2016 Draft: Draft Order, Agents, Scouting Bureau

(Jeff Zelevansky/Getty)
(Jeff Zelevansky/Getty)

The college season started a week or two ago, which means soon it’ll be time to ramp up our 2016 draft coverage. Until then, here are some scattered draft notes.

Draft order final: Yankees picking 18th overall

The 2016 draft order is final now that Ian Desmond has signed with the Rangers. All 20 qualified free agents are off the board. The Yankees went into the offseason with the No. 22 pick but managed to move up to No. 18 as teams forfeited picks to sign qualified free agents. Moving up four spots is pretty sweet. The Yankees picked James Kaprielian 16th overall last year, and prior to that, they hadn’t picked as high as 18th since taking C.J. Henry with the No. 17 pick in 2005.

We recently learned the Yankees will have a $5,768,400 draft pool this year, though that will increase a bit because they have since moved up a spot thanks to the Yovani Gallardo signing. Last year the No. 18 pick had a $2,333,800 slot value. It should be a little larger this year. The Yankees neither gained nor lost any picks to free agent compensation this winter. Their first pick is 18th overall, then they don’t pick again until 62nd overall, their second round pick. Here are MLB.com’s top 50 draft prospects if you want to start looking at possible targets. Our Draft Order page has the complete draft order.

High schoolers permitted to use agents

Last month, the NCAA announced high school baseball players will be permitted to use agents without losing their college eligibility. An agent can negotiate with a team on the player’s behalf before the signing deadline, then the player must sever ties with the agent to retain NCAA eligibility. In the past high schoolers who were found to have used an agent were declared ineligible by the NCAA.

Chalk this one up to common sense. High schoolers — and college kids, for that matter — have been using agents for years. They simply called them “advisors” to skirt the NCAA’s rules. It’s unrealistic to expect a high school kid to negotiate a contract worth thousands and sometimes millions of dollars with a pro baseball team. Hopefully the NCAA lets their athletes hire agents soon too. This shouldn’t change much with the draft — it’s not like high schoolers suddenly have more leverage or anything — but at least now kids can be open about their representatives.

MLB Scouting Bureau being restructured

According to Michael Lananna, the Major League Baseball Scouting Bureau is being restructured under director Bill Bavasi, who took over in 2014. The MLBSB has essentially acted like a 31st team in that they have their own scouts who put together scouting reports and follow lists for draft prospects each year. All of that information is then shared with the 30 clubs.

Going forward, the MLBSB will move away from scouting current year draft prospects and instead focus on identifying prospects in future draft classes. The info will be shared with the 30 teams so they can scout and evaluate the prospects themselves. The Bureau will also take on an administrative role and compile high-quality video and medical information for draft prospects.

“(Clubs) seem to prefer earlier identification on younger players, guys eligible for ’17, ’18, ’19, as early as we can possibly identify them, without reports, without evaluation,” said Bavasi. “We’ll hunt the guys who are eligible in subsequent years and just identify them as guys clubs should look at, and then clubs will go out and evaluate them and form their own opinions on guys.”

The MLBSB is also going to ramp up their involvement internationally, specifically in Europe and Asia. “There’s more of a growth situation in Europe and Asia and Australia and Africa, and so I’m more focused on raising the level of the game there and making sure that we’re tracking down the players there,” he said. That may be another indication MLB is pushing for an international draft.

They Wore Pinstripes? Esteban Loaiza

So recently, I started to have fun looking at Baseball Reference pages of older Yankee teams, and I get a kick out of it whenever I see a forgotten recognizable name on the roster. I’m going to look back at some of these acquisitions. First up: Esteban Loaiza.

(Getty)
(Getty)

Esteban Loaiza was a special case. The Yankees got him in the 2004 trade deadline – less than a year after he was voted second in AL Cy Young. Loaiza’s 2003 was pretty special in many ways. Before that season, his best year was with the Pirates in 1997, going 11-11 with 4.13 ERA, good for a 105 ERA+. But overall, he was quite mediocre in 8 ML seasons, compiling a 69-73 record with 4.88 ERA. During that span he had a slightly league-below average 95 ERA+ while allowing 10.6 hits and 1.2 HR’s in 9 IP. So there you go, nothing special.

All that changed when he signed with the Chicago White Sox as a free agent during the 2002-03 offseason. No, he didn’t get a guaranteed ML contract – White Sox pretty much picked him up with a Spring Training invite with a $500,000 contract if he made the team. From there, he just became a totally different pitcher. Not only did he have a shiny 21-9, 2.90 ERA, his peripherals also jumped significantly. He struck out 8.2 hitters in 9 IP after not cracking 6.3 his entire career. He also allowed fewer hits (7.8 in 9 IP) and homers (0.7 in 9 IP).

Many attributed his success to his new pitch, the cutter. Loaiza had learned the cutter from ex-Yankee Gil Patterson (then-Blue Jays pitching coach) when he was with Toronto but avoided throwing it because he thought it may be harm his elbow.

In 2004 though, the out of nowhere career path stalled. After starting decently with a 3.71 ERA in first 12 starts, Loaiza fell into a funk the next 9 starts leading up the to trade deadline, pitching to a 6.63 ERA in 55.2 IP while allowing .923 OPS against, elevating his season ERA to 4.86. At the time, the South Siders had a pretty mediocre rotation. Their staff ace was Mark Buehrle, who finished the year with a 3.89 ERA (121 ERA+) in 245.1 IP. Besides him, there were underachieving Loaiza, Jon Garland, Scott Schoeneweis, and guys like Felix Diaz (6.75 ERA in 18 games) and Jason Grilli (7.40 ERA in 8 starts) getting looks.

Meanwhile, in Bronx, the Yankees also needed rotation help. The 2004 Yankees started with the rotation of Mike Mussina, Kevin Brown, Javier Vazquez, and Jose Contreras, with Jon Lieber and El Duque joining later. That collection of pitchers looked pretty darn good on MVP Baseball 2004 but weren’t all they were cracked up to be. Here’s where they stood by July 31, 2004:

Mussina: 9-6, 5.20 ERA, .803 OPS against. Was on DL for sore right elbow.

Brown: 8-1, 3.91 ERA. Had just gotten off 15-day DL after suffering lower back strain. Cooled off (5.13 ERA in previous 7 starts) after being named the AL Pitcher of the Month in April.

Vazquez: 12-6, 4.16 ERA. Pitched in the All-Star Game after a nice 10-5, 3.56 ERA but cooled off afterwards (7.36 ERA in 4 starts)

Contreras: 8-5, 5.64 ERA. Allowed a whopping 22 home runs in 95.2 IP, which is good enough for a 2.1 HR/9 rate. Yeesh.

Lieber: 7-6, 4.75 ERA. Had missed the entire 2003 season with TJ surgery. He pitched nicely down the stretch (3.75 ERA in next 11 starts) but at the time, he was, well, middling.

Hernandez: 2-0, 2.37 ERA. Only had 4 starts on the season at the time. He had a nice year to rebuild his stock after missing the entire 2003 season but I don’t think he had that rotation savior status.

The Yankees just couldn’t really count on anyone in the staff. George Steinbrenner & Co. were looking at Randy Johnson for the longest time while the lefty ace himself was “believed to pushing a trade to the Yankees“, according to Tyler Kepner. However, the Diamondbacks weren’t really impressed with what they saw in the Yankees farm system and the two sides couldn’t come to an agreement. The Yankees were also looking at Mariners RHP Freddy Garcia but he was traded to another team that needed a rotation upgrade: the White Sox.

“We couldn’t match that deal,” Cashman told The Associated Press, adding that New York’s prospects were not as close to being ready for the major leagues as Chicago’s are.

Instead of crafting a familiar prospects-for-veteran trade, Cashman and White Sox GM Kenny Williams got creative. They started to talk a SP-for-SP swap. Esteban Loaiza intrigued the Yanks and for White Sox, it was Jose Contreras.

Jose Contreras, nicknamed El Titan de Bronze, saw his record get shattered by inconsistency up to the trade deadline. After being signed by New York in late 2002 to a 4-year, $32-million deal, the righty mostly pitched out of bullpen in 2003 because the rotation was already crowded. After Roger Clemens, David Wells and Andy Pettitte left, they slotted Contreras into the rotation with big expectations for 2004. Instead, they got a pretty awful 7.11 ERA in his first 8 starts. He settled down a bit for the next 8 with a 6-1 record with 3.46 ERA. However, he got demolished by Red Sox and Orioles in the two starts before deadline to the tune of 15 ER’s in 14 IP, raising his season ERA to 5.64. It’s one thing to be inconsistent – being shelled by division rivals made him stick out even more.

Just a minute before the 4 p.m. deadline, New York and Chicago finalized the deal. Yankees would get Esteban Loaiza and White Sox would get Jose Contreras and $3 million. “The deal was done, but the paperwork didn’t go through until 3:59,” Cashman said. “That’s when the fax went through — and I have proof of that.”

At the time, swapping Contreras for Loaiza did not seem like a bad idea. In fact, both players had appealing upsides. For the Yankees, they were getting a starting pitcher who had a Cy-caliber year the previous season while the White Sox got a pitcher with great stuff who had yet to fully tap into his potential. For the Yanks, Loaiza meant a lottery ticket with a possible big short-term success who would help them into the postseason and maybe beyond. The Mexican righty was actually having a good year before falling into the mid-season funk. If he were to regain his 2003 form, it would have been a big add for consistency all-around.

Loaiza did show consistency in Bronx – on being bad, that is.

After joining the Yankees, he was booted to the bullpen after five starts, in which he logged 24.2 IP, allowing 37 hits, 20 ER (7.30 ERA), 6 HR’s and a whopping .976 OPS against. In his first appearance out of the bullpen, Loaiza allowed 6 ER’s in 3 IP against the Indians in that infamous 22-0 buttwhoopery in the Bronx. Instead of regaining his Cy Young-caliber form, he was looking much worse than how he was as a journeyman No. 5 starter.

Loaiza did have one decent start though – it came against the Blue Jays (opposing starter being none other than Roy Halladay, the 2003 AL Cy winner) in September 21, 2004. In 5.1 IP, he allowed only 2 hits and 2 ER’s while striking out 5. That also happened to be Loaiza’s 100th career victory, so that’s also that. He made two more appearances in the regular season, allowing 9 ER’s in 6.1 IP against Boston and Toronto.

Despite his shortcomings as a Yankee, Loaiza did get to pitch in postseason. In three relief appearances, he allowed only 1 ER in 8.1 IP but that one earned run made him the losing pitcher of the Game 5 of 2004 ALCS. After tossing three scoreless innings in Game 7, Loaiza’s time in pinstripes was history.

On the flip side, Contreras turned out to be a solid get for Chicago. For the rest of 2004, he had a pretty mediocre 5.30 ERA in 13 starts but he blossomed like a butterfly the next season. For the World Series-winning 2005 Sox, Contreras went 15-7, 3.61 ERA in 204.2 IP. That alone was good enough for Yankees to regret the trade. He was never as solid as he was that season again but White Sox got a heck of a rotation bounty for their World Series title run.

In the end, Yankees tried for an upgrade and ended up with a starter worse than Contreras. That series of trades/free agent signings to bolster the rotation was truly something to watch – it just seemed like none of the big investments truly worked out to their potential. While the Yankees didn’t have any trouble winning 90+ games in that era, the lack of rotation and playoff success was a demon that fan base endured annually.

Jacoby Ellsbury and the Need to Raise Hell as the Leadoff Hitter [2016 Season Preview]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Two years into his seven-year contract, Jacoby Ellsbury has been more solid contributor than difference maker for the Yankees. He had a very good 2014 season while being miscast as the No. 3 hitter, then his 2015 season was totally derailed by a mid-May knee injury. Ellsbury was great to start the year, got hurt, and was awful thereafter. It earned him a spot on the bench in the wildcard game.

“Obviously I knew my team needed me to play. When I came back, you convince yourself that you’re 100%, you’re ready to go,” said Ellsbury to reporters when he reported to Spring Training last week. “I thought I was pretty close, but it wasn’t until the offseason — when I started working out, training, getting back — (it was clear) maybe I wasn’t where I thought I was. But you don’t have time for that during the season to wait to get there. I tried to get back as soon as I could, but it wasn’t really until the offseason when I started working out, training that (I felt normal). Now I feel 100%.”

Early last season Ellsbury showed he can still be a game-changing leadoff man. Before the injury it felt like he was on base three times a night and driving pitchers crazy by dancing off first base. Ellsbury’s ability to be an impact leadoff hitter has never been in question. The question has always been health and his ability to produce in a meaningful way when less than 100%.

Ellsbury, now 32 and 33 before the end of the 2016 season, is entering the phase of his career when age-related decline becomes a legitimate concern. Jeff Zimmerman (subs. req’d) recently recalculated aging curves based on different player types and found fast players — guys who stole 25+ bases with 8+ triples early in their career — tend to fall off quickly around age 32.

Aging Curves

Every player is their own unique individual and they all age differently of course, plus Ellsbury is no ordinary speedster. He’s not, say, Willy Taveras or Chone Figgins. He has high-end contact ability, has historically held his own against lefties, and has hit for just enough power to keep pitchers honest. That ostensibly bodes well for Ellsbury’s ability to stave off a sudden descent into uselessness long-term.

In the short-term, Ellsbury’s importance to the 2016 Yankees is very high. He is arguably their best all-around player — I’d say it’s Mark Teixeira, but that’s just me — and the team invested an awful lot of money in his ability to drive an offense from the leadoff spot. We saw it last year. When Ellsbury fires on all cylinders, the offense is dominant. When he’s less than 100%, they struggled to manufacture runs.

It’s easy to understand how the knee injury could have affected Ellsbury’s offense last summer. Hitting starts from the ground up, and if he didn’t have a strong base, his ability to drive the ball would suffer. This all could have happened subconsciously too. Doctors declared the knee healthy, but Ellsbury could have altered his hitting mechanics to take pressure off the knee without even realizing it.

The interesting thing is Ellsbury’s batted ball profile didn’t change a whole lot after the injury. He did hit more fly balls, but not substantially so. Not enough to account for the 118-point difference in BABIP.

BABIP GB% FB% LD% Pull% Mid% Opp% Soft% Med% Hard%
Before Injury .379 47.2% 28.0% 24.8% 38.4% 34.4% 27.2% 23.2% 54.4% 22.4%
After Injury .261 44.3% 32.0% 23.8% 37.6% 35.5% 26.9% 24.1% 55.5% 20.4%

Ellsbury is neither a true talent .379 BABIP hitter nor a true talent .261 BABIP hitter. The real him is somewhere in the middle — he has a career .319 BABIP and set a career high with a .341 BABIP in 2013 — but it would be lazy to write this off as ball in play luck. The knee injury represents a tangible change. We just don’t know how exactly it impacted him.

More interesting to me than the batted ball data is the plate discipline data. Ellsbury has always been a low strikeout, middling walk rate hitter. He hasn’t drawn more walks because he’s always been good at putting the ball in play, not because he isn’t disciplined. After the injury, Ellsbury became something of a hacker and struck out more than he ever has as a big leaguer.

BB% K% O-Swing% Z-Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Zone%
Before Injury 11.2% 13.5% 30.7% 64.8% 82.3% 90.6% 44.5%
After Injury 4.8% 19.0% 34.2% 64.3% 68.1% 90.9% 50.8%

When it came to pitches in the zone, Ellsbury swung (Z-Swing%) and made contact (Z-Contact%) at the same rate both before and after the injury. Pitches out of the zone was the problem. He swung at way more pitches out of the zone (O-Swing%) and failed to make contact far more often (O-Contact%) after the knee injury, which equals way more swings and misses. That explains the major decline is walk and strikeout rate.

Could the knee injury have affected Ellsbury’s plate discipline? I believe it’s possible. Altering his hitting mechanics could change the timing of his swing and even the way he reads the pitch out of the pitcher’s hand. I am going to again refer back to these screen grabs I made last season:

Jacoby Ellsbury foot

They both show the instant Ellsbury’s front foot touches down as part of his leg kick. (He hurt his right knee, so his front leg.) The screen grab on the right is from before the injury, and the screen grab on the left is from after the injury.

Before the injury, the pitch had traveled much deeper by time Ellsbury’s foot touched down. He is already starting his swing (look at how he’s “loading” his upper body, so to speak) when his foot hits. After the injury, his foot touched down when the ball was just out of the pitcher’s hand. He had yet to begin his swing. That’s a problem! Ellsbury’s swing became more reliant on his upper body, which may have caused him to lunge at the ball.

This isn’t about last season though. This is about the coming season, and the Yankees will need Ellsbury to again drive their offense like he did early last year. Given his history, these are the two big questions about Ellsbury heading into the new season:

  1. Is he healthy?
  2. Can he stay healthy?

These are the Ellsbury Questions™ for this season and every season going forward. It’s all about health. When he’s 100% physically, Ellsbury is a dynamic leadoff hitter who disrupts the defense. When he’s something less than 100% physically, he rarely has an impact. That has been the case his entire career.

Joe Girardi and the Yankees have said they plan to rest their regulars more often this season and that includes Ellsbury. At a certain point injuries are going to be out of everyone’s control — Ellsbury hurt his knee when he caught a spike taking a swing, it was a fluke little thing — so all the Yankees can do is give Ellsbury more time on the bench to manage the nagging day-to-day stuff every player deals with. There’s only so much the team can do.

The general thought behind these big money long-term contracts is you take the elite years up front and live with the ugly years on the back end. The Yankees have yet to get those elite years from Ellsbury. Give the brain trust a truth serum and I’m sure they’d tell you they’d like a do-over on Ellsbury’s contract. What’s done is done though. Ellsbury is with the Yankees and he’s an integral part of the offense (and defense). When he goes, the Yankees go. Getting him to go more often in 2016 may very well be the difference between a great offense and one that struggles to sustain rallies or create offense outside the long ball.

Fan Confidence Poll: February 29th, 2016

Spring Record: 0-0
Spring Opponents This Week: vs. Tigers (Weds. on YES, MLBN, MLB.tv), vs. Phillies (Thurs.), @ Tigers (Fri.), vs. Red Sox (Sat. on YES, MLBN, MLB.tv), @ Phillies (Sun. on MLBN, MLB.tv)

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the Features tab in the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Open Thread: February 28th Camp Notes

Exclusive photo of the Yankees trying to keep undesirables out of the premium seats. (Presswire)
Exclusive photo of the Yankees trying to keep undesirables out of premium seats. (Presswire)

The Yankees got a little bit of a scare today when Aaron Judge hit a line drive off Ivan Nova‘s leg during live batting practice. Nova shook it off and stayed in to finish the throwing session. Afterwards he said he was fine and the ball hit his glove before his leg, says Brendan Kuty. Like it or not, the Yankees need Nova as rotation depth this year. Losing him to a fluke batting practice injury for some length of time would have stunk. Here are the day’s photos and here are the day’s notes from camp:

  • Chad Jennings is the man with the day’s workout groups. In addition to Nova, most of the shuttle relievers threw live batting practice. Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, and Luis Severino threw bullpens. Tanaka threw 62 pitches. That’s an awful lot. Rob Refsnyder worked out at third base and Brett Gardner (wrist) hit for the second straight day. [Kuty]
  • Some clarification on Domingo German‘s injury: his recent MRI showed a strained flexor muscle and a bone bruise in his elbow, not a nerve issue. He’ll have a contrast dye MRI tomorrow to determine the full extent of the injury. German had Tommy John surgery last year and his new ligament is fine, which is the most important thing. [Bryan Hoch]
  • The early Grapefruit League rotation: Severino on Wednesday, Nova on Thursday, and Bryan Mitchell on Friday. Only Wednesday’s game will be broadcast, either on television or online. I imagine the other regular starters will start getting into games next week. [Ryan Hatch, Kuty]
  • And finally, a racoon got loose at George M. Steinbrenner Field this morning. It survived a pretty big fall from the top of the screen behind the home plate (here’s the video) before escaping the ballpark. The Yankees say they were unable to catch it. [Hatch]

This is the open thread for the evening. The Knicks and Islanders are playing later tonight, plus there’s some college hoops on the schedule too. Talk about anything and everything here.

The Importance of Being On Base

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

If you’re visiting this website and reading this article, chances are that I don’t need to tell you about the importance of getting on base. You already know that wasting outs is wasting the game and that, generally, the most valuable players in the league are the ones who are best at not making out. You know that the goal of a trip to the plate isn’t necessarily to get a hit, but rather to avoid making an out so you can extend the inning to your teammates and, ideally, extend the game. Allow me to hammer that point home as we examine the top of the order going into 2016.

Barring disastrous injury or some sort of unforeseen shift in philosophy or favor, the Yankees are likely to trot out Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner–in some order–at the top of their lineup in 2016. Even with the limitations both players have, they are probably the best two options for the one and two spots in the lineup. Gardner and Ellsbury are really carbon copies of each other and their skillsets lend to hitting high in the lineup, though hopefully each player is healthy enough in 2016 to return to his elite bag-swiping level. As important as the middle of the lineup may be and as much as those four players may carry the Yankee offense, the success of that group depends heavily on the success of Gardner and Ellsbury.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

To belabor our point from before, the importance of getting on base in baseball can’t be overstated; not only does it keep the game alive, but the effects thereof trickle down to the players below you in the order. For the Yankees, who lack the circular lineup of the 2009-2012 days, this is of most importance to the players hitting one through six. The better table the one-two hitters set, the better meal the four-six hitters will eat.

With the exception of Alex Rodriguez, each of the likely four-six hitters in the 2016 lineup fared better with runners on base in 2015. This is a trend the the league followed. League average OPS with the bases empty was .711 in 2015; with runners on, the league average OPS was .756. Generally, then, hitters OPSed .045 points better with runners on than they did with no runners on. Carlos Beltran (.793 empty to .828 on) was below that league average, but still showed improvement when hitters got on base ahead of him. Mark Teixeira weighed in at an .867 OPS with the bases empty–solid. But when runners were on for him, he jumped up to a .942 OPS, a full 30 OPS points above the league average improvement. The biggest winner of the group, though, was Brian McCann. When McCann came to the plate with nobody on, he hit just .209/.399/.376/.675. During his trips to the plate with men on, however, McCann became a completely different player: .265/.343/.507/.850. His OPS jumped up 175 points. Rodriguez, meanwhile, saw a decline in OPS-based production when runners were on, but that is likely due to the bat being taken out of his hand. In 338 plate appearances with the bases empty, Rodriguez walked 39 times; in 282 PA with men on, he walked 45 times.

The task for Gardner and Ellsbury–at least the task beyond hopefully staying healthy–is simple: do your job and get on base. This same edict will apply to Aaron Hicks and Starlin Castro, other players who may get a shot at the top spots when platooning or when Gardner and Ellsbury get days off. Gardner and Ellsbury are good players, but they are not the ones that will carry a lineup, even at full tilt. The players immediately behind them in the order, that all important middle, will carry the Yankees in 2016. The load will be a lot easier to shoulder if and when Gardy and Taco are on the sacks.

Open Thread: February 27th Camp Notes

Rod and Judge. (Presswire)
Rod and Judge. (Presswire)

Today was photo day in camp, and based on this year’s photos, it appears the Yankees will indeed wear a No. 8 on their sleeve this season to honor Yogi Berra. Yogi passed on September 22nd and the team did wear a No. 8 on their sleeve last year, but it was only briefly because the season ended. Glad to see (it appears) they’ll be wearing it in 2016 too. Here are all the photo day photos and here are the notes from a light day in camp:

  • As always, Chad Jennings has the day’s workout groups. It was a light day on the mound; James Kaprielian and Bryan Mitchell threw bullpens and that’s about it among the notable hurlers in camp. Everyone hit and went through fielding drills. The usual.
  • Relatively good news for Domingo German: yesterday’s MRI showed only a nerve issue in his elbow. He is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and felt discomfort during yesterday’s throwing session. Apparently the new ligament is fine. [Brendan Kuty]

This is your open thread. The (hockey) Rangers are playing right now, the Nets are playing later, and there’s a bunch of college hoops on throughout the night. Talk about whatever.