If you haven't been paying attention, the draft just happened. The Yankees had a nice little draft for themselves, particularly in the first round, the place where it matters most. They drafted Blake Rutherford at 18th overall, and boy oh boy, it was a steal. There are certainly scouts who will disagree with that opinion, and I admit I'm not a scout myself, but I can say that based on perceived value and industry consensus, Rutherford should not have fallen that far.
He did, though, and that's largely because of the bonus system in place. Because there is a hard cap on the amount teams can spend in the draft, it often benefits teams with larger bonus pools to save their money in the first round on under-slot signings, and then use the savings throughout the rest of the draft. This meant that considering Rutherford wanted a bit more money than slot (high school players generally have more leverage), combined with a little prospect fatigue (he's been in the prospect circuit for over two years now), teams were willing to pass. That works for the Yankees, obviously.
The prospect fatigue could be a bit worrying, but it really doesn't bother me. There are still scouts out there raving on draft day, and many agree that this was a steal at 18th overall. Here's what Baseball America said:
"Rutherford has size, strength, athleticism and power potential for scouts to dream on, and would likely be the consensus top prep bat in the class if he had a more consistent spring or if he were a year younger. Rutherford turned 19 as the calendar turned to May, offering less projection than other prep outfielders, with a physically mature 6-foot-2, 195-pound frame. Scouts have to project on Rutherford’s home run power; he’s produced this spring after being the biggest bat last summer for USA Baseball’s 18U team. However, he hasn’t taken the next step with his power, at times trying too hard to pull and yank balls for power. When he stays with his approach, he’s as impressive as any prep hitter in the class, with power to all fields, a line-drive swing path that covers the plate and the athleticism for center field. Some scouts see him as a potential power-hitting center fielder in the Jim Edmonds mold."
And here's what Jim Callis said at MLB.com:
"Signability concerns are the main reason that Rutherford lasted this long. He's a very good value here for the Yankees. MLB Pipeline ranked him as the best high school position player coming into the year, and he's another athletic outfielder with a chance to have solid tools across the board."
I consider both of those excellent reviews. My greater point, though, is that this is one of the best first round position player picks since Derek Jeter, and here's why.
Firstly, it's because the Yankees have stunk at drafting in the first round, especially before 2013. Even if we consider the more recent position player picks, Rutherford still likely comes out on top. Aaron Judge was considered to have a lot of raw power but an unfamiliar size and clear issues with strikeouts. Eric Jagielo was thought of as a high-floor, low-ceiling third base prospect with a good shot at being an average player.
Then once you go beyond that, it's largely a lot of overdrafts and missed chances until you look back at Derek Jeter. The lot of Dante Bichette Jr. (2011), Cito Culver (2010), and Slade Heathcott (2009) were thought of as high ability, but only in late-first round terms. Bichette had tools but was not a top ten-type talent; Culver had (and still has) a great glove but there were questions about his bat; Heathcott had a ton of raw ability but had a very low floor.
In even more ancient history, there wasn't much to even get excited about. Eric Duncan, the first round pick in 2003, rocketed up to the 36th best prospect in baseball per Baseball America in 2005, but injuries ravaged his career. The late-1990's were even worse, as they didn't even produce a top 50 prospect out of the first round. Of course their draft position was lower in general and scouting was not what it is like today, but they produced and drafted zilch.
I'm not saying that Rutherford is going to be great. We don't know. High school prospects have so much risk, and having someone to dream on is as dangerous as it gets for prospects--look at just about all of your favorite Yankees prospects of the past 15 years. You can't deny, though, that the Yankees have not drafted a legitimate top ten-type talent in a very long time, and that last player was probably Derek Jeter (or possibly Phil Hughes, if you want to lump in pitchers). I am legitimately excited to follow Rutherford's career as he tries to make it to the Bronx, and that alone is a change of scenery.