With the team’s third-round pick, the Yankees drafted Jacob Sanford, an outfielder and first baseman from Western Kentucky University. Let’s familiarize ourselves with the draft’s 105th overall selection.
Sanford is from Nova Scotia, Canada where he essentially went unnoticed in high school. Understandably so, it’s not exactly known for being a baseball hotbed. It really wasn’t until this year that he jumped up on anyone’s radar as a legitimate prospect.
With nowhere to go after high school, Sanford enrolled at McCook Community College in Nebraska. He walked on to the baseball team and played out his freshman and sophomore seasons there. In 108 games, Sanford hit .356/.424/.671 before transferring to Western Kentucky for the 2019 season.
In his only season at WKU, Sanford won the Conference USA Triple Crown. The lefty swinging outfielder hit .398/.483/.805 (.805!!!) with 22 homers and 66 RBIs in 56 games. Look, it’s not the SEC or another big conference, but it’s hard to not be impressed by those sort of numbers.
Lastly, here’s an interesting tidbit: Sanford’s head coach at WKU was John Pawlowski, who was the head coach at the College of Charleston when Brett Gardner walked on there.
What do the scouts say?
Raw power is the name of the game for Sanford. MLB Pipeline noted that he put on prodigious power displays in batting practice and had one of the best raw power tools in the draft. Baseball America (subs. required) gave Sanford plus-plus power; in other words a 70 on the 20-80 scale.
Of course, there are questions about whether or not Sanford can unlock his raw power in game action. The quality of competition he faced in college is questionable and Fangraphs calls out the fact that he’s yet to see big time velocity. With MLB Pipeline indicating some concerns about his deep pre-pitch load and occasional balance issues, it’s easy to understand why. Still, where Fangraphs and MLB Pipeline seem to disagree is bat speed. Fangraphs denotes that Sanford is “strength over bat speed”, whereas MLB Pipeline says Sanford has a quick stroke and impressive bat speed.
Power isn’t everything, of course. It’s definitely Sanford’s best tool, but he also has plus speed per MLB Pipeline. At 6-2, 215 lbs. he moves well enough to play the corner outfield though he isn’t a stolen base threat. Interestingly, Baseball America says that Sanford is a below average runner.
Defensively, Sanford profiles in left field or at first base. He lacks the arm strength requisite for right field.
In sum: everyone agrees on the raw power, though there’s reason to be skeptical about his ability to get to it in games. There’s some disagreement about his foot speed. Moreover, the consensus is that his throwing arm will force him to play left field or first base. Considering Sanford’s lack of exposure prior to 2019, it’s understandable why there are some differences of opinion in terms of bat speed and running speed. Nonetheless, one thing’s for sure: the Yankees drafted him because of his offensive potential.
Speaking of why the Yankees chose Sanford, let’s get Damon Oppenheimer’s thoughts:
If this one can do what Gardy did, then we’ve had a hell of a draft on its own. He really reminds us of Brad Hawpe. He’s got huge power; it’s easy, he drives the ball the other way. The combination of the power and the speed he has, being a guy who is kind of young and just starting at this thing, it made him real attractive to us.
Signing bonus and what’s next
Sanford agreed to a $597,500 bonus, which is just above the $554,300 slot value for the 105th pick.
Western Kentucky’s season ended in late May, so Sanford probably will spend a little time in extended spring training before his first professional assignment. As a college bat, I expect him to spend most of his time with Staten Island this summer, though he could get a tune up in rookie ball first.
Considering how raw some of his tools are, he may be a bit slower to develop. Just guessing here, but that probably means he will spend a full season in A-ball (Charleston, perhaps?) in 2020 before jumping up to higher levels.
The entire MLB draft is basically a crapshoot, though at the stage Sanford was chosen, things start to really get wonky. You’re not going to find any well rounded or polished prospects; many will have some glaring flaws. Sanford is precisely that: talented, but with big question marks.
So with that in mind, Sanford seems like a sound selection (what do I know, though). A left-handed hitter with ridiculous raw power? Pretty easy to dream on that potential at Yankee Stadium. Chances are the Sanford will bust, but his power potential is very enticing.