pick. All the major scouting publications ranked him as a top ten talent, and the Yankees were able to get him with the 18th pick because of bonus demands and his age. Rutherford turned 19 last month and some are acting like he’s about to collect social security. It’s not like his 20th birthday is right around the corner. Slot money for the 18th pick is $2.44M and my guess is the Yankees end up signing Rutherford for something closer to $4M. They’ve spent over their bonus pool the maximum allowed without forfeiting a future first round pick last few drafts, so they might sign their picks from rounds 2-10, then take all the leftover money and drop it in front of Rutherford. That’s essentially what they did with James Kaprielian last year and Aaron Judge a few years ago. Either way, I fully expect Rutherford to sign. The Yankees did their homework and know what number they need to meet.

2. I’m pretty pleased by the Louisville 2B Nick Solak (2nd) selection. He can really hit. Maybe not for much power, but he can drive the ball from line to line and he’s willing to take a walk, plus he offers some speed. So basically the only thing he can’t do at the plate is hit the ball over the fence consistently. As long as Solak plays passable defense at second base, he’ll be a nice little player. I buy into his bat much more than I do some other college middle infielders the Yankees have drafted in the top ten rounds in recent years, like Kyle Holder and Vince Conde. Solak wasn’t the sexiest pick in the world, but the kid can hit.

3. California HS RHP Nolan Martinez (3rd) is exactly the kind of prep pitcher the Yankees have been selecting early in Day Two in recent years. He’s a three-pitch guy with a potential put-away pitch breaking ball and unusual polish for a high schooler. Drew Finley and Austin DeCarr, the team’s third round selections in the previous two drafts, came into pro ball with the same basic profile. Don’t get me wrong, every player is unique and their own individual, but there are definite similarities. I kinda feel like I should have seen the Martinez pick coming. Three-pitch high school guy with polish from Southern California? Too easy. I have to remember to keep my eye on that demographic when looked at candidates for next summer’s third round pick.

4. I need to learn a little more about Florida JuCo RHP Nick Nelson (4th) because Keith Law’s scouting report (subs. req’d) in his AL draft recap is pretty ridiculous. “(Nelson) works with a plus fastball up to 95 and a plus curveball, with good command for his age, and his arm action and delivery point to future plus command as well,” he wrote. Uh, a plus fastball and a plus curveball with the potential for plus command makes for a really really really good pitching prospect. That sounds too good to be true. Nelson is only 6-foot-1, so I imagine there is some concern about his ability to pitch downhill, but still. A plus fastball and a plus curve with a delivery that hints plus command is coming? In the fourth round? Yes please.

5. My favorite obscure pick: USC RHP Brooks Kriske (6th). He’s been up to 96 mph with his heater this spring after sitting closer to 90-92 mph in the past, and he also has an average-ish slider that could improve with pro instruction. Kriske is a senior sign designed to save draft pool space for Rutherford first and foremost. He’s not a non-prospect though. There’s some power in his arm and this is a guy who went from a 16.8% strikeout rate his first three years at USC to 29.4% this year thanks to that extra velocity. Kriske’s a pure reliever and the Yankee seem to have a knack for digging up random power arms from the college ranks.

6. This draft was definitely different than the last few. First and foremost, the Yankees shot for the moon with their top pick, which hasn’t always happened. (To be fair, the team hasn’t had a talent like Rutherford fall to them since I guess Gerrit Cole in 2008.) Secondly, they drafted way more high school players. They took 14 this year after taking 14 in the 2014 and 2015 drafts combined. College players were a definite point of emphasis the last few drafts. And third, just about every college position player they selected is bat over glove. That isn’t to say defense is unimportant. It obviously is. It just seemed like the Yankees leaned a little too heavily towards the top glove guys in recent years. I don’t know if this is all one giant coincidence or a shift in philosophy, but it’s not hard to notice this all happened in the first full year since the Yankees made their player development staff changes, most notably hiring Gary Denbo to run the system.

7. It was interesting to see how the 2014-15 international signing period affected the 2016 draft. The Yankees loaded up on infielders internationally two years ago, so when it came time to fill out their rosters late in the draft this year, they had to go heavy on outfielders. They took ten total outfielders in the 2016 draft and only four infielders. Teams don’t draft for need but they kinda do. Early on they take the best talent available because you have to. High-end talent is hard to get, so get it while you can. The later rounds are definitely about filling specific needs though. You need players to plug roster holes around the actual prospects, and for the Yankees, that meant bringing in a bunch of outfielders.

8. The new Collective Bargaining Agreement is due this offseason, and while I do think it will bring some changes to the draft, I don’t think the bonus pools are going away. They’re a way for the owners to save money and they’re an easy concession for the MLBPA to make because they don’t hurt union members. Given the way the draft works nowadays, I’d like to see them shorten it to 20-25 rounds or so. Forty rounds is unnecessary at this point. Give teams their 20-25 picks, then let them fill out their minor league rosters with undrafted free agents. These days 40 rounds is overkill. I think there’s a chance draft picks will be made tradeable with some limitations in the next CBA, though I’m not optimistic. Making picks tradeable would certainly spice things up.

2016 Draft: Yankees go heavy on prep players and power arms on Day Three

After three days and 1,216 picks, the 2016 amateur draft is finally over. The Yankees made 40 picks over the last three days and now we just have to wait and see how many they actually sign. Usually it’s around 25-30. The signing deadline is Friday, July 15th this year, so a little more than a month away. You can see all of New York’s picks right here. We’ve already reviewed Day One and Day Two. Now let’s review Day Three.

Linginfelter. (Knoxville News Sentinel)
Linginfelter. (Knoxville News Sentinel)

The Unsignable Prospect

The best prospect the Yankees drafted on Day Three is someone they almost certainly will not be able to sign: Tennessee HS RHP Zach Linginfelter (16th round). Linginfelter was a possible first round pick coming into the spring — MLB.com and Baseball America ranked him as the 98th and 107th best prospect available right before the draft, respectively — though his stock fell because he’s basically unsignable. He’s already said he’s going to follow through on his commitment to Tennessee.

“The money didn’t work out, and today I’m excited knowing where I’m going to go, and looking forward to playing at Tennessee,” said Linginfelter to Chris Thomas, referring to bonus conversations he had with teams before the draft. “My stock kind of dropped this year. I had mono early, came out a little weak in the velocity. But in reality, I think if I go to UT and have two good years, I can come out (as a draft-eligible sophomore) and go higher in the draft than I would have this year.”

So why did the Yankees draft Linginfelter if he’s not going to sign? Well, why not draft him late? There’s always a chance — however small it may be — he’ll change his mind over the next few weeks and the two sides can work something out. Linginfelter has good size (6-foot-5 and 215 lbs.) and he sits in the low-90s when right, plus he has a breaking ball and a changeup. Never say never, but the odds of the Yankees signing Linginfelter are mighty small.

The Other Backup Plans

The Yankees spent Day Two getting their bonus pool situation in order so they can sign OF Blake Rutherford, their high profile first round pick. All indications are he will sign, but the team still needed a backup plan. Backup plans, really. Plural. Should Rutherford not sign for whatever reason, the Yankees will still have all the bonus pool money saved from rounds 2-10 available, and they’ll need somewhere to spend it.

In addition to Linginfelter — Linginfelter is said to be seeking a substantial seven-figure bonus, more than the Yankees could afford if Rutherford doesn’t sign — the Yankees selected six talented high school players who were considered tough signs on Day Three: Texas HS RHP Blair Henley (22nd), Colorado HS RHP Bo Weiss (29th), California HS LHP Miles Sandum (31st), California HS C D.C. Clawson (34th), Virginia HS RHP Zach Hess (35th), and Wisconsin HS RHP Nate Brown (40th)

Bo and Walt. (Dustin Bradford/Getty)
Bo and Walt. (Dustin Bradford/Getty)

All six were considered Day Two prospects on talent. Hess and Weiss are the best prospects of the bunch and were candidates to go somewhere in the top five rounds. Hess is massive (6-foot-6, 220 lbs.) and he’s run his fastball as high as 97 mph at times this spring. He also offers a hard slider. Weiss, son of Rockies manager Walt Weiss, has good control of a low-90s fastball and both a curveball and a changeup. Hess and Weiss are committed to LSU and UNC, respectively.

Clawson has benefited from extra exposure over the years — he’s been teammates with prospects Rockies 3B Ryan McMahon and Phillies 3B Lucas Williams — and he’s an outstanding defensive catcher by high school standards. He has the arm and blocking ability to stick behind the plate. Will he hit? That’s the question. Henley and Brown are arm strength righties with three secondary pitches, all of which show promise but lack refinement.

Sandum’s story is something else. He managed to rupture his bowels (ahhhhh) during a pregame workout early in the season, but was able to return after a few weeks, and he even managed to toss a no-hitter last month. Good gravy that sounds nasty. At his best Sandum is a command southpaw with an 87-91 mph fastball and a good curveball. The Yankees figure to try to sign these six guys anyway, though if Rutherford decides to go to school, they’ll become the priority.

Power College Arms

The Yankees started Day Three by selecting two of the hardest throwing pitchers still on the board. Georgia LHP Connor Jones (11th) — not to be confused with Virginia RHP Connor Jones, who went 70th overall to the Cardinals — will sit 93-96 mph and throw a workable breaking ball. The problem is throwing strikes; he walked 37 in 74.1 innings with the Bulldogs this spring. Lefties who throw hard are a hot commodity, and few lefties in the draft can match Jones’ raw arm strength.

South Carolina RHP Taylor Widener (12th) works in the 92-94 mph range and touches 97 mph even as a starter. His upper-80s slider is a put-away pitch as well, so if nothing else, Widener already has the stuff to serve as a power reliever at the next level. Elbow surgery last fall — it was surgery to treat a nerve issue, not Tommy John or anything like that — and knee injuries caused him to slip into Day Three.

“We’re excited about, right from the start, Connor Jones is a left-hander who strikes guys out,” said scouting director Damon Oppenheimer to Bryan Hoch. “Taylor Widener from South Carolina is a power arm guy, he’s hit 97. We’ve got some athletes in there that we think can swing the bat. There’s a bunch of them down here that we’re excited about.”

The Yanks also grabbed power arms in TCU RHP Brian Trieglaff (13th), Fullerton RHP Miles Chambers (20th), Louisiana Tech RHP Braden Bristo (23rd), and Gonzaga RHP Gage Burland (26th). Trieglaff, Chambers, and Burland are relievers. Bristo has a chance to start thanks to a deeper arsenal of secondary pitches.

Outfield Depth

Robinson. (Brian Jr/Daily Trojan)
Robinson. (Brian Jr/Daily Trojan)

New York seemed to select an inordinate number of outfielders on Day Three — eight of their 30 picks were outfielders (they drafted four infielders total this year) — and why is that? Well, the lower levels of the minors are already loaded with infielders, and they have more on the way thanks to the 2014 international spending spree. Teams don’t draft for need, but in the late rounds when you need to fill out rosters, you kinda have to.

The Yankees grabbed all sorts of different outfielders. They picked up burners, like Wagner OF Ben Ruta (30th) and USC OF Corey Dempster (37th). They also selected some brute mashers, like USC OF Timmy Robinson (21st), Maryland JuCo OF Joe Burton (24th), and Western Carolina RHP Bryson Bowman (33rd). Florida HS OF Jordan Scott (14th), Texas HS OF Evan Alexander (19th), and Florida HS Edel Luaces (25th) represent the raw prep outfielders.

Burton is the best prospect among the outfielders because he has very good bat speed from the right side and also a ton of natural strength. He hit .407/.514/.749 with 16 doubles, 16 homers, 37 walks, and 36 strikeouts in 62 games this spring. Burton is a huge guy — he’s listed at 6-foot-4 and 240 lbs. on Harford Community College’s official site — and is limited defensively in the outfield. His bat got him drafted for sure.

The Best of the Rest

Eastern Kentucky 3B Mandy Alvarez (17th) stands out for his strike zone knowledge and ability to have consistently tough at-bats every time up … Arizona HS RHP Juan Cabrera (32nd) is similar to current Yankees farmhand LHP Nestor Cortes as a command and control guy with crazy K/BB numbers (68/3 in 48 IP this spring) … Illinois HS C Sam Ferri (38th) might end up on the mound because his arm is so strong and his bat is such a question … Fordham RHP Greg Weissert (18th), LSU LHP Phil Diehl (27th), Stony Brook LHP Tyler Honahan (36th), and Wisconsin-Milwaukee RHP Brian Keller (39th) all have starter stuff but aren’t hard-throwers. They’ll be chewing up minor league innings for an affiliate soon.

* * *

I don’t know if this was by design or simply coincidence, but the Yankees selected 14 high school players in this year’s draft after selecting 14 in the last two drafts combined. Twelve of their 30 picks on Day Three were high schoolers, and while that doesn’t sound like much, it really is. Day Three is often filled with cheap college players to fill out minor league rosters. We have to see how many of these prep players the Yankees actually sign, but it does seem like they’re putting more faith in their player development staff’s ability to turn these guys into big leaguers.

2016 Draft: Day Three Open Thread

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

The top ten rounds of the 2016 amateur draft are in the books. The Yankees landed a premium talent in OF Blake Rutherford on Day One, and they spent most of Day Two manipulating their bonus pool situation to make sure they have enough cash to sign him. The draft wraps up today with rounds 11-40. Yes, 11-40. The draft was once 100 rounds, you know.

In addition to the usual Day Three fodder (organization filler, etc.), I expect the Yankees to grab some of the best available players throughout the day as a backup plan in case Rutherford doesn’t sign. They’ll lose the $2.44M tied to his pick if he doesn’t sign, but they’ll still have the savings from their picks in rounds 2-10 available. I fully expect Rutherford to sign. The Yankees still need a Plan B though. You can see all of their picks at MLB.com. Here are some stray links to check out:

  • No one has signed yet as far as we know. Both 2B Nick Solak (2nd round) and RHP Nolan Martinez (3rd) told Bryan Hoch they intend to sign, however. Solak has to wait for Louisville’s season to end. They’re very much a College World Series contender. Also, RHP Nick Nelson (4th) indicated to Pat McCann he plans to sign, and LHP Trevor Lane (10th) told Paul Pagnato he intends to sign.
  • Chris Crawford (no subs. req’d) and Jim Callis put together posts looking at the best (and in Crawford’s case, also the worst) picks from Day Two of the draft. The Yankees aren’t mentioned in either post. Also, Chris Mitchell used his KATOH system to project the college players taken on Day Two. The vast majority project out to replacement level. OF Dom Thompson-Williams (5th) leads the Yankees at +0.3 WAR.
  • Here are the best available players according to Baseball America and MLB.com. Like I said, I expect the Yankees to grab a few of the top remaining talents just to have backup plans in case Rutherford doesn’t sign.

The draft resumes today at 12pm ET. Thankfully the picks are rapid fire today, one after the other. The entire draft used to be like that back in the day. It was pretty great. Here’s the MLB.com broadcast and here’s the MLB.com Draft Tracker. The Yankees have found some useful arms on Day Three in recent years (David Phelps, Shane Greene, Bryan Mitchell, Chase Whitley, etc.), so today is not insignificant. Enjoy the rest of the draft.

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.