There’s no accounting for taste, but when high school centerfielder Blake Rutherford, who was highly rated in many mock drafts, drifted down to where the Yankees were selecting 18th in the first round, Damon Oppenheimer, vice president of domestic scouting, didn’t hesitate to grab him.
“He was the top guy on our board when our pick came,” Oppenheimer said Monday. “We were excited that he was sitting there . . . I didn’t think he would get to where we picked.”
Oppenheimer personally began scouting Rutherford in 10th grade at Chaminade Prep in Simi Valley, California.
“There’s a lot to like about him,” Oppenheimer said. “He’s really athletic. It feels good getting a guy that can stay in the middle of the field and who can hit and hit with power.”
As for the difficulty of signing Rutherford, Oppenheimer said, “We took him with the idea that we’re going to get it done, but until it’s finished, you never know.”
At the direction of general manager Brian Cashman, the Yankees emphasized taking players with a high ceiling, athleticism and at least one “plus” tool. Taken in the second round as a second baseman, Nick Solak of the University of Louisville has the speed and versatility to play the outfield. Third-round pitcher Nolan Martinez out of Culver City High School in California “has two plus pitches and commands his fastball,” Oppenheimer said.
Outfielders Dom Thompson-Williams (fifth round) of the University of South Carolina and Jordan Scott (14th round) of IMG Academy in Florida have top-end speed. Pitchers Brooks Kriske (sixth round) of USC and Taylor Widener (12th round) of South Carolina throw fastballs in the high 90s.
“We’ve had some success post-fifth round on guys who turn out to be major-league bullpen guys for us, guys that throw hard,” Oppenheimer said.
Predicting success for lower picks in a 40-round draft is difficult, but Oppenheimer said the major-league success of players from Stony Brook was a factor in choosing lefthanded pitcher Tyler Honahan in the 36th round.
“Tyler came to our workout at Staten Island, and he impressed us,” Oppenheimer said. “Honestly, I hadn’t gotten a chance to scout him, and neither had our cross-checker. But he had a sneaky fastball that got by guys. We thought, if we change him to a bullpen guy, maybe we get some value and some strikeouts.
“The fact that he came from Stony Brook, I remember somebody saying, ‘Hey, these guys have produced some pretty good players. They know what they’re doing a little bit.’ ”