The 2020 MLB draft ended with the Yankees only being able to select three players. While the reviews on those three picks are generally positive, the Yankees will be looking to convince talented players to sign with the organization despite strict signing bonus limitations imposed by MLB on the process.
While the most complete prospects have come off the board during the five-round draft, many key players on the Yankees roster entered professional baseball after those rounds were complete in their respective draft years: Chad Green, Luke Voit, Mike Tauchman, Mike Ford and Jonathan Holder. Let’s take a look at some of the players that the Yankees have been able to sign as undrafted free agents.
The most notable player to sign with the Yankees is University of Indiana outfielder Elijah Dunham. The 6-foot, 215 lbs lefty has put together a very productive career playing in the Big Ten and was ranked as the 186th best draft prospect this year by Baseball America.
He hit .312/.429/.496 during his NCAA career, improving across the board each season. Dunham also impressed playing two seasons in the New England Collegiate League, producing a .982 OPS in 34 games there last summer. His performance showed that he can produce against good competition with a wooden bat.
Staying in the Big Ten, the Yankees also inked University of Nebraska right-fielder Aaron Palensky. Palensky entered NCAA Division I after posting a 1.365 OPS at Southeast Community College, including 18 home runs and 24 stolen bases. He continued producing, immediately becoming one of the Huskers top offensive producers. In 71 Division I games he hit .316/.428/.509 and was perfect in seven stolen base attempts.
The Yankees have a recent history of using rounds 6-10 of the draft to stock up on pitching. Since 2017, they have only taken two position players in those rounds, and they followed up on this strategy by prioritizing arms in their undrafted acquisitions.
The highest rated of these pickups in Tulane University’s Connor Pellerin. The 6-foot-4 righty is a power arm with good spin rates. Pellerin ranked 360th on BA’s top 500 draft prospects list, and can throw 93-96 mph. He produced an 11.3 K/9 rate while in college, but struggled with command walking a batter per inning. With two strong pitches, he could move quickly as a reliever if he is able to improve his command.
The first player reported to sign with the Yankees was University of Kentucky’s Carson Coleman. Working out of the Kentucky bullpen over the last three seasons, he has struck out 13.6 per nine innings. He was off to a strong start this season with 13 strikeouts in 5.2 innings when COVID-19 shut down the season. Control has slowed his progress in the past, but he had only walked one batter in his small sample this spring.
Trevor Holloway has taken a long route to the Yankees organization, but is an arm worth watching. He started his career at High Point University, then headed to Junior College powerhouse Chipola College, before settling into the University of Central Florida for the last two seasons. At UCF Holloway struck out 56 batters in 49.1 innings, with an ERA under 2.00. He is known for having a very good slider and curve that work off of his low-90s fastball.
Hawaii native Ocean Gabonia showed enough in three starts for Everett Community College to get a call from the Yankees after the draft. The righty struck out 23 in 15 innings finishing with a 2.40 ERA. The 6-foot-2, 190 lbs righty tops out around 91 mph with his fastball right now. The Yankees have told Gabonia that they think he will be able to improve that fastball and that he will be “… learning to face batters with higher velocity.”
Jarod Lessar did not put up eye popping numbers while pitching at 4,500 feet of altitude in Provo, UT. He produced a 4.43 ERA, and a 1.462 WHIP over two seasons at BYU. The Yankees likely see a projectable 6-foot-4 220 lbs frame with potential that has yet to be unlocked.
One area of weakness inside the Yankees minor league system that they did not address during the draft was left-handed pitching. Signing the University of Houston’s Clay Aguilar is a step towards fixing that weakness. Over three seasons at Houston he posted a 2.49 ERA, with 107 strikeouts in 105 innings. He was selected to the first-team American Athletic Conference after his sophomore season.
Blane Abeyta was working as the University of Nevada’s closer this season when the season was shut down. He arrived at Nevada after two years at Modesto Junior College. The 6-foot-1 righty can hit 94 mph with his fastball, and also has a curve and slider. He struck out 94 batters in 90 college innings.
After using their first two picks in the 2020 draft on position players, the Yankees have focused on bringing in a solid group of college arms during the undrafted free agent process. Those arms will mix with two highly productive college bats as the Yankees look for the best talent available.