The MLB amateur player draft is less than a month away, and with many of the top players done with their seasons or down to their last handful of games, speculation is ramping up about where talent will go in the draft. A general talking-point of the MLB draft is that you never draft for need, just take the best talent on the board. Despite this common discussion point, the Yankees as an organization focus on specific skill-sets year in and year out based on the strengths and weaknesses of their minor league system. Let’s review the strengths of the Yankees’ system to see if that gives us a clue as to where the team is heading in the draft.
In recent years the Yankees have focused on specific positions of need within the system. In 2017, they selected nine pitchers with their first 10 picks. With a system short on catching talent, they used their top two picks in the 2018 draft to select catchers. Similarly, in 2019 they selected a pair of shortstops and three left-handed pitchers inside of the top-five rounds when a look at the system showed they were short of high-end prospects at both of those positions. In 2020, they drafted two left-handed hitters for a system that skewed right-handed previously. Year after year, they have sought to fill the needs of the system.
The current strength of the Yankees’ minor league system is right up the middle. The Yankees are receiving tremendous shortstop and second base production from all over their farm. That production is led by Oswald Peraza, who is currently the third-youngest player in Double-A Northeast after his recent promotion from High-A Hudson Valley.
Behind Peraza, Josh Smith and Anthony Volpe have both performed well so far this season at shortstop while playing at the two Class-A levels. At second base, the Yankees have seen Ezequiel Duran heat up ,and 2020 draft pick Trevor Hauver play well, while both Hoy Jun Park and Diego Castillo have shown some significant improvement in the early part of the season at the upper levels of the minors.
Continuing up the middle, some of the Yankees’ best centerfield prospects have yet to step on the field in game action. Jasson Dominguez, Everson Pereira, Kevin Alcantara and Raimfer Salinas have all been playing regularly in extended spring training and will likely flow right into Gulf-Coast League action when that season begins on June 28th. Every one of those players has the potential to finish the season at the Low-A level.
If the Yankees are looking at a talented centerfielder in the draft, he will be entering a space crowded with some of the Yankees’ best young prospects who will be battling for playing time. One position the Yankees have already experienced some prospect log-jamming is at the catcher position.
After using three high-round draft picks at backstop since 2018, the Yankees currently have both Anthony Seigler and Josh Breaux at the High-A level splitting time behind the plate. Right behind them is 2020 first-round pick Austin Wells at Low-A, and highly-regarded prospect Antonio Gomez is in extended spring training. Based on the high attrition rate of the position, it would not surprise me if the Yankees took another catcher early in the draft, but it is likely not a priority this year.
The Yankees have less depth on the corners of the infield. Outside of Oswaldo Cabrera, who plays third base in a utility role, there are no other corner infielders listed among the Yankees’ top-30 prospects by MLB.com, FanGraphs or Baseball America. The last time the Yankees drafted a corner infielder in the top-five rounds was Eric Jagielo, who was taken six picks ahead of Aaron Judge in 2013. The Yankees selecting a corner infielder would definitely fit an organizational need, but also appears to not jive with the team’s overall draft philosophy.
While the Yankees’ system seems well stocked with pitching talent, many of the best prospects from that group have moved to at least the High-A level. The high attrition rate of pitchers has been on full display this spring as prospects such as Clarke Schmidt, Alexander Vizcaino and TJ Sikkema have yet to throw a pitch for any of the farm teams. For all of their runs scored, the Low-A Tampa Tarpons also rank in the bottom half of their division in runs allowed as their pitching staff has struggled at times.
With all that in mind, where will the Yankees focus their efforts in this upcoming draft? The early season results on the offensive side of the ball have been very promising system wide. The team seems to be well stocked up the middle, but those players often also have the athletic ability to flex around the diamond as the develop.
The two biggest needs of the system as a whole are for a fresh wave of pitching that will enter at the Low-A and Gulf Coast League levels in 2021 and 2022. The next biggest need is on the corners of the infield where the Yankees have not traditionally invested high draft picks.
The Yankees have drafted to fill their organizational needs in recent years. A deep look at the Yankees system shows where those needs currently exist on the mound and the corners. With their highest draft position since the 2017 draft, there is a chance the Yankees could land three players or even four players who immediately slot among the top prospects in the organization. Will they continue with their trend and fill the needs of the system?