BOSTON – The first Draft selection of the Chaim Bloom era in Boston was a selection that you couldn’t find in any mock Drafts.
But the Red Sox are confident that second baseman Nick Yorke, a high schooler from San Jose, Calif., will wind up being well worth the 17th overall pick in the 2020 Draft they used to get him on Wednesday.
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The right-handed-hitting senior from Archbishop Mitty High is known for his big bat. He is well-built for his 18 years of age, listed at 6-feet, 195 pounds.
“We love this kid’s bat,” said Bloom. “We think he has a chance to be a special bat who is going to play the infield. We feel that if the spring had gotten to play out the way it would have in a normal year the public perception of him would have been a lot different.”
The fact that it wasn’t a normal year probably played into Boston’s hands when it came to Yorke. They had already built a deep history with him before the coronavirus pandemic shut down baseball and all college sports this spring.
“I think our scouting staff is getting a lot of credit of getting to know Nick really well and having a longstanding relationship with him and so I think the missed spring didn’t affect our perception of him as much as it might have otherwise,” said Bloom.
“This staff has a tremendous track record with high school hitters and so does our player development staff and getting the most out of them. So when there was the type of conviction on his bat that we had in Nick’s, it was something we felt we needed to act on.”
MLB Pipeline had Yorke ranked at No. 139 among prospects heading into the Draft, making his selection at No. 17 somewhat of a stunner.
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For Yorke, getting picked as high as he did was affirmation.
“Personally I felt like I was a first-rounder,” Yorke said. “I know a lot of rankings and sites didn’t have me there. But personally I’m more of a blue collar, put-your-head-down, go-to-work kind of guy. I didn’t go out and do all the Perfect Game things guys get ranked on. Wherever I played ball I played my hardest and the Red Sox fortunately saw me at one of those times and the rest is what just happened.”
There was a perception that Yorke had his heart set on fulfilling his scholarship at the University of Arizona, which could be a reason other teams hadn’t contemplated spending a first-round pick on him.
Bloom -- in his first year as chief baseball officer for the Red Sox -- and amateur scouting director Paul Toboni felt Yorke’s upside as a hitter was worth taking the risk that they’ll be able to sign him.
“I think that’s where the relationship should help,” said Bloom. “Knowing the kid and the family really well, we’re optimistic that we’re going to be able to get him in a Red Sox uniform.”
The person who was surprised the least by Yorke getting drafted in the first round by a prestigious team such as the Red Sox? That would be Archbishop Mitty High coach Brian Yocke. In fact, Yocke has coached Yorke since he was in the sixth grade, and has a couple of stories that exemplify the grinder the Sox just drafted.
“We have a rule at our school that we can’t hit in the cage at 7 o’clock because it bothers the neighbors. Every single day of the last four years, in the spring, we stayed after practice to hit in those cages, those crummy high school cages, until 6:59 when we had to turn off the lights and lock the doors,” Yocke said.
One of the most vivid memories Yocke has is from when Yorke was in eighth grade.
“We had just finished practice and he came out early in shorts and we were just kind of hanging out and he comes up to me, eighth-grade Nick, and he says, ‘Hey Coach Yocke, do you mind if I take some ground balls?' and I’m like, 'Sure.' So I’m hitting him some ground balls and he was at third base as I’m hitting them. I accidentally shanked one of the fungos,” said Yocke.
“I kind of hooked the barrel and I hit a ground ball to where the third-base coach’s box is and he sprinted to it. We have turf in our foul territory, and he dove on that turf and ripped up his knees because he was in shorts, and he popped up as he if he was going to throw it to first.
“And then he’s wiping his knees and blood is coming from his knees. This is not only the athlete he is to get that ball but the mindset he attacks the game with.”
Yorke burns with intensity, drawing at least one early comparison to a former Red Sox player whose last name began with the letter Y.
“He’s got a little bit of Youkilis to him, maybe,” said Toboni. “He’s got that rugged advanced hit tool. When I said rugged, like, that rugged look about him. He’s a really physical kid. We think he’s going to get to power. That type of offensive profile but different in that he can play in the middle of the field.”
Yorke is confident he will fit seamlessly into the “Red Sox way” of doing things.
“Historically they’re great with younger hitters, and it’s a blue-collar type of program,” Yorke said. “I’m kind of that way. We have the garage setup with weight equipment. It’s really exciting just because our ways of playing kind of fit each other perfectly.”
Athleticism runs in the family. Yorke’s mother Robyn was a four-time All-American softball player at Fresno State.
“She went to the College World Series three times, so she’s been my personal hitting coach for 18 years,” Yorke said.
His brother Joe just completed his freshman year playing baseball at Boise State University.
Due to the pandemic, Yorke played just five games in his senior season, going 8-for-15 with a double, two homers, nine runs and six RBIs. After batting .370 (37-for-100) as a freshman, he hit a combined .503 (97-for-193) in his final three seasons. In a 30-game junior season, Yorke hit .505 (50-for-99) with nine doubles, three triples, seven homers and 40 RBIs. He finished his high school career with a .457 average.
How did Yorke become such an advanced hitter at such a young age?
“Approach, approach, approach,” Yocke said. “He’s worked on his body to improve his power. From a very young age, he was just a very approachable kid. Most kids that are big, strong and studly as youngsters are just like, ‘I’m just going to pull the ball because pitchers can’t locate anyway, so I’m just going to crush the ball over the fence.' From a very young age, it was very clear that he realized he wanted to be above just being good at where he’s at now. He drives the ball to the opposite field.”
Yorke looks forward to one day taking aim at the Green Monster in left, Pesky’s Pole in right, and especially the triangle in right-center.
“I was there during a Cooperstown 12U trip,” said Yorke. “We took a trip to Boston and we caught a game. I think my swing fits perfectly there. A lot of my power goes to right-center, so I think I can hit a lot of triples just because of that alleyway in the right-center-field gap.”
The Draft continues on Thursday with Rounds 2-5. The MLB Network preview show begins at 4 p.m. ET, with live coverage on MLB Network and ESPN2 beginning at 5 p.m. ET. Go to MLB.com/Draft for complete coverage, including every pick on the Draft Tracker, coverage and analysis from MLB Pipeline’s Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo, the complete order of selection and more. And follow @MLBDraft and @MLBDraftTracker on Twitter.
Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.