2017 Preseason Not Top 30 Prospects

Littell. (@MLBPipeline)
Littell. (@MLBPipeline)

The Yankees have remade their farm system with a series of high profile trades over these last eight months or so. As a result, they have one of the best and deepest farm systems in the game. Guys like Gleyber Torres and Clint Frazier get a ton of attention and rightfully so. It’s the quality of the prospects that don’t make my 2017 Preseason Top 30 Prospects List, which will be posted tomorrow, that makes the system stand out.

Before we can get to the top 30 prospects, we must first cover the not top 30 prospects. These are five prospects who did not crack this year’s top 30 list, but I believe could make next year’s if they continue to have success with their development and put together solid 2017 seasons. Just to be perfectly clear, these are not prospects 31-35. Call them sleepers, if you want. Some of them seem a little too high-profile for that, however.

Only one of last season’s not top 30 prospects jumped into this year’s top 30 list. That’s a bummer. I usually like to get at least two in there. It’s not simply because of the depth of the farm system either. None of the four who failed to make this year’s stacked top 30 list would have made a “normal” year’s top 30 list either. For shame. Bad job by me. Anyway, here are this year’s not top 30 prospects, listed alphabetically.

RHP Jorge Guzman
Guzman, who turned 21 last month, came over from the Astros in the Brian McCann trade earlier this offseason. He split last season between the rookie Gulf Coast and Appalachian Leagues, where he had a 4.05 ERA (2.64 FIP) with 32.1% strikeouts and 10.1% walks in 40 innings. Guzman is a pure arm strength prospect. He sits in the 97-100 mph range even as a starter — Baseball America says he topped out at 103 mph in 2016 — but shows better command when he scales it back to 96-98 mph, which is still premium velocity. Both his changeup and slider are rudimentary, so right now he’s essentially a one-pitch pitcher. Guzman has good size (6-foot-2 and 182 lbs.) and he’s not a max effort guy at all. He gets to that velocity pretty easily. It goes without saying Guzman, who could start the year in Extended Spring Training before joining Short Season Staten Island, is a long way away from the big leagues, but his upside is enormous.

RHP Zack Littell
I wanted to squeeze Littell into the top 30 list. I really did. Just couldn’t find room for him though. Acquired from the Mariners in the James Pazos trade earlier this winter, the 21-year-old Littell threw a ridiculous 173 innings between Low-A and High-A last summer. The former 11th round pick (2013 draft) had a 2.60 ERA (3.07 FIP) with very good strikeout (21.0%) and walk (5.0%) rates in those 173 innings. Littell is a classic bulldog with a low-90s fastball and quality secondary offerings in his curveball and changeup. The changeup is the more consistent of the two pitches right now, though both are legitimate weapons. Littell’s stuff plays up because he has good overall control and excellent fastball command, and also because he’s a baseball rat who spends a lot of time reviewing scouting reports and observing opposing hitters on days he doesn’t pitch. It seems likely he will start 2017 with High-A Tampa — he threw only 68 innings at the level last year — before getting bumped up to Double-A at midseason.

RHP Nolan Martinez
Martinez is another guy I really wanted to squeeze into the top 30 list. He was New York’s third round pick (98th overall) in last year’s draft, and his hefty $1.15M bonus was one of two overslot bonuses the Yankees gave out last year. (First rounder Blake Rutherford received the other, duh.) Martinez barely pitched after turning pro, throwing only seven innings in three rookie ball starts. His pro debut, a one-inning start in the rookie GCL, was rained out and the canceled, meaning the stats didn’t count, so he truly threw eight innings in four starts last year. Unique pro debut story, eh?

Anyway, the 18-year-old Martinez sits anywhere from 88-93 mph with his heater, and his upper-70s curveball is devastating when he’s on. PitchFX data from pre-draft showcase events at big league ballparks showed the curveball already has an above-average Major League spin rate. Martinez doesn’t have much of a changeup at this point, he’s never really needed one, but he throws strikes and has a good delivery. He’s seemingly ticketed for ExST and rookie Pulaski this summer, where the changeup will be a point of emphasis.

RHP Freicer Perez
The Yankees signed Perez as part of their landmark 2014-15 international class, though he was a low-profile prospect who received a $10,000 bonus at age 18. Since then, he’s developed into a high-upside prospect with one of the most powerful arms in the system. Perez spent last summer with Short Season Staten Island, where he had a 4.47 ERA (3.81 FIP) with 20.6% strikeouts and 10.5% walks in 52.1 innings. Although he already sits 95-97 mph and has touched 99 mph with his heater, his tall (6-foot-8) yet thin (190 lbs.) frame suggests there may be more velocity coming. Freicer is working to improve his curveball and changeup, neither of which is a reliable offering at the moment, and it’s no surprise he’s still refining his mechanics as well. Those long arms and legs don’t always cooperate. Perez will turn 21 in March and even though he remains fairly raw, there’s a good chance the Yankees will send him to Low-A Charleston to begin 2017.

C Donny Sands
Sands, 20, was under-scouted in high school because he didn’t get invited to many showcase events in talent-rich Arizona. The Yankees landed him with their eighth round pick in 2015, gave him a below-slot $100,000 bonus, then moved him from third base to catcher following the season. Sands is still rough around the edges defensively, understandably so, but he moves well behind the plate and has a strong arm. He has the athleticism, tools, and baseball aptitude to turn into a quality defensive backstop. At the plate, Sands never took his defensive work into the batter’s box, and hit .286/.328/.375 (102 wRC+) with two homers and a ton of contact (10.2% strikeouts) in 122 rookie ball plate appearances in 2016. He has promising power and the innate ability to get the fat part of the bat on the ball. The Yankees are a great catcher development organization — Francisco Cervelli, John Ryan Murphy, and Luis Torrens didn’t become full-time catchers until the Yankees got their hands on them, for example — and Sands is their next conversion project.

Thoughts on Keith Law’s top ten Yankees prospects

Wade. (Presswire)
Wade. (Presswire)

Last Friday, Keith Law released his annual top 100 prospects list, which included six Yankees. This week ESPN is publishing Law’s individual team reports, and those include not only the top ten prospects in each organization, but guys beyond that as well. It’s a crazy deep dive for each club.

Here is Law’s organizational report for the Yankees. This is all behind the Insider paywall, so I can’t give away too much. These are the top ten prospects, which are the six top 100 prospects plus four new names (duh):

  1. SS Gleyber Torres (No. 4 on top 100)
  2. OF Blake Rutherford (No. 22)
  3. OF Clint Frazier (No. 27)
  4. RHP James Kaprielian (No. 28)
  5. OF Aaron Judge (No. 44)
  6. LHP Justus Sheffield (No. 88)
  7. SS Jorge Mateo
  8. SS Tyler Wade
  9. RHP Chance Adams
  10. 3B Miguel Andujar

In all, Law goes through and lists his top 24 Yankees prospects. I won’t list all 24, but Brendan Kuty has you covered. I have some thoughts on the non-top 100 guys.

1. The gap between Mateo and Wade is small. It’s no secret Mateo had a disappointing 2016 season. He didn’t just perform poorly, he also got himself suspended for two weeks for violating an unknown team policy. It was a tough year for Jorge. No doubt. In the write-up, Law calls Wade a superior shortstop and hitter, though there is still “enough industry faith in Mateo’s speed and body” that he gets the higher ranking. We know Law’s rankings do not reflect the consensus — Baseball Prospectus ranked Mateo third and Wade ninth in the system while Baseball America had Mateo fourth and Wade outside the top ten, so those sites had a much larger gap between the two — and the story here should be the positive report on Wade, not Mateo’s tumble down Law’s rankings. The Yankees had Wade play the outfield in the Arizona Fall League because they’re clearing a path for him to get to the big leagues. He may not offer the upside of Mateo (or Torres), but Wade is a damn good prospect himself.

2. Law has the good Clarkin scouting report. Scouting reports on LHP Ian Clarkin were all over the place last season. On his best days, he’d sit in the low-90s with a hammer curveball and a quality changeup. On his worst days, he was in the upper-80s with a loopy breaking ball. Law gives the positive scouting report on Clarkin, saying he spent last season “pitching in the low 90s with a good curveball.” Now that he’s a full year removed from the elbow injury that sidelined him for all of 2016, I’m hopeful we’ll see more of the good version of Clarkin this year. He’s going to be Rule 5 Draft eligible after the season, remember. This is a big year for him. “Double-A will be a good test of his ability to use his two above-average pitches to get guys on both sides of the plate, as hitters there will lay off the curveball if he can’t locate it,” added Law’s write-up.

3. McKinney’s stock is tumbling. Last season was a tough one for OF Billy McKinney, who came over from the Cubs in the Aroldis Chapman trade. He was a first round pick back in 2013, though the combination of a knee injury and poor performance have him slipping down the rankings. Law says McKinney, who he dubbed the system’s falling prospect, has a sound swing and a plan at the plate, but the “projections from high school that had him getting to average power aren’t coming to fruition.” The Yankees got McKinney as the third piece in the Chapman trade — Torres was the headliner (duh) and Adam Warren was the second piece, right? that how I’ve always seen it — and it was only a year ago that Law ranked him 69th on his top 100 list, so the kid has talent. As Brian Cashman likes to say, McKinney is an asset in distress. The Yankees have to build him back up.

4. The 2016 draft gets some love. The Yankees had a very good 2016 draft thanks to Rutherford all by himself. He was one of the best prospects in the draft class. Unfortunately, the current draft pool system doesn’t allow teams to spend freely, so the Yankees had to skimp elsewhere to pay Rutherford. Eight of their top ten picks received below-slot bonuses. The team’s draft haul was top heavy, but two other 2016 draftees still made Law’s top 24 Yankees prospects. RHP Nolan Martinez placed 21st because he “throws 88-93 mph with a huge spin rate on his fastball and good depth on his curve,” though he’s still working to develop his changeup. RHP Nick Nelson, who Law seems to love based on what he’s written dating back to the draft, ranked 22nd after “pumping 96-97 mph in instructional league with a big curveball.” Hmmm. Anyway, point is, the Yankees landed some other nice prospects in last summer’s draft. It wasn’t only Rutherford.

5. A few lesser known prospects make the top 24. Lesser known probably isn’t the correct term. Less thought about? Maybe that’s better. Anyway, among the players to pop up on Law’s farm system deep dive are SS Kyle Holder (“at least a 70 defender”), RHP Freicer Perez (“6-foot-8 and throws up to 98 mph already with good angle”), SS Oswaldo Cabrera (“an average defender with a promising hit tool”), and RHP Jorge Guzman (“has hit 103 mph and will sit at 99-100”). Guzman is the other guy the Yankees got from the Astros in the Brian McCann trade. We all focus on the top prospects and understandably so. They’re the headliners, and there’s a pretty good chance we’re going to see several of them in the big leagues this summer. Further down in the minors, it’s guys like Cabrera and Guzman that separate New York’s farm system from the rest of the pack. Talented players like those two don’t even crack the top 20 prospects in the farm system — Cabrera ranks 23rd and Guzman ranked 24th in the system, per Law — yet they’d be top ten in more than a few other organizations.

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 sign third round pick Nolan Martinez

6:21pm: Turns out Martinez received a well-over-slot bonus. Didn’t expect that. He signed for $1.15M, reports Jonathan Mayo. That leaves roughly $3.14M for Rutherford.

6:15pm: According to the transactions page on the official site, the Yankees have signed third round pick Nolan Martinez. The high school right-hander from Southern California was slotted for $608,200. There’s no word on his bonus yet. I’m sure we’ll find out soon enough.

Martinez, 18, was not a bonus pool saving pick on Day Two. He’s a legitimate prospect. Baseball America (No. 67), Keith Law (No. 93), and MLB.com (No. 99) all ranked him as one of the 100 best prospects in the draft, and the Yankees were able to get him with the 98th pick. Here’s a piece of MLB.com’s free scouting report:

He has seen his velocity spike this spring, firing his fastball up to 93 mph at times. He backs it up with a solid average curveball. Like with many high schoolers, Martinez’s changeup is his third pitch. He has shown some polish and a repeatable delivery, with the hope that his feel for pitching should allow him to develop that third pitch.

With Martinez done, the Yankees have now signed all of their picks in the top ten rounds except first rounder Blake Rutherford. Here’s our Draft Pool Tracker. If the Yankees gave Martinez slot, it’ll leave them with $3.74M or so to offer Rutherford. That’s seventh overall pick money and well above his $2.44M slot value.

The signed deadline is Friday, July 15th this year. Now that the Yankees have all the other picks are taken care of, hopefully they can get Rutherford signed soon so he can begin his pro career. It’s not uncommon for first rounders to wait until deadline day to sign though. James Kaprielian did it just last year. I guess we’ll see.

Draft Signing Updates: Rutherford, Martinez, Widener

1B Tim Lynch, who signed with the Yankees last week as their ninth round pick, used to be a huge autograph hound, writes Ken Rosenthal. He once brought Lorenzo Cain donuts to get him to sign a card, which completed Lynch’s signed Bowman set. Pretty cool story. Check it out.

Here is the latest round of 2016 draft pick signing news. You can see all of the Yankees’ picks at Baseball America. Here’s our first set of signing updates and our reviews of Day One, Day Two, and Day Three of the draft, in case you missed them.

  • Scouting director Damon Oppenheimer told George King there “is progress going on” in talks with California HS OF Blake Rutherford (1st round). “I don’t have a timetable, but we are making progress,” he said. Oppenheimer also said the Yankees are making progress with California HS RHP Nolan Martinez (3rd). Rutherford and Martinez are the team’s only unsigned picks in the top ten rounds, which are the rounds tied to the bonus pool.
  • South Carolina RHP Taylor Widener has signed, according to Baseball America. No word on his bonus, though I assume it is $100,000 or less. That’s the maximum teams can give players drafted after the tenth round without it counting towards the bonus pool.
  • Florida HS RHP Jordan Scott (14th) has signed, also according to Baseball America. Scott actually tweeted out that he had signed, but it has since been deleted. Guess he jumped the gun. There’s no word on his bonus.
  • New York JuCo LHP Tony Hernandez (15th) has signed for $100,000, reports Josh Norris. That’s the max allowed without anything counting towards the bonus pool.
  • Eastern Kentucky 3B Mandy Alvarez (17th) round has signing and is already playing for Short Season Staten Island. No word on his bonus, but I assume it is $100,000 or less.
  • Fordham RHP Greg Weissert (18th) told Jesse Foster he is planning to sign. He’s supposed to head down to Tampa soon to take his physical and sign his contract.
  • Texas HS OF Evan Alexander (19th) seems to have signed, according to his Twitter account. He traveled to Florida yesterday, indicating he’s in Tampa for his physical and contract signing.
  • Fullerton RHP Miles Chambers (20th), USC OF Timmy Robinson (21st), and Maryland JuCo OF Joe Burton (24th) have all signed, according to Baseball America. No word on their bonuses.
  • Florida HS OF Ed Luaces (25th) has signed, he told Robert Pimpsner. He is currently in Tampa working out and will be assigned to one of the minor league affiliates soon.
  • Lander RHP Will Jones (28th) has signed according to his Twitter feed. No word on his bonus, but as with pretty much everyone else in this post, I assume it’s $100,000 or less.
  • California HS C D.C. Clawson (34th) told Steve Breazeale he plans to follow through on his commitment to BYU unless the Yankees make a last minute over-slot offer. Clawson is one of the players the Yankees took as a backup plan in case Rutherford doesn’t sign and leaves them with a bunch of unspent bonus pool space.
  • Virginia HS RHP Zach Hess (35th) indicated he will not sign on Twitter. Like Clawson, Hess is one of the players selected as a backup plan in case Rutherford doesn’t sign.
  • Stony Brook RHP Tim Honahan (36th) has indeed signed. Stony Brook broadcaster Jeff Bernstein posted a photo of Honahan signing his contract on Twitter. No word on his bonus. Last week we heard Honahan was planning to sign.
  • Wisconsin-Milwaukee RHP Brian Keller (39th) has signed, he told Steven Tietz. He’s in Tampa working out now. “There will be workouts, and then I’ll be assigned (to one of the minor league affiliates),” said Keller to Tietz.
  • Wisconsin HS RHP Nate Brown (40th) told JR Radcliffe he will not sign, but appreciates being drafted. “Now I have a love for the Yankees I didn’t have before. Three years from now, if they come in and (draft me) and don’t offer me as much as I’ve been (hoping for), there’s still that deep feeling in my heart that three years ago, they saw something that the other guys didn’t,” he said.

By my unofficial count, the Yankees have now signed 24 of their 40 draft picks. Teams usually sign 25-30 draftees each year. The Yankees still need to get Rutherford and Martinez locked up, though it seems like only a matter of time until that happens. Rutherford probably won’t sign until the July 15th deadline though. Here’s our Draft Pool Tracker.

2016 Draft: Yankees focus on saving bonus pool space for Rutherford on Day Two

Generally speaking, teams have two goals on Day Two of the draft. First of all they want to acquire talent. That’s obvious. At the same time, they also want to make sure their bonus pool situation is in order, so they spend a lot of time on the phone cutting deals. No one likes surprises when it comes to bonus demands, especially now in the age of spending pools.

After making two picks on Day One, the Yankees made eight more yesterday, and most of them were used on players who figure the save the team bonus pool space. California HS OF Blake Rutherford, the team’s first round pick, is not going to come cheap. He was a projected top ten pick and figures to be paid accordingly. The Yankees had to do something to save pool space on Day Two. Let’s review the team’s picks in rounds 3-10.

Adding More Upside

The pool saving did not start right away. The Yankees kicked off Day Two by taking California HS RHP Nolan Martinez with their third round pick, No. 98 overall. That seems like good value; Baseball America ranked Martinez as the 67th best prospect in the draft class while Keith Law (subs. req’d) and MLB.com ranked him 93rd and 99th, respectively. Point is, this wasn’t a pick designed to save money.

Martinez is a 6-foot-2 right-hander who runs his fastball up to 95 mph on occasion, and last fall at the World Wood Bat Association showcase, PitchFX measured his fastball spin rate at 2,685 rpm. That was the highest spin rate at the event and well above the MLB average fastball spin rate of 2,226 rpm. Spin rate is still a new thing we’re learning about, though high spin rates correlate well to swings and misses and low spin rates correlate well to ground balls.

In addition to the high spin fastball, Martinez also throws an upper-70s slurve that is closer to a curveball than a slider. He also has a changeup and a good, athletic delivery. Martinez doesn’t have sky high upside, but he does have three pitches and okay control, which is a darn good starting point for a third round pick. He’s the best prospect the Yankees have drafted aside from Rutherford so far.

Back to the JuCo ranks

I’m not sure how well they compare to other teams, but the Yankees seem to do a really good job scouting junior colleges. Just last season they plucked OF Trey Amburgey out of a junior college. Two years ago they landed 1B Chris Gittens from a junior college. Go back to 2011 and they plucked RHP Jon Gray out of a junior college too. He only developed into a prospect worthy of being the No. 3 pick in the country.

The Yankees went back to the junior college ranks to select Florida JuCo RHP Nick Nelson in the fourth round (128th overall). Nelson was a two-way player in school — he led the team in innings (90.1) and was second in plate appearances (247) — who projects best on the mound. It’s a classic reliever profile with a low-90s heater and a good slider, and if there’s one thing the Yankees know how to find in the draft, it’s bullpen arms.

Thompson-Williams. (247Sports)
Thompson-Williams. (247Sports)

A Top Tool in the Fifth Round

Once you get to the fifth round, there’s not much more you can do than zero in on players with an above-average tool and either hope it carries him or the rest of his game catches up. The Yankees picked South Carolina OF Dom Thompson-Williams with their fifth round selection (158th overall) and his standout tool in his defense. He’s a ballhawk in the outfield capable of making highlight reel plays. Can he hit? That’s the question and most think the answer is a no. The Yankees will send Thompson-Williams out there and hope he learns to recognize spin and catch up to pro velocity well enough to keep his glove in the lineup.

Time to Save Money

Inevitably, the Yankees had to draft some college seniors on Day Two to save bonus pool money for Rutherford. It had to happen. College seniors have little leverage and often sign for five-figure bonuses. Some get even less than that. The best senior the Yankees drafted yesterday is USC RHP Brooks Kriske (sixth round), who added velocity this spring and now sits 93-95 mph. He also has a slider and could carve out a career in the bullpen.

Fullerton 1B Dalton Blaser (eighth round) and Southern Miss 1B Tim Lynch (ninth round) will reportedly be in the Bronx later today to try out for the big league team’s first base job. Okay fine, I made that up. It might not be a bad idea though given the team’s first base situation. Anyway, Blaser is the better prospect of the two as a lefty hitter with some pull power. He hit .359/.439/.485 with four homers, 30 walks, and 18 strikeouts this year.

Update: I didn’t realize this, but Blaser’s father Mark was the Yankees’ fourth round pick in the 1981 draft. He played in their farm system from 1981-85, reaching as high as Double-A. Here’s his Baseball Reference page.

Lynch has much better numbers — he put up a .364/.470/.545 batting line with ten homers, 39 walks, and 13 strikeouts this spring — and is another left-hander hitter, but the general belief is there isn’t enough bat speed to handle high caliber pro pitching. Lynch is going to hold down a roster spot in the lower levels and provide some lineup depth around higher profile prospects. Same with Blaser.

Skinner! (North Florida University)
Skinner! (North Florida University)

North Florida C Keith Skinner (seventh round) is another lefty hitter with great numbers — he hit .382/.466/.486 with two homers, 36 walks, and 14 strikeouts this year — and unlike Blaser and Lynch, he has the advantage of playing a premium position. Skinner’s defense is okay at best. He can throw and receive a little bit, but he’s not someone who will shut the running game down with his arm or steal strikes with his framing.

The final college senior the Yankees drafted yesterday is Illinois-Chicago LHP Trevor Lane (tenth round), who fanned 30 and walked eleven in 26.2 innings this spring. He’s a reliever with a classic left-on-left matchup profile. Lane is a little guy at 5-foot-11 and 185 lbs., and he sits in the upper-80s with his fastball. He also has a sweepy breaking ball. Kriske, Skinner, Blaser, Lynch, and Lane are slotted for $944,200 combined. I’ll be surprised if it costs the team even half that to sign them all.

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The Yankees landed one very good prospect in Martinez on Day Two, and I’m interested to see what Kriske does in pro ball, especially if the team sticks him in the bullpen right out of the chute. Most of the day was spent manipulating the bonus pool to make sure they have enough money to sign Rutherford, who is the kind of top of the draft talent the Yankees rarely have access to.