2015 Draft: Yankees balance probability with projects on Day One

Day One of the 2015 amateur draft was both surprising yet completely predictable for the Yankees. They used their first round pick on a player they’ve been connected to for weeks, and they did take three college players with their three picks. New York’s second and third selections seemed to come out of left field though. At least in the sense that we hadn’t seen them connected to those players this spring.

The Yankees went probability first, upside second on Day One this year. Getting safe players — safe by draft standards, which means not safe at all! — likely to contribute at the MLB level was the priority over getting players with impact potential. That’s nothing fans want to hear, of course, but it’s very easy to say they should take more risk when you’re not the one with your neck on the line. And besides, the Yankees haven’t had much success developing their risky picks the last few years. Let’s review Day One.

Kaprielian. (Daily Bruin)
Kaprielian. (Daily Bruin)

Fit The Profile
UCLA RHP James Kaprielian fit the Yankees’ profile so perfectly that I’m not sure why I ever thought they might take someone else once we knew was going to be available. Deep repertoire? Check. Command? Check. Big? He’s listed at 6-foot-4 and 200 lbs., so check there too. Southern California product? Also check. Scouting director Damon Oppenheimer loves his SoCal pitchers. He shows it year after year.

“Kaprielian is a guy we’ve scouted for a long time, and we’re really happy we were able to get him,” said Oppenheimer in a statement following the draft last night. “He has three quality pitches, throws strikes and generates a lot of swings-and-misses. On top of that, he has great make-up. He compiled a quality track record in a good league and performed well for Team USA.”

Kaprielian, who the Yankees selected with their first round pick (16th overall), was the team’s safe pick on Day One. Safe by baseball draft standards, I mean. No prospect is ever really safe. Kaprielian throws three pitches, including a fastball that jumped from 89-92 mph to 93-95 mph later in the spring, as well a very good changeup and a solid curveball. He locates all three pitches well and has even messed around with a slider/cutter at times.

Pitchers with good fastballs who can control two offspeed pitches tend to have a ton of success at the college level, which Kaprielian certainly did with the Bruins. The Yankees have had some success developing pitchers like Kaprielian, the polished college guys, though he has better command than someone like David Phelps and better stuff than someone like Adam Warren. He’s someone they can just plug into the farm system and not worry a whole lot about. Safe is boring, but safe also has value.

Holder. (San Diego Union Tribune)
Holder. (San Diego Union Tribune)

Carrying Tool
In the wake of Derek Jeter‘s retirement, the Yankees have gone full doomsday hoarder with shortstop prospects. They signed several top shortstops as international free agents last year, traded for young Didi Gregorius in the offseason, and selected San Diego SS Kyle Holder with the 30th overall pick last night. That was the compensation pick for David Robertson.

“Holder is about as elite a defender as we’ve seen come through the college ranks. He’s got a tremendous glove. He also had a productive year offensively and does not swing and miss,” said Oppenheimer after making the pick. Holder fits the no hit/all glove mold, which is far from exciting, but that’s also Holder’s starting point. He’s not a finished product and he did hit .348/.418/.482 with as many walks and strikeouts (19) in a major college conference this spring, so it’s not as if he’s never hit.

What Holder offers more than anything is a carrying tool in his high-end defense. Quality shortstops are hard to find. There’s a reason dudes like Brendan Ryan stay in the league for a decade. The Yankees have to figure out a way to get Holder to be a passable hitter — the league average shortstop is hitting .246/.297/.356 (80 wRC+) this season, by the way — to maximize his value, which won’t be easy. Frankly the Yankees have kinda sucked at developing bats lately and there are reasons to doubt their ability to help Holder.

The Yankees took on a project with Holder and it’s fair to question his overall upside. The best case scenario seems like a solid regular, which would be a pretty great outcome for the 30th overall pick, but Holder is also extremely likely to get to the show as a defensive specialist, even as an up-and-down utility guy. Holder is starting from a pretty high base and any sort of development with his bat suddenly puts him in the everyday player conversation.

Degano. (MVC-Sports.com)
Degano. (MVC-Sports.com)

Long-Awaited Lefty
The history of the New York Yankees is littered with great left-handed starters, from Whitey Ford to Ron Guidry to Andy Pettitte to CC Sabathia. They’re the Bronx Bombers first and foremost, yes, but their historic success is also built on quality southpaws. For some reason that demographic has been largely ignored in recent years, with 2013 draftee Ian Clarkin the notable exception.

The Yankees went back to their roots with their third selection on Day One, taking Indiana State LHP Jeff Degano with their second round pick, 57th overall. “Degano is a left-hander with a low-to-mid-90s fastball and a good breaking ball. He throws a lot of strikes and has a quality athletic body,” said Oppenheimer of the 6-foot-4, 200 lb. southpaw. A power lefty? Where have guys like this been lately?

Of course, Degano is not without risk. He’s already blown out once, having Tommy John surgery back in 2013, forcing him to miss most of that season and the entire 2014 season as well. Degano started this spring a little rusty but was much better down the stretch and climbed draft boards as he started looking more like the pre-elbow injury version of himself. The Yankees are banking on that history.

More than anything, the Yankees are rolling the dice on a big southpaw with a power fastball and a quality breaking ball. Degano missed bats all spring — he struck out 126 batters (99 innings) this year, seventh most in Division I, and he did it while walking only 28 batters — and he’s a changeup away from being  a no-doubt starter, the kind of lefty starter the Yankees have lacked since Sabathia’s fade started. Learning a changeup is not easy, but the guys who already have changeups go in the first round, like Kaprielian.

* * *

The Yankees had … well I’d say sort of an atypical Day One. Kaprielian is a classic Oppenheimer pick but Holder and Degano are unlike any of their recent high selections. They’ve gone for big bats (Eric Jagielo and Aaron Judge), raw and toolsy athletes (Mason Williams and Slade Heathcott), or prep hurlers (Clarkin and Ty Hensley) the last three or four years. Holder and Degano are none of those things.

This draft was more about probability. Kaprielian’s very likely to be a big league starter as long as he stays healthy. Holder’s defense at a premium position means the offensive bar is low, and Degano will get a million chances as a lefty who misses bats. Even if he doesn’t learn a changeup, he goes to the bullpen to be a poor man’s Jacob Lindgren. The Yankees went safe on Day One this year, safe but with two project players in Holder and Degano who have the potential to be big league regulars with the fall back option of being high probability useful players.

2015 Draft: Yankees select Indiana State LHP Jeff Degano with second round pick


The Yankees went 3-for-3 on Day One of the 2015 draft Monday night: three picks and three college players. With their third pick, the 57th overall selection and their second round pick, the Yankees took Indiana State LHP Jeff Degano.

Degano, 22, was a late riser this spring after missing most of the 2013 and all of the 2014 seasons due to Tommy John surgery. He had a 2.36 ERA with 126 strikeouts and 28 walks in 99 innings this year. I didn’t write up a profile of Degano, so here are some scouting report tidbits from the pros.

Baseball America (83rd ranked prospect):

Degano has dominated thanks to a 90-94 mph fastball and a plus 78-82 mph slurve with good depth. He’s shown he can vary the shape of the breaking ball to make it a little bigger and slower or harder and later-breaking depending on the situation … Degano also throws a fringy changeup, but he’s used it infrequently this season..

MLB.com (94th ranked prospect):

The redshirt junior works at 88-92 mph and can reach 95 with his fastball, which features some natural cutting life. He gets many of his strikeouts with his hard slurve, which he can run away from lefties and back-foot against righties … Degano has a decent changeup with some fade and will need to use it more as a starter in pro ball. He throws strikes but his command could use some refinement. Though he doesn’t have a true plus offering, he has the upside of a three-pitch starter with the fallback of becoming a situational lefty.

Keith Law (subs. req’d) ranked Degano as the 54th best prospect in the draft class in his latest rankings, but did not write up an individual scouting report. Degano is a big dude at 6-foot-4 and 200 lbs. and he spent much of this spring shaking off the rust following Tommy John surgery. Here’s video:

Degano flew under the radar for much of the spring but really finished strong and shot up the various draft rankings in recent weeks as he showed his pre-Tommy John surgery form. He has to learn a changeup and that’s not easy, but he’s a big, physically lefty with a power fastball and a bat-missing breaking ball. That’s a profile that, frankly, the Yankees haven’t drafted enough in recent years. They’ve eschewed southpaws for some reason.

Slot money for the 57th overall pick is $1,074,400, and this year’s signing deadline is Friday, July 17th. Degano shouldn’t be a tough sign at all — there’s a chance he could sign below slot, but we’ll see — and I’m sure the Yankees are eager to turn him over to pitching coordinator Gil Patterson to work on that changeup. That pitch is the key.

2015 Draft: Yankees select San Diego SS Kyle Holder with supplemental first round pick


Once again, the Yankees turned to the college ranks for their second pick in the 2015 draft. The team selected San Diego SS Kyle Holder with the the 30th overall pick Monday night. This is the supplemental first round pick they received for losing David Robertson to free agency.

Holder, 21, hit .348/.418/.482 with 14 doubles, four homers, five steals, 19 walks, and 19 strikeouts in 55 games for the Toreros this spring. He was considered arguably the best defensive player in the entire draft class, regardless of position. Here are some scouting report tidbits.

Baseball America (38th ranked prospect):

The athletic 6-foot-1, 185-pounder doesn’t run better than average and has an uphill lefthanded swing path, which one scout compared to a cricket swing. However, Holder has shown a knack for the barrel this spring and makes consistent contact. He’s unlikely to make an impact offensively but should defensively, where scouts give him grades ranging from 55 to 70. He has an average-to-plus arm to go with excellent, instinctive actions and footwork.

MLB.com (51st ranked prospect):

Unlike many college shortstops, there are absolutely no questions about Holder’s ability to stay at the premium position long-term. He has outstanding hands, range and footwork to go along with a strong arm and the athleticism that made him a good shooting guard carries over to baseball. The questions start to come when discussing his bat. While he is performing in his junior year and rarely strikes out, he’s still learning how to take good at-bats consistently, and power is never going to be a part of his game.

Keith Law (subs. req’d) ranked Holder as the 91st best prospect in the draft in his latest rankings, but did not write up an individual scouting report. For what it’s worth, Holder was a standout basketball player growing up and he didn’t focus on baseball full-time until two years ago, so he doesn’t have the same level of experience or polish as most college players. Here’s video:

I seem to be one of the few people who has no problem with the Holder pick. I actually think there’s some upside there — he’s got the defensive part of the game figured out and now just needs to gain experience and work on his offense. Is Holder going to be a middle of the order hitter? No, of course not. But I think his chances of developing into a non-zero with the bat are better than he’s getting credit for.

Now, that said, the Yankees haven’t had much success developing bats in recent years, and I don’t think we can give them the benefit of the doubt with Holder either. Getting him to improve his offense is a tall order. Also, this pick continues the team’s weird recent trend of prioritizing defense to the point that they are willing to punt offense to get it. Not sure what sparked that but it’s kinda annoying.

Anyway, slot money for the 30th overall pick is $1,914,900 and the signing deadline is Friday, July 17th. There’s no reason to think Holder will be a tough sign, and heck, he might even sign below slot. We’ll see.

2015 Draft: Yankees select UCLA RHP James Kaprielian with first round pick

(Los Angeles Times)
(Los Angeles Times)

For the third straight year, the Yankees went to the college ranks with their first draft pick. The Yankees selected UCLA right-hander James Kaprielian with their first round pick, the 16th overall selection, in the 2015 draft Monday night. They had been connected to him for weeks now.

Kaprielian, 21, had a 2.02 ERA with 114 strikeouts and 33 walks in 106.2 innings as UCLA’s ace this spring. He also threw the first nine-inning no-hitter in school history. Here’s my profile and here are some scouting report snippets from the pros.

Baseball America (19th ranked prospect):

Kaprielian knows how to finish hitters off when he’s ahead in the count, with a plus curveball as his best pitch. He can land it, vary the shape of it and bury it as a chase pitch, and his feel for the curve is his strongest attribute. He has dabbled with a slider as well but has focused on the fastball, curveball and solid-average changeup for most of the spring … In several April and May starts, his velocity improved, bumping 95 and holding 92-93 deeper into games.

MLB.com (22nd ranked prospect):

He didn’t have the best stuff in a U.S. collegiate national team rotation that included Louisville’s Kyle Funkhouser and Vanderbilt’s Carson Fulmer last summer, but Kaprielian did have the best “pitchability” and is the safest bet to become a mid-rotation starter in the big leagues. He works with an 89-92 mph fastball as a starter, and he’s effective at that velocity because he can locate it … Kaprielian’s best pitch is his changeup, and he also has a solid slider and a curveball to give batters a different look. With his command and strong frame, he’s built to be a starter.

Keith Law (27th ranked prospect):

Kaprielian will sit 90-94 mph, working more toward the low end of that spectrum from the stretch. He relies heavily on his slider and curveball, with the former being the superior of the two; it has short but sharp two-plane movement in the mid-80s. His curveball bends in between 78 and 81 mph and has more depth than the slider, but is merely average. He does an excellent job of keeping both down in the zone (or below) and limiting hard contact. Kaprielian’s changeup is firm at 84-86 mph. He barely uses it, but scouts are very intrigued by it and think it might develop into an above-average or plus pitch.

So one scouting report says Kaprielian’s best pitch is his changeup and another says it’s his curveball, which just reinforces the fact that the draft is a total crapshoot. Who knows what’s true? Kaprielian is listed at 6-foot-4 and 200 lbs., so he has the size scouts like to see in future starters. That’s pretty much the only consensus too, that Kaprielian can remain a starter long-term. Here’s some video:

It’s no surprise scouting director Damon Oppenheimer targeted a South California pitcher. He’s a SoCal guy himself and selected others like Gerrit Cole, Ian Clarkin, and Ian Kennedy from the area during his time with the Yankees. It’s also no surprise the Yankees went after a college player — Oppenheimer has admitted the team has learned towards college players in recent years because they’ve had more success developing them.

Kaprielian doesn’t offer ace upside but he does project to be a workhorse starter, and teams spend tens of millions of dollars on those guys each year. I would have preferred someone with a higher ceiling with the top pick — even if it meant taking on more risk — but the Yankees opted for a safer player and that’s fine too. Kaprielian was a no-doubt first rounder all year, so this wasn’t a surprise pick or anything. Slot money for the 16th overall pick is $2,543,300 and the signing deadline is Friday, July 17th. I expect Kaprielian to sign for that amount sooner rather than later.

2015 Draft: Day One Open Thread

2015 Draft logoThe Yankees have an off-day today, so instead we’ll get to focus on a pretty important day in franchise history. Important in the history of every franchise, of course. Today is Day One of the 2015 amateur draft, and there will certainly be several future All-Stars will be selected today. Maybe a future MVP or a Cy Young Award winner. Maybe even a Hall of Famer or two. Careers have to start somewhere, and for many, they will start these next three days.

A total of 75 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 three picks tonight: 16th, 30th, and 57th overall. That’s their first and second rounders sandwiched around the compensation pick for David Robertson. The Braves lead the way with five picks on Day One. Here’s the full draft order.

Depending on who you ask, the Yankees are looking for either a bat or an arm with their top pick. Who knows? There were a lot of conflicting reports this year, even more than usual. That’s fine, I like surprises. The strength of this draft is right-handed pitching, both high school and college, and the Yankees could use some arms for their position player farm system. Of course, teams don’t draft for need. At least not the smart ones.

“We have worked on this a long time and are ready to take advantage of all our observations,” said amateur scouting director Damon Oppenheimer to Zach Braziller recently. “All the info we got is that we are going to go after the best available player. It doesn’t have to be a pitcher or a player, a high school player or a college player. It will be the best available guy.’’

For the first time basically ever, I don’t really have a preference for whom the Yankees draft tonight. This isn’t a particularly strong draft class and I didn’t get attached to anyone. New York HS OF Garrett Whitley would be cool though, mostly because he is considered to have a tremendous amount of upside. You can read my profile on Whitley and 23 others in our 2015 draft coverage archive.

The draft broadcast will begin at 7pm ET and you can watch live on both MLB Network and MLB.com. There will be a one-hour pre-draft show starting at 6pm ET as well. Here are Baseball America’s Top 500 Draft Prospects and MLB.com’s Draft Tracker for reference. We’ll have posts covering each of the Yankees’ three picks tonight, of course. Use this thread to talk all things draft. Enjoy.

2015 Draft: Final Mock Drafts, Bickford Fails Drug Test

The MLB Network studio is ready. (Photo via @MLBDraft)
The MLB Network studio is ready. (Photo via @MLBDraft)

The 2015 amateur draft will begin in about five hours now, so, to hold you over, here are a bunch of last minute draft links, including the final mock drafts. Common theme: no one has any idea who the Yankees will pick.

Baseball America’s Mock Draft v5.1

John Manuel at Baseball America posted his final mock draft this morning and he has the Diamondbacks taking Vanderbilt SS Dansby Swanson with the first overall pick. Manuel has the Yankees selecting UCLA RHP James Kaprielian and Cal Poly Pomona RHP Cody Ponce with their top two picks, 16th and 30th overall, respectively. Here are my profiles on Kaprielian and Ponce. Baseball America has been beating the “the Yankees will take pitching” drum all spring, and those two guys have been mentioned as targets for a while now.

Keith Law’s Mock Draft v4.0

Keith Law (subs. req’d) also has the Diamondbacks taking Swanson with the first overall pick in his latest mock draft. Swanson to Arizona is the consensus now. Meanwhile, Law has the Yankees selecting Georgia HS SS Cornelius Randolph and Florida State OF D.J. Stewart with those 16th and 30th overall picks, respectively. Here are my profiles on Randolph and Stewart. The Yankees drafted Stewart out of high school in the 28th round of the 2012 draft but obviously did not sign him. For what it’s worth, Law hears the Yankees are connected to a slew of bats, including “several of whom … seem unlikely to get (to the 16th pick).”

MLB.com’s Mock Draft v5.0

Both Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo posted their final mock drafts this morning as well (they’re combined into one article), and yes, they both have the D’Backs taking Swanson. As for the Yankees, Callis sees them taking Kaprielian and Michigan HS OF Nick Plummer with their top two picks while Mayo has them selecting New York HS OF Garrett Whitley and California HS C Chris Betts. Here are my profiles for Plummer, Whitley, and Betts. The Yankees have been connected to all of those guys in recent weeks. Callis and Mayo also say the Yankees could opt for Randolph, Tennessee HS RHP Donny Everett, and Kentucky RHP Kyle Cody. Here are my Everett and Cody profiles.

Bickford Tests Positive For Marijuana

During a pre-draft drug screening, College of Southern Nevada RHP Phil Bickford tested positive for marijuana, reports Teddy Cahill. MLB conducts a pre-draft medical program for the top 200 prospects according to the MLB Scouting Bureau — if a player doesn’t participate, he is ineligible for the draft — and part of that is random drug testing. MLB players are not tested for marijuana but non-40-man roster players are. Bickford is a projected first round pick — here’s my profile, he went tenth overall in 2013 but did not sign — but I don’t think the positive test will hurt his draft stock. Rockies RHP Jon Gray tested positive for banned stimulant before the 2013 draft and he still went third overall. Teams won’t be scared away by a 19-year-old smoking a little weed when he strikes out 166 in 86.2 innings like Bickford did this spring.

2015 Draft: Brady Aiken

Brady Aiken | LHP

The 19-year-old Aiken was the first overall pick in the 2014 draft out of a San Diego high school, but his deal with the Astros fell apart when the team found some red flags in his elbow. The two sides reportedly agreed to a $6.5M bonus before the physical, then Aiken later rejected a reduced $5M bonus. Aiken opted to do a post-graduate year at IMG Academy in Florida rather than attend a four-year college, allowing him to re-enter the draft this year. Aiken blew out his elbow and had Tommy John surgery in April, and reportedly it was something more complicated than a routine ligament reconstruction.

Scouting Report
Aiken, who is listed at 6-foot-3 and 210 lbs., looks the part of a first overall pick when healthy. He sat 92-94 and touched 97 before getting hurt, and it played up because Aiken could sink it and locate the pitch exceptionally well. A tight curveball is his go-to secondary pitch and was a legitimate put-away offering before his elbow gave out. Aiken also threw an advanced changeup that gave him the potential for three well-above-average pitches. A clean and repeatable delivery helped him command all three pitches, though the fact that he has such a smooth delivery and still blew out his elbow creates concerns about his future durability. Aiken has drawn big time praise for his makeup, especially after he took the Astros ordeal and Tommy John surgery in stride.

Baseball America, MLB.com, and Keith Law (subs. req’d) ranked Aiken as the 22nd, 24th, and 27th best prospect in the draft in their latest rankings, respectively. Kiley McDaniel says Aiken’s camp has made his medical information available to teams, and while that isn’t uncommon, it is a little weird they’re making it available only by request and with special instructions. They’re trying to limit leaks, basically. The Yankees are reportedly steering clear of injured pitchers like Aiken, but they’re one of the few teams with an extra first round pick (16th and 30th overall) and the draft pool space ($7.885M) to make it work. Aiken’s talent is undeniable, but apparently his injury goes beyond routine Tommy John surgery, and that’s scary.