There is a strategy to the MLB draft and every teams plays it a little differently. With limited monetary bonus pools available to sign their draft picks, teams mix up their strategy to maximize the number of talented players they bring into the organization.
In 2017, the Yankees drafted a player in Clarke Schmidt who was injured at the time of the draft, but it opened up an opportunity to draft another highly regarded arm in Matt Sauer later on. The upcoming 2021 draft has two players who fit Schmidt’s profile from 2017 as they both went down for Tommy John surgery during the college season and now could be available for the Yankees when they select with the 20th overall pick.
Clarke Schmidt was having an amazing junior year for the University of South Carolina in 2017. After being a steady pitcher his first two seasons, he was rising into the upper tier of college pitchers heading into the 2017 draft. Improved velocity paired with one of the best breaking balls in that years draft had Schmidt in contention to be a top-10 pick. That season ended abruptly for Schmidt when he needed Tommy John surgery just over a month before the early-June draft.
The injury caused Schmidt’s draft stock to drop, but the Yankees saw an opportunity to land some serious value. They selected Schmidt knowing that they had major leverage due to a recovery timeline that would not provide Schmidt with a realistic chance to return to school and reestablish his value the next year.
The Yankees then went back into the draft with their second round pick to select Matt Sauer, who was viewed as a tough player to sign coming out of high school. Many teams passed on him in the first round but the Yankees used the savings from signing Schmidt below his assigned slot to land Sauer for what was well above his second round slot value.
This year, both Gunnar Hoglund from the University of Mississippi and Jaden Hill from Louisiana State University have had to undergo Tommy John surgery in the leadup to the draft. These two players were on different trajectories prior to their injuries, but both could find themselves available for the Yankees when they select 20th overall. That pick will be the organization’s highest pick since they selected Schmidt 16th overall in 2017.
Hoglund has a long track record of success and was drafted in the supplemental first round by the Pirates back in 2018 when he graduated high-school. Much like Schimdt, he was showing improved velocity during his junior year of college as he headed into the MLB draft. It seemed almost certain that Hoglund would go in the top-10 picks of the draft if he had stayed the course. He is currently ranked as the 18th best draft prospect by Baseball America.
Jaden Hill was viewed as a potential top-5 pick heading into the season. With a limited track record due to a previous UCL strain in 2019 and the loss of the 2020 season, his stock was high based on flashes of incredible potential. A mid-90’s fastball paired with an elite changeup and slider had scouts enamored with his front of the rotation potential.
Hill struggled from the start of the season and posted a 6.67 ERA with diminished stuff prior to his injury. Without the long track record of success, but perhaps one of the highest ceilings in the draft, scouts do not know where Hill will fall on draft night — but he is expected to be available for the Yankees when they select in the first round.
It would be hard to say that the Yankees 2017 draft strategy for Clarke Schimdt and Matt Sauer has been a massive success to this point. Both players are routinely listed among the Yankees top-30 prospects with Schmidt ranked near the top by most evaluators. That being said, Schmidt has battled injuries during his minor league career and has yet to throw a pitch this season at a time when he seemed to be on the cusp of a significant major league role. Sauer has recovered from his own Tommy John surgery in April 2019, which combined with the pandemic to keep him out of game action for over two years. He is now pitching for Low-A Tampa and attempting to reestablish himself as one of the Yankees’ better pitching prospects.
There’s massive potential for the Yankees to revisit their 2017 draft strategy this July. Both Gunnar Hoglund and Jaden Hill have the potential to recover from their Tommy John surgery and become elite pitching prospects. Is the organization satisfied enough with the results of their 2017 draft strategy to revisit that approach this year? It definitely looks like it will be an option on draft night.