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Yankees more than ready to sign some undrafted free agents

Yankees' Damon Oppenheimer, who scouted and signed Aaron

Yankees' Damon Oppenheimer, who scouted and signed Aaron Judge, and Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, left, present Judge with a crystal gavel to commemorate his historic rookie season with 52 home runs before an MLB baseball game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium on Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

And now, the free-for-all portion of the 2020 MLB Draft.

For which the Yankees feel well-positioned to take advantage.

Starting at 9 a.m. Sunday, teams can sign an unlimited number of players who were not chosen in the just-completed draft, at a maximum of $20,000 per player.

“We strategized on drafted players and players we thought possibly would not get drafted months ago,” Yankees vice president of domestic amateur scouting Damon Oppenheimer said Friday in a conference call reviewing the club’s draft.

All 30 teams spent the last few months preparing for a draft unlike any other, the result of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a cost-cutting measure, the draft was trimmed from 40 rounds to five.

The Yankees took Austin Wells, a power-hitting, lefty-swinging catcher out of the University of Arizona, with their first-round pick (28th overall). They grabbed outfielder Trevor Hauver, whom they plan to play primarily at second base in the minors, from Arizona State with the 99th overall pick and selected hard-throwing righthander Beck Way (129th overall) out of Northwest Florida State Junior College.

The Yankees did not have second- or fifth-round picks as a result of signing free-agent righthander Gerrit Cole in December.

Three players is not the haul the Yankees are used to from a given year’s draft, making the process that starts Sunday morning an important one. There is, without question, a slew of talent yet to be had, and the Yankees did plenty of legwork in advance of last week’s draft to be able to pounce.

Included in that work, Oppenheimer said, were not only get-to-know-us Zoom calls but putting together individualized recruitment videos for those who might go undrafted but still interested the Yankees.

“To just sell the player on what they would be looking at becoming a Yankee, and all the resources that they'd have [at their disposal] to help them in their journey to the major leagues,” Oppenheimer said in generally describing the videos. “So we've spent hours on these Zoom calls, we've done our recruiting. We're in a dead period, I guess you'd call it, right now where you're not allowed to talk to anybody who was passed over until Sunday morning. And then at that point, we’ll go to work again, pull the best that we possibly can from our [draft] board together and sell them on becoming Yankees.”

Oppenheimer acknowledged the natural advantage the Yankees should have in this signing period, not the least of which is the following the team has for so many players nationally. But the longtime scouting director said focusing solely on that ignores the work on the ground put in by those who often are overlooked in organizations: area scouts and cross-checkers whose job, among other things, is to establish relationships with players.

“We've obviously tried to create an advantage by all the work that we've put into this and the individuality that we've shown the kids that they would be getting by coming here and the resources that would be made available to them,” Oppenheimer said. “We've really pulled all of [it] together; from the staff in New York that has contributed with this to the player development people [in Tampa] that have gone on Zoom calls with the scouts and everything. We've really made a strong push. The ‘NY,’ ( that obviously attracts some people, but I think that we've shown that there's more to it than that and that their career could be enhanced by everything that we have to offer here . . . It’s an even playing field in terms of the money, and what you can do now . . . it becomes about the player; if he has an affection for you and believes in the people [in the organization he’s talked to], then you might have a better shot.”

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