The 2015 Draft and the Next Wave of Arms [2015 Season Review]

Kaprielian. (John Corneau Photos)
Kaprielian. (John Corneau Photos)

Coming into the season the Yankees had a very position player heavy farm system. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but their position player depth did far exceed their mound depth. You’d like more balance, ideally. Once LHP Ian Clarkin got hurt and it became obvious RHP Luis Severino would soon arrive in MLB, the farm system pitching picture looked even bleaker. The Yankees were light on arms.

The 2015 amateur draft didn’t erase that lack of pitching depth completely, but it did start to the move the team in the right direction. The Yankees selected pitchers with three of their first four picks, four of their first six picks, and 24 of their 41 total picks. Twenty-three of the 35 draft picks they signed were pitchers. Whether the emphasis on arms was intentional or just a coincidence, the Yankees added some much-needing pitching depth to the organization in the draft. Let’s review the class.

The Top Pick

The Yankees did not forfeit their first round pick to sign a free agent last offseason, so they held the 16th overall pick in the 2015 draft. They hadn’t picked that high since taking Florida HS RHP Matt Drews with the 13th pick way back in 1993. Years of good records and forfeiting high picks to sign free agents kept the Yankees away from top 16 picks for more than two decades.

“It did feel a little bit more like that,” said scouting director Damon Oppenheimer to reporters in June when asked if picking so high came with extra pressure. “It felt like you owe it to the Yankees and you owe it to the organization to get somebody with this pick who’s going to produce and be a quality Major League player. You feel like that about most of them, but when it comes to picking higher than we have since Matt Drews, before I was even here, it does feel that way. I’m not going to lie about it.”

The Yankees used that 16th overall pick to select UCLA RHP James Kaprielian, the fifth pitcher taken in the 2015 draft. Interestingly, a few reports — speculation more than factual reports, I’d say — indicated the Yankees were planning to take a high school bat with their top pick, but the guys they were targeting had already come off the board, namely Florida HS OF Kyle Tucker, George HS SS Cornelius Randolph, New York HS OF Garrett Whitley, and Texas HS OF Trent Clark.

Anyway, Kaprielian landed a slightly above-slot $2.65M bonus a few days before the signing deadline. He allowed six runs (five earned) in 11.1 regular season innings for the Rookie Gulf Coast League affiliate and Short Season Staten Island after turning pro, then he dominated in two postseason starts with the Baby Bombers: 12.1 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 10 K combined. The Yankees then sent him to Instructional League after the season.

“We do think this guy is at least a No. 3 starter and above” added Oppenheimer. “His stuff definitely is now stuff, and it’s now quality stuff. He has control to go along with mental maturity. It seems it could be (a guy who climbs the ladder quickly), but I don’t know the timetables on these guys. It’s too hard to tell. But he shouldn’t have to spend too much time at the lower levels.”

I think there’s a real chance we’ll see Kaprielian in the big leagues in the second half next season. He could follow something along the lines of Ian Kennedy’s path, meaning ten starts with High-A Tampa, eight with Double-A Trenton, six with Triple-A Scranton, then the big leagues in August and September. Obviously he has to perform and show big league stuff, but Kaprielian should move very quickly.

I normally like to be conservative with young pitchers, but Kaprielian’s an exception. There’s no reason to hold a polished college guy with command of multiple offspeed pitches back. Being ready soon is part of his appeal.

The Other Quick Moving Guy

Kaprielian has a chance to reach the show in the second half of next season and it’s entirely possible he will be only the second 2015 Yankees draftee to reach MLB. Dallas Baptist RHP Chance Adams (fifth round) reached High-A Tampa in his pro debut and had a 1.78 ERA (1.75 FIP) in 35.1 innings at three levels. He struck out 31.7% of batters faced and walked only 6.3%. Adams was overwhelming.

Obviously the numbers are great, but Adams also saw his stuff jump a notch in pro ball. He went from sitting low-to-mid-90s in college this spring to sitting mid-90s and touching as high as 99 after signing, and his already good slider gained consistency with pro instruction. Adams is a pure reliever and I think he’ll start next season with Double-A Trenton. If starts 2016 with the same stuff he had at the end of 2015, the only question about Adams’ readiness will be how soon the Yankees want to clear a 40-man roster spot for him.

The Bonus Baby Arms

In addition to Kaprielian, the Yankees signed two other pitchers to well-above-slot bonuses using the savings from the late-round draft pool manipulating picks. (They took cheaper prospects in rounds 7-10 to save pool space.) First they gave California HS RHP Drew Finley (third round) a $950,000 bonus, about 50% over slot. Then they gave Louisville LHP Josh Rogers (11th) a $485,000 bonus, nearly five times slot.

Finley was a potential late-first round pick who slipped into the third round. He allowed a shocking number of walks (12.6%) and homers (2.53 HR/9!) in his 32-inning pro debut with the new Rookie Pulaski affiliate, but he still missed bats (27.2%) and showed a bat-missing curveball. Finley’s not a hard-thrower — he was mostly 89-91 mph this summer — but he has a pretty good plan on the mound and is already making strides with his changeup.

The Yankees were able to lure Rogers, a draft-eligible sophomore, away from school following his strong showing in the Cape Cod League. He allowed six runs in 13.1 innings for Short Season Staten Island and Low-A Charleston, striking out 16 and walking three. Rogers is a three-pitch southpaw — low-90s gas, good slider, improving changeup — who can locate well, so he has a chance to remain a starter.

Degano. (Robert Pimpsner)
Degano. (Robert Pimpsner)

The Other Top Picks

The Yankees picked up a supplemental first round pick when David Robertson signed with the White Sox, and they used that pick (30th overall) on San Diego SS Kyle Holder. Holder didn’t hit in his pro debut — .213/.273/.253 (57 wRC+) around a nagging thumb injury with Short Season Staten Island — but his bat is not his calling card anyway. He’s an elite defender at shortstop, and that’s one heck of a carrying tool.

Indiana State LHP Jeff Degano was New York’s second round pick and third selection overall. He spent some time piggybacking with Kaprielian for Short Season Staten Island and allowed eleven runs in 21.1 pro innings, striking out 22 and walking nine. Degano missed the entire 2014 college season following Tommy John surgery, though he worked off the rust in the spring, and showed a low-90s heater with a sharper low-80s breaking ball. He’s not as polished as Rogers but offers more upside as a high strikeout lefty.

Late-Round Pitching Depth

In Alabama RHP Will Carter (14th) and BYU RHP Kolton Mahoney (16th), the Yankees added two promising depth arms who could follow in the footsteps of guys like Chase Whitley (15th round in 2010) and David Phelps (14th round in 2018) to give the Yankees serviceable innings. Is that exciting? No, but we’re talking about the double-digit rounds here.

Carter has maybe the best fastball the Yankees drafted this year — he sat 96-97 mph with his sinker for Short Season Staten Island. I saw him pitch a few times this summer and couldn’t believe a guy with that kind of fastball lasted until the 14th round. Carter had a 2.04 ERA (3.91 FIP) in 17.2 innings for the Baby Bombers and, not surprisingly, he generated 5.4 ground balls for every fly ball. He’s a reliever.

Mahoney has an interesting backstory. He didn’t pitch at all from 2012-13 because he was on a Mormon mission, so his arm is relatively fresh. Mahoney had a 2.29 ERA (2.99 FIP) in 55 innings for Short Season Staten Island and is a four-pitch starter: low-90s fastball plus a curveball, slider, and changeup. His command is good considering his relative inexperience and he has the stuff to stay in the rotation.

Position Player Prospects

The 2015 draft wasn’t all pitchers, just mostly pitchers. In addition to Holder, the best position player prospects the Yankees drafted this summer are Florida Southern OF Jhalan Jackson (seventh) and Florida JuCo OF Isiah Gilliam (20th). Florida JuCo OF Trey Amburgey (13th) had an incredible pro debut — he hit .335/.388/.502 (161 wRC+) in 62 games split between the GCL and Short Season Staten Island — and has tools, but is more interesting sleeper than bonafide prospect.

Jackson hit .266/.338/.452 (133 wRC+) with Short Season Staten Island and showed off both his raw power (five homers and .186 ISO) and swing-and-missability (29.8 K%). He has classic right field tools, meaning power, a strong arm, and some speed. Jackson can hit a mistake a mile but must improve against breaking balls and with pitch recognition in general to succeed at the upper levels.

The Yankees gave Gilliam a well-above slot $450,000 bonus and he showed a more advanced approach than expected in pro ball, hitting .296/.359/.415 (132 wRC+) with a 15.0% strikeout rate and a 9.8% walk rate in 42 GCL games. He hit only one homer, but power remains his calling card. Gilliam’s a switch-hitter with thump from both sides, and his athleticism allowed him to move to the outfield after being drafted as a first baseman.

Oregon State OF Jeff Hendrix (fourth), Texas JuCo IF Brandon Wagner (sixth), and Arizona HS 3B Donny Sands (eighth) are other position player draftees worth keeping an eye on. Wagner has the most power, Sands the most two-way ability, and Hendrix the highest probability. He could help as a speedy fourth outfielder down the line.

* * *

The draft is always a lot of fun and super exciting … then the novelty quickly wears off. It usually doesn’t take long for the prospects to separate themselves from the suspects. Even the lowest levels of professional baseball are hard. Almost every pro player was the best player on his college or high school team, after all.

The Yankees landed themselves a very good starter pitching prospect (Kaprielian) and a very good bullpen prospect (Adams) in the 2015 draft. They added three more solid arms (Degano, Finley, Rogers), several position players with carrying tools (Holder, Jackson, Gilliam), and a few promising late-rounders (Carter, Mahoney). There’s still plenty of time for others to emerge, but right now, six months after the draft, those guys are the keys to the 2015 draft for the Yankees.

Friday Links: Offseason Outlook, 2015 Draft, Park, Platoons


Looking to kill some time before the start of the weekend? I have some stray links to pass along that might help you out. Enjoy.

MLBTR’s Offseason Outlook

Last week the gang at MLBTR covered the Yankees as part of their annual Offseason Outlook series. It’s exactly what it sounds like: a look ahead to the offseason. It’s a really great overview of the team’s situation in general — the big obstacle this offseason: getting younger and better despite limited flexibility — and touches on all the major points. We’ll dissect everything from every possible angle this winter here at RAB, but MLBTR’s Offseason Outlook post is a good primer as we wait for the offseason to really get underway. Check it out.

Baseball America’s Draft Report Card

Baseball America just wrapped up their 2015 Draft Report Card series, in which they break down each team’s draft class. They aren’t grading anything, just looking at the top tools. OF Jhalan Jackson (7th round) is said to have the most power potential among 2015 Yankees draftees, for example. The position player section is free but the pitchers and odds and ends are behind the paywall.

Interestingly, the write-up says RHP James Kaprielian (1st) was working at 92-94 and touching 96 this summer, which is a bit higher than the college scouting reports. Also, both his slider and changeup received 65 grades on the 20-80 scouting scale, which is pretty damn awesome. RHP Chance Adams (5th), who had a 1.78 ERA (1.75 FIP) with a 31.7% strikeout rate in 35.1 relief innings at three levels after signing, touched 99 mph this summer. He could start next season at Double-A and reach MLB soon.

Park. (Yonhap)
Park. (Yonhap)

Nexen Heroes to post Byung-Ho Park

The Nexen Heroes of the Korea Baseball Organization will post power hitting first baseman Byung-Ho Park this coming Monday, according to a Yonhap report. The Yankees were reportedly one of 20 teams to scout Park this season. The right-handed hitting first baseman hit .343/.436/.714 with 53 homers in 140 games this year. Daniel Kim, a former scout and current Korean baseball analyst, told Travis Sawchik Park is the “best pure hitter in the history of KBO.”

The posting process starts Monday, which means teams then have until 5pm ET next Friday to submit a blind bid. The Heroes then have until the following Monday to accept or reject the bid. If they accept, the high bidder and Park have 30 days to negotiate a contract. The team only pays the posting fee if they manage to sign Park. Kim told Sawchik he expects Park to double the $5M posting fee the Pirates paid for Jung-Ho Kang last year.

Park is a first baseman and first baseman only, apparently, so I’m not sure what the Yankees would do with him. Another first baseman/DH is pretty much the last thing they need. They have Mark Teixeira for one more season, a bonafide first baseman of the future in Greg Bird, plus other potential first base candidates in Gary Sanchez, Eric Jagielo, and the aging Brian McCann. I dunno. We’ll see what happens.

Yankees dominated platoons in 2015

According to Baseball Reference, the Yankees led baseball by having the platoon advantage in 73% of their plate appearances this past season. The Indians were second at 71%. The Tigers, Nationals, and Diamondbacks were tied for last at a mere 43%. The Yankees have rated highly in the percentage of at-bats with the platoon advantage for the last few seasons now. Joe Girardi is really meticulous with his platoons, after all. There is definitely an advantage to be gained with platoon matchups, but, of course, it all comes down to the hitters. You have to have good hitters to platoon in the first place.

Update: Yankees agree to sign first round pick UCLA RHP James Kaprielian

(Los Angeles Times)
(Los Angeles Times)

6:00pm: The Yankees have announced the signing of Kaprielian, so it’s a done deal. Officially official.

1:53pm: The Yankees have agreed to sign first round pick UCLA RHP James Kaprielian to a $2.65M bonus, reports Jim Callis. Slot money for the 16th overall pick was $2,543,300. The signing deadline is this coming Friday and Kaprielian is a Scott Boras client, and Boras usually takes his top clients right down to the final days to squeeze every last penny out of teams.

As our 2015 Draft Pool Tracker shows, the Yankees had $2,668,565 in bonus pool space to sign Kaprielian before getting hit with penalties, including forfeiting next year’s first round pick. The Yankees signed 35 of their 41 draft picks this summer, which is an unusually large number. Most teams sign 25-30 players each year. You can see all New York’s picks at Baseball America.

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. Kaprielian’s velocity reportedly ticked up later in the spring, supposedly to the point where he was sitting 93-95 mph in his last few starts. Everything you need to know about him is right here.

UCLA’s baseball season ended six weeks ago, so I’m guessing Kaprielian will report to Tampa for a few tune-up innings before joining one of the minor league affiliates. A short stint with the Rookie GCL Yanks and a few weeks with Short Season Staten Island could be the plan for Kaprielian this year, with High-A Tampa the logical destination to start next season.

Update: Yankees sign 11th rounder LHP Josh Rogers to above slot bonus


Tuesday: Rogers received a $485,000 bonus, according to Callis. Our 2015 Draft Pool Tracker shows the Yankees have $2,738,565 left over to give to Kaprielian while Callis says it’s $2,676,450. Someone’s math is screwed up somewhere. Either way, Kaprielian is slotted for $2,546,300 and Jon Heyman says the two sides are expected to have a deal done by Friday’s deadline.

Sunday: According to Jim Callis, the Yankees have signed 11th round pick Louisville LHP Josh Rogers to an overslot bonus worth early fourth round money. That puts his bonus in the $500,000 range. Any money over $100,000 given to a player taken after the tenth round counts against the draft pool.

Rogers, a draft-eligible sophomore with more leverage than the average 11th round pick, had Tommy John surgery as a high school senior and returned to the mound just eleven months later. He had a 3.36 ERA with an 82/25 K/BB in 93.2 innings for Louisville this spring and a 3.09 ERA with a 16/7 K/BB in 20.1 innings for the Bourne Braves in the Cape Cod League this summer.

The Yankees likely selected Rogers as a “summer follow,” meaning they took him with the intention of getting a longer look on the Cape before deciding whether to make an offer. That’s how they landed David Robertson back in the day. Here’s a snippet of Baseball America’s scouting report (subs. req’d):

At 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, Rogers has a near ideal pitcher’s build. He locates his 87-91 mph fastball, mixes in a slider that flashes average at his best and below-average at other times and a usable changeup. Rogers’ mix of three pitches and an ability to locate them makes him a potential back-end starter.

As our 2015 Draft Pool Tracker shows, a bonus in the $500,000 range leaves the team about $2.6M to sign first round pick UCLA RHP James Kaprielian. Slot money for the 16th overall pick is $2.54M or so, and in recent weeks we heard Kaprielian is expected to receive a bonus in the $3M range. Guess that’s not happening. I highly doubt the Yankees would exceed their pool and forfeit a future first rounder to sign him. The signing deadline is this Friday and I have no reason to believe Kaprielian won’t sign.

Heyman: First rounder RHP James Kaprielian expected to sign for $3M or so

(Don Liebig/UCALA)
(Don Liebig/UCLA)

According to Jon Heyman, the Yankees are still negotiating with first round pick UCLA RHP James Kaprielian, and he is expected to receive a bonus in the $3M range. Slot money for the 16th overall pick is just over $2.44M. The signing deadline is two weeks from tomorrow and I have no reason to think Kaprielian won’t sign. Special assistant Jim Hendry is reportedly leading negotiations.

Kaprielian is a Scott Boras client and Boras has a tendency to go right up to the deadline with his top players so he can milk every last penny out of the team’s draft pool. And would you look at that, our 2015 Draft Pool Tracker shows the Yankees have approximately $3M left to spend on draft picks before getting hit with penalties for exceeding their bonus pool. Coincidence Kaprielian is expected to sign for $3M or so? Nope.

The Yankees signed 20th rounder 1B Isiah Gilliam to an overslot $550,000 bonus earlier this week, so 31 of their 41 draft picks are locked up. New Jersey LHP Andrew Miller (34th round) and Florida HS SS Deacon Liput (39th) are their only remaining overslot candidates and both figure to head to school. That was always the case. The Yankees signed all of their non-Kaprielian picks in the top ten rounds, so here’s no draft pool wiggle room.

Kaprielian, 21, had a 2.02 ERA with 114 strikeouts and 33 walks in 106.2 innings this season. Everything you need to know about him is right here.

2015 Draft: Yankees sign 20th round pick 1B Isiah Gilliam to overslot bonus

(Gwinnett Prep Sports)
(Gwinnett Prep Sports)

The Yankees have signed first baseman and 20th round draft pick Isiah Gilliam, according to his Twitter feed. Jim Callis confirmed the signing and says Gilliam received a way overslot $550,000 bonus. Slot money for all picks after the tenth round is $100,000, and the excess is applied to the draft pool, so Gilliam counts as $450,000 against New York’s bonus pool.

Gilliam, 18, has a bit of an interesting backstory. He changed high schools three times and used up his four years of athletic eligibility by age 17, so he was a late addition to the 2014 draft player pool. Gilliam was strongly committed to JuCo powerhouse Chipola College and declined to sign with the Cubs as their 23rd round pick last summer. He hit .362/.421/.548 with 20 doubles and five homers in 52 games at Chipola this spring.

As the bonus suggests, Gilliam is no ordinary 20th round pick. Baseball America ranked him as the 151st best prospect in the draft class while Kiley McDaniel had him 120th. That puts him in the fourth or fifth round range on talent. (The $550,000 bonus is late-third/early-fourth round money.) Here’s a snippet of Baseball America’s scouting report:

He has above-average bat speed with an easy stroke and plus raw power to all fields. He puts on an impressive display in batting practice and has made solid contact in games. His approach has a ways to come … A below-average runner, he played third base until this season before moving to first, where he likely fits best in the long term. He moves well for the position and runs enough to try the corner outfield and has average arm strength.

Gilliam is a switch-hitter and Eric Longenhagen said he once saw him hit a ball over the Western Metal Supply building at Petco Park, which is a bomb. The Yankees announced Gilliam as a first baseman at the draft and that’s where he’ll likely remain long-term, though he did play some right field this spring. Either way, his bat is his calling card. Gilliam has legitimate pop from both sides of the plate. Here’s some video.

As our 2015 Draft Pool Tracker shows, the Yankees now have only $193,900 in bonus pool savings left over, and there aren’t many places to spend it. They’ve signed 31 of their 41 draft picks and only Idaho HS 1B Michael Hicks (27th round), New Jersey HS LHP Andrew Miller (34th), and Florida HS SS Deacon Liput (39th) remain as potential late-round overslot players, and the extra $193,900 might not be enough to convince those guys to turn pro. The extra money might get funneled to UCLA RHP James Kaprielian (1st) simply because there’s nowhere else to spend it.

2015 Draft Signings: Robertson, Marks, Zehner, Bisacca

Marks. (Tennessee)
Marks. (Tennessee Athletics)

The draft signing deadline is Friday, July 17th this summer, and as far as we know the Yankees are not close to a deal with UCLA RHP James Kaprielian (1st round). He’s a Scott Boras client though, and top Boras clients tend to not sign until right before the deadline. The Yankees did sign second rounder LHP Jeff Degano earlier this week. Here are some later round draft signings.

  • California HS OF Terrance Robertson (12th) has signed based on his Twitter feed. No word on his bonus. As a reminder, anything given to player drafted after the tenth round over $100,000 counts against the draft pool. No reason to think the raw and speedy Robertson got more though.
  • Tennessee RHP Bret Marks (15th), Cal Poly OF Zach Zehner (18th), and Oral Roberts C Austin Afenir (25th), also signed. I know that because all three have played for one of the Yankees’ minor league affiliates in recent days.
  • Sam Houston State RHP Alex Bisacca (35th) has also signed according to his Instagram feed. Like Robertson and everyone else in this post, there’s no word on the bonuses for Marks, Zehner, Afenir, or Bisacca.
  • According to Baseball America, the Yankees have signed Nebraska RHP Josh Roeder (21st), Cal State LA RHP Icezak Flemming (26th), George RHP David Sosebee (28th), Delaware RHP Chad Martin (30th), and Oklahoma City RHP Dustin Cook (36th).
  • The Yankees have signed Franklin Pierce C Matt Walsh as an undrafted free agent, the school announced. He hit .366/.438/.505 with 14 doubles and four homers as a senior this spring.
  • The Yankees have also signed Arizona RHP Cody Hamlin and Missouri RHP Andrew Schwaab as undrafted free agents, reports Matt Eddy. Hamlin had a 3.94 ERA with a 61/13 K/BB in 102.2 innings this spring while Schwaab had a 6.06 ERA with a 6/4 K/BB in 16.1 innings.

Make sure you check out our 2015 Draft Pool Tracker to keep taps on the team’s bonus pool situation. Unless one or some of those guys above signed an overslot deal — no reason to think that, but it’s always possible — the Yankees have $643,900 in draft pool savings to spend. My guess is some of that will go to Kaprielian. By my unofficial count, the Yankees have now signed 30 of their 41 draft picks.