Ten years ago, Damon Oppenheimer, the Yankees' longtime vice president of domestic amateur scouting, laid out his general philosophy entering a draft.
"You can't go into the draft targeting needs in baseball or you end up overdrafting," Oppenheimer said in a post-draft interview in 2010. "It gets in people's heads when I tell them, for example, ‘we need lefthanded power hitters.’ You tell that to scouts and every time they see one, they might overevaluate that player or push him up the board. You just try to tell your guys we need good players, pitchers that have big arms, and then sort through it."
In the past, each year’s draft provided ample opportunity for the Yankees — and all teams — to utilize the organizational philosophy of their choosing in restocking their farm systems.
In the Yankees' case, 25 of their 41 selections in the 2019 draft and 24 of their 40 picks in the 2018 draft were pitchers. That continued their decade-plus priority of stuffing as many power arms as they can into the minors.
The MLB Draft has always given clubs plenty of chances to refurbish their talent. The draft, which lasted 100 rounds in 1996 and 92 in 1997, was cut to 50 in 1998 and 40 in 2012, but that still provided a large pool of players.
That, however, will end for at least this year in terms of farm systems getting restocked. When MLB holds its annual draft Wednesday, it probably would be more accurate to say systems will be seeing “some additions,” because this year’s event, which will be done remotely, will last only five rounds.
As part of the March 26 agreement reached with the Players Association on a variety of issues, commissioner Rob Manfred was empowered to cut the draft to as few as five rounds, which he decided upon in early May. That is a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which shut down pretty much the entire sports universe in mid-March. The Associated Press estimated teams will save in the range of $30 million with the shortened draft. As part of the agreement, teams can sign an unlimited number of undrafted players at a maximum of $20,000 per player.
The Yankees have a first-round pick (28th overall) and have subsequent picks at No. 99 and No. 129 (they forfeited second- and fifth-round picks as a result of signing free-agent righthander Gerrit Cole in December). They no doubt will be active in signing players from the undrafted pool.
Like every other team, the Yankees have faced unique challenges going into this most unique of drafts when it comes to determining which players have the biggest upside.
With college baseball seasons suspended in March and high school seasons not even getting underway because of the coronavirus, the traditional tools of scouting, never an exact science to begin with, have been mostly nonexistent. The most important of those tools, obviously, is actual games in which to do the evaluating.
So for Oppenheimer and his scouts, the past few months have been all about viewing video of players, mostly from past seasons, to write their reports and Zoom calls to potential draft picks to replace in-home visits.
“It’s definitely a real challenge,” Oppenheimer, who has overseen the Yankees’ drafts since 2005, recently told WFAN. “We're just trying to do the best we can with the information that we have and trying to create as much information as possible. The data really hasn't changed, so it's just more video and more knowledge of the players. That's about the only way we're able to enhance what we can do.”
TV: Wednesday, ESPN, 7 p.m.; Thursday, ESPN2, 5 p.m.
This year's draft will be shortened from 40 to five rounds and teams can sign an unlimited number of undrafted players for $20,000.
First-round draft order
- Tigers, 2. Orioles 3. Marlins 4. Royals 5. Blue Jays 6. Mariners 7. Pirates. 8. Padres 9. Rockies 10. Angels 11. White Sox 12. Reds 13. Giants. 14. Rangers 15. Phillies 16. Cubs 17. Red Sox 18. Diamondbacks 19. Mets 20. Brewers 21. Cardinals 22. Nationals 23. Indians 24. Rays 25. Braves 26. Athletics 27. Twins 28. Yankees 29. Dodgers