TAMPA, Fla. -- It was the most unique experience of Damon Oppenheimer’s 15-year tenure helming the Yankees’ MLB Draft efforts, with the coronavirus pandemic challenging scouts to scour the Internet for game video and experiment with Zoom calls in order to boil the nation’s vast amateur talent pool down to three selections.
In the first round, the Yankees tabbed slugging catcher Austin Wells from the University of Arizona as the 28th overall selection. On Day 2, the Yanks took second baseman Trevor Hauver from Arizona State University in the third round (99th overall). In the fourth round (129th overall), they selected right-hander Beck Way from Northwest Florida State College.
“It was really quick, only being able to select three players, but we're excited,” Oppenheimer said. “We think we did really good with these three guys.”
The signing deadline this year is Aug. 1.
If a club exceeds its assigned pool, it faces a penalty. Teams that outspend their allotment by zero to five percent pay a 75 percent tax on the overage. At higher thresholds, clubs lose future picks: a first-rounder and a 75 percent tax for surpassing their pool by more than five and up to 10 percent; a first- and a second-rounder and a 100 percent tax for more than 10 and up to 15 percent; and two first-rounders and a 100 percent tax for more than 15 percent.
In eight years with these rules, teams have exceeded their allotment a total of 149 times but never by more than five percent. Twenty-one of the 30 teams outspent their pool last year.
Wells said on Thursday that he anticipates signing quickly, and there are not expected to be signability issues with Hauver and Way. The Yankees’ bonus pool was $3,520,000. The assigned slot values for the Yanks’ picks were $2,493,900 (No. 28), $587,400 (No. 99) and $438,700 (No. 129).
This is the second time in three years that the Yankees have used their top pick on a catcher, following the first-round selection of Anthony Seigler in 2018. Wells and Hauver feature potent left-handed bats that are expected to translate to pro ball, though there is some question about where they will ultimately be used defensively.
The Yanks believe that Wells could remain at catcher, though there have been comparisons drawn to Kyle Schwarber, who has played most of his big league career in the outfield. Hauver played mostly outfield in college, though he will have an opportunity to return to the infield, where he played in high school.
“In general, position players get gobbled up in the Draft,” Oppenheimer said. “They go off the board pretty quick and the impactful ones, a lot of times, are the guys that you're able to take up high. This Draft had some depth in pitching, so we thought, ‘If we're going to get a shot at a position player, then let's take a shot and see if we can get the some of the pitching to fall down to us.’”
Wells’ stock skyrocketed after an impressive performance in the Cape Cod League last summer, where he was named the circuit’s Outstanding Pro Prospect after hitting .308 (48-for-156) with 13 doubles, seven homers and 26 RBIs in 42 games with the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox. He was also named a starter to the league’s All-Star Game.
“The Cape has always been important to me because it's the thing that most mirrors professional baseball,” Oppenheimer said. “They play every day. They play with wood [bats] and they play against the best. I think you learn a lot about guys up there; there's some guys that go up there for a summer vacation and some guys that go up there to become better baseball players.”
Day 2 name to watch
Oppenheimer said that the organization will be looking for Way to build upon the strides that he made in the Cape Cod League, where he featured a loose, easy delivery and a fastball that touched 98 mph. The influence of performance coach Eric Cressey and the club’s pitch design experts could accelerate the 20-year-old’s development.
“There's more in the tank with this guy when we get him in our strength and conditioning program with Cressey and the boys,” Oppenheimer said. “There's just a lot of room for growth.”
The Yankees prepared for what they expected to be a 10-round Draft, then compiled reports on prospects whom they believed could go undrafted and then educated those players on what the organization could do to assist their development. Beginning on Sunday, scouts plan to reopen dialogue with the players who were passed over.
“They're going to be a huge part of what starts on Sunday with the process of trying to acquire some players for the $20,000, because everybody's going to be kind of in the same boat,” Oppenheimer said. “It's an even playing field in terms of the money and what you can do, so if a player has affection for you and believes in the people there, you might have a better shot.”
The last word
“[The 2020 Draft] was a lot different. It lacked the personal side and the camaraderie that the scouts we have here are used to having. You're so used to coming to Tampa every week, seeing everybody's face, the interaction that you're able to have with the guys as a team. We were able to do the best we could, but you sure missed that side. I sure hope we're back to normal business and able to get everybody together again next year.” -- Oppenheimer