Thoughts on MLB.com’s farm system rankings and top 30 Yankees prospects

Tate. (Presswire)
Tate. (Presswire)

Last week the crew at MLB.com rolled out their annual team top 30 prospects lists. They also unveiled their farm system rankings, and again the Yankees came in at No. 2, behind the Braves. All four major scouting publications (MLB.com. Keith Law, Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus) had the Braves and Yankees ranked first and second in their farm system rankings, respectively.

Anyway, I’m not going to list MLB.com’s entire top 30 Yankees prospect list here. Go click the link. As always, the whole thing is free. Scouting reports, videos, the whole nine. Here are the guys the Yankees had on MLB.com’s top 100 prospects list instead:

3. SS Gleyber Torres
24. OF Clint Frazier
37. OF Blake Rutherford
45. OF Aaron Judge
47. SS Jorge Mateo
58. RHP James Kaprielian
79. LHP Justus Sheffield

Those seven are the top seven prospects in the top 30 list, in that order, because duh. I always think it’s kinda funny when the prospects are in a different order on the individual team list than the overall top 100 list. Anyway, here is my top 30 prospects list, and here are some thoughts on MLB.com’s top 30 list.

1. The Yankees will have the No. 1 system very soon. On day two of the regular season, basically. SS Dansby Swanson, Atlanta’s top prospect, is literally one at-bat short of exhausting his rookie status. So as soon as he plays on Opening Day, he’ll lose his prospect status, and the farm system rankings will be adjusted accordingly. I assume graduating Swanson, one of the two or three best prospects in the world, will be enough to knock the Braves under the Yankees on the farm system rankings. I mean, who cares, the rankings don’t mean anything in the grand scheme of things, but it’s always cool to the see the Yankees at the top. That’ll happen very soon.

2. The Yankees let Tate be himself. Two years ago RHP Dillon Tate was the fourth overall pick in the 2015 draft. He then struggled so much in the first half of the 2016 season that the Rangers were willing to trade him (and two others!) for rental Carlos Beltran at the deadline. As it turns out, Texas tried to tweak Tate’s mechanics last year. “(Tate) had trouble incorporating some delivery changes the Rangers wanted him to make, with his fastball dropping into the upper 80s and his slider flattening out. After the trade, the Yankees told him to use whatever mechanics made him feel comfortable,” said the write-up. I’m not sure whether this is still the case under relatively new farm system head Gary Denbo, but once upon a time the Yankees had a policy where they’d give their top prospects a year in pro ball before making any major changes to their delivery, swing, whatever. They never would have changed Tate’s mechanics so soon after making him the fourth overall pick. The Rangers did and his stock dropped, and now the Yankees may benefit.

3. Refsnyder 2.0 is in the farm system. I had one 2016 draft pick in my top 30 list: first rounder OF Blake Rutherford. MLB.com has four in their top 30, including 2B Nick Solak. Last year’s second rounder hit .321/.412/.421 (155 wRC+) with nearly as many walks (10.8%) as strikeouts (14.0%) in 64 games with Short Season Staten Island following a productive three-year career at Louisville. MLB.com’s scouting report makes Solak sound like a Rob Refsnyder clone:

Solak has a long track record of hitting and getting on base. His right-handed swing is geared for stroking line drives from gap to gap, an approach that results in consistent contact but doesn’t provide much power … After DHing as a freshman and playing mostly the outfield corners as a sophomore, Solak shifted to second base last spring. He has the quickness and reliable hands for the position, though he doesn’t have the smoothest actions and some scouts believe he’s destined for center field.

Refsnyder played the outfield in college and moved to second base in pro ball. Solak made the transition to second during his junior year in college. Otherwise the two are pretty damn similar, and that’s not a bad thing, even with Refsnyder on the trade block. As a bat control guy with three years of experience at a major college program, Solak should rake in Single-A ball. He’s a good prospect, but I get the feeling he’s going to put up huge numbers this year and get overrated because of it, which is basically what happened with Refsnyder.

4. Widener is moving into the rotation. One of the four 2016 draftees to make the top 30 is RHP Taylor Widener, which surprised me. He was the club’s 12th round pick out of South Carolina, and his pro debut numbers were silly: 0.42 ERA (1.41 FIP) with 43.9% strikeouts and 4.7% walks in 42.2 innings. Widener was mostly a reliever in college, and the MLB.com’s scouting report says the Yankees are going to stick him in the rotation full-time. “Widener picked up velocity in his introduction to pro ball, as his fastball soared from 90-93 mph to 93-97. His mid-80s slider can be a wipeout pitch at times but lacks consistency. To prepare him for starting, the Yankees had him focus on refining his work-in-progress changeup during instructional league,” they wrote. (Widener is yet another pitching prospect who gained velocity in New York’s system.) The Yankees have a history of trying college relievers in the rotation, most notably Chance Adams, and it seems Widener is next. Turning Widener, a 12th round pick, into a legitimate starting pitcher prospect would be a hell of a thing.

5. McKinney didn’t make the top 30. OF Billy McKinney, who has impressed this spring, did not make MLB.com’s top 30 list. That’s a pretty good reminder how much his prospect stock dropped last year. McKinney’s .545/.643/1.371 batting line looks great, and gosh his swing sure is pretty, but eleven at-bats in Spring Training does erase his underwhelming .256/.349/.363 (107 wRC+) line in 130 Double-A games last year. Hopefully McKinney will regain some prospect stock this year. That would be cool. I ranked him as the No. 22 prospect in the system, but I don’t think it’s completely crazy to leave him out of the top 30. He needs to rebuild his value and this spring is a strong start, if nothing else.

6. The talent extends beyond the top 30. MLB.com prospect guru Jim Callis has maintained the Yankees have baseball’s deepest farm system since the trade deadline last year, and on Twitter he said he “easily could have written up 45 prospects” for the top 30. He also said 3B Dermis Garcia was in the 31-35 range and IF Thairo Estrada was among the final cuts too. “Type of guy to steal in trade,” said Callis about Estrada. Thairo is a personal fave — he smacked homers in back-to-back games earlier this spring when he was up from minor league camp — but it’s hard to see where he fits going forward because the Yankees are so loaded at shortstop. Estrada will be Rule 5 Draft eligible after the season, so decision time is coming. Trade? Add him to the 40-man roster? Roll the dice in the Rule 5 Draft? The Yankees are going to have to do something with Thairo (and several others) this year.

The Top Heavy 2016 Draft Haul [2016 Season Review]

Rutherford. (@MiLB)
Rutherford. (@MiLB)

Thanks largely to the trade deadline, the Yankees improved the depth and quality of their farm system substantially over the last six months or so. They added a dozen prospects at the deadline and two more in the recent Brian McCann deal. It sure feels like another trade is inevitable (Brett Gardner?), so chances are more prospects are on the way.

The Yankees also added to their farm system this summer with the annual amateur draft. This year they held a top 20 pick for the second straight year after having only two top 20 picks total from 1994-2014. The current Collective Bargaining Agreement severely limits draft spending, and while it wouldn’t be fair to say the Yankees put all their eggs in one basket, their 2016 draft haul has a clear centerpiece who will essentially make or break this draft class.

The Top Pick

Following the end of the 2015 season, the Yankees held the 22nd overall pick in the 2016 draft. They moved up to 18th when the Diamondbacks (Zack Greinke), Orioles (Yovani Gallardo), Nationals (Daniel Murphy), and Giants (Jeff Samardzija) forfeited their first round picks to sign qualified free agents. That was pretty awesome. Moving up one or two spots happens each year. But four? That rarely happens.

Prior to the draft the Yankees were connected to high school pitchers and college bats, so, naturally, they used that 18th overall selection to take a high school position player. Go figure. That player: outfielder Blake Rutherford from Chaminade College Preparatory School in the Los Angeles suburbs. Rutherford was a consensus top ten draft pick who slipped to the Yankees for reasons we’ll get to in a minute. Here’s a sampling of his pre-draft rankings and write-ups:

  • Baseball Prospectus (4th best draft prospect): “Every tool but the arm is above-average.”
  • Keith Law (6th): “Rutherford has a unique combination of hit and power and has shown an ability to spray well-hit balls to all fields … he projects to be an average or above everyday player in a corner outfield who hits near the middle of a big league lineup.”
  • MLB.com (8th): “Rutherford has the chance to be an above-average hitter with above-average raw power … Some evaluators wish they had seen more from him (before the draft).”
  • Baseball America (9th): “Rutherford has size, strength, athleticism and power potential for scouts to dream on … Some scouts see him as a potential power-hitting center fielder in the Jim Edmonds mold.”

By all accounts, Rutherford was one of the ten best players available in the 2016 draft. The Yankees were able to get him with the 18th pick for two reasons:

1. He was already 19. Rutherford was old for a high school prospect. He turned 19 on May 2nd, a month before the draft, whereas most prep prospects are drafted at 18 or even 17 with their 18th birthday coming in the summer. Rutherford has always been slightly older than his competition, both in high school and in showcase events, which made it difficult to evaluate him. Was it really an above-average hit tool, or just an older kid beating up on younger competition? Based on the draft rankings above, everyone seems to believe it’s the former.

2. He wanted a lot of money. Aside from injury, nothing causes a draft pick to slip more than bonus demands. Rutherford was strongly committed to UCLA and he was expecting top ten money because, well, he was a top ten talent. The Yankees had a $5,831,200 bonus pool this year, so if they were going to pay Rutherford top ten money, they’d have to skim elsewhere. That’s exactly what they did. The Yankees signed Rutherford to a $3,282,000 bonus on June 29th, well above his $2,441,600 slot value. They essentially gave him 11th overall pick money ($3,286,700). When it was all said and done, New York was left with $177 in draft pool space. Not $177,000. $177. The Yankees were like two Xbox games away from forfeiting their 2017 first round pick. They maxed out their spending limit to sign Rutherford.

The Yankees rarely have access to top of the draft caliber talent and they were able to acquire three such players this year by selecting Rutherford and trading for Gleyber Torres and Clint Frazier. Acquiring Torres and Frazier took some hard work. There was a lot of luck involved in getting Rutherford. The Yankees had zero control over the 17 selections made before their first round pick. It just so happened those 17 teams passed on Rutherford, giving the Yankees a premium draft talent at a non-premium pick.

Rutherford’s pro debut did nothing to dispel the notion he was a top ten draft talent. The kid hit .351/.415/.570 (171 wRC+) with eight doubles, four triples, and three home runs in 33 rookie ball games before a minor hamstring injury sidelined him for the final week of the regular season. He was healthy enough to participate in Instructional League a few weeks later. Here, via MLB Farm, is Rutherford’s spray chart:

blake-rutherford-spray-chart

Base hits to all fields and over-the-fence power to the pull side as a left-handed hitter. It’s a beautiful thing for a 19-year-old kid in his first few weeks in pro ball. Baseball America recently ranked Rutherford as third best prospect in the farm system behind Torres and Frazier, so all aboard the hype train.

When we look back at the 2016 season in a few years, it’ll be remembered as the year the Yankees traded veterans for prospects at the deadline and rightfully so. They’ve built up one heck of a farm system through those trades. The opportunity (and willingness) to draft Rutherford shouldn’t be overlooked though. The Yankees haven’t selected a draft talent this highly regarded since Gerrit Cole in 2008.

The Other Over-Slot Signee

Because the Yankees needed to rob Peter (other draftees) to pay Paul (Rutherford), they didn’t have much extra draft pool money to throw around. Their only other 2016 draftee to receive an over-slot bonus was third rounder Nolan Martinez, a right-hander from a Southern California high school. Martinez received a $1,150,000 bonus, nearly double his $608,200 slot value.

The Yankees selected Martinez with the 98th pick in the draft, which is essentially where the various scouting publications had him ranked. Baseball America was high on him (67th) while Keith Law (94th), MLB.com (99th), and Baseball America (108th) had Martinez right where New York selected him. He’s the second best prospect the Yankees drafted this year (in my opinion) as a three-pitch righty with some semblance of command. Underwhelmed? Well, that’s the system. The Yankees went with players they knew they could afford after rolling the dice with Rutherford.

The Numbers Prospect

Solak. (Robert M. Pimpsner/RMP Sports Media, Inc.)
Solak. (Robert M. Pimpsner/RMP Sports Media, Inc.)

There is more stat line scouting these days than I can ever remember. That isn’t to say stats aren’t important, because they are, but they only tell you so much of the story. And the further away from MLB you get, the less the stats mean. Nick Solak, a second baseman out of Louisville, figures to be one of those prospects who gets an inordinate amount of attention due to his stats, a la Rob Refsnyder.

Solak, who was selected in the second round by the Yankees, hit .321/.412/.421 (155 wRC+) with three homers, eight steals, and nearly as many walks (10.8%) as strikeouts (14.0%) in his 64-game pro debut with short season Staten Island after signing for a below-slow $950,000 bonus. Solak has contact skills and knows the strike zone, but he doesn’t have much power and his ability to stay at second is questionable at best.

After three excellent years at a major college program, we’re not going to be able to glean much from Solak’s performance until he gets to Double-A, and it’s entirely possible that will happen at some point in 2016. A guy like him should have no trouble with Single-A pitchers. Solak is a good prospect whose long-term outlook will improve drastically if he shows he can handle second full-time. His stats may cause him to get overrated though.

The Best of the Rest

Outside of the top three picks, the two best prospects the Yankees drafted this summer were fourth rounder (duh) Nick Nelson, a JuCo righty from Florida, and 12th rounder Taylor Widener, a righty out of Alabama. Keith Law‘s (subs. req’d) scouting report on Nelson sounds too good to be true — “(Nelson) works with a plus fastball up to 95 and a plus curveball, with good command for his age, and his arm action and delivery point to future plus command as well,” wrote Law — and while I’m not quite that optimistic, he has good velocity and can spin a breaking ball. That works for me.

Widener had an insane pro debut, pitching to a 0.42 ERA (1.41 FIP) with 65 strikeouts and seven walks in 42.2 innings. That’s a 43.9% strikeout rate and a 4.7% walk rate. Widener does it with a low-90s fastball and a wipeout slider out of the bullpen, and while the Yankees could be tempted to move him quickly as a bullpen arm, his changeup and control are good enough that giving him a try in the rotation might be worthwhile. The Yankees have a history of trying college relievers as starters in pro ball, most notably Chance Adams and Jonathan Holder, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Widener is next in line in 2017.

Other notables include 11th rounder Connor Jones, 17th rounder Mandy Alvarez, and 21st rounder Timmy Robinson. Jones is a hard-throwing southpaw likely destined for relief long-term because he lacks quality secondary pitches and command. Alvarez had a solid pro debut and can get the bat on the ball, but he’s short on power and might not remain at third base long-term. Robinson is a tool shed; the former USC standout has legitimate power and good athleticism, which serves him well in the outfield. The holes in his swing will likely limit him to reserve outfielder status.

* * *

Needless to say, Rutherford is the centerpiece of the Yankees’ draft haul this summer. Solak and Martinez can do some things, and I’m interested to see what happens with Nelson and especially Widener from here on out, but Rutherford is the guy. He was a top draft prospect who fell into the team’s lap and prompted them to max out their bonus pool. The Yankees tend to do well in the late rounds of the draft, unearthing players who are used in trades or get a cup of coffee in the show, and hopefully that will happen again this year. Right now, this draft class is all Rutherford. He deserves all the attention.

Yankees land seven players on MLB.com’s midseason top 100 prospects list

Frazier. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty)
Frazier. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty)

Last week the crew at MLB.com rolled out their midseason top 100 prospects list as well as their updated individual team top 30 lists. I intentionally waited to post this stuff because I had a feeling the Yankees were going to make some noise at the trade deadline, and sure enough, they did. Five trades total, including four that qualify as “sellers” trades.

Astros IF Alex Bregman sits in the top spot of the midseason top 100 — we saw him make his MLB debut in Houston last week — and is followed by Red Sox 2B Yoan Moncada and Phillies SS J.P. Crawford in the top three. The Yankees have seven players on the top 100. Three the seven were acquired within the last week. Here’s the list:

22. OF Clint Frazier (acquired in Andrew Miller trade)
24. SS Gleyber Torres (acquired in Aroldis Chapman trade)
25. 2B/SS Jorge Mateo
30. OF Aaron Judge
37. C Gary Sanchez
62. OF Blake Rutherford
93. LHP Justus Sheffield (acquired in Andrew Miller trade)

So that’s some list, huh? Three top 25 prospects, four top 30 prospects, and five top 40 prospects. Three of those five are in Triple-A too. That’s is pretty damn awesome. You can see MLB.com’s updated top 30 Yankees prospects right here. The scouting reports and everything are all free. I’m not going to regurgitate everything here. Here are some thoughts instead.

1. Andujar climbed quite a bit. Prior to the season MLB.com ranked 3B Miguel Andujar as the 15th best prospect in the system. Now he ranks eighth. That doesn’t sound like a huge jump, but four of the guys ahead of him in the midseason update weren’t in the organization prior to the season. His jump was really more like 15th to fourth when you ignore the new additions. Andujar’s breakout this season has been really impressive and it feels like a long time coming even though he’s still only 21. He’s six months younger than Frazier. These international signees get old quick, if you know what I mean. Prospect fatigue sets in early.

2. Adams climbed too. RHP Chance Adams has been a both a statistical and scouting marvel this season, as he’s made the transition from reliever to starter rather easily. He was 21st on the preseason list and is 14th now, ninth when you ignore all the recent additions. “While Adams has a deep enough repertoire to start, he’s not a big guy and it remains to be seen how his health and stuff would hold up with a significantly bigger workload,” said the write-up, and I think his size is important. Adams is listed at 6-foot-0 and the concern with short-ish pitchers is always the ability to drive the fastball downhill and avoid fly balls and homers. His 43.8% grounder rate and 10.8 HR/FB% aren’t exactly good signs. That said, Adams looks like a really safe bet to be at least a big league reliever long-term. What a scouting and player development story he is so far.

3. Green makes the leap. RHP Chad Green was not included in MLB.com’s preseason list. He now ranks 22nd, or 16th when you ignore the new guys. That’s a pretty significant jump. “Green’s fastball already was his best pitch when he worked at 90-94 mph with some occasional life. Now he’s sitting at 93-95 mph and touching 97,” says the scouting report. What is it with the Yankees getting their pitching prospects to add velocity? Green and a bunch of others have done it, including Adams and RHP James Kaprielian. There have been others as well. I’ve been impressed with Green’s arm despite his meh big league results to date. He was the second piece in the Justin Wilson trade, and, at least according to MLB.com, he’s jumped over RHP Luis Cessa to become the top piece.

4. Enns makes it. Finally some love for LHP Dietrich Enns, who has had tremendous results since returning from Tommy John surgery last year: 1.37 ERA (2.88 FIP) in 170.1 total innings. The scouting report isn’t as exciting as the numbers — “Enns’ lone plus pitch is his changeup, a low-80s offering that dives at the plate,” said the write-up, which also says he has an 87-92 mph fastball, a low-80s slider, and a slow curve — but he’s making people take notice, and that’s pretty cool. This guy was a 19th round pick and an organizational arm before having his elbow rebuild. Now he’s a prospect, albeit a fringe one who might not be more than a swingman at the MLB level. That’s still a really great outcome given his draft slot.

5. No Solak? I was surprised to see 2B Nick Solak absent from the top 30. I had him 13th on my post-draft top 30 before all the trades, so either I’m really high on him or MLB.com is really low. Probably the former. Solak has bat control and plate discipline, plus he can handle a middle infield position, and that seems really valuable to me. He’s the most notable omission in my book. Even with the new additions, I consider Solak organizational top 30 material rather easily.

6. No Austin either? 1B/OF Tyler Austin didn’t make the top 30 either — he also didn’t make my post-draft list, for what it’s worth — and that surprised me. I guess not everyone is sold on his big bounceback year yet. Brian Cashman did mention Austin by name as a possible call-up candidate yesterday and we’re going to find out pretty soon how the Yankees value him. Austin is going to be a minor league free agent after the season, so either the team will add him to the 40-man roster and keep him, or likely lose him to another club that offers a greater opportunity.

Update: Yankees sign second round pick Nick Solak

(Louisville Baseball on Twitter)
(Louisville Baseball on Twitter)

June 21st: Solak received a $950,000 bonus, reports Jon Heyman. That’s a bit under the $1,040,800 slot. Assuming the Yankees sign third rounder Nolan Martinez to slot money, they’ll have roughly $3.74M to offer Blake Rutherford. That’s seventh overall pick money. Here’s our Draft Pool Tracker.

June 16th: According to Joshua Welge, the Yankees and second round pick Nick Solak will finalize a contract in the coming days. Solak, a second baseman from Louisville, is scheduled to travel to New York and sign his contract at Yankee Stadium on Monday. There’s no word on his bonus yet.

“I guess you could say the last week has been the highest of highs and lowest of lows,” said Solak to Wedge, referring to getting drafted and Louisville’s soul-crushing walk-off grand slam elimination from the Division I postseason. “It was heartbreaking the way our season ended but I’m excited about what’s ahead.”

The Yankees will be home Monday and my guess is Solak will get the full treatment. Sign the contract, tour the ballpark, take batting practice with the team, the works. Clubs do that all the time with their high picks. Aaron Judge took batting practice with the Yankees out in Oakland after being drafted, for example. Here’s the video.

Solak, 21, hit .376/.470/.564 with 14 doubles, five homers, nine steals, 28 walks, and 20 strikeouts in 47 games this spring. He was a career .346/.442/.484 hitter in three years at Louisville. MLB.com’s free scouting report says Solak “has a line-drive stroke and focuses on the middle of the field” and “receives praise for his gritty makeup.”

The 62nd overall pick comes with a $1,040,800 bonus slot. The Yankees have $5,091,200 in pool money remaining — it’s $5,340,669 if you include the overage — and they still have to sign their top three picks. Most of that money figures to go to first rounder Blake Rutherford. Here’s our Draft Pool Tracker.

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 2B Nick Solak with second round pick

The Yankees have connected to a bunch of college bats the last few weeks, and they landed one with their second round pick in the 2016 draft Thursday night. New York selected Louisville second baseman Nick Solak with their second rounder (62nd overall). They took California HS OF Blake Rutherford with their first round pick.

Solak, 21, put up a .380/.474/.576 batting line with five homers, nine steals, 27 walks, and 19 strikeouts in 45 games for the Cardinals this spring. He was all over the place on the various draft rankings. Baseball America ranked Solak as the 86th best prospect in the draft class while MLB.com ranked him 147th. Keith Law (subs. req;d) did not include him in his top 100 draft prospects list. Here’s a piece of MLB.com’s free scouting report:

He has a line-drive stroke and focuses on the middle of the field, an approach that leads to consistent contact but not much power. Once he gets on base, he has the solid speed and good instincts to make things happen … He has sure hands and his quickness gives him range, though he doesn’t have the smoothest infield actions and some scouts wonder if he might wind up in center field in pro ball. He receives praise for his gritty makeup.

It’s easy to assume Solak is a pick designed to save draft pool space for Rutherford, though I’m not entirely sure that’s the case. I’ve said that about other players over the years — Peter O’Brien and Gosuke Katoh, most notably — and it hasn’t happened. Slot money for the 62nd pick is $1.04M. I guess we’ll just have to wait to see whether Solak is a draft pool pick or just one of those players the Yankees like more than everyone else.