2016 Draft: Matt Thaiss

Matt Thaiss | C

Thaiss, 21, is a somewhat local kid from Jackson, New Jersey. He’s been one of the best hitters in college baseball the last two years, and this spring he put up a .375/.473/.578 batting line with ten homers, 39 walks, and 16 strikeouts in 60 games for Virginia. Thaiss was a 32nd round draft pick out of high school in 2013 (Red Sox).

Scouting Report
Thaiss is a bat first prospect with very good bat speed who projects to hit for both average and power from the left side. He has excellent strike zone knowledge and knows how to work the count and when to be aggressive early in an at-bat. The question with Thaiss is his defense. He’s listed at 5-foot-11 and 197 lbs. and he’s not a bad athlete, but his receiving is rough and his arm is below-average for the position. There’s better than a 50/50 chance he’ll wind up at another position down the road, either left field or first base. Whichever team drafts Thaiss is buying the bat and hoping he can catch.

Keith Law (subs. req’d) ranked Thaiss as the 21st best prospect in the draft class in his most recent rankings. Baseball America and MLB.com have him outside the first round at 28th and 35th, respectively. The Yankees pick 18th, and for what it’s worth, they’ve been connected to college bats in several mock drafts in recent weeks. Thaiss is arguably the best college hitter expected to actually be available when the Yankees pick.

2016 Draft: Baseball America’s Mock Draft v5.0

The draft is only two days away now, so the crew at Baseball America published their fifth mock draft of the season earlier today. They have the Phillies taking California HS OF Mickey Moniak with the first pick at the moment. Seems like no one will really know who Philadelphia picks until they actually call the kid’s name Thursday night.

As for the Yankees, Baseball America has them selecting Vanderbilt OF Bryan Reynolds with their first round pick, the 18th overall selection. We haven’t heard him connected to New York at all this draft season. Here’s a piece of his free MLB.com scouting report:

Reynolds doesn’t have a standout tool, but his offensive potential and his solid speed and defensive skills make him one of the more well-rounded college position players in the 2016 Draft class. A switch-hitter, he has a smooth swing and feel for the barrel from both sides, though scouts do have some concerns about swing-and-miss issues. He has driven the ball much more consistently this spring while continuing his penchant for drawing walks.

While Reynolds isn’t a burner, he shows aptitude for stealing bases, and he uses good jumps and routes to cover plenty of ground in center field. If he has to move to an outfield corner, his below-average arm likely will relegate him to left field.

Reynolds is a switch-hitter and he’s one of those classic “does a little of everything but nothing exceptionally well” players who has performed everywhere he’s played, including in the Cape Cod League last summer. The Yankees value success on the Cape because it’s a wood bat league featuring the best college players in the country.

The Baseball America write-up says the Yankees continue “to be tied to college bats.” Along with Reynolds, Virginia C Matt Thaiss and Wake Forest 3B Will Craig are mentioned as possibilities. Here’s my write-up on Craig. We’ll see. Over the last few years we’ve had a pretty good idea which way the Yankees were leaning. Not this year. Seems like they’ve cast a very wide net.

Five Years Later: The 2011 Draft

Bichette and Bird. (Presswire)
Bichette and Bird. (Presswire)

The old saying is you need five years to truly evaluate a draft class, though I don’t really buy that. I think three years is enough time to give you a pretty good idea of what you have. By then the prospects have separated themselves from the suspects, and anyone who emerges afterward tends to fall into “late-bloomer” territory. Five years is the standard though, which means it’s time to look back at the Yankees’ 2011 draft class.

The Yankees both lost and gained a draft pick as a result of free agent compensation during the 2010-11 offseason, back when the old Type-A/B system was still in place. They surrendered their first round pick (31st overall) to the Rays for signing Rafael Soriano, and they picked up a supplemental first rounder (51st overall) as a result of losing Javy Vazquez. Vazquez, a Type-B free agent, agreed beforehand to decline arbitration, so the Yankees got a pick when he signed with the Marlins after the 2010 season.

Right now the 2011 draft class looks like the worst in Damon Oppenheimer’s ten drafts as scouting director. The Yankees drafted 50 players and signed 23, and of those 23, only three have reached the big leagues. There isn’t a single 2011 signee on the team’s active roster at the moment, though there are two on the Major League DL. (Two unsigned players are currently in the show, for what it’s worth.) Here are our five-year look-backs at the 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010 drafts. Let’s dive into 2011.

Bichette. (Presswire)
Bichette. (Presswire)

The Top Pick

The compensation pick for Vazquez was New York’s top pick in the 2011 draft, and they used it on Florida high school third baseman Dante Bichette Jr. Joe Girardi and Dante Sr. are close friends from their time as players with the Rockies, so instantly it became a thing that the Yankees took Dante Jr. as a favor to Girardi. That, of course, is totally ridiculous. Teams do that that stuff in the 30th round. Not with their top pick.

Prior to the draft Baseball America ranked Bichette as the 108th best prospect in the draft class. He did not make Keith Law’s top 100 prospects list. One year after reaching big time to select Cito Culver, it appeared the Yankees had done it again. Then Bichette went out and hit .342/.446/.505 (172 wRC+) with three homers and a 12.5% walk rate in 52 rookie ball games after signing for a slightly above slot $750,000 bonus, shutting everyone up for a while. He was named MVP of the Rookie Gulf Coast League in 2011.

The success did not last, however. Bichette jumped to Low Class-A in 2012 and hit .248/.322/.331 (84 wRC+) with three homers in 122 games. Questions about the big hitch in his swing and his long-term position persisted. Dante Jr. returned to Low-A in 2013 and actually performed worse: .214/.292/.331 (82 wRC+) in 114 games. Since his monster GCL showing, Bichette has hit .237/.311/.338 (88 wRC+) with 30 homers, a 9.0% walk rate, and a 22.0% strikeout rate in a little more than 2,200 minor league plate appearances.

Bichette, now 23, is currently a fill-in corner infielder with Double-A Trenton, where he’s hitting .194/.321/.295 (83 wRC+) in 46 games. He’ll be pushed to first base and DH full-time once Miguel Andujar is promoted in the coming weeks. The Yankees did not have a first round pick in 2011, though spending pools were not yet a thing that year, so they were free to spend big on a top talent who fell to that 51st pick. (Daniel Norris was the big name at the time.) Instead, they bought into Bichette’s long-term offensive potential, which he’s failed to fulfill.

Bird. (Presswire)
Bird. (Presswire)

The Top Prospect

As it turns out, the Yankees did get a big corner infield bat in that 2011 draft class. It wasn’t Bichette though. It was their fifth round pick, Colorado high school catcher Greg Bird. The Yankees gave Bird a $1.1M bonus, the largest bonus they handed out that year. They believed in the bat that much. Nagging back trouble forced Bird to move from catcher to first base pretty much instantly — he caught only three games in the minors — but that was fine. He was a bat first prospect either way.

Over the last few seasons Bird has mashed his way up the minor league ladder, and he reached the big leagues in the second half of last season. He was supposed to be a part-time first baseman and DH, but Mark Teixeira‘s injury thrust him into a full-time role, and Bird responded by hitting .261/.343/.529 (137 wRC+) with eleven homers in 46 games. Holy crap, the Yankees had themselves a young homegrown offensive cornerstone. It had been too long. Way too long.

So, naturally, Bird hurt his shoulder over the winter and needed surgery, ending his 2016 season before it even had a chance to begin. The Yankees aren’t allowed to have nice things, apparently. Bird is by far the best player and prospect the Yankees drafted in 2011, and he is clearly their first baseman of the future. The shoulder surgery has cast some doubt on that future now, but hopefully he comes back strong next year and picks up where he left off.

Unsigned Second Rounder

The Yankees did not sign their second round pick in 2011, Texas lefty Sam Stafford. The team reportedly agreed to sign Stafford to an above slot $400,000 bonus shortly after the draft, but they found something scary in his shoulder during his pre-signing physical, so they reduced their offer to $200,000. That was roughly half his slot value. Stafford rejected the offer and returned to school.

The next spring, Stafford blew out his shoulder and did not pitch at all for the Longhorns as a senior. The Rangers rolled the dice and gave him a small bonus as a 13th round pick in 2012, and Stafford threw 94.1 ineffective innings in their system from 2013-14 before getting hurt again. He hasn’t pitched since. Sucks. The Yankees did get a compensation pick (89th overall) in the 2012 draft for failing to sign Stafford. They used that pick on Texas high schooler Austin Aune.

Gray. (Presswire)
Gray. (Presswire)

The One Who Got Away

No team signs all of their draft picks. That’s just the way it is. Some kids decide to go to college and others decide to return to college for their senior season for whatever reason. And, inevitably, a few of those unsigned players develop well and improve their stock, so they re-enter the draft down the road as much better prospects. That’s exactly what happened with righty Jon Gray, who the Yankees picked in the tenth round in 2011.

At the time, Gray was a chubby junior college kid who would occasionally touch the mid-90s and flash a good slider. The Yankees liked him enough to offer him $500,000 or so, but Gray passed and followed through on his transfer to Oklahoma. While with the Sooners, Gray improved his conditioning and mechanics, and suddenly he started throwing in the upper-90s regularly. He topped 100 mph several times as a junior in 2013. His slider and changeup became big time weapons soon.

The Yankees never did get a chance to draft Gray again. The Rockies made him the third overall pick in the 2013 draft and paid him a $4.8M bonus. He reached the big leagues in the second half of last season. Gray is falling victim to Coors Field at the moment (5.42 ERA in 98 innings), but his strikeout (25.1%) and walk (7.7%) rates as well as his FIP (3.52) are very promising. It’s impossible to know how Gray would have developed had he signed with the Yankees in 2011. His entire career path would have changed. That doesn’t make losing out on him any easier to swallow.

Prep Misses

The Yankees went very heavy on high school players throughout the 2011 draft. In fact, Stafford was the only college player they selected in the first seven rounds. Righty Jordan Cote (third round), third baseman Matt Duran (fourth), and first baseman Bubba Jones (seventh) all failed to make it out of Low Class-A and have since been released. Cote’s stuff never did tick up as he filled out his 6-foot-5 frame while Duran and Jones simply didn’t hit.

After Bird, the next best player to come out of the top seven rounds of the 2011 draft is outfielder Jake Cave, who the Yankees selected out of a Virginia high school in the sixth round. They gave him a big $825,000 bonus too. Cave broke his knee cap in a home plate collision in his first pro game and did not return to the field until 2013. He’s since blossomed into a solid outfield prospect who got a look with the Reds as a Rule 5 Draft pick this spring. Cave did not stick with Cincinnati and he is currently back with Triple-A Scranton.

Beyond the top seven rounds, the Yankees also rolled the dice on several high school arms later in the draft. Righty Hayden Sharp (18th round) never made it out of rookie ball before being released. Lefty Dan Camarena (20th) has been solid over the years and is currently a Double-A depth arm. Lefty Chaz Hebert (27th) finally broke out last season before needing Tommy John surgery this year. Righty Joey Maher (38th) is still kicking around in the system as a depth arm.

The Yankees went big on projectable prep players in the 2011 draft, and now, five years later, they have one stud in Bird and one solid prospect in Cave to show for it. Hebert looked like he might be a guy too before blowing out his elbow this spring. The Yankees have emphasized college players in recent drafts because they’ve had a hard time developing raw prep players, partly because of this draft class.

Trade Bait

Davis. (Presswire)
Davis. (Presswire)

The second best prospect the Yankees drafted in 2011 has already been traded away. They gave North Carolina high school righty Rookie Davis a $550,000 bonus as their 14th round pick, and he developed into one of their top pitching prospects from 2012-15. Last season Davis had 3.86 ERA (2.47 FIP) with a 23.5% strikeout rate and a 4.7% walk rate in 130.2 innings split between High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton.

This past offseason the Yankees included Davis as the headliner in their trade package for Aroldis Chapman. The 23-year-old currently has a 1.66 ERA (4.49 FIP) in 38 Double-A innings with Cincinnati this year, though he’s weirdly been unable to miss bats (12.3 K%). Then again, his strikeout rate dropped from 25.9% in High-A to 16.7% in Double-A following his promotion last season, so maybe it shouldn’t be much of a surprise.

The Yankees did use another one of their 2011 draftees in a trade, though it was a minor deal. Memphis righty Ben Paullus (19th rounder) had a 4.34 ERA in 149.1 relief innings from 2011-13 before being traded to the Padres for Dean Anna in November 2013. Paullus has thrown only 37.2 innings since the trade due to injury. He missed the entire 2015 season with … something. I can’t find what.

The Other Notable Unsigned Players

The Yankees failed to sign three 2011 draft picks only to re-draft them a few years later. Florida junior college righty Nick Goody (22nd round) turned New York down for a season at LSU. The Yankees drafted him in the sixth round the next year and were able to sign him that time. Goody is now in the MLB bullpen. The team drafted righty Jordan Foley (26th) out of a Texas high school in 2011. They drafted him again out of Central Michigan in 2014, that time in the fifth round. Texas high school shortstop Kevin Cornelius (42nd) was New York’s 31st rounder out of a junior college in 2013.

Here are the other notable unsigned players from the 2011 draft: righty Garrett Nuss (32nd), who went to junior college and signed with the Angels as a seventh rounder in 2013; lefty Taylor Guilbeau (39th), who turned the Yankees down in 2011 and was a tenth round pick by the Nationals last year; righty Adam Ravenelle (44th), who spent three years at Vanderbilt before signing with the Tigers as a 2014 fourth round pick; lefty Wes Benjamin (48th), who was a fifth round pick by the Rangers in 2014. Ravenelle is the best prospect of the bunch right now. MLB.com ranks him as Detroit’s No. 23 prospect.

At the time of the draft, the biggest name the Yankees failed to sign was Rice outfielder Jeremy Rathjen (41st). He was projected to go in the top five rounds coming into the spring, but a torn ACL caused him to slip all the way down to the 41st round. Rathjen opted to return to school for his senior year and it seemed like a big miss for the Yankees. The Dodgers took Rathjen in the 11th round in 2012 and he struggled with injuries and swing-and-miss issues before being released in January.

Pinder. (Presswire)
Pinder. (Presswire)

The Best of the Rest

Not counting Goody, who is technically a 2012 draftee, the Yankees have had two 2011 draft picks reach MLB in addition to Bird: righty Branden Pinder (16th) and lefty Matt Tracy (24th). Pinder has been up-and-down with the Yankees a bunch of times the since the start of last season and is currently on the Major League DL rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. Tracy was called up for one day last season. He was released last week.

The only other notable 2011 draft pick still kicking around in the farm system is right-hander Mark Montgomery (11th). He quickly developed into one of the Yankees top relief prospects before a shoulder injury robbed him of stuff and prospect status. I count eight 2011 draft signees who are still in the organization: Bichette, Bird, Cave, Montgomery, Pinder, Camarena, Hebert, and Maher. Davis and Paullus proved useful as trade chips.

* * *

The 2011 draft class is going to come down to Bird, plain and simple. Pinder and Davis have been useful in different ways and maybe Cave turns into something nice at some point. Bird’s the only player from the draft class with the potential to be a true impact player though, and true be told his ceiling may be limited by struggles against lefties and shaky defense. Bichette hasn’t worked out and Stafford, while a fine pick as a hard-throwing lefty, blew up unexpectedly. Bird is New York’s only real chance to get something more than a spare part player out of the 2011 draft.

2016 Draft: Cal Quantrill

Cal Quantrill | RHP

Quantrill, 20, is indeed the son of former Yankee and longtime big leaguer Paul Quantrill. The Yankees selected Cal out of high school in the 26th round of the 2013 draft basically as a shot in the dark. They had no realistic chance of signing him given the draft pool and his strong commitment to Stanford. Quantrill had a 2.58 ERA with 118 strikeouts and 42 walks in 129 college innings. He made three starts as a sophomore last year, blew out his elbow, had Tommy John surgery, and hasn’t pitched since.

Scouting Report
Before elbow reconstruction, the 6-foot-3 and 185 lb. Quantrill was the early favorite to go first overall in this year’s draft. He ran his fastball in the 90-94 mph range and his changeup was already being touted as a big league out pitch. Quantrill also throws sharp sliders and curves and he located everything well. In addition to the impressive four-pitch mix, he also earned big time praise for his pitching aptitude and presence. Quantrill carried himself like a big leaguer on the mound, which I guess isn’t a surprise for a kid who grew up around the game. Although he did not pitch for Stanford this spring, Quantrill has worked out for teams in private showcases, so it’s not like no one has seen him since last year.

As you can imagine, the Tommy John surgery has clouded Quantrill’s draft outlook. MLB.com and Keith Law (subs. req’d) ranked him as the 22nd and 23rd best prospect in the draft class, respectively. Baseball America had him a little lower at 38th. The Yankees pick 18th and, obviously, they have a tiny little bit of history with Quantrill. Someone in the organization liked him enough to convince the bosses to pop him in 2013.

The Tommy John surgery is a no doubt risk. I know everyone likes to say it’s routine these days, but there’s always a chance Quantrill will continue to have elbow problems and/or his stuff won’t come all the way back. Teams have shown a willingness to take kids rehabbing from Tommy John surgery — Brady Aiken, Jeff Hoffman, and Erick Fedde were all first round picks in recent years despite having their elbows rebuilt prior to the draft — and really, only club needs to be willing to roll the dice.

2016 Draft: Joey Wentz

Joey Wentz | LHP

Wentz, 18, attends Shawnee Mission East High School in the Kansas City suburbs. He spent last summer participating in showcases as a first baseman because he was dealing with a dead arm period. Wentz returned to the mound this spring and has been healthy. He’s committed to attend Virginia in the fall.

Scouting Report
As a hitter, Wentz has easy power and a sweet swing from the left side of the plate. He’s only played first base but is considered athletic enough to give the outfield a try. Most agree Wentz has much higher upside on the mound, however. At his best he’ll sit in the 91-95 mph range and touch 97, though it’s worth noting he’s been unable to hold that velocity all spring and has spent the last few weeks in the 88-91 mph range. That’s kinda scary after last summer’s dead arm. A big-breaking upper-70s curveball and promising changeup round out his repertoire. There’s hope that at 6-foot-5 and 210 lbs., Wentz will add velocity and answer questions about his durability.

In their most recent rankings MLB.com, Keith Law (subs. req’d), and Baseball America ranked Wentz as the 16th, 22nd, and 26th best prospect in the draft class, respectively. The Yankees pick 18th. Before the recent velocity dip there was talk Wentz would be a top ten pick because hey, lefties who touch 97 and have three pitches are hot commodities. Ultimately, it’s going to depend on which team feels most comfortable with him physically after the dead arm and velocity loss. I suppose Wentz could always fall back on being a first baseman (or outfielder), but that’s a backup plan no one wants to use.

2016 Draft: Latest mock drafts from MLB.com, Keith Law

The 2016 draft is less than one week away now. The three-day event begins next Thursday and runs through Saturday. I always liked it better when it ran from Monday to Wednesday. Following the draft on the Saturday seems weird. Oh well. It is what it is. Two new mock drafts were posted today, so let’s dive in.

MLB.com v3.0

In his latest mock draft, Jim Callis has the Phillies selecting Florida LHP A.J. Puk with the No. 1 pick. Puk’s had an up-and-down college career — he also missed time with back spasms this spring — but gosh, 6-foot-7 lefties with mid-90s gas and a knockout slider sure are hard to pass up. Callis has the Yankees taking Texas HS RHP Forrest Whitley with their first round pick, No. 18 overall. Here’s my write-up on Whitley.

Within the write-up Callis says there are “mixed signals” coming from the Yankees, with indications being they want either a high school arm or a college bat. Whitley, New York HS RHP Ian Anderson, California HS RHP Kevin Gowdy, Virginia C Matt Thaiss, and Wake Forest 3B Will Craig are on their radar, per Callis. Georgia HS OF Taylor Trammell is considered a dark horse. Here are my write-ups on Anderson, Gowdy, Craig, and Trammell. Haven’t done one for Thaiss yet.

Keith Law v3.0

Like Baseball America, Law has the Phillies taking Puk first overall in his latest mock draft (subs. req’d). Law has the Yankees selecting Anderson with their first round pick and mentions both Gowdy and Trammell as possibilities. He also throws a new name into the mix: Texas HS LHP Kyle Muller. Here is a piece of MLB.com’s free scouting report on Muller:

(He) added significant strength during the offseason, giving him a heater that now sits in the low 90s and climbs as high as 95 mph. His fastball features some sink and tail, and he uses his 6-foot-5 frame to create angle and plane that are difficult for hitters to handle … Muller’s curveball is inconsistent because his delivery can get a bit methodical, but it should give him a solid second offering. He also shows feel for a changeup with some fade and tumble that he’ll need to use more at the next level.

Muller already looks like a big leaguer at 6-foot-5 and 230 lbs., though that also means he doesn’t have much projection remaining. This isn’t a kid who is going to fill out over the next few years. Moreso than any other year in recent memory, things around the Yankees seem to be very up in the air. It sounds like they’re in on basically everyone. We’re going to be in for a surprise come Thursday. That’ll be fun.

2016 Draft: Will Craig

Will Craig | 1B/3B

The 21-year-old Craig is from Johnson City, Tennessee, which is about 100 miles northeast of Knoxville. He was a 37th round pick (Royals) out of Science Hill High School in 2013 but did not sign and instead followed through on his commitment to Wake Forest. Craig has been one of the best hitters in the nation with the Demon Deacons. He’s a career .354/.463/.637 hitter with 34 homers, 95 walks, and 80 strikeouts in 147 games. This spring he’s hitting .417/.551/.826 with 13 homers, 34 walks, and 23 strikeouts in 40 games.

Scouting Report
The first thing that stands out about Craig is his size. He’s a big guy listed at 6-foot-3 and 235 lbs., and already the belief is he will have to move to first base in the near future. Craig has the arm — he closes for Wake Forest and has been up to 93 mph off the mound — and the hands for third, but he’s not very mobile. The hot corner requires quick reactions and he doesn’t have them. Craig can mash though. He’s an ultra-disciplined right-handed hitter who knows the strike zone and can read spin, so he makes consistent loud contact. The expectation is he will be a 20+ homer guy down the road, though that’s not the consensus. There is some concern about his long-term power potential because he had a hard time with a wood bats against premium velocity in the Cape Cod League last summer.

MLB.com ranked Craig as the 27th best prospect in the 2016 draft while both Baseball America and Keith Law (subs. req’d) ranked him 45th. The Yankees pick 18th. I absolutely believe Craig will come off the board in the first round and wind up with a stat heavy team, perhaps one with extra picks looking to save some draft pool space. The Yankees are said to be targeting college hitters, and while Craig is flawed defensively, he’s one of the best pure bats in the draft beyond the elite prospects likely to go in the top ten. That said, he’s pretty much a bat only prospect.