The Yankees have revamped their pitching development over the past few years under the guidance of Sam Briend, the team’s pitching coordinator. Last season there were numerous pitchers who took significant steps forward across the minor league system. Continuing our position-by-position look around the Yankees minor league system, let's take a look at the recently drafted pitchers, who will likely start the coming season anywhere from the Florida Complex League to possibly High-A Hudson Valley.
In the second round of the draft the Yankees selected Brandon Beck from Stanford University. The 2021 PAC-12 conference pitcher of the year was coming off a very strong season where he struck out 143 batters in 108.2 innings. He is able to command four pitches, giving him the ability to negotiate his way through good lineups multiple times. Beck will not see much time on the field this coming season as he underwent Tommy John surgery this past summer while ramping up to pitch some innings for Low-A Tampa.
We already discussed Brock Selvidge in our lower-level pitching depth article that you can check out here. Following the Selvidge selection, the Yankees took a pair of position players before selecting Richard Fitts in the sixth round. Early in the draft process Fitts was considered a potential first round pick after flashing tremendous talent in the shortened 2020 collegiate season and again during the college fall developmental period. After starting as the ace for Auburn University, he battled through injuries and inconsistency in 2021. The potential that impressed scouts was a 97-mph fastball that he mixed with an above average slider. He has also displayed a split-change in the past, but did not throw that pitch very much this past season.
Left-hander Robert Ahlstrom was taken by the Yankees in the seventh round out of the University of Oregon. He is not an overpowering pitcher, generally sitting at 88-89 mph and running it up to 92 mph, but he is known for having outstanding command of all three of his pitches. His 2.50 ERA and 1.033 WHIP both led the PAC-12 for pitchers who threw more than 60 innings last year.
Ahlstrom’s selection began a run on pitching for the Yankees in the draft as they quickly followed up with Southeastern Louisiana University’s Will Warren with their next pick. The right-hander saw his stuff and performance improve during the 2021 season, finishing his college career with three straight games of double-digit strikeouts. He raised his fastball velocity in 2021 and can now touch 97 mph even if he generally sits in the low 90s during a start. That pitch is paired with a good curveball as well as a slider and changeup that will need to continue improving in pro ball. Like Ahlstrom, Warren also displayed very good control with a 2.5 BB/9 rate during his final season.
While Ahlstrom’s and Warren’s performances on the field were certainly impressive, in the next round the Yankees selected Chandler Champlain from the University of Southern California (USC). On the professional radar since Baseball America ranked him as a top-100 draft prospect coming out of high school, it has yet to come all together for Champlain. In three years at USC, he allowed over a hit per inning and a 5.31 ERA despite showing his big-time arm potential. The Yankees were willing to take a chance on the 6-foot-5, 220-pound righty who can carry 93-96 mph in his starts. He will have to improve his fastball, which is defined as “straight” in scouting reports. On the plus side, Champlain’s walk rate was essentially cut in half this past season showing improved control, and he also possesses a very good 12-to-6 curveball that could become more effective if hitters have to respect his other pitches.
Following the selection of Champlain, the Yankees drafted another pitcher with a lot of upsides but uneven college results. Jack Neely pitched one season for the University of Texas before finishing his college career for Ohio State University. The 6-foot-8 Neely battled control issues in college but also struck out 62 batters in 41.1 innings this past season. He made his professional debut in two relief outings for the Low-A Tampa Tarpons this past season and struck out five of the six batters he faced without allowing a baserunner.
Another tall right-hander joining the Yankees is Zach Messinger from the University of Virginia. After working as a reliever for most of his college career he came through big in the ACC tournament, striking out six batters in 5.1 innings of work as a starter. He displayed a four-pitch mix that he did not have to fully utilize in a relief role.
Zach Messinger comes in relief pumping 92-93 and up to 95 when he needed it. Hard bore and life on FB, esp when up in zone. SL showed late, tight break in lo 80s. Big, strong 6’6”/225 build. #PGDraft pic.twitter.com/vWUiwDg09D— PG College Baseball (@PGCollegeBall) March 6, 2021
After selecting six college pitchers in their previous eight picks, the Yankees added a wrinkle by stepping away from the college ranks to draft Sean Hermann out of Durant High School in Plant City, Florida. The team was able to sign the six-foot righty away from a commitment to the University of South Florida after his senior year where he had 135 strikeouts in 78.1 innings pitched.
The Yankees continued adding pitchers in the draft by bringing in Danny Watson and Bailey Dees in the later rounds. For taller pitchers, Watson and Dees did not display the typical control issues while in college as both had a 3.3 BB/9 or lower rate while pitching for Virginia Commonwealth and Penn State respectively. It is likely that the Yankees’ pitching department will try to improve the stuff of both players to get the type of consistent performances that can carry them up through the system. Both players made brief professional debuts in 2021, pitching for Low-A and the Florida Complex League Teams.
The team also added Cole Ayers out of the Junior College ranks late in the draft. He struck out 47 batters in 32.2 innings this past season. He pitched in the MLB Draft league and received strong reviews on his curveball while pitching in that environment and recording 11.2 K/9.
The Yankees added significant pitching depth in the most recent MLB draft. A foundation of high performing players was mixed with a number of players who have displayed potential but have yet to put it all together. This draft class will provide a significant amount of impact and innings for the Yankees’ Class-A affiliates, as well as their Florida Complex League team in the coming year.