More than 1,200 players were selected in this week’s MLB Draft, 41 of them by the Yankees. While many experts lauded New York for its selections in the first 10 rounds, Damon Oppenheimer knows all too well that the success of this Draft won’t truly be known for quite a while.
Still, shortly after the Yankees completed their Draft, the team’s vice president of domestic amateur scouting was thrilled with the class he and his staff had put together.
• Draft Tracker: Every Yankees pick, every round
“I’m really excited about it,” Oppenheimer said. “We did a really nice blend this year with the middle infield, the left-handed pitching we were looking for, some right-handers with velocity. We got a couple corner bats that we think have power. I’m excited about the potential for some of these guys to work their way through the system and give us value.”
If there was a theme for the Yankees this year, it was their preference for college players, specifically pitchers. Of their 41 picks, 31 came from college programs (including two players from junior college), with pitchers accounting for 19 of those 31.
“The system and the pool money can make it hard to sign the high-end high school guy because of their demands for bonuses and things like that,” Oppenheimer said. “In my mind, the high-end guy that’s ready to take the step into professional baseball is usually gobbled up in the first few rounds. It’s very hard to meet what they’re looking for, so my guess is most teams are going to be predominantly in the college market after the first few picks. For us, it’s just a case of weighing talent and weighing signability.”
Given their predilection for college players this year, it was somewhat ironic that the Yankees’ Draft began with the selection of a high school player in the first round. With the 30th overall pick, New York chose Anthony Volpe, a shortstop from Delbarton School in Morristown, N.J., who is committed to Vanderbilt. Despite that commitment, the Yankees feel confident that Volpe will sign and skip college.
• Yankees draft N.J. native Volpe at No. 30
Volpe played for Team USA’s gold medal-winning 18-and-under team last fall, then starred for Delbarton in USA Baseball’s National High School Invitational this spring, showing the ability to thrive against top competition.
In 84 at-bats for Delbarton this season, Volpe hit .488 with 19 extra-base hits, 34 RBIs and 17 stolen bases. He became the fifth shortstop to be taken in the first round by the Yankees in the past 28 Drafts; the first of those was Derek Jeter, another kid born in New Jersey who went on to experience some success after being the No. 6 overall pick in 1992.
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After selecting Volpe at No. 30, the Yankees used the Competitive Balance Round A selection they received from the Reds in the Sonny Gray trade to take Missouri left-hander T.J. Sikkema at No. 38. That sparked a run of 19 consecutive college players selected by the Yankees, 12 of them pitchers.
“Pitching is such a delicate position with injuries, we have to take a lot of pitching,” Oppenheimer said. “We seem to really be able to develop these pitchers, even college guys, we can get those guys to where they improve.
• Yankees go to college on Day 2
“They bring a Major League tool to the package. Down the line, a pitcher has a really good arm, a good breaking ball, maybe they’ve got really good control and you’re trying to develop that. With position players, it’s hard to find five tools, four tools or even three tools that are going to play.”
The most intriguing pick from Day 3 came in the 20th round, when the Yankees took high school pitcher Jack Leiter, the son of former Yankees pitcher and broadcaster (and current MLB Network analyst) Al Leiter. Jack Leiter, who was Volpe’s teammate at Delbarton, has also committed to Vanderbilt, and it is widely assumed by the industry that he plans to honor that commitment and attend college.
• Yanks pick Leiter's son, who isn't likely to sign
Leiter had been ranked as the No. 33 overall prospect by MLB Pipeline, but he went undrafted in the early rounds because of his perceived lack of signability. It’s highly unlikely that the Yankees -- who have roughly $7.45 million to spend on the 11 players selected in the first 10 rounds, or on any player taken after that who gets more than $125,000 to sign -- will have enough to lure Leiter away from Vanderbilt.
“I know his deep commitment to Vanderbilt, but there’s always a percentage chance that something could happen,” Oppenheimer said. “As minute as it is, it’s there. Vanderbilt is the most likely scenario, though.”
Having selected 24 college players with their first 26 picks, the Yankees took another high school pitcher in the 26th round, drafting Ryan Brown from South Salem High School in Oregon, a right-hander committed to play at Oregon State. Then, beginning in Round 30, the Yankees selected four consecutive high schoolers, including two pitchers, a catcher and a shortstop.
Zachary Maxwell, an 18-year-old right-hander from North Paulding High School in Georgia, was taken in the 30th round. The big Georgia Tech recruit -- he’s 6-foot-6 and 245 pounds -- was hitting 98 mph with his fastball late this spring and possesses a good curveball, though it remains to be seen whether he decides to play pro ball or pitch for the Yellow Jackets.
“The odds would say he probably goes to college, but we’re going to work on it,” Oppenheimer said. “We do a really good job recruiting some of these kids. Once they get a sniff of being a Yankee, I think it helps. So many of these players want to be a Yankee because of the work that [amateur pitching analyst] Scott Lovekamp does; he spends time with some of these kids, educating them on what the Yankees are about.”
The Yankees took seven high schoolers among their final 11 picks, including catcher Chad Knight (31st round, committed to Duke), right-hander Ethan Hoopingarner (32nd round, USC), left-hander Nathaniel Espelin (35th round, Dayton) and center fielder Dontae Mitchell (38th round, South Florida).
“Some of them, you’re thinking, ‘Hey, people change their mind; this is worth that shot,’” Oppenheimer said of the high schoolers. “We don’t need to sign 40 guys. You’re working with the player development guys, people telling you how many innings we need to fill, how many first basemen we can have. You can’t sign everybody.”
Mark Feinsand, an executive reporter, originally joined MLB.com as a reporter in 2001.