Before the 2019 MLB Draft began, we spent time highlighting the strengths, weaknesses, and needs of the Yankees’ farm system. Whether you look at MLB’s list of top Yankees prospects or FanGraphs’, you will notice the team has an abundance of right-handed pitching and some outfielders in the lower minors.
They don’t, however, have any left-handed pitching prospects. There also exists a dearth of infield prospects. Thairo Estrada impressed during his stint with the big league team, but after being shot in his right hip early in 2018, he lost a whole year of development. Getting consistent at-bats in Scranton versus sitting on the Yankees’ bench should be beneficial to Estrada.
With the farm system having plenty of right-handed pitching prospects and talented outfielders, the Yankees looked to add exactly what they were lacking in the draft. Five of their first six draft picks went on either left-handed pitchers or infielders. Center fielder Jake Sanford, who was chosen in the third round from Western Kentucky, is the one player out of the six chosen who is neither a pitcher or infielder. Nevertheless, it became clear that the Yankees had a goal to add pieces where the organization lacked depth.
With that said, here’s a quick look at the early draft choices who the Yankees hope will fill in these holes.
Anthony Volpe - Shortstop
Drafted from the Delbarton School in New Jersey, Volpe is highly regarded for his work ethic and overall athleticism. No one skill shines over the rest, but all together they make a well-rounded baseball player. His arm strength and range are both graded around average, but with his instincts and hands, Volpe is projected to handle any position in the infield. Drafted as a shortstop, he will have to show more to stay there, as some scouts believe he could become a second basemen in the long-term.
FanGraphs mentions how his 40-grade raw power might not be much, but his ability to drive the ball to the gaps and contact skill are both worth watching. Lastly, his batting approach has shown traits of being an opposite-field hitter, a welcome trait in Yankee Stadium. Perhaps the Yankees believe they coax something more than just gap power out of their first-round pick once they get him in their player development system.
TJ Sikkema- Left-handed Pitcher
From the University of Missouri, Sikkema has a reputation as a player with a personality on the mound. The southpaw has three pitches: a fastball, slider, and changeup. He sits around 89-91 mph but can raise his arm slot to throw 93-95 mph. After the 2018 season, Sikkema spent his time in the Cape Cod League, where he was able to develop multiple arm slots to combine with his arsenal. With this ability, Sikkema went 88.2 innings, striking out 101 and allowing 54 hits for Missouri in 2019. Overall he surrendered three earned runs for a 1.32 ERA.
Josh Smith - Shortstop
Because of injury, Smith missed most of his sophomore season in 2018 with Louisiana State, and completely missed summer ball as well. He came back in 2019 ready to play and produced a slash line of .346/.436/.533 in 246 at-bats. He is a left-handed hitter known for his contact skills, his ability able to use the whole field, and control of the strike zone, per MLB Pipeline.
In addition to his plate production, Smith used his grade-55 speed to swipe a total of 20 bases while only getting caught four times. As a defender, he might not put on a show, but he is reliable. Scouts haven’t been able to find any weak point in his play, giving him a high floor and with the ability to play multiple infield positions.
Jake Agnos- Left-handed Pitcher
A starter for the East Carolina University, Agnos produced a season which led him to the become the American Athletic Conference’s 2019 pitcher of the year. A combination of three pitches make up his arsenal, with a fastball which tops out at 95 mph and averages 88-93 mph. His best pitch sounds like his 12-6 curve, followed by a changeup he hasn’t quite been able to command. Overall, scouts figure Agnos to be a reliever, though the Yankees could try to help him refine his command in an effort to stick as a starter.
Ken Waldichuk- Left-handed Pitcher
His junior year was not the best, but Waldichuk’s overall collegiate statistics are impressive. He was named to the West Coast Conference All-Freshman Team in 2017, pitching to a 1.23 ERA against his conference. He finished his freshman year with a 2.00 ERA and followed up in his sophomore year with a 2.05 ERA. As a starter in his junior year, his numbers took a climb, finishing with a 3.69 ERA over 92.2 innings. He has a fastball topping out at 95 mph, combined with a slider and change he uses to neutralize right-handed hitters.
With any luck, this infusion of left-handed pitching and talent on the dirt will help balance out the Yankees’ system. Talent is talent, and it’s not necessarily a problem that so much of the Yankees’ pre-draft prospects fit a particular type. Some positional diversity shouldn’t hurt the system, though. Keep an eye on these five players going forward to see if they can shoot up the team’s prospect lists in the near-future.