Thoughts on Baseball Prospectus’ top ten Yankees prospects

Adams. (The Citizens' Voice)
Adams. (The Citizens’ Voice)

Now that the 2017season is over, the crew at Baseball Prospectus is storming through their annual look at the top ten prospects (plus more) in each farm system. Yesterday they hit the Yankees. From what I can tell, the entire article is free. You don’t need a subscription to read the commentary.

“A year after being deadline sellers, the Yankees thinned out their farm with graduations and a pair of July 31st buys. The system is down a little, but has an elite 1-2 punch at the top and a bonanza of high-upside teenagers further down the organizational totem pole,” said the write-up. Here’s the top ten:

  1. SS Gleyber Torres
  2. OF Estevan Florial
  3. RHP Chance Adams
  4. LHP Justus Sheffield
  5. RHP Albert Abreu
  6. 3B Miguel Andujar
  7. RHP Domingo Acevedo
  8. RHP Domingo German
  9. RHP Matt Sauer
  10. RHP Luis Medina

Both OF Clint Frazier and UTIL Tyler Wade exhausted their rookie eligibility this season, which is why they’re not in the top ten. Frazier exceeded the 130 at-bat rookie limit (he finished with 134) while Wade accrued too much service time. The rookie limit is 45 days outside the September roster expansion period. Wade finished with 50 such days, by my unofficial count. Anyway, some thoughts.

1. A year ago at this time the farm system was very position player heavy. The top four and six of the top nine prospects in the system were position players, per Baseball Prospectus. Six of my top eight were position players. Now Baseball Prospectus has seven pitchers among the top ten prospects in the organization. Furthermore, six prospects in the 11-20 range are pitchers as well. That’s a lot of quality arms! And the Yankees are going to need them too. Pitchers break down, they fail to develop a third pitch, etc. There are so many things that can derail development. Plus young pitching is the best currency in baseball. It can get you almost anything you want at the trade deadline. We could start to see the system strength shift from position players to pitchers earlier this year. Now this is damn close to a pitcher first farm system.

2. Speaking of pitchers, where’s RHP Jorge Guzman? He’s not mentioned in the Baseball Prospectus write-up at all. Not in the top ten, not in the next ten, nothing. In the comments it was explained the Yankees have a deep system and Guzman essentially got squeezed out by the numbers crunch, though I’m not sure I agree with him not being a top 20 prospect in the system. Heck, he’s in my top ten right now. When you have Medina in the top ten and RHP Roansy Contreras in the next ten, it’s tough to understand why Guzman isn’t there. He’s a more polished version of those guys, relatively speaking. Perhaps his age is the problem? Guzman will turn 22 in January and he’s yet to pitch in a full season league. That happens when you don’t sign until 18. I dunno. They don’t check IDs on the mound. If you can get outs, it doesn’t matter if you’re 21 or 31 or 41. Guzman’s stuff is as good as anyone’s in the system and he made great strides with his command and secondary pitches in 2017. Seems like a top ten prospect to me.

3. OF Pablo Olivares got some love. He’s been a little sleeper favorite of mine the last two years. The 19-year-old struggled in his quick stint with Low-A Charleston last season, but he .311/.420/.424 (149 wRC+) with 10.7% walks and 13.4% strikeouts in complex ball from 2016-17. Olivares is one of those guys who does a little of everything but nothing exceptionally well. “I project him to at least average across the board, led by a future 55 hit tool … (When) patient, he took walks and drove pitches to center and oppo. He’s bigger than his listed 6-foot, 160 pounds (likely closer to 170), and while just an average runner, his reads and instincts in center are good enough to stick with an average arm. With maturity and some added strength, he at least has a chance to see 50 power,” said the write-up, which included Olivares as a prospect in the 11-20 range of the farm system. I like him. I think he’ll establish himself as a no-doubt top 15 prospect in the system in 2018. There’s a “Thairo Estrada but an outfielder” quality to Olivares.

4. My favorite feature of Baseball Prospectus’ annual prospect write-ups are the “top talents 25 and under” lists. The ten best players in the organization no older than 25, basically. Straightforward, right? New York’s list has Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Luis Severino in the 1-2-3 spots in that order, then slide the top ten prospects behind them. Noticeably absent: Greg Bird. Hmmm. I assume the injuries are the reason Bird was omitted from the top 25 and under talents — “As per usual, his future outlook depends almost entirely on his health,” said the write-up — but even considering that, I still feel like he belongs in the top ten somewhere. Why would injuries knock Bird out of the top ten but not, say, Abreu? He had injury problems of his own this year and he’s never pitched above High-A. Bird is quite risky given his injury history. He’s also shown he can be a productive big leaguer when healthy. Not sure I agree with knocking him down the list below prospects, who themselves are inherently risky.

2017 Draft: Yankees sign first rounder Clarke Schmidt and second rounder Matt Sauer

Schmidt. (The Post ad Courier)
Schmidt. (The Post and Courier)

The Yankees have signed their top two selections in the 2017 amateur draft. The team announced deals with South Carolina right-hander Clarke Schmidt (first round, 16th overall) and California high school right-hander Matt Sauer (second round, 54th overall) earlier this afternoon. Sauer posted photos of his contract signing on Twitter.

Here is the bonus information:

  • Schmidt: $2,184,300 per Jack Curry ($3,458,600 slot)
  • Sauer: $2,500,000 per Jim Callis ($1,236,000 slot)

Schmidt, 21, received a below-slot bonus because he is currently rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. He had the procedure in May, so he’s going to be out until midseason 2018. As our Draft Pool tracker shows, the Yankees now have a little less than $460,000 in bonus pool space remaining before hitting the penalties. They’ve maxed out their spending pool the last few years. I imagine that $460,000 is going to a late round pick.

Based on the way things played out, the Yankees planned all along to sign Schmidt below-slot — I’m guessing they had a pre-draft agreement in place — and spend the savings on a highly touted player who slipped into the second round. That happened to be Sauer. I think this was Plan B. Plan A was using the first round selection on a player who was no longer on the board when that pick rolled around, so they called an audible.

Anyway, Baseball America ranked Schmidt as the 32nd best prospect in the draft class. MLB.com ranked him 49th and Keith Law (subs. req’d) ranked him 74th. He was considered a mid-first round talent before blowing out his elbow last month. Here is a piece of MLB.com’s free scouting report:

Schmidt relies heavily on a 92-94 mph fastball that can reach 96 and features power sink. Both his slider and curveball can be plus pitches at times but also lack consistency, and he also mixes in a decent changeup. He generally throws strikes but can be vulnerable if his pitches wander up in the strike zone … He maintained his improved velocity until he got hurt this spring, but scouts don’t love his delivery and now have even more questions about his durability.

Sauer was ranked as the 28th best prospect in the draft class by both MLB.com and Baseball America. Keith Law ranked 67th. Here’s a snippet of MLB.com’s scouting report:

He’s reached 97 mph at times this spring and has sat comfortably in the 91-95 mph range in most starts. He combines that with a nasty slider, up to 87 mph, thrown from a three-quarter slot with good power, bite and deception. The changeup is a distant third pitch … Some scouts are not in love with Sauer’s arm action and see him more as a potential power bullpen type of pitcher. Others see a potential three-pitch mix, two above-average to plus offerings, with the build to be a rotation workhorse.

The draft signing deadline is Friday, July 7th, so two weeks from yesterday. The Yankees have already handled all their major business, however. They’ve signed each of their picks in the top 17 rounds plus several late rounders. I expect them to spend that remaining $460,000 ($457,949 to be exact) on someone. That has been their M.O. in the draft pool era. To spend as much as possible without incurring penalties forcing them to surrender next year’s first round pick.

2017 Draft Signings: Sauer, Smith, Lehnen, Higgins, Zurak

Higgins. (Getty)
Higgins. (Getty)

We are still two and a half weeks away from the Friday, July 7th signing deadline, though the Yankees have already taken care of business with most of their 2017 draft picks. Here are my Day One, Day Two, and Day Three recaps, and here are all of the Yankees’ picks. Now here are the latest signings:

  • Both Arkansas RHP Trevor Stephan (3rd) and Rice RHP Glenn Otto (5th) signed for less than originally reported. MLB.com says Stephan received $797,500, not $800,000. Jim Callis says Otto received $320,900, not $323,400. Turns out there’s an accounting trick that saves teams $2,500 against the bonus pool. Callis says the standard draftee contract includes $2,500 in bonuses so easily reachable that teams were counting it as part of the signing bonus. Now they’ve stopped. The player still gets the money, but it doesn’t count against the bonus pool. Huh.
  • The Yankees and California HS RHP Matt Sauer (2nd) have a deal in place, reports Steve Adams. Joe Bailey says Sauer was offered $2.5M, which is roughly double his slot value. I don’t doubt Adams and Bailey, though I’d like to see one of the regular draft gurus says the deal is done before considering it done, you know?
  • Texas HS OF Canaan Smith (4th) has signed, the Yankees announced. Jim Callis says he received a $497,500 bonus, a little above the $433,100 slot value. Smith has big left-handed raw power and he walked 60+ times in 40 games this spring. It’s a top ten walks total for a prep player all-time.
  • Augustana LHP Dalton Lehnen (6th) and Dallas Baptist RHP Dalton Higgins (7th) have signed, the Yankees announced. Callis says Lehnen received a $245,100 bonus, which is his slot value minus the $2,500 trick. No word on Higgins’ bonus yet. My guess is he received slot as well. (Update: Callis says Higgins signed for $227,500, which is slightly above slot.)
  • Radford RHP Kyle Zurak (8th), Texas-Arlington RHP Austin Gardner (9th), and Southern Illinois RHP Chad Whitmer (10th) have all signed as well, the Yankees announced. MLB.com says all three signed for a well-below slot $7,500. They’re draft pool saving college senior picks.
  • New Orleans RHP Shawn Semple (11th), Orange Coast 1B Eric Wagaman (12th), Virginia Tech RHP Aaron McGarity (15th), Mount Olive SS Ricky Surum (16th), Delaware RHP Ron Marinaccio (19th), and Notre Dame C Ryan Lidge (20th) have all signed, the Yankees announced. Slot money for every pick after the tenth round is $125,000 and I doubt these guys signed for more than that. (Update: Callis says Semple signed for $147,500. No word on the other guys.)
  • Seattle RHP Janson Junk (22nd) has signed, according to his Instagram feed. There’s no reason to think he received more than the $125,000 slot.

Assuming the Sauer deal is done, the Yankees have now signed every pick in the top 22 rounds except South Carolina RHP Clarke Schmidt (1st) and Alabama-Birmingham RHP Garrett Whitlock (18th). That Sauer is getting a big over-slot bonus indicates the Yanks have a below-slot deal in place with Schmidt.

2017 Draft: Yankees play the bonus pool game on Day One

Schmidt. (AP)
Schmidt. (AP)

The 2017 amateur draft is now underway. A total of 75 picks were made Monday night, during Day One of the draft, including the Yankees’ first (16th overall) and second (54th overall) selections. With those picks, the Yankees did something they had never done before in the draft pool era. They (presumably) cut a deal with their first round pick so they could spend big on their second rounder. Let’s review New York’s two picks from Day One.

Yankees gamble on Schmidt

At first blush, I wasn’t thrilled with the Yankees first round pick, South Carolina RHP Clarke Schmidt. I imagine I wasn’t alone. Schmidt’s a good prospect, don’t get me wrong, but he also had Tommy John surgery in April. Why take an injured college pitcher when healthy comparable college pitchers were still on the board? The Yankees had been connected to Oregon LHP David Peterson for weeks and he was still available, for example.

“Schmidt’s got four pitches that at times are all plus. He has command, he has makeup,” said scouting director Damon Oppenheimer in a statement. “We really like his delivery. He’s got a chance to be a top end of the rotation type of guy who combines pitchability with power stuff. And you always like it when they’re the Friday night guy, pitching and having success in that conference … The (surgery) results were positive and we feel really good about the rehab. He should be back pitching at full strength in approximately 12 months.”

Schmidt was a potential top 10-15 pick before blowing out his elbow thanks to a power arsenal with strikeout stuff. He struck out 70 in 60.1 innings for the Gamecocks this spring before needing elbow surgery, and Baseball America’s scouting report (subs. req’d) makes you can’t wait to see Schmidt healthy and back on a mound:

(This) spring he was routinely touching 95-96 mph with his four-seamer and sitting comfortably in the low 90s. He also throws a heavy two-seamer, although his four-seamer shows good movement as well. Schmidt’s slider has developed into one of the better breaking balls in the college class, a strikeout pitch in the mid-80s with tilt. He also flashed an above-average changeup at times, with sinking movement to his arm side … Before the surgery, Schmidt’s stock was steadily rising, and to some evaluators, he had inserted himself into the uppermost tier of college pitching.

Sounds good! But, you know, the elbow. Sure, Tommy John surgery has a very high success rate, but it’s not perfect. The Yankees have steered clear of injured pitchers in recent drafts, most notably Brady Aiken two years ago, and I’m sure the Andrew Brackman flame out was one of the reasons. The Yankees drafted Brackman knowing he needed Tommy John surgery, and all the missed development time was too much to overcome.

So again, why draft an injured college pitcher when comparable healthy college pitchers were still on the board? There are two possible answers. One, the Yankees really like Schmidt. I mean really like him. They must think he’s a no-doubt top ten guy to take him that high despite recent elbow construction, and they must also think he is very likely to make a full recovery. Or two, they know they can sign Schmidt to a below-slot bonus to manipulate their bonus pool.

Given their second round pick, the latter seems much more likely. They’re going to sign him cheap. The Yankees either got Schmidt to agree to a below-slot number before the draft or feel comfortable enough with his willingness to take a below-slot bonus to draft him in the first round. That 16th overall pick comes with a $3,458,600 slot bonus. Cutting a deal with Schmidt would free up a lot of bonus pool space to spend on other players, such as …

Planning to spend big on Sauer

With their second round pick, the 54th overall selection, the Yankees selected California HS RHP Matt Sauer — a Southern California kid, of course — and suddenly it all started to make sense. Sauer was a consensus late first round who really shot up draft boards this spring and was considered by some to be a potential tough sign given his commitment to Arizona. Now we know where any bonus pool money saved with Schmidt is going.

Prior to the draft, both MLB.com and Baseball America ranked Sauer as the 28th best prospect in the draft class — Keith Law (subs. req’d) isn’t as much of a fan and ranked him 67th — because he possesses a live arm with two knockout pitches. From MLB.com’s scouting report:

Sauer brings the potential to have premium velocity from his 6-foot-4 frame. He’s reached 97 mph at times this spring and has sat comfortably in the 91-95 mph range in most starts. He combines that with a nasty slider, up to 87 mph, thrown from a three-quarter slot with good power, bite and deception. The changeup is a distant third pitch, but he hasn’t needed it much against high school competition.

The lack of a reliable changeup is one of the biggest knocks against Sauer, though it’s not terribly unusual for a top high school pitcher to lack a changeup. They rarely need it to get outs. Another popular knock against Sauer is his delivery, specifically his arm action, which some believe is too long in the back and robs him of command. Here’s some video. The quality of his stuff is obvious, as is the lengthy arm action and command issues:

It’s easy to understand why Sauer was drafted so high. (Going 54th overall is pretty cool!) The kid throws fire. It’s also easy to see he’s a work in progress. The Yankees will have to work with Sauer to iron out his mechanics and develop a changeup. Won’t be easy! But the Yankees are banking on Sauer’s upside and their improving track record of developing arms.

“Sauer is a projectable high school right-hander who is athletic, with a ‘now’ fastball and a plus slider,” said Oppenheimer in a statement. “He really has a good way about his aggressiveness and makeup on the mound. We see a chance there for a starter with power stuff.”

We should look at the Schmidt and Sauer picks together because they are connected through the bonus pool. Like I said, Schmidt is slotted for $3,458,600. Sauer, on the other hand, is slotted for $1,236,000. That’s $4,694,600 between the two of them. Maybe they’ll wind up with even split? Roughly $2.35M each? Schmidt gets below-slot because he recently had his elbow cut open and Sauer gets over-slot because, well, that’s what it’ll take to get him to turn pro.

Why didn’t the Yankees take Sauer in the first round and Schmidt in the second round? Wouldn’t you rather take the high upside kid first to make sure you actually get him before cutting deals? Yes, in theory, but keep in mind that if a player doesn’t sign, the team loses all the pool money associated with that pick. Taking Sauer in the first round and having him walk away means losing $3,458,600 in bonus money. Yikes. The Yankees would rather roll the dice with the $1,236,000 in second round bonus pool money.

Chances are the Yankees did not specifically target Sauer for an over-slot bonus in the second round. He was probably one of several players they were looking at for that 54th overall pick. Among the other notable prospects to come off the board shortly after Sauer were Minnesota HS RHP Sam Carlson and Florida HS SS Mark Vientos, for example. California HS SS Nick Allen and Louisiana HS RHP Blayne Enlow are still on the board now and could have also been in the mix for that second round pick.

Ultimately, it boils down to this: the Yankees like Schmidt and think he can be a really good pitcher when healthy, but they also recognized his leverage is shot following Tommy John surgery. By taking him in the first round and (again, presumably) getting him to agree to a below-slot bonus, it would leave them bonus pool money to spend on another player(s) later. In this case that player is Sauer. If Sauer had come off the board before that 54th pick rolled around, maybe it would have been Carlson. Or Allen. Or whoever.

Last year the Yankees did the exact opposite of this strategy. They took the top available talent, Blake Rutherford, with their first round pick, then figured out how to save enough bonus money to pay him later. This year they saved the bonus pool money first, then waited to see who would be available later. And who knows? Maybe they’ll save enough with the Schmidt pick to go over-slot with their third round pick as well. That would be cool.

I should note this strategy is not particularly new or unique to the Yankees. Teams have been doing it since the draft pools were put in place. Most of the time it happens with teams at the very top of the draft, with the picks tied to huge slot values. They turn that one big bonus slot into multiple high-end prospects. Not many teams have done it in the middle of the first round, so in that sense the Yankees are unique. Overall though, this has been done before. It’s not new.

For now, the Yankees landed two nice power arms with upside on Day One. One of them happens to be broken at the moment. I didn’t like the Schmidt pick when it happened because Tommy John surgery is a big risk and I still don’t love it overall. Healthy players are cool. It’s not like Schmidt is getting a tooth pulled or something like that. Once the Yankees went for Sauer, arguably the best player still on the board, with their second pick, their strategy became clear. They were planning to pounce on whichever highly ranked prospect slipped into the second round.