Predicting who the New York Yankees will take with their first pick in the annual amateur draft is not as much of a dice roll as it once was. Although there would be claims to the contrary, there seems to have been a shift in organizational preference to taking hitters in round one, while waiting a bit longer to take pitchers they believe can develop.
Clarke Schmidt is the only pitcher the Yankees have drafted with their first pick since 2016. If you want to make an even better guess about a player who might be at or near the top of the Yankees’ draft board, see where he lines up in the batter’s box. The Yankees have taken left-handed hitters with their last three first-round picks, and shortstop Trey Sweeney, taken in 2021, is developing into a serious major league option for the future.
Despite playing at smaller school Eastern Illinois, there was a lot to love about Sweeney coming out of college. Physically impressive at 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds, Sweeney has above-average size for a shortstop, but his actions at the position and strong throwing arm countered the skepticism that he could remain up the middle. Statistically, his last college season was overwhelming. He slashed .382/.522/.712 with 14 homers in 48 games, walking 46 times with just 24 strikeouts, and while scouts questioned whether he would perform consistently against better competition, Sweeney fared well against the higher-level pitching he faced.
Sweeney was considered a bat-first prospect in the draft, and players his size typically are expected to move off of shortstop either immediately when they turn professional or shortly thereafter, but the Yankees drafted him with the intent of getting a power-hitting shortstop. Damon Oppenheimer, Yankees Vice President and Director of Amateur Scouting, commented after the draft, “I don’t have any reason to think he can’t stick at shortstop and we drafted him to play shortstop. Once we get him in the system and he plays for a while, who knows what happens after that but the tools are there to be a shortstop.”
The Yankees followed through with that assessment by running Sweeney out to play short for 32 games (3 for the FCL Yankees and 29 for the Tampa Tarpons) in 2021 after his signing. He didn’t disappoint, putting up a .932 OPS and hitting seven home runs in 115 at-bats.
After a promising debut and a winter of strength and conditioning, Sweeney, who despite his size was not physically mature at age 21, entered his first professional spring training in 2022 and immediately turned heads. Kevin Reese, Yankees Vice President of Player Development, liked what he saw from Sweeney at shortstop, especially his quickness. “He is a bigger guy, but the measurements that we get are off the charts,” Reese told NJ.com. “Those things tell us that we think he can continue to play shortstop. You see some guys coming from LSU or some of these SEC schools that have been in the weight room for four years and they might be maxed out body wise. I think Trey’s got some room to go there, and so that could potentially just make him faster and quicker.”
There is plenty of optimism for Sweeney to remain at shortstop as a professional, and his first full season did nothing to dampen those hopes, but he has the athleticism and baseball IQ necessary to move to third base should that prove to be the better option for his career or for the organization. It helps that his bat profiles to a corner as well.
Sweeney will make it to the big leagues because of his ability at the plate. Depending on which evaluation you read, Sweeney either has an above-average hit tool or above-average power. Watch him play enough and you’ll realize both evaluations are correct. Sweeney particularly has power to the pull side, which bodes well for a future in Yankee Stadium but also points to an area of development Sweeney has in front of him. He pulled more than half the balls he put in play in 2022, so plate coverage and the ability to drive the ball to all fields at the professional level are next steps in making him a complete hitter. Meanwhile, he controls the strike zone well and hits the ball hard frequently.
The Yankees went to work with Sweeney to make some swing adjustments going into the 2022 season, altering a big leg kick and corresponding hitch and smoothing out his bat path with a quieter load and launch. For someone making the leap from smaller-college to professional baseball, employing significant swing changes, and playing a season more than sixty games longer than he’d played before, Sweeney acquitted himself very well. His line of .240/.349/.413 and 16 homers at Hudson Valley and Somerset might not make your eyes pop out, but those numbers are certainly nothing to scoff at. That Sweeney was called up to Double-A Somerset for their championship run at the end of the season underscored the organization’s enthusiasm for him, and he pitched in with two homers in eleven games.
Trey Sweeney’s first professional season should have done nothing to change the opinion that his potential remains as an impact hitter at the major league level. He’ll play the majority of the 2023 season at 23-years-old and should open the season with Somerset. He won’t need 40-man roster protection until the winter of 2024, so time is on his side, and perhaps the road is clearing in front of him.
Oswald Peraza has an opportunity to begin next season as the Major League shortstop, and if Anthony Volpe doesn’t make the Yankees’ roster out of camp he will play short at Triple-A Scranton. A winter spent getting stronger and faster, coupled with his continued improvement as a hitter, will position Sweeney as either the best shortstop prospect in the Yankee organization once Peraza and Volpe graduate, or the best third base prospect in the organization should the Yankees decide to put him on a path to compete for a potentially open job at the hot corner in the spring of 2024. However he gets to the Bronx, Trey Sweeney could someday provide the coveted left-handed power and balance to the Yankees’ lineup they are constantly seeking.
Pinstripe Alley’s Top 10 Prospects:
1. Anthony Volpe, SS
2. Oswald Peraza, SS
3. Jasson Domínguez, OF
4. Austin Wells, C
5. Spencer Jones, OF
6. Everson Pereira, OF
7. Trey Sweeney, SS
8. Will Warren, RHP
9. Clayton Beeter, RHP
10. Jhony Brito, RHP
Bonus: Best of the Rest