This year’s draft is over and done with. You can see who the Yankees selected here. Of note: first round pick Spencer Jones, an outfielder who stands at a towering six-foot-seven with big power projection. Sound familiar? Fair or not, he’s already had a left-handed Aaron Judge comp thrown around. That sure would be a fun outcome, wouldn’t it?
Like I did last year, it’s time for a retrospective of the Yankees’ draft from five years ago. Here’s the 2016 piece I penned. Let’s dive right into the facts of the club’s 2017 selections:
- Signed: 23/40
- Made the majors: 7
- Still in the organization: 8
- WAR for Yankees: 0.7
- Total WAR: 4.7
*Baseball Reference WAR.
Those are by far better results in terms of WAR than the ’16 draft, though the bar was very low to clear. The likes of Nick Nelson and Brooks Kriske really put a drag on the ’16 class. Granted, the Yankees made some trades out of that crop that significantly benefited the major league roster (the David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, and Todd Frazier trade).
Like the draft haul from a year prior, the Yankees didn’t hesitate to trade away some pieces from the ’17 class. In turn, they acquired the following players:
- Jameson Taillon: +3.1 WAR
- Joey Gallo: +0.5 WAR
- Joely Rodríguez: +0.3 WAR, who turned into Miguel Castro (-0.3 WAR)
- Andrew Heaney: 0.0 WAR
Now, there were non-’17 draft class players included in the trades for Taillon, Gallo, and Rodríguez, so their contributions to the major league team don’t totally stem from the prospects drafted and traded. Still, it’s worth mentioning how the Yankees improved the team via the draft, even if indirectly.
Now, let’s get into the players selected in greater detail:
First Round (16th Overall): Clarke Schmidt
Going by pre-draft rankings, Schmidt was a bit of a reach according to Baseball America (32nd), MLB.com (49th), and FanGraphs (44th). Because of bonus pools, the MLB draft isn’t always about drafting the best player available. That said, Schmidt could have been a top ten pick had he not required Tommy John Surgery earlier in 2017. He was off to a great start at the University of South Carolina before he needed surgery.
Schmidt signed for $2,184,300 well under the 16th pick’s $3,458,600 bonus slot. Those savings were pushed to second rounder Matt Sauer, who I’ll cover a little bit later. Clearly, cutting an underslot deal with the rehabbing Schmidt was a big part of the team’s calculus at 16. Yes, hoping for him to regain his pre-surgery form was certainly a more important aspect, but the bonus pool played a huge role too.
Schmidt made his professional debut in 2018 and his major league debut in 2020, but he’s still looking to find his footing with the Yankees. The cancellation of the 2020 minor league season did him no favors, especially on the heels of a very good 2019 campaign that got him recognition on a couple of top 100 lists entering 2020 (Baseball America and MLB Pipeline). Even without the 2020 season, Schmidt was a consensus top 100 guy entering 2021 (FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus added him). Unfortunately, his stock fell that year after an elbow strain in spring training rendered him unavailable until August.
Now 26, Schmidt has spent part of three seasons in the majors but only has 206 professional innings to his name. He still has one more option year, so the Yankees won’t be forced to make a decision on him yet, but the bullpen could come calling sooner rather than later, particularly if his control doesn’t improve. He’s currently getting stretched out once again in Triple-A after tossing 24 innings (mostly in relief) for the Yankees this season.
I don’t think the Yankees have any regrets with this pick. 2017’s first and second rounds haven’t yielded much major league production, at least not yet. Here are the players with more WAR than Schmidt who were taken after the 16th pick and before the Yankees next selection.
- David Peterson (20th, +2.2 WAR)
- Tanner Houck (24th, +4.2 WAR)
- Alex Lange (30th, +1.3 WAR)
- Drew Rasmussen (31st, +2.5 WAR)
- Griffin Canning (47th, +2.5 WAR)
- MJ Melendez (52nd, +0.4 WAR)
DL Hall and Jeter Downs were picked after Schmidt and before the team’s second rounder too, though it’s too soon to make a judgement on them.
In any event — would the Yankees be better off with, say, Peterson, Houck, or Canning? Probably. But it’s not such a dramatic difference that the Yankees should be kicking themselves.
Best Pick (542nd Overall): Garrett Whitlock
Here’s where the Yankees are kicking themselves, albeit for a different reason. The Yankees paid 18th round pick Garrett Whitlock $247,500 ($125,000 slot) out of Conference USA’s Alabama-Birmingham. What a find…for the Red Sox. The Yankees left him unprotected from the December 2020 Rule 5 draft only to watch him get selected and break out for the team’s hated rival.
Whitlock made himself a pretty intriguing prospect in the Yankees’ system quite quickly. He made it up to Double-A in 2019 and was terrific before Tommy John Surgery cut his season short that July. The righty owned a 3.07 ERA and 3.14 FIP in 14 starts, including a stellar 55.9 percent ground ball rate. He obviously did not pitch again that year, nor in 2020 without a minor league season. In turn, the Yankees decided to take a chance by exposing Whitlock to the Rule 5 draft. I’m sure the organization figured no one would grab a player who hadn’t thrown in almost two seasons. Alas.
As a 25 year-old rookie in Beantown, Whitlock appeared in 46 games (73.1 innings) and dominated. He was one of the best relievers in the league, at least in terms of ERA. He had the 8th lowest mark among qualified relievers last season. This year, he’s having another nice campaign, and even has had a chance to stick in Boston’s rotation before a hip injury sidelined him.
So, Whitlock was an excellent late round find for the Yankees. Not many 18th rounders even become notable prospects, let alone good major leaguers. It’s just too bad that he’s a good major leaguer in Boston and not New York.
Trevor Stephan | 3rd Round | 92nd Overall | +1.1 WAR
Like Whitlock, the Yankees lost Stephan in the Rule 5 draft before the 2021 season. Stephan’s rookie season in Cleveland’s bullpen was unspectacular (4.41 ERA, 5.49 FIP) mainly due to home run woes (2.13 per 9), but he’s been very good this season. He’s kept the ball in the yard (2 homers in 35.1 innings) and owns a 2.80 ERA and 2.49 FIP. The Guardians are using him in a high leverage role too (1.24 gmLI).
Canaan Smith-Njigba | 4th Round | 122nd Overall | -0.1 WAR
Part of the Taillon trade, Smith-Njigba only has 7 plate appearances for Pittsburgh, but he’d certainly have accumulated more by now if not for a fractured wrist from an outfield collision in June just a few days after his call up.
Glenn Otto | 5th Round | 152nd Overall | -1.1 WAR
Sent to Texas in a package for Gallo and Rodríguez, the 26 year-old righty has struggled in Texas since. He owns a 6.46 ERA in 85 major league innings. Although he broke out with the Yankees at the Double-A level last year (35.2% K-BB%!), his strikeouts have subsided and walks have creeped up while with the Rangers.
Ron Marinaccio | 19th Round | 572nd Overall | +0.5 WAR
Another breakout arm from last summer on the farm, Marinaccio went from relative unknown to a significant bullpen prospect. He was added to the 40-man over the offseason and has begun to entrench himself into the Yankees’ bullpen before a recent shoulder injury. The righty tossed 15.1 shutout frames before the injured list stint, but fortunately, he’s expected to return soon.
Janson Junk | 22nd Round | 662nd Overall | 0.0 WAR
Junk has only thrown one inning for the Angels this year after receiving four starts last summer. Junk was the return for Heaney, I might add. Like so many other hurlers in the Yankees’ system, Junk blossomed in the minors last year, partly thanks to the Yankees teaching of the sweeper. He’s been OK in Triple-A for the Angels this year.
Still in the Organization
Matt Sauer | 2nd Round | 54th Overall
The savings on Schmidt went to Sauer, a high school draftee who received a $2,497,500 bonus ($1,236,000 slot). Like Whitlock, Sauer underwent Tommy John surgery in 2019 and did not reappear in a game until 2021. Now 23 years-old, Sauer entered the season as FanGraphs’ 24th best Yankees prospect. This year, Sauer is repeating High-A and doing well (3.29 ERA in 76.2 innings). Expect him to get a bump up to Double-A soon. He’ll be Rule 5 eligible for a second time this winter.
Shawn Semple | 11th Round | 332nd Overall
Semple began this season in Scranton’s bullpen, only to pitch in two games before suffering a torn oblique. No word on when he’ll return. Semple has mostly been a starter in his minor league career beforehand, with 2021 being something of a breakout for the now 26 year-old righty. He recorded a 3.91 ERA in 106 frames last season, including a strong 28.5 percent strikeout rate against a respectable 8.5 percent walk rate. Most of that work came in Double-A.
Eric Wagaman | 13th Round | 392nd Overall
Wagaman hasn’t hit enough as a corner bat and is old for his level (almost 25 in High-A). He has made some improvements this season, including a big reduction in strikeout rate and a solid uptick in power. He’s an org guy nonetheless, and that’s more than OK for a 13th rounder.
Harold Cortijo | 14th Round | 422nd Overall
Cortijo pitched only 12.1 innings in 2021 due to an undisclosed injury. Previously a starter, the right hander has exclusively pitched in relief this season for Single-A Tampa. He doesn’t appear to be much more than minor league depth at this stage of his career.
Aaron McGarity | 15th Round | 452nd Overall
McGarity just returned to action after not throwing a pitch in a game since 2019. Not sure what the injury was, but the 27 year-old righty has appeared in two games at the Complex League in the last week. He posted some awesome strikeout to walk numbers as a reliever back when the Staten Island Yankees were still a thing in 2018 and 2019.
Alex Mauricio | 27th Round | 812th Overall
After appearing in just one game in 2019, Mauricio did not reappear until this season with Hudson Valley. He’s posted a 5.05 ERA in 35.2 frames out of the Renegades’ bullpen this season.
Out of the Organization
In addition to the aforementioned Whitlock, Stephan, Smith-Njigba, Otto, and Junk, these players are no longer with the Yankees:
Dalton Lehnen | 6th Round | 182nd Overall
The 6-foot-3 southpaw topped out in High-A and was released in 2020. He hasn’t pitched anywhere since.
Dalton Higgins | 7th Round | 212th Overall
Higgins recorded a 23-to-zero strikeout to walk ratio in relief for Charleston in 2019, but did not pitch after mid-May due to injury. He retired in February 2020.
Kyle Zurak | 8th Round | 242nd Overall
The Yankees released Zurak this season after 13 games with Somerset. He’s now in the Tigers organization at the Double-A level.
Austin Gardner | 9th Round | 272nd Overall
Gardner retired in January 2020 after topping out in short season A-ball in Staten Island.
Chad Whitmer | 10th Round | 302nd Overall
The Yankees traded Whitmer to Milwaukee in 2018 after appearing in 14 games in rookie ball in 2017. Since, Whitmer climbed to High-A in the Brewers organization before he was released in 2020.
Steve Sensley | 12th Round | 362nd Overall
Power made Sensley interesting through mid-2018, but he struggled upon a bump up to High-A that season, repeated the level in 2019, and then again got a brief look there in 2021 before an undisclosed injury. The now 26 year-old first baseman is playing Indy Ball this season.
Ricky Surum | 16th Round | 482nd Overall
Surum retired mid-2019 after serving primarily as a filler player in the system. The infielder shuffled between low-A and Triple-A in 2018 to help fill voids as needed.
Chris Hess | 17th Round | 512th Overall
The Yankees let Hess go in 2019 after 14 games in High-A. The corner infielder player some Indy Ball that year, but hasn’t surfaced since.
Ryan Lidge | 20th Round | 602nd Overall
Lidge, a switch-hitting catcher, has played for Winnipeg and Chicago in the American Association since 2020. Similar to Surum, he was mainly a depth player shuffled up and down the rungs as needed while with the Yankees.
Bryan Blanton | 21st Round | 632nd Overall
After starting this year with Hudson Valley, the Yankees let Blanton go. He’s pitching in the American Association for Winnipeg.
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:
Pat DeMarco | 24th Round | 722nd Overall
The Yankees drafted DeMarco again in 2019 (17th round). He’s currently hitting .208/.250/.252 (38 wRC+) for Hudson Valley. He got off to a nice start in Tampa last year (134 wRC+ in 201 PA), but has scuffled with the Renegades ever since.
Tristan Beck | 29th Round | 872nd Overall
Atlanta drafted Beck in the 4th round of the 2018 draft. He was later dealt to San Francisco in a deal for Mark Melancon. He’s currently in Triple-A for the Giants.
Jake Mangum | 30th Round | 902nd Overall
The Mets nabbed Mangum in the 4th round of the 2019 draft. The 26 year-old switch hitting outfielder has spent time in Double-A and Triple-A for the Yanks’ crosstown rivals this season.
Alika Williams | 32nd Round | 962nd Overall
Tampa Bay took Williams with the 37th overall pick in 2020. He’s batting .258/.336/.433 (109 wRC+) in high-A this season.
Andrew Abbott | 36th Round | 1,082nd Overall
Abbott was a second round choice of the Reds last season. The southpaw now in Double-A with gaudy strikeout numbers.
Tanner Burns | 37th Round | 1,112nd Overall
Burns went 36th overall to Cleveland in 2020. He’s in Double-A for the Guardians.