With the MLB Draft just around the corner, all 30 teams are sure to have plenty of intel on countless prospects around the globe. In recent years, the Yankees have gained a reputation for being relatively conservative in the draft. Their selections have skewed heavily in favor of players with college experience, who are considered to be safer bets to contribute at the big league level.
This apparent risk-averse draft strategy is problematic for a couple of reasons. First, it's not entirely accurate. The Yankees have certainly rolled the dice a few times over the last few seasons, even when drafting college players. Picking Aaron Judge in 2013 was far from a sure thing, even though he had three years of Division 1 college baseball under his belt. During his junior year, he struck out in over 20% of his plate appearances, which was enough to scare teams away over the first 31 picks.
Last year, first rounder James Kaprielian was initially considered to be a high-floor, low-ceiling prospect, but since joining the Yankees, his fastball velocity has reached the upper 90's. He was dominating hitters in the Florida State League before being sidelined with elbow inflammation last month. During the draft, Kaprielian was considered to be close to major-league ready, but the Yankees apparently believed he still had some upside left to show.
In the late 2000's, the Yankees got burned on a series of high-risk, high-reward prospects, many of whom were drafted out of high school. One of the original arguments made by Moneyball-era sabermetricians was that teams should try to focus more on college players, since they had a higher chance of reaching the big leagues. While the Yankees have been choosing more refined players over the last few years, they shouldn't swear off high school prospects either.
Baseball's recent youth movement suggests that prospect development is evolving. Over the last couple of seasons, players like Carlos Correa and Noah Syndergaard have made their presence known, despite lacking significant experience. Even though competition is as high as it has ever been, younger players are doing more than they did in previous generations.
Some of the changes to prospect development have been well-documented. Driveline Baseball, a Washington-based facility that uses weighted baseballs to develop pitchers' velocity, has been profiled on numerous occasions. This spring, Mike Trout showed up to Angels' camp with a "smart bat," a bat equipped with a sensor to help him monitor his swing in greater detail. Some hitters are using advanced vision training to help them recognize different kinds of pitches and improve plate discipline.
Advancements in technology and statistical analysis have brought our understanding of the game to a new level. For that reason, it is not that much of a leap in logic to argue that players are in a better position to reach their full potential than they were at any point in baseball history. If the Yankees find themselves having to choose between playing it safe and betting on a player's raw talent, they should not be scared to draft a player with an extra bit of risk attached to him. If the last few seasons are any indicator, betting on a player's ceiling is as close to a safe bet as ever.