Minor Leagues

Yankees draft update – day two

On the second day of the draft, the Yankees started out by continuing their emphasis on pitching, by selecting seven college hurlers and just one position player. All in all, nine of the Yankees’ first ten picks have been pitchers, with eight of them being righties and one lefty, along with one outfielder. Here are brief summaries of all eight selections the Yankees made on day two of the MLB Draft.

Round 3: Trevor Stephan- RHP- University of Arkansas- Junior– Stephan’s fastball sits between 90 and 95 miles per hour and reached as high as 97 mph last fall. He’s improved his command in recent years and had a 2.97 ERA with 120 strikeouts in 91 innings. He has a crossfire delivery that can deceive hitters and also mixes in an average slider and other below-average off-speed pitches. Despite having a starter’s body at 6’4” and 210 pounds, he profiles as an eventual reliever because of his delivery.

Round 4: Canaan Smith- OF- Rockwall-Heath HS (TX)- HS Senior– Smith offers upside as a hitter, as scouts have praised his terrific bat speed and good plate discipline, but there’s not much out there publicly on him. The high school senior was frequently pitched around in his senior year, which has made scouts raise questions about just how much power he may have. He seems to have a lot of natural raw power, but it remains to be seen if it will translate to games at the professional level. Smith played at catcher and first base in high school, but was drafted as an outfielder.

Round 5: Glenn Otto- RHP- Rice University- Junior– Otto pitched out of the bullpen at Rice, but could profile as a starter in the pros. At 6’4” and 225 and with two good pitches, he has the frame and arm to handle starting. His fastball sat between 92 and 95 miles per hour in the bullpen, although he has had issues with control. MLB.com ranked him as the 95th overall prospect in this year’s class. There are injury concerns with Otto, as he missed last fall with what was described as a “tired arm,” so he may not pitch too much this season.

Round 6: Dalton Lehnen- LHP- Augustana University (SD) Junior– The 21-year-old southpaw stands out as the only lefty the Yankees picked so far in the draft. This year at Augustana, Lehnen pitched 52 innings, striking out 61 batters and posting a 2.60 ERA. His fastball sits in the low 90s and topped out at 96 miles per hour. Baseball America ranked him as the 153rd best prospect in the draft. Due to a lack of strong secondary offerings and some control issues, he probably profiles as a bullpen pitcher.

Round 7: Dalton Higgins- RHP- Dallas Baptist- Junior– There is not too much out there on Higgins, but the Yankees may be hoping that they can repeat the success they had with Chance Adams who, like Higgins, was a reliever for Dallas Baptist. Higgins struck out 40 batters in 40 innings, but also dealt with control issues, as he walked 17 batters and posted a 1.38 WHIP. Higgins relies on a good fastball and a slider that can occasionally look average. He may not have as much success in the rotation as Adams has, but stranger things have happened.

Round 8: Kyle Zurak- RHP- Radford University- Senior– Zurak had been ranked as the 22nd best prospect in Virginia owing to his success at Radford. In four years pitching for the Highlanders, Zurak has continuously brought his walk rate down every year and showed signs of significant improvement. He pitched in 25 games and started four of them, and struck out nearly 11 batters per nine innings in his senior season. Although Zurak pitched in the bullpen, he may have the upside to pitch in the rotation when he turns professional.

Round 9: Austin Gardner- RHP- University of Texas-Arlington- Senior– Gardner split time between the rotation and the bullpen at UT-Arlington, establishing a role as the team’s most dependable reliever this season. His fastball sits around 90 miles per hour and he profiles primarily as a reliever. He had a 2.42 ERA overall this season, but that number dipped to 2.11 out of the bullpen. Because of his success in relief, expect the Yankees to start Gardner as a reliever.

Round 10: Chad Whitmer- RHP- Southern Illinois University- Senior– Whitmer served as SIU’s staff ace and relied more on control than on overpowering hitters. He struck out 8.2 batters per nine innings and walked just 2.2 batters per nine innings in his senior season. The Yankees may seek to start Whitmer out of the bullpen because of his high-volume usage in his senior season, but he may be able to stretch out and become a starter down the road.

The Yankees system has plenty of depth at almost every position on the field, so this decision by the Yankees to focus on pitching makes a degree of sense. Even some of the Yankees’ top pitching prospects have long-term question marks. In part because of this, it is logical for the Yankees to speculate on several pitchers who could contribute either out of the rotation or the bullpen. The emphasis on college arms also gives the Yankees the chance to pick players who have been better vetted than their high-school counterparts, and who could make it through the Yankees’ minor league system faster.

In addition, by going after several seniors, the Yankees may be able to save money and negotiating efforts for some speculative late-round picks. They may have the flexibility to pay a large amount to talented high-school or underclassman prospects who seems heavily inclined to head to college or stay in school. It remains to be seen how the Yankees will proceed with their final thirty picks on day three of the MLB Draft.

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