Sunday Links: Draft Combine, Hensley, Lopez, Alvarez

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees are playing the Astros this afternoon (Nathan Eovaldi vs. Scott Feldman), but there will be no video broadcast, so we won’t have a game thread. Instead, here are some miscellaneous links and notes.

MLB, MLBPA considering pre-draft medical combine

According to Jeff Passan, MLB and the MLBPA are expected to discuss the idea of a medical combine for draft prospects during the next round of Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations. The current CBA expires after 2016. This comes after the Astros declined to sign California HS LHP Brady Aiken — the first overall pick in the 2014 draft — after an issue with his elbow popped up during a physical. Aiken had Tommy John surgery a few days ago.

It’s easy to understand why teams would be in favor of a medical combine, but the players have little to gain from this. Of course, draft prospects are not MLBPA members, so the union is free to negotiate away their rights, which they’ve been doing for decades. A medical combine would bring a ton of logistical issues — who is eligible/required to participate? who are the doctors? how will this impact college players given the clown show that is the NCAA? — though I fully expect one to implemented at some point, if not 2017. The MLBPA has shown time after time they will sell out amateur players for the betterment of union members.

Hensley healthy and participating in all workouts

After being viciously assaulted in December, RHP Ty Hensley reported to Spring Training this year as a healthy player and has been able to participate in all workouts, according to Brendan Kuty. “If you didn’t know something had happened, you wouldn’t know from watching him. He’s been working hard,” said minor league pitching coordinator Gil Patterson.

Hensley, 21, has had a lot of physical setbacks in his career. The Yankees found an “abnormality” in his shoulder during his pre-draft physical and reduced his bonus from $1.6M to $1.2M. Then he missed the entire 2013 season after having surgery on both hips and to correct a hernia, and then he was assaulted in December. Hensley is really easy to root for, he’s been very upbeat while dealing with all this adversity, though the fact of the matter is he has thrown only 42.1 innings since being the 30th pick in the 2012 draft. That’s a lot of missed development time. I expect Hensley to start the season with Low-A Charleston and hopefully he plays a full, healthy season.

Felix Lopez out of the picture due to “family issue”

Executive Vice President/Chief International Officer Felix Lopez is out of the picture now, reports Bill Madden. George King says Lopez was not fired, but he is no longer on the team’s masthead after being listed there as recently as March 16th. “It’s a ‘family issue,” said Madden’s source. Lopez is married to Jessica Steinbrenner (George’s daughter) and was responsible for overseeing the day-to-day operations at the club’s complex in Tampa, though reportedly he often overstepped his bounds and dabbled in the team’s Latin America operations.

Madden says Lopez had an “unauthorized heavy hand” in negotiations with Yoan Moncada and effectively ended the club’s chances of signing the Cuban infielder. Who knows if that’s true — David Hastings, Moncada’s agent, told Nick Cafardo he gave the Yankees a chance to match the $31.5M deal the Red Sox offered, for what it’s worth — it seems like everyone in the organization has tried to pass the Moncada blame onto someone else, but either way Lopez is out of the picture. It really seems like no one is on the same page at the top of the organization. Everyone is going in a different direction.

Yankees have scouted Yadier Alvarez

The Yankees are among the many teams that have scouted 18-year-old Cuban right-hander Yadier Alvarez, reports Jon Heyman. Alvarez has been working out for teams in the Dominican Republic and has consistently sat 94-97 mph during workouts while touching 99. He  can not sign until the 2015-16 signing period opens on July 2nd, though Heyman says Alvarez is petitioning MLB to allow him to sign before then.

New York exceeded their international bonus pool during the 2014-15 signing period, so they can’t sign a player for more than $300,000 during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 signing periods. So if Alvarez can’t sign before July 2nd, the Yankees have no chance at him. They won’t be able to make a competitive bid. If MLB allows him Alvarez to sign before then though, the Yankees can get involved and offer him whatever they want, which I’m sure will be just enough to fall short.

Jeter looking to open restaurant in Tampa

According to Eric Snider, Derek Jeter is looking to open a restaurant in the Tampa International Airport, but faces stiff competition from more established brands for the 3,439 square foot space. The restaurant, which is tentatively named “The Players’ Tribune Bar & Grill,” was billed as having a “VIP atmosphere” in the bid documents. Here are some more details:

The Player’s Tribune menu skews upscale (no prices are listed), ranging from Buffalo Chicken Wings to Braised Porchetta, Spanish Garbanzo Bean soup to Roasted Pear Salad. There’s only one athlete-branded item, unusual for a sports-themed restaurant: the Jeter Burger. (Photographs of Jeter, (Blake) Griffin and (Chris) Paul decorate the menu.) The only other fame-named entree is the Salvador Dali Egg Breakfast.

iPads will be made available at “virtually every seat” so customers can peruse The Players’ Tribune website. High-def big screens will favor games by Tampa Bay teams.

Jeter made it no secret he wants to focus on his business ventures after retiring as a player, and, well, he’ll hardly be the first ex-athlete to open a restaurant. If he misses out on the airport space, I’m sure Derek and his people will continue to look for a location elsewhere in Tampa. Seems like The Player’s Tribune — the website, by the way, is about a million times more interesting than I (and many others) expected — is the brand Jeter is pushing.

2015 Draft: Brady Aiken undergoes Tommy John surgery

(San Diego Union Tribune)
(San Diego Union Tribune)

Less than a week after leaving his start for IMG Academy with what the umpire said was “tightness in his arm,” top 2015 draft prospect Brady Aiken underwent Tommy John surgery on Wednesday. Aiken made the announcement himself on The Players’ Tribune, Derek Jeter‘s site. What a world. (Jeter and Aiken have the same agent, Casey Close.)

Aiken, 18, was the first overall pick in the 2014 draft. He agreed to a $6.5M bonus with the Astros, but Houston backed out of the deal after they looked at his elbow during the physical and got scared. Aiken opted to do a post-graduate year at IMG so he could enter the 2015 draft rather than go to college and wait until the 2017 draft. Here’s a snippet of Aiken’s post at Jeter’s site:

Since last summer, a lot of people have wondered how I could have turned down a multi-million-dollar signing bonus after being picked first in the Draft. Now, I know they’ll probably be wondering about it again. I can honestly say I don’t regret not signing. It was a very difficult decision, but it also was an informed decision based on circumstances only a few people know the truth about. My family and I planned for all the possible outcomes. We weighed the pros and cons, talked with friends and mentors and doctors whose opinions we value and discussed it over a number of family dinners. This wasn’t a decision we made lightly.

Gosh, how bad does that make the Astros look? This 18-year-old kid just had his arm cut open and the first thing he did was type out an article saying he doesn’t regret passing on their multimillion dollar offer.

Anyway, there is plenty of recent precedent for teams drafting a player with an injured elbow in the first round. Just last season, both ECU RHP Jeff Hoffman and UNLV RHP Erick Fedde had Tommy John surgery in May, then still went 9th and 18th overall in June’s draft, respectively. The Nationals took California HS RHP Lucas Giolito with the 16th pick in 2012 knowing he would likely need Tommy John surgery, which he did two innings into his pro career.

The Yankees selected NC State RHP Andrew Brackman with the 30th overall pick in the 2007 draft knowing he would need Tommy John surgery, so they’ve rolled the dice on an injured player before. They also selected Florida JuCo RHP Shane Greene in the 2009 draft while he was rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, though he was a 15th round pick, not a first rounder. Point is, teams are willing to roll the dice of top pitching prospects with bad elbows. Hoffman, Fedde, Giolito, and Brackman were all considered top 10-15 prospects in their draft classes before getting hurt, like Aiken.

Scouting director Damon Oppenheimer said last summer the Yankees tend to lean towards college players, but Aiken seems right in New York’s wheelhouse as a big (6-foot-4, 205 lbs.) lefty with command of a mid-90s fastball, a power curveball, and an excellent changeup. I was thinking that sounds a lot like young Andy Pettitte, then I remembered Keith Law (subs. req’d) called Aiken a”pretty good version of the Kershaw Starter Kit.” So yeah, Aiken’s a great pitching prospect. When healthy, anyway.

Thanks to the compensation pick for David Robertson, the Yankees have a $7.885M bonus pool for this year’s draft, the sixth largest in baseball. If Aiken indicates a willingness to sign and the Yankees are willing to roll the dice, they have the money to make it work. They’d have to go cheap with other picks to compensate, but it’s doable. The real question is whether the Rangers (fourth overall) or Cubs (ninth) will bite and take Aiken before New York’s first pick (16th overall). Those two clubs appear most likely to gamble on Aiken given their bonus pools and draft tendencies.

For what it’s worth, both Keith Law and Jim Callis say they still expect Aiken to be a first round pick this year.

2015 Draft: Brady Aiken leaves start with injury, Yankees among teams in attendance

Last Thursday, left-hander and 2014 first overall pick Brady Aiken left his start for IMG Academy with an unconfirmed injury. The Astros did not sign Aiken as the top pick last year due to concerns about his elbow. Aiken opted to attend IMG for a post-graduate year so he could enter the 2015 draft rather than go to college and wait until the 2017 draft.

Aiken, 18, left Thursday’s start after only 12 pitches. The home plate umpire told Josh Norris it was an arm problem — “The last pitch was a curveball. I don’t know if that’s related … But that’s all I heard, that he had a little bit of tightness in his arm. That’s what he told his coaching staff,” said the ump — but nothing has been confirmed. In fact, Keith Law hears Aiken may make his next start, indicating the injury is not serious.

Yankees amateur scouting director Damon Oppenheimer was among the 75-100 scouts on hand for Aiken’s outing, reports Norris. New York holds the 16th overall pick this year and a healthy Aiken won’t make it that far. Here’s a snippet of MLB.com’s scouting report on Aiken, who they ranked as the third best prospect in the 2015 draft:

Aiken had no physical problems as a senior at San Diego’s Cathedral Catholic High, showing advanced command of a fastball that sat at 92-94 mph and reached 97. He added more power and depth to his curveball and displayed one of the best changeups in the 2014 Draft, featuring deception and tumbling action … Aiken also earned points for his makeup.

Healthy Aiken is, at worst, a top five pick in this year’s relatively thin draft class. Injured Aiken is another matter. His draft slot would depend on the severity of the injury. The Astros agreed to sign him for $6.5M last year but backed out after his physical due to a concern about his ulnar collateral ligament and the possibility of Tommy John surgery in the near future.

There is plenty of precedent for drafting a pitcher with a damaged UCL. The Yankees drafted Andrew Brackman in the first round of the 2007 draft knowing he’d need his elbow rebuild, for example. The Nationals selected Lucas Giolito with the 16th pick in 2012 knowing he’d need Tommy John surgery as well. Giolito was a first overall pick candidate before his elbow started barking, and he has since developed into the game’s top pitching prospect. Jeff Hoffman (ninth overall) and Erick Fedde (18th) were first rounders last year after having Tommy John surgery just weeks before the draft.

The Yankees were scouting Aiken because they scout everyone — even if they know they are unlikely to have a chance to draft him, they still want to they keep track of his development in case he becomes available in a trade or as a free agent down the road — and I think they would jump at the chance to draft him 16th overall, healthy elbow or not. They never get a chance to select the top draft talents and Aiken is right up their alley as big (6-foot-4, 205 lbs.) power lefty with command. The elbow would make him risky, no doubt, but the reward is potentially great.

Update: Yankees have $7.885M bonus pool for 2015 draft

This year it’ll be Rob Manfred at the podium. (Getty)

February 28th: The Yankees will have a $7,885,000 spending pool for the 2015 draft, according to John Manuel. That’s slowly lower than the estimations Mayo dug up earlier this month. The team still has the sixth largest bonus pool for this year’s draft thanks to their extra pick for Robertson. We still don’t know the individual slot values for the top ten rounds and those are pretty important.

February 11th: Now that James Shields has signed, the 2015 draft order is more or less finalized. The 12 competitive balance lottery picks can still be traded before the draft, but unless the Yankees somehow acquire one of those picks, it won’t change their draft situation at all. New York has two first rounders this year: 16th overall and 30th overall. The 30th pick is compensation for losing David Robertson. The entire draft order is right here.

On Tuesday, Jonathan Mayo got his hands on estimated bonus pool numbers for the 2015 draft. The Astros, by virtue of having two of the top five picks (they failed to sign first overall pick Brady Aiken last year and get the second overall pick as compensation this year), have the largest bonus pool at $17.37M. The Rockies are a distant second at $14.06M. The Mets are dead last $3.6M after forfeiting their first rounder to sign Michael Cuddyer.

The Yankees have the sixth largest bonus pool for the 2015 draft thanks to the extra pick for Robertson. The Astros, Rockies, and Braves are the only teams that will pick twice before New York, which is a nice change of pace from previous years. Here is the club’s draft pool situation according to Mayo:

16th overall: $2,555,200
30th overall: $1,923,900
Total Bonus Pool: $7,922,200

As a reminder, the bonus pool covers the top ten rounds only. If a team pays one of those picks a below-slot bonus, they can use the savings elsewhere. Anything over $100,000 paid to a player drafted after the tenth round counts against the pool, but teams can’t save pool space with picks after the tenth round. Got it? Good.

The Yankees had a measly $3.2M bonus pool last year after forfeiting their top three picks to sign free agents. A nearly $8M bonus pool is a ton of money, especially since the Yankees tend to take cheap college seniors in the eighth, ninth, and tenth rounds as a way to save pool space for other picks. They have enough pool space to land big bonus guys not only at 16 and 30, but also at 57 (second rounder) and maybe even 92 (third rounder) as well.

Here are MLB.com’s top 50 draft prospects. I’m telling you though, it is way too early to get an idea of who will be available or who the Yankees might target with those 16th and 30th picks. The college and high school seasons are just now getting underway. The draft runs from June 8-10 this year.

Cotillo: Padres sign James Shields to four-year contract; 2015 draft order finalized

(Jamie Squire/Getty)
(Jamie Squire/Getty)

According to Chris Cotillo, the Padres have signed right-hander James Shields to a four-year contract in the $72M to $76M range. It’s been a foregone conclusion that Shields, who grew up in the San Diego area, would sign with the Padres for about a week now. The two had been connected quite a bit. The Cubs, Marlins, and Blue Jays were also said to be in the mix these last few weeks.

As with Max Scherzer and Jon Lester, the Yankees were never seriously connected to Shields this offseason despite their obvious need for rotation help. Ownership and Brian Cashman said they were going to avoid big money long-term contracts that bought decline years in bulk this winter and they stuck to their guns. Can’t imagine many people expected that.

At this point the best free agent starter left on the market is righty Brandon Beachy, who is working his way back from his second Tommy John surgery and isn’t expected to be ready for the start of the season. After Beachy, the best available free agent hurlers are Roberto Hernandez, Chris Young, Joe Saunders, and Kevin Correia, all of whom are minor league contract guys. I don’t expect New York to get involved with any of them at this point.

The Padres are forfeiting the 13th overall pick to sign Shields, and, because of that, the Yankees’ first two picks in the 2015 draft move up a slot. Their natural first rounder moves up from 17th overall to 16th overall, and their supplemental first rounder (the compensation pick for David Robertson) moves from 31st to 30th overall. Based on last year’s slot values, the 16th and 30th overall picks come with $2.34M and $1.76M bonus slots, respectively.

The Yankees haven’t picked as high as 16th overall since taking Florida high school righty Matt Drews with the 13th overall pick in 1993. They haven’t had two of the top 30 picks since 1978, when they took California high school shortstop Rex Hudler and New York high school outfielder Matt Winters with 18th and 24th overall picks, respectively. Yeah, it’s been a while.

Now that Shields is off the board, all of the top non-Yoan Moncada free agents are signed and the 2015 draft order is more or less finalized. (The competitive balance lottery picks can still be traded before the draft.) The offseason is basically over barring a surprise trade. Pitchers and catchers will start reporting to Spring Training next week and the 2015 season will start to get underway. It’s about time.

Draft Links: 2015 Top Prospects, Changes, East Coast Pro

After running Thursday through Saturday the last two years, the amateur draft is returning to its usual Monday through Wednesday slot this year. The draft is scheduled to run from June 8-10 this year, and right now the Yankees hold the 17th, 31st, and 57th overall picks. (The 31st pick is the compensation pick for David Robertson.)

This is only the second time in the last ten years New York has held three of the top 57 picks. The other instance came two years ago, when they landed 3B Eric Jagielo, OF Aaron Judge, and LHP Ian Clarkin with their first rounder and the compensation picks for Nick Swisher and Rafael Soriano. Here are some miscellaneous draft notes.

MLB.com’s Top 50 Draft Prospects

MLB.com has published their first round of 2015 draft prospect rankings, which are topped by Florida HS SS Brendan Rodgers (video above!). Duke RHP Michael Matuella and JuCo LHP Brady Aiken rank second and third, respectively. Aiken, as you might remember, didn’t sign with the Astros as the first overall pick in the 2014 draft and will be draft-eligible again because he’s going to a junior college, not a four-year school. As always, the MLB.com rankings include free scouting reports, 20-80 scouting scale grades, and video. Great resource.

You can’t really make the straight comparison, but, if you’re interested, MLB.com has Fullerton RHP Phil Bickford and Tennessee HS RHP Donny Everett ranked 17th and 31st, respectively, the Yankees top two draft slots. Bickford passed on signing with the Blue Jays as the tenth overall pick in the 2013 draft and Everett is one of the hardest throwing high school arms in the draft class. Overall, the 2015 class appears to be very heavy on pitchers with few impact position players available.

MLB, NCAA agree to move draft to July 1st

According to Peter Gammons, MLB and the NCAA have a “general agreement” to move the draft to July 1st with a July 15th signing deadline. This isn’t final yet — MLB can’t just change the date of the draft, the whole thing has to be collectively bargained and the MLBPA has to agree to it.

Moving the draft from the first week of June to July 1st doesn’t seem like much, but it will create a bunch of logistical headaches in the lower minors. (I wrote about them at CBS.) More than anything, moving the draft seems like a precursor to an international draft, which the owners have been trying to get for years to cut costs. The international signing period opens July 2nd of each year, remember. The timing if awfully interesting.

RHP Jacob Nix enrolls in IMG Academy for 2015

Nix. (OC Register)
Nix. (OC Register)

Nix, the Astros’ fifth rounder last year, is heading to the IMG Academy in Florida for post-graduate work this year, according to John Manuel. Nix was a second or third round talent last summer who fell into the fifth round due to bonus demands. Houston was set to pay him an above-slot bonus with the saving from their below-slot deal with Aiken, but, when the Aiken deal fell apart, they didn’t have the draft pool space to sign Nix and reneged on their agreement. The MLBPA filed a grievance on Nix’s behalf and won, so the Astros had to pay him the full $1.5M they agreed to give him originally.

Anyway, the post-graduate year at IMG means Nix will again be draft-eligible this year, and he’ll presumably slot in as a projected second or third rounder again. It’ll be interesting to see how teams treat him this year. They know Nix has money now, and the fact that he is re-entering the draft rather than going to a four-year college means he wants to turn pro. Could he be a below-slot guy this year? He doesn’t have much leverage. We’ll see. Nix is 6-foot-4 and has a mid-90s fastball, which is usually the kind of prospect the Yankees love. He could be a target for that 57th overall pick. (The highest draft pick in IMG history is, of course, John Ryan Murphy.)

Yankees bringing East Coast Pro to Tampa

According to Manuel, the Yankees are bringing the East Coast Pro to Tampa this summer. It is one of the top events on the summer scouting showcase circuit. The event will be held from July 27-30 — so we’re talking about 2016 draft picks, not 2015 — and feature 150 of the best high school players in the country. The event moves around each year, so it won’t be in Tampa long-term.

Just to be clear, scouts from every team will be in attendance, so this isn’t an exclusive workout for the Yankees. That said, only the Yankees will have access to the pitch tracking data available at Steinbrenner Field because they are the event host. The East Coast Pro has many big name alumni, including David Price, Justin Upton, David Wright, Zack Greinke, Madison Bumgarner, and Matt Harvey.

2015 Draft & International Free Agent Links: Rankings, Scouting Reports

At the moment, the Yankees currently hold the 17th overall pick in the 2015 draft. They could still move up a few slots if the Marlins, Padres, Rays, Braves, and/or Brewers sign one of the nine unsigned qualified free agents, one of whom is David Robertson. All of the details are at our 2015 Draft Order page. Of course, the Yankees could also forfeit that 17th overall pick if they sign a qualified free agents. Here are some links about next year’s draft and international free agent class.

  • Both Baseball America and Keith Law/Chris Crawford wrote up their lists of the top 30 prospects for the 2015 draft. Both links are subscriber-only, unfortunately. LHP Brady Aiken, who didn’t sign with the Astros as the first overall pick in the 2014 draft, tops the ESPN list while Florida HS SS Brendan Rogers is atop the Baseball America list. Aiken is second. He’s heading to a junior college and will be draft-eligible again in 2015.
  • Draft to the Show put together a series of (free!) rankings and mini-scouting reports for the top prospects for the 2015 draft: top 15 high school pitchers, top 15 high school hitters, top 15 college pitchers, and top 15 college hitters. Seems like the strength of this draft is quick-moving college arms, which is a shame because it seems like you could pull any schmuck from the stands and get a 3.50 ERA these days.
  • Kiley McDaniel wrote up scouting reports for several of the top international prospects for the 2015-16 signing period. Because the Yankees exceeded their 2014-15 bonus pool, they won’t be able to sign a player for more than $300,000 in both the 2015-16 and 2016-17 signing periods. So I guess you can get to know the Yankees can’t sign as amateurs but will try to sign as free agents in ten years.