While the Yankees battle their way for the AL East title or a wild card spot, the players they drafted this past June are getting used to their new lives as professional baseball players. While catcher Ryan Lidge and outfielder Steven Sensley hone their skills at low ‘A’ ball, most of those drafted are working their way up from the bottom in the Gulf Coast League (FL), Appalachian League (Pulaski, VA), and the New York-Penn League (Staten Island, NY). It’s been over two months since the MLB Amateur Draft, so what better time to check in on the progress of this season’s professional rookies? Maybe one will be the next Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, or Luis Severino.
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Clarke Schmidt: The future of the team’s number one pick this year won’t begin to be known until at least late 2018. That’s because Schmidt, the 16th overall selection in the draft, underwent Tommy John surgery this past May. The University of South Carolina product likely would have been chosen earlier in the first round had he not been injured. His delivery was said to be the primary reason he blew his elbow out, so it will be interesting to see how the Yankees tweak his form when he’s ready.
Matt Sauer: The 6’4″ right-hander from Righetti High School (CA) was taken by the Yankees in the second round of the draft. He’s a three-pitch pitcher who some scouts consider a starter, for now, with the bullpen being his ultimate destination. ESPN’s Keith Law felt Sauer’s delivery was “violent” and needed work. So far, he’s made four starts for the Gulf Coast Yankees West team with mixed results. Each start has lasted 1.2 innings, with his best start coming against the Tigers on August 8. He allowed one hit, walked one, and struck out five. Sauer’s worst production came in his second start of the season, when he gave up four runs on four hits.
Trevor Stephan: The 21-year old was the third straight right-handed pitcher the Yankees selected. Stephan, a Univ. of Arkansas Razorback, made one appearance for the GCL Yankees West (two scoreless innings) before moving on to play for the Staten Island Baby Bombers. In seven starts and one relief appearance, the third-round pick has allowed five earned runs in 25.2 innings pitched (1.75 ERA). In three of his starts, Stephan has tossed four hitless innings. Having the advantage of playing college ball against high school picks definitely plays a factor, as evidenced by his 11.6 K/9 IP for SI. Baseball America noted that Stephan’s fastball is a real strength, and he has a very good slider.
Canaan Smith: The Yankees stopped their early run on pitchers when they selected Smith, a catcher/outfielder/first baseman, in the 4th round. The Rockwall-Heath HS (TX) grad has been manning the corner outfield positions for the GCL Yankees East. Pitchers worked around Smith in high school and that trend has continued; he has drawn 39 walks in 47 games. Smith is hitting well overall, with a .292/.424/.429 split. He’s hit four home runs, nine doubles, and has 27 RBI and 24 runs scored. As witnessed by the video that follows, Smith may want to tone down his post-home run routine before he winds up ducking from a high-and-tight fastball.
Glenn Otto: In the 5th round the Yankees went back to college, and to a pitcher, selecting Otto out of Rice University. The 6’5″, 240 lb right-hander was one of college baseball’s top relievers. Major League scouts were impressed with his fastball and a nasty 12-6 breaking knuckle-curveball. Though he made a trio of starts for the Yankees’ two GCL teams and Staten Island, Otto’s four other appearances for SI have been from the pen. He has recorded 20 strikeouts and allowed just two earned runs in 12.1 innings. In his last three appearances, he struck out 13 batters in 9.1 innings pitched (12.5 K/9 IP).
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Dalton Lehnen: There probably aren’t a lot of people familiar with Augustana University, but those who are probably are aware of the left-handed Lehnen. Prior to transferring to the 1800+ student school, Lehnen played for the University of Cincinnati. He made his debut for the GCL Yankees West before joining the Pulaski Yankees. Right now you would have to consider Lehen a work in progress. He tossed five scoreless innings against the Burlington Royals, but he has a 4.78 ERA and a 1.71 WHIP. On the bright side, he’s averaged 12.6 K/9 IP and has a 4:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
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Dalton Higgins: The Dallas Baptist University junior reliever was 7-1 with six saves in 30 appearances before the Yankees selected him in the 7th round. Thus far, he’s made nine relief appearances for the Yankees East squad in the GCL, and hasn’t gotten all of the defensive support he needed. It’s not unusual for Minor League rookies to commit a high number of errors, and that has contributed to just half of the 10 runs Higgins has allowed to be earned. He has allowed more hits than innings pitched which has not helped the right-hander. The Yankees are hoping he can follow in the footsteps of another Dallas Baptist pitcher, the Yankees’ highly-touted prospect, Chance Adams.
Kyle Zurak: The 8th round brought – you guessed it – a right-handed pitcher. The Radford University closer and spot starter was named the Big South Conference Tournament MVP after he limited opponents to two earned runs in 12.1 innings pitched. Zurak averaged 13.8 K/9 IP in conference play as a senior and has averaged 11.6 K/9 IP for Pulaski (before his promotion to the Appalachian League, he struck out batters at 12/9 IP clip for the GCL squads). He’s put together a 3.86 ERA for Pulaski in five relief appearances and one start.
Austin Gardner: The University of Texas-Arlington product has made a nice transition from college ball to the GCL Yankees West. Another right-hander, Gardner has been scored upon just four times in 14 Minor League games. He’s struck out 17 hitters in 17.1 innings pitched and limited opponents to three walks. Gardner’s excellence comes on the heels of a college season where he made a team-high 29 appearances in which he blanked the opposition 21 times. He also had a 6:1 strikeout-to-walk-ratio.
Chad Whitmer: The Yankees continued to stock up on right-handed pitching when they selected Whitmer from Southern Illinois University in the 10th round. The reliever’s overall numbers have been skewed by one poor performance in early August. In a game against the GCL Tigers, Whitmer (Yankees West) gave up four earned runs and six hits in two-thirds of an inning. Without that game, the 22-year old has allowed four earned runs in 15.1 innings (2.35 ERA) and his WHIP is reduced from 1.50 to 1.125. Whitmer was a starting pitcher in his junior and senior years in college, and it’s possible that may be the team’s long-term target for him.
So there you have it, the first 10 Yankees draft choices for 2017. They’re all doing well so far, and even better considering they also played college or high school ball this season.