Draft Signing Notes: Rutherford, Nelson, Kriske, More

Our annual Draft Pool Tracker page is now live. You can find it any time via the Resources pull-down menu at the top of the site. As it turns out, Baseball America made a mistake when they reported the Yankees’ bonus pool at $5,768,400. It’s actually $5,831,200. MLB.com confirms it and that’s what you get when you add up the slot values reported by Baseball America. No biggie. Mistakes happen. Point is, the Yankees have an extra $62,800 in bonus pool space than originally reported.

All of the Yankees’ picks can be found at Baseball America. Here is the first wave of signing updates.

  • Scouting director Damon Oppenheimer told Chad Jennings he expects California HS OF Blake Rutherford (1st round) to sign. “I’ve done this long enough to know until they’ve taken the physical, gone through the whole process and signed, the whole thing is never done. I would think that we’re going to get it done. We took him with the idea that we’re going to get it done. But until it’s finished, you never know,” he said. Rutherford is slotted for $2,441,600.
  • Louisville 2B Nick Solak (2nd) is now free to sign because the Cardinals were eliminated in the Super Regionals this past weekend. They were eliminated in rather heartbreaking fashion too. They were up 3-0 in the ninth when their closer gave up a season-ending walk-off grand slam. Ouch. Solak is slotted for $1,040,800.
  • Florida JuCo RHP Nick Nelson (4th) traveled to Tampa Sunday to finalize his contract, according to Greg Brzozowski. Baseball America says he received $350,000. Slot for his pick is $455,400. Nelson told Brzozowski his contract includes a two-year scholarship as well.
  • South Carolina OF Dom Thompson-Williams (5th) has signed for $250,000, according to Baseball America. He was slotted for $341,000. South Carolina was eliminated in the Super Regionals this past weekend, allowing Thompson-Williams to sign.
  • USC RHP Brooks Kriske (6th) signed for $100,000, reports Jonathan Mayo. Slot money for his pick was $255,300. Kriske posted a photo of the contract signing on Instagram. He was expected to sign a below-slot deal as a college senior, but the fact he got as much as he did suggests the Yankees consider him an actual prospect.
  • North Florida C Keith Skinner (7th) signed for a mere $10,000, reports Mayo. Skinner was slotted for $191,500. As a college senior, he had basically zero leverage. Some seniors sign for $1,000.
  • Fullerton 1B Dalton Blaser (8th) also received a $10,000 bonus, according to Mayo. His pick has a $176,200 slot. BTI Sports posted a photo of Blaser signing his contract on Twitter.
  • Southern Mississippi 1B Tim Lynch (9th) has signed as well, according to Frankie Piliere. Lynch seemed to confirm it on Twitter. He’s another $10,000 pick per Baseball America. Lynch was slotted for $164,600.
  • Illinois-Chicago LHP Trevor Lane (10th) also signed for a $10,000, reports Jim Callis. He was slotted for $156,600. On Twitter, Lane said he is throwing a bullpen in Tampa today, then flying to New York to join Short Season Staten Island.
  • Louisiana Tech RHP Braden Bristo (23rd) signed for $55,000, according to Sean Isabella. Slot money for every pick after the tenth round is $100,000. Any bonus below that does not result in pool savings, however. Isabella says Bristo is heading to Tampa today and will soon join Staten Island.
  • Louisiana Tech LHP Tim Diehl (27th) signed for a $50,000 bonus plus another $20,000 in tuition money, he told Isabella. I guess you could say he got … *shades* … a nice Diehl. He’ll be in Tampa today and will be shifted to the bullpen in pro ball, per Isabella.
  • Wagner OF Ben Ruta (30th) is en route to Tampa, based on his Twitter feed. That’s usually a very good indication a deal is either done, or very close to being done.
  • Stony Brook LHP Tim Honahan (36th) told Tim Oakes he will sign. He’s due to report to Tampa for his physical and contract signing soon. “I grew up a Yankee fan. My idol was Andy Pettitte,” said Honahan to Oakes.

The Yankees have already saved $1,000,600 in pool money so far. The signing deadline is July 15th this year and it wouldn’t be a surprise if Rutherford waits until the very last second to sign. Tons of first rounders do that each year. James Kaprielian did it last year. My guess is Rutherford gets something in the $3.5M to $4M range.

2016 Draft: Yankees buck recent trends on Day One

The draft war room in Tampa. (Pic via @YankeesOnDemand)
The draft war room in Tampa. (Pic via @YankeesOnDemand)

Last night, the 2016 amateur draft got underway with Day One of the three-day event. A total of 77 picks were make yesterday, including two by the Yankees. They made their first (18th overall) and second (62nd overall) round selections, and with those two picks, the Yankees bucked some recent trends in a pretty significant way. Let’s review the team’s two picks on Day One.

Yankees go big with Rutherford

The Yankees have not had much success developing high school players over the years. Top picks like C.J. Henry, Slade Heathcott, Cito Culver, and Dante Bichette Jr. stand out the most, but others like Carmen Angelini and Angelo Gumbs received huge bonuses only to fizzle out in short order. As a result, the Yankees started favoring college players, especially early in the draft. Eight of the eleven players they selected in the top three rounds from 2013-15 were college guys.

Last night the Yankees went back to the toolsy high school demographic, which I truly believe is scouting director Damon Oppenheimer’s wheelhouse. He seems to be all about upside and loud tools at heart. The Yankees used their first rounder last night on California prep outfielder Blake Rutherford, who earlier in the spring was considered a possible top ten pick. Keith Law (6th), MLB.com (8th), and Baseball America (9th) all ranked him among the ten best players in the draft.

This is awfully exciting, isn’t it? Getting a top ten talent with the 18th pick? Fair or not, college players come with the stigma of being considered low upside. Also, the Yankees have a knack for making out-of-nowhere picks. We all remember Culver and Bichette, right? Right. With Rutherford the Yankees took a truly high-upside player who fell into their laps despite being one of the top available talents. This is the type of pick that hasn’t been happening the last few years.

Rutherford. (LA Times)
Rutherford. (LA Times)

Law says Rutherford has a “unique combination of hit and power and has shown an ability to spray well-hit balls to all fields,” so he’s not just a brute masher from the left side of the plate. Also, Rutherford can run fairly well and play solid outfield defense, with right field his most likely landing spot long-term. Simply put, he can impact the game in many different ways. He’s not a one-dimensional player.

“Blake’s a guy that we’ve scouted for a long time, and we couldn’t be happier with him falling to us,” said Oppenheimer in a statement. “He’s hit at a high level, he can run, he’s a really good defender in center field, and he’s got power. He’s got a chance to have all the tools to profile. The fact that he’s performed on a big stage with Team USA, where he’s been a quality performer, makes it really exciting for us.”

A little more than a year ago the Yankees made some fairly big changes to their player development staff, most notably replacing farm system head Mark Newman with Gary Denbo. They also reassigned coaches and instructors, and brought in others from outside the organization. That was all in response to the club’s development failures over the last last, well, years and years. I don’t know how many, but it’s a lot.

The Yankees targeted college players the last few years because they are closer to finished products and didn’t need as much help developmentally. That’s no secret. Rutherford will be the new development staff’s first real test. Oppenheimer and his staff did their job. They brought in the highly talented player. Now it’s up to the player development staff to turn him into a Major Leaguer.

Balancing risk with Solak

These days the draft is not very friendly to big market teams. The bonus pools eliminate their ability to spend freely, so while I’m sure the Yankees would have loved to follow the Rutherford pick with another high-end player in the second round, the draft pool means they have to watch their money. They can’t target the tippy top talent all the time. They can only go after the players their pool allows them to afford.

Solak. (Courier-Journal)
Solak. (Courier-Journal)

With their second pick the Yankees grabbed Louisville second baseman Nick Solak, who is pretty much the opposite of Rutherford. He’s not only a college guy, he’s also lacking loud tools and super high upside. Solak is one of those classic gritty grinder types at 5-foot-10 and 185 lbs., so yeah, he and Rutherford couldn’t be more different. There is no such thing as a “safe” pick, but Solak is definitely safer than Rutherford.

The interesting thing about the Solak pick is how different he is than the other middle infielders the team has drafted in recent years. Guys like Culver and Kyle Holder were defense first players who could maybe possibly hit in pro ball. Solak is a hitter first and a defender second. He doesn’t hit for power but he rips line drives to all fields and he knows the strike zone. Those are pretty good offensive tools.

“Solak is a really accomplished hitter,” said Oppenheimer. “He makes hard contact, he walks, he has plate discipline and he’s tough. He’s also a plus runner, with tools to stand on in the middle of the diamond.”

On the other side of the ball, Solak only recently moved to second base last year — he was an outfielder before that — and not everyone is sure he can stick there long-term. He has quickness and good hands, but he’s lacking infield instincts, though at least part of that is due to a lack of experience. Solak has some Rob Refsnyder in him as an outfielder who is trying to make it work on the infield. The bat is the primary tool here. Not the glove.

* * *

Both Rutherford and Solak are much different than the players the Yankees have been drafting the last few years. Rutherford is a high-upside prep player with a lot of development ahead of him, not a polished college player who figures to climb the ladder quickly. Solak is a bat first middle infielder, not someone who was drafted for his glove and has to learn to hit.

It’s two picks and we should be careful not to read too much into them, but I couldn’t help but notice how much the Yankees seemed to change their draft philosophy. They went after that high schooler who has a lot of development ahead of him and they went after the bat first guy who may or may not play the premium position well enough to get there. Day One brought a very different set of picks from the Yankees compared to what we’ve seen in recent years.

2016 Draft: Yankees select OF Blake Rutherford with first round pick

Over the last few weeks the Yankees were connected primarily to high school pitchers and college bats for their first round pick of the 2016 draft. So, naturally, when their pick came around Thursday night, they took a high school position player. Go figure.

With their first round selection in the 2016 draft (18th overall), the Yankees selected California HS OF Blake Rutherford. He’s from Chaminade College Preparatory School in Chatsworth, so scouting director Damon Oppenheimer once again went for a Southern California player. That’s Oppenheimer’s go-to locale. When in doubt, expect the Yankees to take the SoCal kid.

Rutherford was one of the very best prospects in the draft class. In fact, Keith Law says several folks consider Rutherford a better pure hitter than fellow SoCal prep outfielder Mickey Moniak, who was taken first overall by the Phillies. Law (subs. req’d) ranked Rutherford as the sixth best prospect in the entire draft while MLB.com ranked him eighth and Baseball America ranked him ninth. Here’s a piece of MLB.com’s free scouting report:

The left-handed-hitting outfielder from the Southern California high school ranks can do just about everything on a baseball field. Rutherford has the chance to be an above-average hitter with above-average raw power. He’ll record average to plus run times, and his speed helps him on the basepaths and in the outfield. Rutherford is a solid defender in the outfield, though most feel he’ll move to right field in the future. The good news is his bat should profile just fine if that move does happen.

The Yankees have favored college players in recent years and they seem to have a knack for out-of-nowhere picks. Rutherford is the opposite of that. He was the best player on the board according to the various rankings, and the only real knock against him is his age. Rutherford turned 19 last month and is one of the oldest high schoolers in the draft class.

Because he was considered a top ten talent, chances are the Yankees will have to pay Rutherford an overslot bonus to get to pass on his commitment to UCLA. Slot money for the 18th pick is $2.44M. Expect to see the Yankees take some cheaper players in rounds two through ten. They need to save some pool space to sign Rutherford.