The 2023 Major League Baseball Draft begins a week from Sunday, and with the mock drafts coming along at higher frequency, it is now more plausible to narrow down the list of candidates for the Yankees to choose in the first round. Their last five first-round picks have been hitters, and they have not selected a pitcher first since Clarke Schmidt in 2017.
This recent history would indicate a draft preference for the organization rather than a coincidence, so it may take a special circumstance for the Yankees to select a pitcher when their turn comes up at pick 26. The board falling in a way that Thomas White, a high school lefty from Massachusetts, or Joe Whitman, a college southpaw from Kent State, sits atop it would represent that special circumstance. Otherwise, it’s not a bad idea to expect New York to grab a position player in the first round and target pitching in volume after that.
With a bonus pool of $5,299,400, the Yankees have the second-least amount of money to spend in the league, and they do not own picks in the second or fifth rounds. Barring the unlikely scenario where they decide to blow up their bonus pool and suffer the ensuing penalties, the Yankees figure to choose primarily college players this year, as they did in 2021 (17 of 20) and 2022 (20 of 20). They also will use the majority of their picks on pitchers, as 70 percent of the players they’ve chosen the last two years have been hurlers.
Recently, the Yankees have had success finding pitchers in the middle rounds, using input from the player development and sports science departments to identify traits in prospects that can be unlocked with professional training. The organization has seemed to be able to effectively add to pitchers’ fastballs, help strong secondary pitches play up, and teach a breaking ball to someone who could already throw strikes, as they have with Will Warren (Round 8), Chase Hampton (Round 6), and Drew Thorpe (Round 2), to name a few. Here’s a look at who could be this year’s version of those pitchers.
Round 3, Pick 97
Tanner Hall, RHP, Southern Mississippi
Hall gives off some Drew Thorpe vibes. He has been one of the top starters in college baseball during the last two years, and this year struck out 124 in 112.1 innings. Like Thorpe, Hall does not have an overpowering fastball, usually sitting around 90 mph, but he does a lot of damage with his plus changeup. Baseball America calls it “one of the better changeups in the class, a low-80s offering that tunnels nicely with his fastball shape with tons of tumble and some cutting action at times.” Hall’s slider rates as below average, but if the Yankees see durability and a track record of success, they may feel they can add a tick or two to the fastball and go to work on the slider.
Hunter Hollan, LHP, Arkansas
Beyond Brock Selvidge, the Yankees do not have a left-handed starter prospect in the full-season minor leagues. They will probably do something about that in the draft this year, and Hollan is the kind of high-floor pitcher who could draw their attention. At 6-foot-5 and 200 pounds, Hollan has the type of body that could add strength and perhaps power. He “mixes his four offerings well and throws them all for strikes” and “he has an athletic delivery that he repeats well” according to MLB.com. With at least average grades on his fastball, curve, slider, and changeup, plus the ability to control his stuff, Hollan is a name to watch in the third round.
Round 4, pick 129
Zach Thornton, LHP, Grand Canyon
An athletic, 6-foot-3 lefty, Thornton “never hurts himself with walks and manages to keep hitters off-balance enough to miss a good amount of bats,” according to MLB.com. His fastball may be a tick below average, but because of his plus control and command, it plays effectively. He can add and subtract from his breaking balls as well, and that type of feel represents an opportunity for a development team to help Thornton make a leap if they can add to his stuff.
Connor O’Halloran, LHP, Michigan
O’Halloran is another high-floor lefty who might have some fastball traits the Yankees can improve. At 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds, “he has an easy, athletic delivery with a low arm slot that creates deception without compromising his ability to throw strikes,” says MLB.com. That low arm slot gives his fastball angle and carry as well, and considering his slider and control already rate as a tick above average, O’Halloran can be very interesting once he gets a little stronger.
Kade Morris, RHP, Nevada
The Yankees heavily scout the Cape Cod League, and sometimes a strong summer performance in that league bears some weight when the draft comes around the next year. Morris pitched well for Cotuit in 2022 and then for the Team USA Collegiate National Team, and this spring his stuff was crisp. He pitches with above-average control, and while his other offerings could use polish, he throws two different fastballs and can already push the ball into the upper 90’s, according to Baseball America. At 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds, Morris could add strength and become a power pitcher who generates a ton of groundballs.
Round 6, pick 192
Noah Hall, RHP, South Carolina
The Yankees took Drew Thorpe last year after he showed a changeup that was arguably the best in the draft class, and he’s used it with success at Hudson Valley this year. Hall’s change is “a 70-grade pitch with extremely high spin rates and a tremendous amount of arm-side fading action and drop,” and Baseball America adds he is “fairly ready made and could be a quick mover if healthy.” The health question is about a back issue that shut him down before the end of the college season, and at 6-foot and 195 pounds Hall is not physical, but he has already shown above-average control and a fastball in the mid-90’s. It’s a plus that he’s a senior, which could help with the bonus pool.
Drue Hackenberg, RHP, Virginia Tech
The brother of former New York Jets draft pick Christian Hackenberg, Drue comes from an athletic family, and it shows in his sturdy 6-foot-2, 225 pound frame. That’s a body a lot like that of the Yankees’ sixth-rounder from 2022, Chase Hampton. Like Hampton, the Yankees may see raw material in Hackenberg that’s just scratching the surface. There is control, but command is perhaps lacking, evidenced by the amount of hits Hackenberg gives up. Still, he pitches in the mid-90’s with sink and “drives a high ground-ball rate” that “induced groundballs at a 55-percent rate for his career,” according to Baseball America. His slider and changeup could use more development, but getting a physical starter like this to bring his stuff up a notch after some time with the development team is right up the Yankees’ alley.
Isaiah Coupet, LHP, Ohio State
“Coupet can generate more than 3,000 rpm on both his slider and curveball,” according to MLB.com, and having two above-average secondary pitches is a pretty good place to start for a pitcher taken in the middle of Day 2 of the draft. Add in an average changeup and average control, and it makes Coupet an interesting project for the development team. If he can improve his fastball, he’s got a shot at being a solid lefty starter, but he could also be an effective reliever should that attempt fall short.
Ryan Vanderhei, RHP, Texas Christian
Vanderhei does not possess the control found in the pitchers mentioned earlier, but he is all about upside. “At 6-foot-6 with tons of room to add physicality and a chance to start professionally, Vanderhei’s fastball has already been up to 97 mph, and his shorter, frisbee-like slider has shown plus potential,” says Baseball America. An organization like New York, willing to take their time with a pitcher who needs to develop a third pitch while refining his mechanics, could hit the jackpot with an arm like this.
Bryce Warrecker, RHP, Cal Poly
The Yankees would have seen Warrecker pitch well in the Cape last summer. His fastball sat “89-92 mph with ride and late life” and he threw a “sweeper that generated more than a foot of horizontal break at peak and a changeup with good velocity and vertical separation off of his fastball.” That was on top of the command that Geoff Pontes of Baseball America said “was easily plus.” That performance, which earned Warrecker recognition as one of the top prospects in the Cape, did not carry over to 2023. At 6-foot-8 and 240 pounds, there is definitely something to work with here, and it is likely the Yankees would know a little bit about Warrecker after scouting and drafting his aforementioned teammate, Drew Thorpe.