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2023 Yankees Draft Preview: Five college bats to watch

With the 26th pick in the first round, the Yankees could be eyeing one of these college hitters.

COLLEGE BASEBALL: MAY 02 Arizona at Grand Canyon
Chase Davis
Photo by Zac BonDurant/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The high school season is in playoff mode, collegiate campaigns are entering the tournament phase, and the 2023 MLB Draft is 45 days away. The Yankees hold the 26th selection in the first round, and they don’t choose again until 97th overall thanks to the league continuing to punish teams for signing MLB free agents.

Once the Yankees came to an agreement with southpaw Carlos Rodón, they forfeited their second and fifth-round picks, and that has the potential to affect their draft strategy. With a bonus pool of $5,299,400, the Yankees have the second-least amount of money to spend in the league. The last time they were in a similar situation was the summer after they signed Gerrit Cole, when they took catcher Austin Wells with the 28th pick of the first round. Might this indicate that they will lean toward a college player with their first pick because of the potential for a lower bonus payout, allowing for money to be spread around later?

Recent history suggests that answer may be yes. The Yankees have shown a lean toward college players in recent drafts, and last year they selected zero players from the high school ranks. Also, the Yankees’ last five first-round picks have been hitters, and they have not chosen a pitcher first since Clarke Schmidt in 2017. The organization seems to prefer taking premium hitters who play up the middle with their top pick and then going after pitchers with traits they can develop later in the draft. It’s also worth noting that five of the last six hitters the Yankees took in the first round have been left-handed.

It’s not that the Yankees won’t choose a pitcher when their pick comes up on July 9th in Seattle, but the better bet is on a bat. It is getting to the point in the draft season where some individual players come into focus, and here are five who could very well draw the Yankees’ attention in the first round.

3B Braden Taylor (TCU, age 21)

Why the Yankees would take him:

Baseball America’s scouting report says Taylor “possesses one of the most keen batting eyes in the 2023 draft class, and is a savvy hitter with plenty of contact ability and on-base skill.” He has a strong track record of performance in college, the Cape Cod Summer League, and for the U.S. collegiate national team last year. The Yankees don’t boast true third-base prospects, and while you don’t draft for need, he would have a clear development path in the organization. Hitting left-handed doesn’t hurt.

Why the Yankees wouldn’t take him:

Taylor is hit over power, and the Yankees may want to see more than average power potential for a corner player they take in the first. Taylor is having a solid but not spectacular season for TCU, which might help him get down to Pick 26, but it may also factor into his evaluation at that spot as well. Several teams likely view Taylor as a talent worthy of the first round, so he is unlikely to be available when the Yankees select.

1B Nolan Schanuel (Florida Atlantic, age 21)

Why the Yankees would take him:

This kid is an offensive force from the left side of the plate. Schanuel’s numbers this year for Florida Atlantic are eye-popping: .460/.623/.888, 18 homers, 67 walks, and only 14 strikeouts in 56 games. You don’t draft a player for his statistics, but these numbers point toward serious hitting potential. Baseball America says “Schanuel has managed a high contact rate, 86% with FAU, with a strong understanding of the strike zone and gaudy exit velocities—his 2022 average exit velocity was just over 94 mph.” Although he plays first base, Schanuel is not a big donkey. At 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds, he has enough athleticism to play a corner outfield spot in the pros.

Why the Yankees wouldn’t take him:

At first, left, or right, Schanuel is still a corner player, and the Yankees have tended toward up-the-middle players in the first round. While there have been whispers in the past about the Yankees’ willingness to take a first baseman with their top pick, it would take a special bat for them to do it. It’s not out of the question for Schanuel to be that guy, but we’ll have to get closer to the draft to see if he starts getting connected to the club.

OF Jack Hurley (Virginia Tech, age 21)

Why the Yankees would take him:

Hurley has the chance for five above-average tools, and depending on who you ask, he may have them already. He swings from the left side and has the plus speed and arm to play any outfield position, with the ability to enter professional baseball as a center fielder. Prospects Live wrote that Hurley’s “impact and track record against velocity and spin has evaluators believing this is a big league regular bat.” He had a very productive sophomore season, and he’s been even better as a junior.

Why the Yankees wouldn’t take him:

There is an aggressive approach here that may translate to an increase in whiffs at the pro level. This is an adjustment that can be made, but the Yankees’ hitting department will have to weigh in on what they see. There is some discrepancy from evaluators whether Hurley’s hit tool actually shows potential to be above average.

SS Matt Shaw (Maryland, age 21)

Why the Yankees would take him:

There is an awful lot to like with Shaw. According to MLB Pipeline, Shaw has the chance to be an above-average hitter with above-average power and plus speed. He’s a versatile defender who plays shortstop now but could easily move to second, handle third, or fill in at an outfield spot. Shaw has done nothing but hit since he’s gotten to college, regardless of whether it’s spring or summer. He’s been described as highly-competitive, and the Yankees value makeup. Additionally, Shaw tore up the Cape League, which would do nothing but help him in the eyes of Yankees scouts.

Why the Yankees wouldn’t take him:

If hitting right-handed counts against Shaw, the Yankees may prefer to add to their stable of lefty hitters. Another issue may be whether or not they believe he can play shortstop in the pros, and they may not want to take a second baseman in the first round. They’ve taken players with profiles somewhat similar to Shaw’s before, but not in the first round. Perhaps the most likely obstacle to his selection will be another team taking him before Pick 26 comes across the draft board.

OF Chase Davis (Arizona, age 21)

Why the Yankees would take him:

Joe Doyle of Future Stars Series says that Davis is the fastest-rising player in the draft class. He added that Davis has “brought every offensive tool to the field this season and suddenly is looking like a polished, impact slugger destined for big things in a corner.” Prospects Live believes Davis has the prettiest swing in the class. There is raw power from the left side here, above-average speed and arm, and athleticism.

Why the Yankees wouldn’t take him:

The Yankees scout the Cape League heavily, and it is unclear how Davis would have been evaluated there in a short stint last summer. The numbers didn’t look good, but who knows how much weight that will carry? If Davis is just a corner outfielder, the real question is how much the Yankees believe in the hit tool. While his strike zone judgment and swing decisions are solid, there are concerns about swing and miss. Also, if Davis really is rising quickly, he may not be around when the Yankees choose.