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Looking back at the Yankees’ 2016 Draft

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With this year’s amateur draft behind us, let’s turn back the clock to 2016 and assess how the Yankees fared with its draft class five years ago. This is something we plan to make an annual feature here at Views. It’s hard to pin down an exact timeframe for closing the book on any given year’s draft, but five years out seems like a good starting point. So with that, let’s dig in.

In hindsight, and in only looking at drafted player outcomes, this was a pretty bad crop for the Yankees.

  • Signed: 28/40
  • Made the majors: 5
  • Still in the minors with Yankees: 8
  • WAR for Yankees: -1.5
  • Total WAR: -0.9

*Baseball Reference WAR.

That’s not pretty at first glance. However, it’s worth noting that the Yankees weren’t afraid to use the players in this class in trades. The team dealt their 1st (Blake Rutherford), 2nd (Nick Solak), 5th (Dom Thompson-Williams), 12th (Taylor Widener), and 27th (Phillip Diehl) round picks in later seasons and acquired:

  • David Robertson: +2.5 WAR
  • Tommy Kahnle: +0.8 WAR
  • Todd Frazier: +1.0 WAR
  • Brandon Drury: -0.3 WAR, who turned into JA Happ: +4.6 WAR
  • James Paxton: +2.2 WAR
  • Mike Tauchman: +3.8 WAR

That’s +14.6 WAR acquired from this draft alone. Meanwhile, the guys sent away have been worth +0.6 WAR. That’s a win for the Yankees.

Obviously, things could change over time and look different. Solak and Widener are just starting their big league careers. Maybe Rutherford or Thompson-Williams will break through at some point, though things aren’t looking great for them. Diehl is not on a 40-man roster anymore. Are those five going to surpass the production the Yankees received via trade from 2017 – 2020? If they do, it won’t be for a while. And it won’t be easy.

So yeah, the Yankees may not have found success with the specific players drafted. But they deserve some praise for not prospect hugging, too. The Yankees entered a contention window the year after this draft and started to trade from it in order to help the big league club. It’s important to keep that in mind whenever evaluating a club’s draft: it’s not just for replenishing the farm system. It can also pay dividends at the major league level sooner than you think.

With those initial thoughts out of the way, let’s dive deeper into the Yankees’ 2016 selections. I’ll break down the club’s first round choice, Rutherford, opine on who I think was the best pick, and then break down the rest of the club’s selections. Let’s get to it.

First Round (18th overall): OF Blake Rutherford

The Yankees were able to nab Rutherford at 18 in spite of his status as a top-10 draft prospect (Baseball America, MLB.com, and FanGraphs). Then 19 years-old, Rutherford was a tad older than your typical high school draftee, but scouts absolutely loved his sweet left-handed swing. Not hard to see why the Yankees dreamt on it at Yankee Stadium, either. The Bombers paid him an over slot $3,282,000 bonus, above the recommended $2,441,600. That’s the clubs second-highest first round bonus ever. Only Andrew Brackman has topped the amount.

After signing, he spent most of his year with rookie-level Pulaski and raked (1.058 OPS) before a hamstring injury ended his season. His draft stock and immediate performance made him a consensus top-50 leaguewide prospect entering 2017.

Rutherford debuted in Single-A Charleston in ’17, hitting .281/.342/.391 in 71 games before his time in the Yankees organization came to an end. He was the headlining prospect in a trade to the White Sox that netted the Yankees David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, and Todd Frazier. All three were major contributors in the Bombers’ playoff run that season.

D-Rob was dominant down the stretch in 2017 (241 ERA+) and great again in 2018 (130 ERA+). Kahnle recorded a 112 ERA+ in his time with the Yankees, but that mark is skewed downward by a rough 2018. Both relievers had big playoff moments. Frazier was solid in his half season in pinstripes.

Since the deal, Rutherford has stalled as a prospect. The power that scouts thought the lefty would develop hasn’t come, and in turn, his hit tool has regressed. Right now, Rutherford owns a .233/.276/.361 (66 wRC+) in Triple-A.

In retrospect, it’s pretty easy to say that the Yanks sold high on Rutherford. Things haven’t worked out for him in Chicago’s organization, but I don’t think the Yankees necessarily saw that coming. Did they really sour on him after just one year in the minors? I find that hard to believe. The Yankees got a pretty big return for Rutherford, after all. Gotta give to get, you know.

Considering what the team acquired for Rutherford, I don’t think they regret drafting him either. There are a few notable players who went between Rutherford and the team’s next pick (Nick Solak), including Gavin Lux, Dane Dunning, Will Smith (the catcher), and Dylan Carlson, but I don’t think that means they’d want a do over. Remember, Rutherford was considered a top-10 draft talent and the Yankees got him at 18. This was a sound pick who they used to acquire major league help as the title window opened.

Best pick: Rutherford

I debated going with Taylor Widener (12th round, 368th overall) or Nick Solak (2nd round, 62nd overall), but I still think Rutherford is the choice here. Sometimes a good draftee isn’t necessarily what said player develops into, and that’s precisely the case here.

Talent-wise, Rutherford was an absolute steal at 18. I know the MLB draft can be odd because of how bonus allotment works, but he undoubtedly was the kind of prospect the Yankees don’t usually have fall to them in the draft. That alone made him look like a smart choice at the time.

The trade return for Rutherford bolsters his selection, too. Rather than dream on future big league production, the Yankees dealt him in order to get much needed help in the majors in the present. He should serve as a reminder that the Yankees shouldn’t always be so hesitant to trade away prospects, even if they look promising at the time. Keep in mind that Rutherford was a consensus top-50 MLB prospect that year. His prospect status alone provided value to the major league team right away, even if it didn’t come from him directly.

Sure, that trade might not have looked so good now if Rutherford developed as anticipated. But even if that was the case, I’d still argue that Rutherford was the best choice. It would have meant that the Yankees were right about drafting him, even if he was sent away via trade.

Major Leaguers

Nick Solak | 2nd round | 62nd overall | +0.1 WAR

Like Rutherford, the Yankees also traded Solak. He was part of the three-team deal that sent Brandon Drury to the Yankees in February 2018. Solak landed in Tampa Bay in that trade, but was spun off the following summer for reliever Peter Fairbanks. The Yankees later turned Drury into JA Happ.

Solak did nothing but hit in the minors, and did so immediately for the Rangers upon promotion. He burst onto the scene with a .293/.393/.491 (126 wRC+) in 135 PA, but has struggled in two seasons since (84 wRC+). He’s primarily a second baseman, though he’s spent time at all three outfield positions and the infield corners too.

Drafting Solak was the beginning of the Yankees’ now-apparent affinity for collegiate middle infield bats who may not be able to play shortstop. We’ve seen it with Josh Smith and Trevor Hauver. This year’s first rounder Trey Sweeney, too. The Yankees were clearly on to something here.

Nick Nelson | 4th round | 128th overall | -1.0 WAR

Nelson has had maddening results in the majors thus far (6.75 ERA in 33.1 innings), but possesses impressive stuff that one would think could make for a useful bullpen arm. He needs to get better at throwing strikes consistently for his arsenal to work, though.

The now 25 year-old righty has hung around as an organizational top-30 prospect and still has a chance to carve out a role in the majors. If all goes well, perhaps he can develop into a Luis Cessa-type. Or even better, if we really want to be optimistic: Jonathan Loaisiga, who also had a bumpy start to his major league career. Either way, Nelson’s a pretty solid fourth round choice.

Brooks Kriske | 6th round | 188th overall | -0.5 WAR

Here’s the first college senior the Yankees chose. Kriske was a bullpen prospect from day one, but underwent Tommy John surgery later in 2016 and missed all of the 2017 season. He was a pretty surprising 40-man roster addition after 2019, though he certainly had some strong minor league campaigns behind him. He’s only thrown 8.2 major league innings, and they haven’t been good (13.50 ERA).

Maybe Kriske has a major league career ahead of him, but he’s been a bit of a wasted spot on the 40-man roster for the past two seasons. Nonetheless, not many sixth rounders make much of an impact in the majors, if at all. So in that sense, the fact that Kriske made it to the majors (whether that was the right decision or not) isn’t a bad result. Heck, being useful in the upper minors is a nice outcome too. That said, it’s apparent that the Yankees like him more than the rest of us.

Taylor Widener | 12th round | 368th overall | +0.8 WAR

In addition to Solak, the Yankees sent Widener packing in the aforementioned three-team deal. He landed in Arizona, where he still is today. The righty debuted for the Snakes last summer out of the bullpen, and this year, he’s made seven starts (3.55 ERA, 5.40 FIP).

Widener was immediately very good in the Yankees’ organization, particularly in 2017 when he threw 119.1 innings in High-A and recorded a 3.39 ERA and 3.05 FIP. In turn, Widener was a 2018 prospect breakout candidate at Baseball Prospectus, which looks prescient now. He carved up Double-A hitters in the Diamondbacks’ system after the trade (2.75 ERA in 137.1 innings in 2018). Now, it looks like the 26 year-old righty has a chance to be a back-end starter.

Phillip Diehl | 27th round | 818th overall | -0.3 WAR

Now in the Reds organization, Diehl is a lefty reliever who posted some gaudy strikeouts numbers in the Yankees’ system. He fanned 41.2 percent of batters in High-A in 2018 before finishing with Double-A Trenton. That must have caught the attention of the Rockies, who traded Mike Tauchman to get Diehl in 2019.

Diehl tossed 13.1 innings for the Rockies in 2019 and 2020 (8.78 ERA) before they DFA’d him. Cincinnati claimed him, but recently outrighted him off their 40-man roster. Anyway, I bet Colorado would like this trade back considering what Tauchman did in pinstripes in 2019. Yes, even after watching how the outfielder flamed out over the past two seasons.

Still in the system

Nolan Martinez | 3rd round | 98th overall

Unfortunately, Martinez has only thrown 115 innings in his minor league career and is currently on the 60-day injured list for Single-A Tampa. He’s still just 23, so not all hope is lost yet, but he’s dealt with elbow and shoulder injuries this year which is deeply concerning. The Yankees used later round savings to give Martinez a $1,150,000 bonus.

Trevor Lane | 10th round | 308th overall

We’ve seen Lane in big league spring training, so there’s a little bit of familiarity here. He’s a southpaw, who although has strong minor league numbers, would have been better off in a different era. The three batter minimum rule has really dampened his chances at pitching much in the majors. Lane’s currently pitching for the RailRiders in Triple-A.

Brian Trieglaff | 13th round | 398th overall

Trieglaff hasn’t pitched since 2018, but is still in the organization. He’s currently on the 60-day injured list and assigned to Hudson Valley. Trieglaff owns a 2.24 ERA in 76.1 minor league frames, topping out at High-A Tampa in 2018.

Armando Alvarez | 17th round | 518th overall

The Yankees invited Alvarez to big league camp this spring and assigned him to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre thereafter. The 27 year-old currently has a .230/.302/.388 (82 wRC+) at the level. He’s not a prospect, but to make it this far as a 17th rounder is a nice outcome.

Greg Weissert | 18th round | 548th overall

Weissert might be a late blooming relief prospect. The now 26 year-old righty owns a 0.71 ERA in the minors this season (25.1 innings, equally distributed between Double-A and Triple-A). He’s fanned 31.1 percent of opponents this year to boot. He may not have a major league future with the Yankees, but perhaps a second division team could give him a major league chance in relief someday.

Evan Alexander | 19th round | 578th overall

Not every draft pick has to be a major leaguer to be a success, and Alexander is a good example of that. Teams need players to fill out minor league clubs and not all of them will be prospects. Alexander is, more or less, the definition of an “org guy”. This year, the Yankees have bounced Alexander up-and-down, ranging from a brief stint in Double-A in May, to a longer stint in High-A in June, and now back with Single-A Tampa for the last month or so. A lot of 19th rounders might last one or two years in an organization before being released or retiring. Not Alexander, and there’s some value in that.

Braden Bristo | 23rd round | 698th overall

The 26 year-old righty is currently pitching out of Scranton’s bullpen. Bristo could get a big league opportunity at some point, though that may not be with the Yankees. Any time you make it to Triple-A, you’re right on the doorstep. Again, making it this far as a very late round pick is a good result.

Brian Keller | 39th round | 1,178th overall

I’m not sure how, but Keller has a 3.31 ERA in Triple-A in spite of a walking 32 batters in 35.1 innings pitched. The 27 year-old righty, who’s served as a swingman for the RailRiders this year, isn’t really a prospect. But again, like Bristo, he’s only one level shy of the majors.

Out of the organization

Dom Thompson-Williams | 5th round | 158th overall

DTW hit quite well in the lower levels of the minors for New York, including a 147 wRC+ in 375 plate appearances for High-A Tampa in 2018. That performance included an impressive 17 homers in 375 plate appearances. After the season, the Yankees included Thompson-Williams in the trade to Seattle for James Paxton. Now 26, the outfielder is repeating Double-A in the Mariners system and struggling (66 wRC+).

Keith Skinner | 7th round | 218th overall

The Yankees signed Skinner for $10,000 in order to pay for the likes of Rutherford and Martinez, who as mentioned, were given over-slot bonuses. Skinner, a catcher, retired after 2018, when he topped out at High-A Tampa.

Dalton Blaser | 8th round | 248th overall

Another bonus savings guy ($10,000), the Yankees released Blaser after 2018. Blaser reached Single-A Charleston in the Yankees’ organization. He spent some time in Indy Ball after he was let go.

Tim Lynch | 9th round | 278th overall

Make it three straight $10,000 bonus draftees. And like the previous two, Lynch was out of the organization after 2018. He absolutely destroyed Florida State League pitching as a 24 year-old in 2017 (173 wRC+, 13 homers in 234 PA), but the Yanks cut him loose after a downturn at the same level in 2018.

Connor Jones | 11th round | 338th overall

Jones only pitched 18.2 innings in the Yankees system, all in the GCL. He missed all of 2017 with an undisclosed injury, returned briefly in 2018, and was released in January 2019.

Jordan Scott | 14th round | 428th overall

Scott had some success as a 20 year-old in the GCL in 2017 (161 wRC+), but collapsed at the same level in 2018 and was released in 2019. He has been with the Atlantic League’s Southern Maryland Blue Crabs since 2020, though it appears they just let him go recently.

Tony Hernandez | 15th round | 458th overall

Hernandez retired after spending parts of three seasons in the GCL with the Yankees. The southpaw tossed 93.1 innings at the level, with his best performance coming in 2017 as a 20 year-old (3.44 ERA in 52.1 IP).

Miles Chambers | 20th round | 608th overall

The Yankees released Chambers in 2019 after Chambers didn’t pitch in 2017 or 2018 due to injury. He appeared in 15 games for Pulaski in 2016, posting a 5.92 ERA out of the bullpen.

Timmy Robinson | 22nd round | 638th overall

Robinson had a nice debut for Staten Island in ’16, posting a .265/.343/.483 (143 wRC+) line with 8 homers and 9 steals in 265 plate appearances. Things just didn’t hold up for the draftee out of USC though, who was once the 153rd best draft prospect per Baseball America out of high school in 2012. The Yankees released Robinson in 2018.

Joe Burton | 24th round | 728th overall

At 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds, Burton’s power was lauded when Baseball America pegged him the 370th best prospect in the 2016 draft. He lasted just a season in the organization though, as the Yanks released him in 2017. Burton posted a .669 OPS in the GCL after signing.

Edel Luaces | 25th round | 758th overall

Luaces, an outfielder, played three seasons in the GCL before the Yankees cut him loose in 2018.

Will Jones | 28th round | 848th overall

Jones retired in 2018 after pitching out of Pulaski and Staten Island’s bullpen over the previous two seasons.

Ben Ruta | 30th round | 908th overall

Ruta’s still kicking in affiliated ball. The Padres drafted the outfielder in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft last winter. The 27 year-old outfielder actually hit pretty well in the Yankees’ system, but as a corner outfielder with limited power, there was a very limited future. He’s currently hitting .200/.313/.384 (72 wRC+) in Triple-A for San Diego.

Tyler Honahan | 36th round | 1,088th overall

The Stony Brook product pitched for a couple of seasons in the system before the Yankees let him go in 2018.

Did not sign

I won’t go one-by-one here, but a few guys were drafted again a few years later and played, or are still playing, in affiliated ball:

Zach Linginfelter | 16th round | 488th overall

The right-handed pitcher went to University of Tennessee and has been drafted twice since (2018, 19th round to WAS and 2019, 9th round to LAA). He signed with the Angels and is currently in High-A.

Blair Henley | 22nd round | 668th overall

The Astros drafted Henley, a right-handed pitcher, in the 7th round of the 2019 draft out of the University of Texas. He’s with their High-A affiliate this season.

Gage Burland | 26th round | 788th overall

Toronto picked up Burland in the 22nd round in 2018, but he hasn’t pitched in affiliated ball since 2019.

David Clawson | 34th round | 1,028th overall

Clawson signed with the Angels after they took him in the 37th round in 2018, but he only lasted with the organization through 2019.

Zack Hess | 35th round | 1,058th overall

The Braves took Hess in 2018 in the 34th round as a draft-eligible sophomore, but he returned to LSU for his junior year and shot up to the 7th round in 2019 (Detroit). He’s a righty reliever pitching with the Tigers’ High-A club this season.

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6 Comments

  1. Jack H.

    Awesome recap! So thorough and fun to read, and a great way to assess the Yanks’ draft strategies and their level of success as an organization.

  2. Steve.

    OT, but I didn’t expect Hoy Jun Park to be outrighted today.

    • MikeD

      He got his 1 AB and lifetime medical care!

      I’m guessing they needed his roster spot for an extra arm in the bullpen, or actually probably today’s starting pitcher…who just gave up a HR on the very first pitch.

      He’ll be back.

      • Steve

        Yeah, I saw a little later because of Covid protocols, he could be outrighted w/o being exposed to waivers.

  3. MikeD

    Slightly off track here, although it’s draft related. Just looking at the Yankees often underwhelming picks from the North American amateur draft, it reminds me of something I noted elsewhere. Fangraphs’ Kevin Goldstein succinctly wrote (although I’m paraphrasing) that the Yankees treat the two talent similar to building a diversified investment portfolio through a holistic view. The amateur draft is the boring treasury bills, while the international signings is where they acquire tech stocks, with the later bringing in more interesting guys like Sanchez, Florial, Severino, the Martian, etc. As they generally pick so late in the amateur draft, they have less funds, so they spread it about to build depth. That’s why we’re often underwhelmed with the first pick, but then we see more interesting picks further in. In the end, the two talent pools hopefully provide high-end ceiling guys from the international pool, and the generally less-exciting, but quantity guys needed for trades and depth etc. from the amateur draft. I’m not saying I agree with the approach, but it’s clear they’re doing this on purpose. It is a strategy. Fans only look at the amateur draft without viewing the two talent pools holistically as the Yankees are.

    With a pending international draft (I’d say it’s a 100% guaranteed with the new CBA), the Yankees are going to have to figure another approach for the high-end ceiling players. Maybe that will be a good thing. They changed their development people a year or two back, which also might be feeding their acquisition strategy. There is some evidence it’s succeeding on the lower levels, with Hauver, Wells, Volpe, Smith, etc. all having very good years. Hopefully Trey Sweeney fits in there too. Only time will tell if that will continue up to the majors.

  4. Gavin Watkins

    This would have been an amazing draft if the Yanks won it all in 2017, oh well

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