On a Thursday morning conference call, Yankees amateur scouting director Damon Oppenheimer said he’s cautious about drafting the sons and brothers of Major League players, so the decision to take Dante Bichette Jr. with this year’s top pick wasn’t taken lightly.
“It’s case-by-case,” Oppenheimer said. “We’ve seen some who have been sons of or brothers of who have been overly pampered, overly sheltered. They don’t need it enough because there’s enough money. Then we’ve seen kids like Dante. This kid works. He is a worker. His regimen, his schedule, his routine, from the way he eats to the yoga to spending time at the gym to hitting. It’s second to none. There haven’t been many like this in terms of what he does makeup-wise. Parents have installed in him what it takes to be a professional baseball player, on the field to off the field. That’s a big obstacle that he’s already working through.”
Although Bichette is committed to the University of Georgia, Oppenheimer said he’s not worried about signability.
“You get guys sometimes in drafting where, their goals are to be drafted or their goals are to be drafted high or their goals are to get X amount of dollars from the draft,” Oppenheimer said. “In this situation, his goal has nothing to do with where he’s drafted, his goal has to do with what kind of Major League Baseball player he’s going to be. And that’s a different mindset that some guys have to learn later, and he doesn’t have to learn that. He knows what he wants. It’s a big deal.”
• Bichette staying at third could have as much to do with opportunity as ability. “It’s probably going to be more of where we’re at at the time he’s ready to crack the big leagues,” Oppenheimer said. “Are we going to be in a situation where third base is an option or are we going to be in a situation where it could be corner outfield?”
• The Yankees class is high-school heavy, but Oppenheimer said their top college pick — lefty Sam Stafford out of Texas — could move quickly. “He’s starting to come on,” he said. “He’s starting to make a lot of progress. He strikes guys out, he misses bats. Walk numbers are a little high than what you’d love to have, but if they weren’t, he would have gone earlier than this.”
• Starting with Bichette, the Yankees took a series of corner guys who have power potential. “I think we know that we needed to infuse some power into the system, and it seemed like it was what was available this year to us,” Oppenheimer said. “Last year it seemed like it was middle of the field. This year it seemed like there were more corner, power guys.” The power bats Oppenheimer specifically mentioned were Bichette, fourth-rounder Matt Duran, fifth-rounder Greg Bird and seventh-rounder Austin Jones.
• Duran is a local guy from New Rochelle, but Oppenheimer said “the New York factor really wasn’t a factor.” Instead, the Yankees scouts saw Duran a lot and saw considerable progress. Oppenheimer himself saw Duran face pitchers from the Newark Bears — pro guys throwing in the 90s with legitimate breaking balls — and Duran had a line drive to right-center and a home run to left. “He can hit,” Oppenheimer said. “He has power. He has a simple swing. He’s just slowly but surely, this guy’s getting better.”
• Sounds like the Yankees are also high on Bird, who’s going to stay at catcher for now but could have enough bat to move around. “Greg wants to catch, and he’s going to work at it to do that,” Oppenheimer said. “If his bat can play to the level that we think it’s going to play (with) the power and if he’s a catcher, it gives us a real strong value. If he goes to first base or something like that, he still has at-bat power that we really like that, it would still be very, very valuable.”
• Oppenheimer singled out three power arms, two out of high school and one out of junior college: Philip Wetherall, Zachary Arneson and Jonathan Gray. Those are the 8th, 9th and 10th rounders.
• Asked about truly high-ceiling players, Oppenheimer mentioned Bird and sixth-rounder Jake Cave. From a little lower in the draft, Oppenheimer said 14th rounder William Davis and 18th rounder Hayden Sharp are high-ceiling type guys. Both are right-handed pitchers out of high school.
• Guys in the very late rounds might not sign right away: “We’re going to follow these guys and see what we’ve got through the summer,” Oppenheimer said.
• The Yankees third-round pick is a 6-foot-5 high school kid named Jordan Cote out of New Hampshire. The Yankees had a cross-checker watching him as recently as Saturday. “You have to approach the Northeast differently,” Oppenheimer said. “You have to approach it like the season almost starts in April, and a lot of times guys have shut their minds off on guys at that point. Scouts have gone in, scouting directors are trying to make their decisions on what their board is going to look like before those guys really get thawed out to play. We’re trying to keep those guys alive and we think that they keep getting better.”