We stand at an interesting point in time when it comes to player evaluation and development. The molding of players into the best that they can be has emerged as one of the defining themes of this era of baseball. This was best exemplified with last week’s release of The MVP Machine, from Ben Lindbergh and Travis Sawchik, as the authors sought to cut to the heart of the movement that has spurred countless athletes to fully unlock their potential.
The Yankees don’t feature as prominently in that book as one of their AL rivals, the Astros, do, but they nonetheless have established themselves on the cutting edge of player development. They are renowned for the success stories of Luke Voit, Aaron Hicks, Didi Gregorius, the list goes on. The Yankees have a demonstrated knack for identifying talent that hasn’t quite bubbled to the surface and helping it come to light.
Even more so, the Yankees have shown the ability to help minor-league pitchers take leaps forward. Earlier this year, I highlighted right-handed pitching prospect Luis Gil, and ruminated on the ways in which he exemplifies this Yankees strength. Gil represents just one of the many talented young arms that have entered the Yankees’ farm system as one player, and developed into a wholly different (and typically, better) player as they progressed through the system.
With the 2019 MLB Draft now a week in the rearview mirror, I wanted to return to the draft and view it through the lens of this Yankees player development machine. I’m no scout, and it’s impossible to gauge a draft class’s bonafides so soon after the event itself occurred, but personally, the Yankees’ draft felt odd to me. Publicly available draft prospect rankings generally pegged the Yankees’ picks as reaches, with none of their selections embodying the high-ceiling, toolsy prospects teams target with fervor in the amateur draft.
Which got me thinking, of course, about which of their picks they might be hoping to help pop up once they enter the team’s developmental framework. None of the Yankees’ picks seem, right now, like physically imposing, uber-talented specimens, but who’s to say that will remain the case? Which of the Yankees’ draft picks will pop once they get to work down on the farm?
Before looking at the team’s 2019 picks, it’s useful to remember the players that have taken great steps forward recently under the Yankees’ watch. I’ll be focusing on pitchers here, such as the aforementioned Gil, who reportedly sat mid-90s on his fastball with the Twins but can now touch 101 mph with the Yankees.
Right-hander Garrett Whitlock is another good example. After sitting in the low-90s with his sinker in college, the Yankees drafted Whitlock in the 18th round in 2017, and he now throws a four-seamer that sits mid-90s and can run closer to triple digits. There’s Frank German, last year’s fourth-round pick that sat low-90s in college and, stop me if you’ve heard this before, can now touch 98 mph. In a slightly different bucket is Michael King, who didn’t see his velocity jump quite as much as the likes of Whitlock and German when he came over from the Marlins, but still sits in the low-to-mid-90s with his heater and has refined his command to become one of the team’s better pitching prospects.
I could go on for days, as we haven’t mentioned Trevor Stephan, or major-league contributors like Jonathan Loaisiga and Domingo German, or cashed-in trade pieces like Erik Swanson and Taylor Widener. Instead, let’s move on to the 2019 picks, and dream about what they might become if they progress the way these prospects did.
With the 38th overall pick this year, the Yankees popped left-hander TJ Sikkema out of Missouri. Scouts seemed to praise Sikkema’s makeup and pitchability, though MLB Pipeline noted he averaged about 90 mph on his fastball in college. What if the Yankees took Sikkema’s versatile repertoire and combined it with newly-found premium velocity? I wouldn’t put it past them, given the team’s track record and Sikkema’s apparently strong work ethic.
The next hurler the Yankees took was fourth-rounder Jake Agnos. MLB Pipeline writes that Agnos “produces 88-93 mph fastballs and tops out at 95 with a combination of arm speed and an effortful delivery”. Could the Yankees turn “tops out at 95” into “sits at 95” if they made that effortful delivery a little more effortless? Agnos is undersized for a pitcher at 5-foot-11, but could the Yankees introduce him to whatever plan they used to turn the similarly short Deivi Garcia into an exciting prospect?
Their next pitching selection was certainly not undersized, with fifth-rounder Ken Waldichuk checking in at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds. Given that prototypical body-type, it’s a little surprising he only sat 91-92 on his heater in college. It’s not hard to envision the Yankees wringing a bit more power from such a formidable frame such as Waldichuk’s.
After Waldichuk, the Yankees shifted towards their main muse: right-handed pitchers. In order, they took Hayden Wesneski, a 6-foot-3 hurler with “average stuff” per Baseball America; Nick Paciorek, who according to MLB Pipline “usually works at 90-94 mph... with more velocity to come as he gets more experience”; and Zach Greene, who stands 6-foot-1 with low-90s velocity. That trio might not have quite Waldichuk’s build, but that doesn’t mean their stuff won’t play up a tick or two in the near future.
There are no sure things in the draft, and there are no guarantees in prospecting. But it feels close to a slam dunk that someone in this draft class will join a long line of Yankees prospects that improve suddenly. The pattern is too pronounced and too consistent to expect it to stop now. It’s fair if some of the Yankees’ picks this year made you scratch your head with how far down the board the team seemed willing to scoop. With any luck, in a couple years, the rest of the league will be left scratching their heads wondering how the Yankees dug up yet another pop-up arm or three.