Questions over the effectiveness of the Yankee farm system have focused attention on Mark Newman and Damon Oppenheimer, the Yankee executives in charge of player development and scouting/drafting. Recently, Hal Steinbrenner called a summit meeting of Yankee executive to address shortcomings in the farm system. The results of that meeting are not known, but news stories suggest that Newman or Oppenheimer, or both, may soon walk the plank. Just who are Newman and Oppenheimer?
The Yankee masthead lists Newman as senior vice president, baseball operations. He is the man in charge of minor-league player development and reports to GM Brian Cashman.
Newman is a baseball lifer. Born in 1949, Newman pitched and played second base at Southern Illinois University. He was pitching coach at Southern Illinois from 1972-80 and head coach at Old Dominion University from 1981-89. His record at Old Dominion was 321-167.
In 1989, the Yankees hired Newman as their coordinator of minor-league instruction and he held that position until 1996, when he was promoted to vice president of player development and scouting. In the period of 1989 to 1996, some pretty good ballplayers passed through the Yankee farm system: Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte. In 2002, Newman was promoted to senior vice president of operations.
In a 2011 interview with writer John Sickels, Newman gave his opinions on Yankee farmhands. Some were on point. For example, he called David Phelps "(j)ust a solid blue-collar strike thrower." Some were not so accurate. For example, he said of Manny Banuelos, "I have no worries about his arm. His delivery and athleticism scream durability." A year later, Banuelos underwent Tommy John surgery and has not pitched since.
Some have been critical of Newman's tenure. Bill Madden of the N.Y. Daily News, a persistent critic of the Yankee farm system, has written:
...as the storyline about Yankee prospects has been in Newman's reign of error, the closer they get to the big leagues, the less anyone likes them ...The sad fact of life is that, under Newman's direction, the Yankees have still not drafted and developed a frontline starting pitcher since Pettitte or an All-Star caliber regular since Jeter. And that's why they're in the state they're in.
Oppenheimer is a Yankee vice president and the director of scouting. He is the man in charge of the amateur draft and reports to Cashman.
Born in 1962, Oppenheimer attended USC, where he played baseball for the Trojans. In fact, he was Randy Johnson's catcher at USC. In 1985, the Milwaukee Brewers drafted him in the 18th round and he played one season for the Class A Beloit Brewers. He hit .000/.190/.000 and was a teammate of future major-leaguer B.J. Surhoff.
Recognizing that his future was in the front office, not on the field, Oppenheimer became a scout at the age of 24, first for the San Diego Padres, where his mother was an assistant to the scouting director, and then for the Texas Rangers. He scouted in both the United States and Latin America. He became the Yankees' director of player personnel in 2001 and director of scouting in 2005. You can examine the Yankee drafts since 2005 and draw your own conclusions on Oppenheimer's effectiveness. He drafted players such as Brett Gardner, Austin Jackson, Ian Kennedy and David Robertson.
In 2010, he was a candidate for the general manager's position with the Arizona Diamondbacks but the Yankees refused to let the Diamondbacks interview him. SI's Will Carroll has described him as a GM-in-waiting, "not pushing Brian Cashman out the door, but in position to have the biggest chair in all of baseball." Over the past few years, the Angels and Orioles have also shown interest in Oppenheimer.
In a 2011 interview with Ben Nicholson-Smith, Oppenheimer said he uses statistical analysis but believes its role is limited in assessing amateur players:
...I've always liked looking at stats to see how a guy's doing. I'm a proponent of paying attention to them. You're not doing your full job if you don't pay attention to them. I don't think they tell you the whole story about a player, especially college stats when they're using aluminum or high school games where the competition level isn't the same. You can't rely on stats. You can use them to supplement things and help you understand players.
Oppenheimer's first love is scouting. As he told writer John Harper in 2008, "There's something about seeing a kid for the first time and thinking, ‘Holy Smokes, look at that. This is the guy.'"