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Yankees focus on college arms on Draft Day 2

@feinsand
June 4, 2019

The Yankees went back to college Tuesday. One day after making high school shortstop Anthony Volpe its No. 1 pick, New York selected eight college players on Tuesday in Rounds 3-10, including six pitchers. • Draft Tracker Through the first two days of the Draft, the Yankees have taken 11

The Yankees went back to college Tuesday.

One day after making high school shortstop Anthony Volpe its No. 1 pick, New York selected eight college players on Tuesday in Rounds 3-10, including six pitchers.

Draft Tracker

Through the first two days of the Draft, the Yankees have taken 11 players: seven pitchers (including three left-handers), a first baseman, second baseman, shortstop and center fielder. Other than Volpe, the rest of the players taken by New York in the first 10 rounds were college players.

“I’ve been doing this since ’05 as a director, and you always feel good when you leave,” said Damon Oppenheimer, the Yankees’ vice president of domestic amateur scouting. “Sometimes you feel better than others, but you remember each one. This one, after Day 2, I feel really good about this crop. Hopefully we get them all signed and everybody comes in healthy, but for where we pick in each round, I really feel good about it.”

Draft Central

Third Round (No. 105): Jake Sanford, RF, 21, Western Kentucky

Sanford’s story is strikingly similar to that of Yankees left fielder Brett Gardner, who was a walk-on at the College of Charleston before going on to become a third-round pick by the Yankees. Sanford had no baseball offers from colleges -- he did have a volleyball offer from Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia -- so he walked on to the baseball team at McCook (Neb.) Community College.

Two stellar seasons at McCook led to Sanford’s transfer to Western Kentucky, whose coach, John Pawlowski, had also been Gardner’s coach in Charleston.

“What a great story,” Pawlowski said. “It can’t help but jog my memory about when the Yankees selected Gardner in 2005.”

Sanford won the first Triple Crown in Conference USA history this season, hitting .402/.488/.828 with 22 home runs and 65 RBIs in 2019. MLB Pipeline noted that Sanford’s “raw power ranks among the best” in this year’s Draft.

“If this one can do what Gardy did, then we’ve had a hell of a Draft on its own,” Oppenheimer said. “He really reminds us of [former Rockies All-Star] Brad Hawpe. He’s got huge power; it’s easy, he drives the ball the other way. The combination of the power and the speed he has, being a guy who is kind of young and just starting at this thing, it made him real attractive to us.”

Sanford has played the outfield for only one year after manning first base during his two years at McCook, and while he played right field for Western Kentucky, his arm strength profiles better as a left fielder.

“He’s an athlete, he can run balls down – and he’s just getting started in baseball,” Pawlowski said. “The more time and effort he puts into it, he already has tremendous power and good bat-to-ball skills, there’s tremendous upside there. He’s got a bright future ahead of him.”

Fourth Round (No. 135): Jake Agnos, LHP, 21, East Carolina

The first of three players from East Carolina selected Tuesday, Agnos was the American Athletic Conference’s 2019 Pitcher of the Year. He set school records for single-season strikeouts (140 in 98 innings as of the Draft) and consecutive scoreless innings (32 2/3).

Agnos was 11-2 with a 2.02 ERA in 16 starts, throwing at least seven innings in seven of those outings.

Despite his 5-foot-11 frame, Agnos sits 88-93 mph with his fastball, topping out at 95. His curveball is his best pitch according to MLB Pipeline, though his changeup remains a work in progress.

“He’s a bulldog,” Oppenheimer said. “He’s tough as nails. He has the makeup of Mark Melancon; he’s really tough. Nasty curveball, his fastball is above average and he’s a great competitor. When Team USA was playing Japan or Cuba, that’s who they wanted the ball with.”

Fifth Round: Ken Waldichuk, LHP, 21, St. Mary’s (CA)

The 6-foot-4 lefty was the West Coast Conference’s Pitcher of the Week three times and the Collegiate Baseball National Pitcher of the Week once this season, improving as the year went on. He finished 5-6 with a 3.69 ERA in 15 starts, striking out 106 in 92 2/3 innings.

“He tried to go get more velocity this offseason and it set him back early in the season, but he regrouped and came back strong,” Oppenheimer said. “He has plenty of stuff and he throws it over the plate. We felt really fortunate that we got him.”

Sixth Round: Hayden Wesneski, RHP, 21, Sam Houston State

A 33rd-round pick by the Rays in 2016, Wesneski opted to attend Sam Houston State rather than turning pro out of high school. The decision paid off, as he went 25-9 with a 3.56 ERA in three years there, including an 8-4 mark and 3.32 ERA as a junior in 2019, fanning 110 batters in 105 2/3 innings, leading his conference in both categories.

Having been named the Southland Conference’s Freshman of the Year in 2017 and a member of the all-conference third team a year ago, Wesneski earned first-team All-Southland honors this season.

“He was our first right-hander, and like most right-handers that we get, he’s got velocity,” Oppenheimer said. “He’s got a swing-and-miss fastball, and on top of that, when we were there and backing it up with data, he was good. He had swing-and-miss, ground balls, a minimal amount of walks and quality stuff. He hit on a lot of our boxes.”

Seventh Round: Nick Paciorek, RHP, 21, Northwestern

The nephew of former big league All-Star Tom Paciorek, the Northwestern junior completed a successful conversion from catcher to pitcher in 2019.

Having struggled as a part-time catcher during his freshman year, Paciorek began throwing a little bit during his sophomore season, catching the eye of Wildcats coach Spencer Allen.

“He had pretty good arm strength, and for two years, was a catcher who split some time,” Allen said. “He got up on the mound one day, just kind of messing around, and then last year it slowly turned into us giving him a couple opportunities to pitch. Here we are 14 months later and he’s a seventh-round draft pick by the Yankees. It’s pretty surreal.”

Paciorek appeared in 20 games out of the bullpen during his first full year as a pitcher, leading Northwestern with a 3.37 ERA, 44 strikeouts and three saves, holding opposing hitters to a .196 batting average.

“He’s kind of new to it, but he’s got a big arm and a big ceiling,” Oppenheimer said. “We think there’s more in the tank. In terms of experience, it’s like you’re getting a high school kid.”

Paciorek’s fastball sits at 92-93 mph, getting as high as 96. Allen said the slider is his best pitch, which he throws between 84-87 mph.

“He’s really poised,” Allen said. “He’s been around the game with his family, so his poise on the mound is good. His development will come because I think there’s another tick in the fastball, because it’s a fresh arm. He’s going to really learn how to pitch.”

Eighth Round: Zach Greene, LHP, 22, South Alabama

Greene carried an ERA below 1.00 for most of his senior season at South Alabama, finishing the year with a 1.45 ERA and 13 saves. MLB Pipeline noted that despite a fastball that sits in the 89-93 range, Greene gets his share of strikeouts, recording 70 in 49 2/3 innings.

The lefty was selected in the 15th round by the Marlins last season, but opted to return for his senior season, his second with the Jaguars after spending his freshman year at UNC-Asheville and his sophomore season at St. John’s River Community College in Jacksonville.

“He’s had success, he’s got a good arm, and where we took him, we thought we were getting a guy with the potential to start,” Oppenheimer said. “He might even have more velocity coming out of the 'pen, too.”

Here’s a fun fact about Greene: His favorite athlete is Bartolo Colon.

Ninth Round: Spencer Henson, 1B, 21, Oral Roberts

The only player to win the Triple Crown in back-to-back seasons in the Summit League, Henson has plenty of raw power. The first baseman -- who doubled as his team’s closer at times, earning seven saves in 2019 -- has drawn comparisons with another former player from the same conference: Yankees first baseman Luke Voit.

“We saw Luke in college at Missouri State; similar build,” said Oral Roberts head coach Ryan Folmar. “Luke’s gotten bigger and a lot more physical the last couple years, but if you look at them, there’s a similarity.”

Oppenheimer has heard the comp many times, and given what Voit has meant to the Yankees since being traded to New York last summer, adding another player in his mold isn’t a bad thing.

“He has power, he has plate discipline, an aggressive swing that produced contact along with power,” Oppenheimer said of Henson. “Our area guy, Matt Ranson, was really pushing for him. You get your times when somebody is going good for you, and we have Luke Voit going good for us; everybody wants to drop a comparable because he’s a big, thick, strong guy like that. It makes it a little easier when somebody is going good for you and you get that comp.”

Henson, who grew up in Pryor, Okla., said he’s been a Yankees fan “since before I could walk,” so getting drafted by his favorite team made for a surreal afternoon.

“When I was a kid, I’d draw Yankee Stadium on the back of my paper [in school],” Henson said. “When people would ask what I wanted to be, I said I wanted to be a New York Yankee and play Major League Baseball. This is all pretty crazy.”

Henson posted a .362/.509/.768 slash line in 50 games this season, leading the league with 19 homers and 51 RBIs. Despite his pitching experience in college, Oppenheimer said the Yankees view him purely as a hitter.

“It’s a really good approach to hitting,” Folmar said. “He’s a guy that has evolved the last several years and has obviously been a very productive college hitter. The power continues to get better and I think it’s going to continue to get better.”

10th Round: Mitch Spence, RHP, 21, South Carolina-Aiken

Spence led the Peach Belt Conference in both wins and strikeouts as a junior this season, earning him a place on the All-Conference team, the conference’s All-Tournament Team as well as its All-Academic Team.

With a fastball that sits between 87-93 mph and has touched 95, Spence also has a good curveball and an average changeup, but the Yankees like his cutter and believe it can be an effective out pitch.

“We saw him pitch a few times this year and he dominated,” Oppenheimer said. “He came down and worked out for us, showed us his cutter; his fastball was good. Down where we got him, he’s got some pretty good stuff that we’re looking for from pitchers.”

The Draft concludes on Wednesday, with exclusive coverage of Rounds 11-40 on MLB.com beginning at noon ET.

Mark Feinsand, an executive reporter, originally joined MLB.com as a reporter in 2001.