Over the last couple of months, we have looked at many possible high school options for the New York Yankees with the 30th and 38th pick of the MLB Draft on June 3. To get more information on the high school/prep school players in this class, we needed an expert at this level.
A few days ago, I got the chance to talk to Nathan Rode, who is the National Supervisor over at Prep Baseball Report. Rode provided great insight on some of the players to watch for at the bottom of the first round as well as the depth of talent in this year’s class. Be sure to follow Nathan and Prep Baseball Report on Twitter. Here’s our Q+A below:
Ricky: What is the main thing you look for as a talent evaluator in these 17 or 18-year-old players to figure out their potential at the next level?
Nathan: “There’s a lot of factors. It starts at a young level for these guys. When you are looking at the draft, you try to project what these guys will be when they are in their prime (ages 26-32). You are looking at 17-18 year old kids and saying what’s this guy going to look like in 5-10 years. Performance has to be taken with a grain of salt because they are so young and facing their peers. What we are looking for is tools, athleticism, mechanics, and how easily players do something and trying to project how that will translate to the ensuing levels. If adjustments are needed with certain things, how easy is that going to be? At the end of the day, that is how you keep getting promoted and it is easy to do that when you are an athlete.”
Ricky: How would you evaluate this draft class compared to recent years?
Nathan: “The general thought on this class is that this class is a bit down, not as strong as it was last year and it does not quite live up to what we are used to. That being said, there is strength at the top and a lot of good players that can be impact players, All-Star players at the top of the draft. There is a bit of a gap between the top tier and the next tier. In general, the class seems a little bit down.”
Note: When talking about the strengths of this class, Rode brought up right-handed pitching, but it is the “most volatile position in the draft.” “There is always calculated risk with that profile”, Rode mentioned.
Ricky: Is it a bad year for the Yankees to be picking at 30 and 38 with the lack of depth in this class?
Nathan: “I guess you could argue that because there isn’t as much depth, but the Yankees are always picking in the second half of the first round because they have one of the better records in baseball. It’s a thinner class, but you got to pick somebody. It can’t help year-to-year, but you work with what you got.”
Ricky: In your recent mock draft at PBR, your staff had three different picks for the Yankees at 30. Is it more that New York is tough to predict where they are leaning or depending on where guys might fall due to signability concerns?
Nathan: “It’s a product of where we are in terms of the leadup to the draft and where the Yankees are picking. A lot of things can change. It’s always easier to predict the top than the bottom. One pick different than forecasted can change the entire outcome. Right now, predicting the Yankees isn’t overly difficult based on philosophy, but at the same time, we have no idea what is going to happen in front of them on June 3.”
Ricky: What would you say is the Yankees biggest organizational need going into the draft?
Nathan: “Looking at their farm system, it seems they have graduated a lot of guys in the last 12-18 months from their system. They might not have as many guys that are close to the big leagues, but their system doesn’t seem thin. That’s the nature of the prospect cycle. You don’t really draft on need, but maybe they will look at college guys that are a little closer to the big leagues. The approach as it will be with any team is to pick the best player and continue to add to that depth. We all know the Yankees aren’t afraid to swing a trade of prospects for a guy that is in the big leagues right now. As long as you have depth, it gives you something to work with.”
“You could be adding to the culture of competition. When you have two picks, you can try to balance that out more. Maybe you can take a bit more risk when you have extra picks. You can get a young guy and keep adding to that depth and foster some pretty good competition at the lower levels.”
Ricky: Locally, the big story in the tri-state area is Delbarton High School in New Jersey with right-hander Jack Leiter and infielder Anthony Volpe that was recently in the Prep Baseball Showcase in Cary, North Carolina. Can you tell us more information about those players?
Nathan: “Jack Leiter, I just saw him on Saturday, and he was as electric as I have ever seen him. He has bloodlines. When you watch him pitch, he has moxie on the mound. He’s a competitor, he’s confident but not cocky. You look at his stuff. He was up to 98 miles-per-hour on the fastball. Is he going to pitch there? No, but you know the arm strength is there. He’s going to be pitching with a plus fastball and then the potential for an above-average, potentially plus slider and curveball. I haven’t seen him thrown a changeup, but I could imagine he has feel for one.”
“The one detractor on Leiter is that he is about five-foot-ten, five-foot-eleven, so that sweet spot for a starter is around six-foot-two, six-foot-three because it helps with durability and leverage on the mound. But, that being said, short pitchers aren’t generally starters in the big leagues. Taking a guy like that in the first round is risky, but when you look at the other stuff he does, I don’t care that he’s 5-10, 5-11, he’s a first rounder for me. If he’s at 30 and the Yankees took him, I think it would be a great pick because I think he’s an excellent prospect and he has a chance to be an impact starter in the big leagues.”
“Volpe, you have to step back and watch a few games to really appreciate the kind of player that he is. Nothing is super flashy, super loud when it comes to his tools. Everything that he does is average to a tick above average. He’s a better runner now than he was last summer. Average to an above average hitter with fringy-to-average power. He’s a good athlete that can really play shortstop. It can be less enticing to take him to the first round because of the solid tools because that’s what it would take to get him away from Vanderbilt. At the same time, it depends on what you value in a player. The best line I have heard from evaluators is everyone evaluates him the same. Teams value that differently. “
Ricky: One player that has jumped up draft boards is infielder Gunnar Henderson from Selma, Alabama. What about him has caused him to make this jump up into the first round?
Nathan: “Gunnar is a good athlete. I hope that he does go in the first round because it would validate myself and Shooter Hunt when we saw him a couple of years ago as an underclassman in the Area Code Games. He was showing the hit tool from the left side, showing that he can run and showing actions from the left side of the infield. Things kind of leveled off for him a little bit and he didn’t stand out or perform as much at the showcases last summer. That kind of backed up his stock a little bit, but it sounds like this spring, he’s showing he is still that athlete, that hitter we thought he could be and he’s showing he can stick at shortstop or worst case scenario, move over to third base.”
Ricky: What other prep school arms could be options for the Yankees in Round 1?
Nathan: “There are several guys that won’t be on the board like Brennan Malone, Matthew Allan (both out of Florida) that won’t be there. There’s a chance that Daniel Espino drops, but I don’t know if he will make it all the way down to 30. Quinn Priester, out of Illinois, is an excellent athlete. I’ve heard people call him Michael Phelps when he goes on the mound, he’s physically impressive. But, I don’t think he makes it to the Yankees. There’s a group of guys in Texas, J.J. Goss is a pretty good arm, Matthew Thompson, Jimmy Lewis, Josh Wolf are a few names that could be in play at 30.”
Ricky: Any chance that Brett Baty could drop to NY with any of those two picks and can you talk a little bit about the power potential that he has?
Nathan: “If I had to put money on it, I would say he doesn’t get to 30. He’s one of the better hitters when you are talking offensively in the high school class. He’s a third baseman, he’s fine over there, not a Gold Glover, but he moves well. It’s a really good left-handed bat. It’s big power, but he can also hit for average. He can hit to all fields with power. Baty is having an absurd year. There’s not many high school prospects that hit over .600 in their senior year. He’s just having a ridiculous year. The chances of him getting to the Yankees at 30 are pretty slim, but it would be a good pick if he was there.”
Ricky: Player that you like that isn’t getting enough attention right now with less than a month to go until the draft?
Nathan: “My favorite player in the class is Corbin Carroll. Everybody is talking about him because he’s one of the best players in the case. He’s a smaller guy, a really exciting player, and he’s proved it over and over again. If I had to go with a guy who isn’t getting the publicity you would expect, I would probably go with Bryce Osmond out of Oklahoma. We ranked him pretty high out of the summer. I just saw him out of one look, but our guy in Oklahoma filed some good reports on him. He’s a good athlete, up to 96 mph, and has good secondary stuff that is projectable. So far, he has proven worthy. We still have him ranked pretty high. I think he has the stuff to be a first-round pick.”