The 2018 MLB Draft is fewer than two weeks away, and for the first time since 2014, the Yankees’ first selection comes outside the top-20. While we aren’t that far removed from the 2017 draft, Yankee fans still might not be fully acquainted with many the team’s recent draft picks. Only one of the first four picks from last year has played an inning in 2018. Still, there are more than a few names to keep an eye on from last year’s draft class.
Last year’s first-rounder, Clarke Schmidt, has yet to throw a professional pitch, as he still recovers from Tommy John Surgery. The Yankees took Schmidt, a right-handed pitcher from the University of South Carolina, 16th overall and were able to sign him to a below-slot deal. When healthy, Schmidt has real upside. Before the injury, he showed a real feel for his slider and was able to vary the depth and break of the pitch. He’s still refining his command and his changeup, but FanGraphs projects Schmidt to have four 55-grade pitches.
There’s an obvious inherent risk with drafting an injured pitcher with the first pick, but Schmidt was an extremely effective pitcher for the Gamecocks. He’ll likely return to game action later this summer and be ready to go for all of 2019.
In the second round, the Yankees selected high school pitcher Matt Sauer. Already armed with a mid-90’s fastball and a refined breaking ball, Sauer is quite possibly the best prospect from last year’s draft class and garnered a well-above slot bonus for a second rounder. Sauer projects to be a mid-rotation starter if he can nail down a changeup, but his violent mechanics could dictate a move to the bullpen down the line. Sauer spent some time in the Gulf Coast League last season and figures to debut with Pulaski or Staten Island later this season.
Although last year’s top two picks still haven’t made their 2018 debuts, a number of players in later rounds have turned heads in 2018. The third rounder, Trevor Stephan, is perhaps the greatest example of this. At 6’5” and 225 pounds, Stephan has the ideal pitcher’s frame and is using it to overpower hitters at High-A Tampa. Despite some funky mechanics, Stephan pounds the zone and misses bats. His 10.76 K/9 and a 1.98 BB/9 rates are evidence of that. However, Stephan has surrendered 1.10 HR/9 this season and is something to keep an eye on moving forward.
Stephan has a great fastball that sits in the mid-90’s, but his secondary offerings aren’t nearly as strong. His slider is just average, and the changeup is still a work-in-progress. Stephan’s numbers suggest he could earn a call-up to Double-A at some point this season, so we’ll see how he adapts to more advanced hitters perhaps sooner rather than later.
Last year’s fifth rounder, Glenn Otto, has been on the DL since April 18th, but it’s unclear as to what’s wrong. Still, when Otto’s healthy, he’s shown some tools that make him an intriguing prospect. Otto was a reliever for all of his three years with the Rice University Owls, but in typical Yankee fashion, he’s converted to a starter this season for Charleston. Otto sports an above average fastball and a great curve, but he’s historically been plagued by walks. If starting doesn’t work out for Otto, he could certainly be an interesting piece out of the bullpen.
Steven Sensley came out of the 12th round last year but has shown some tools with Low-A Charleston this season. At 6’1”, 220 pounds, Sensley has a lefty bat with some pop. So far this season, he’s slugging .526 with 148 wRC+. Sensley does strike out quite a bit. He’s sporting a 27.6% K rate this season, but he could be a guy to keep an eye on as this season progresses.
Garrett Whitlock is another late-round pick to keep an eye on. Last year’s 18th round pick is 6’5” and 190 pounds and already been called up from Charleston to High-A Tampa. Whitlock primarily uses a sinker that sits in the low-90’s, but the Yankees have worked with Whitlock to incorporate a four-seamer too. According to Whitlock, he feels as if his changeup is his better secondary offering, but MLB.com graded his breaking ball as the stronger pitch.
Whitlock was named Sally League Pitcher of the Week just before being promoted to High-A on May 14th. Whitlock looked solid in his High-A debut, but how he continues to handle the Florida State League will be something to keep an eye on as this season progresses.
Lastly, Canaan Smith the 4th round pick in last year’s draft is personally one of the most intriguing players in this class. Smith was the first position player selected last year and got himself an over-slot bonus for a fourth rounder. Last season, Smith was a .289/.430/.422/.853 hitter with 46 walks and 44 K’s for the Gulf Coast League Yankees East team. Smith clearly has an advanced approach at the plate and can work a count much better than many of his contemporaries. This combined with some power from the left side makes Canaan Smith one of the more interesting players from last year’s draft. He hasn’t debuted yet this season, but we’ll likely see him with Pulaski later this season.
If one thing can be said of last year’s draft, it’s that the Yankees made a concerted effort to stock up on pitchers. Of the 23 players signed last year, eighteen are pitchers, and only one of the first ten picks from 2017 is a position player. Given this, it could stand to reason that the Yankees might stock up on bats in 2018.
Finally, while there are definitely some interesting prospects from last year’s draft, there’s certainly no guarantee we’ll see them in the Yankee system for long. Going back to 2013, Clarke Schmidt and Aaron Judge are the only two remaining first round picks still in the Yankees system because the Yankees have used those prospects to get major league help. Eric Jagielo helped get Aroldis Chapman from the Reds. Ian Clarkin and Blake Rutherford helped net David Robertson, Todd Frazier, and Tommy Kahnle from the White Sox, and James Kaprielian was in the Sonny Gray trade last season. Whatever the future may hold for the 2017 Yankees’ draft picks, some of them will undoubtedly help the Yankees in some capacity in the years to come.