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The Yankees’ 2016 draft class in review

Blake Rutherford leads the pack with a few other interesting prospects behind him

MLB: New York Yankees at Kansas City Royals John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

The 2017 MLB Draft is a little less than two weeks away. For the second time in three years, the Yankees hold the 16th overall pick. Given that the Yankees look like serious playoff contenders this year, 2017 might be the last time the Yankees get to pick in the top-20. Hopefully, the Yankees can find the same success they’ve found in the draft in recent seasons. Only a year removed from the 2016 draft, it already looks like a success.

Of the 40 players drafted last season, the Yankees signed 28, including each of their first 15 picks. There was also a serious increase in the number of high school selections in 2016. The Yankees took 14 high school players last year, up from just seven in 2015. Perhaps for this reason, many of the players selected in last year’s draft have not debuted on any full-season minor league clubs. The few 2016 draftees that we have seen this year do seem promising. Four of whom have already made it onto the Yankees’ Top-30 prospect rankings.

Blake Rutherford is the crown jewel of the 2016 draft and is currently listed as the Yankees’ third best prospect. The Yankees weren’t even supposed to get Rutherford either. MLB’s pre-draft rankings listed him as the 2nd best high school position player and 8th best prospect overall, but the Yankees were able to snag him with the 18th overall pick. There were rumors that teams had concerns about Rutherford’s signability and age. He was 19 at the time of the draft, making him nearly a year older than many of his prep counterparts.

Rutherford signed to an above-slot, $3,282,000 deal and has consistently shown he’s worth every penny of it. A minor leg injury limited him to just 33 games in 2016, but Rutherford accumulated 40 hits, including 15 extra-base hits. His final slash line for the season was .351/.415/.570 with a .986 OPS, a stellar start to his professional career.

The Yankees assigned Rutherford to the Low-A Charleston RiverDogs to begin the 2017 season. His numbers have fallen off a little bit from last season, but he has still reached base safely 37 of 44 games this season. Scouting reports indicate that Rutherford could quickly rise through the Yankee system, but the Yankees won’t need to rush him, either. Maybe you’ve already heard, but the Yankees have some pretty good outfielders in or very close to the major leagues.

Other than Rutherford, a few other players have emerged from the 2016 draft class. The Yankees used their 2nd round pick on Louisville second baseman, Nick Solak. The MLB ranks Solak as the 18th best prospect in the Yankee system, and currently, no other position player from the 2016 draft has advanced further in the Yankee system. Without much of a glove, his bat should carry him through the system. Hopefully, Solak can find a little more power to avoid becoming Rob Refsnyder 2.0.

Fourth-round pick, Nick Nelson, is one of the few pitchers drafted last year to already debut in 2017. Nelson is likely a future reliever, but the Yankees have used him exclusively as a starter this year. In eight starts for the RiverDogs, Nelson has struggled to keep the ball in the zone. His BB/9 rate is north of 4, and in his last start only 49% of his 86 pitches were strikes. Nelson was a two-way player in college. Hopefully, his stats will improve as he continues to focus exclusively on pitching.

After pitching three years at South Carolina, the Yankees made right-handed pitcher Taylor Widener their 12th round pick, and he has proven to be a nice little surprise. He worked primarily as a reliever last year with Staten Island and Charleston. In 38 1/3 innings, he surrendered only two runs, both solo home runs. Widener has spent the entire 2017 season with High-A Tampa so far.

Widener had a tough April, but turned it around in May. He pitched 22 2/3 innings in each month, and brought his ERA down from 5.16 in April to 2.78 in May. Widener’s fastball can touch 97 mph, and his slider can be devastating when it is on. If he can’t figure out a third pitch, he could likely find a very comfortable home in the bullpen.

For their 3rd round pick, the Yankees selected Nolan Martinez, a right-handed high school pitcher out of California. Martinez’s fastball sits around 89-92 mph with a great spin rate. Martinez won’t turn 19 until June 30th, and only weighs 165 pounds. He ought to add more velocity to his fastball in the coming years as he ages and fills out. I suspect he’ll make his likely make his 2017 debut with Pulaski later this summer.

With so many high schoolers in this draft, it will probably be a few years before any of these kids really approach the big league-level. However, the few players that have already debuted this season have shown real potential. It’ll be interesting to see what other players emerge as the 2016 draftees begin their seasons with lower-level teams in the organization.