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Draft Profile: Josh Smith

With the team’s final pick on day one of the draft, the Yankees chose a college infielder: Josh Smith. Let’s get to know 2019’s second round, 67th overall selection.

Background

Smith, 22 in August, is decidedly not a physical specimen. At 5-10 and 175 pounds, he’s not going to stand out in a crowd, especially with all of the large humans the Yankees have in the organization. Drafted as a second baseman, Smith played third base and shortstop in college.

It’s safe to say that Baton Rouge, Louisiana is Smith’s home, through and through. Not only was he born there, but he played his high school and college ball within the city too. After attending Catholic High School, he matriculated at Louisiana State University.

Following a stellar prep career, the Detroit Tigers drafted Smith in the 38th round of the 2016 draft. Instead of going pro with the Tigers, Smith obviously chose to play for the LSU Tigers.

Smith played third base in his freshman year at LSU before moving over to shorstop the following season. He was mediocre, recording a .281/.407/.409 batting line, though he impressed in the Cape Cod league in the summer immediately afterward. Smith raked in the premiere collegiate summer league: .382/.478/.513 in 90 plate appearances.

His performance on the Cape was a good lead up to his sophomore year, but a stress reaction in his vertebrae resulted in him playing just six games. Finally healthy for his junior year, Smith re-established himself, hitting .346/.433/.533. He also launched nine homers and swiped 20 bags in 24 attempts.

Though he was LSU’s shortstop, it’s worth noting that the Yankees drafted him as a second baseman.

What do the scouts say?

The consensus is that nothing Smith does will blow your doors off. That said, he does a lot of things well. He makes contact, has a little bit of pop, is a slick fielder, and runs well. So not only does he lack a standout tool, but he’s not projectable given his stature.

Baseball America (subs. required) notes that his best tool is either his solid-average hit tool or his glovework at shortstop. The latter surprised me, given the fact that the Yankees drafted him as a second baseman. That would seem to indicate that the team isn’t quite as confident in him at short, though Yankees’ executive Damon Oppenheimer didn’t close the door on that (more from Oppenheimer in a moment).

According to Fangraphs, Smith’s top tool is his arm, which is a present and future 55 on the 20-80 scale. That said, the site seems to be in agreement with Baseball America’s assessment of his hitting ability. Where the two sites differ is his future power. Although both have his raw power as average, Baseball America finds him unlikely to unlock that in games given his size. Meanwhile, Fangraphs gives him a future 50 game power and notes that he has a “lift-friendly” swing.

So Smith’s ceiling doesn’t sound particularly high, although MLB Pipeline believes he has a high floor and should develop into a utility man at worst. That jibes well with Baseball America, as the publication also noted his high floor. Fangraphs mentioned that Smith is a max-effort player, which perhaps could be construed as a hard worker likely to make the most of what he’s got (and thus at least meet his floor).

Now, let’s find out what the Yankees think. Here’s what Oppenheimer said about Smith:

With Smith, you’ve got a left-handed hitter who was playing shortstop there at LSU. We see him as a middle infielder, whether it’s short, whether it’s second, whatever it takes. He’s a left-handed hitter with pop and he can really hit. We like the fact that he has the tools to stay in the middle of the field and be a good offensive contributor.

Signing bonus and what’s next

LSU’s season just ended on the 9th, so perhaps we will see Smith sign soon. The Yankees have already come to an agreement with all but two of their selections in the first ten rounds. Fourth rounder Jake Agnos is the other draftee outstanding. The assigned value for Smith’s spot is $976,700.

As Mike Axisa noted on his Patreon, the Yankees have nearly $1.6 million of wiggle room with their draft pool (without losing next year’s first rounder) to sign Smith and Agnos. That’s plenty of room given both of selections slot value, so there isn’t much reason to worry about Smith returning to college. Barring betting on himself to shoot up into the first round next year, it’s not like he’d have much leverage as a senior anyway.

We should see Smith in the New York-Penn League with Staten Island this summer. Next year, he’ll likely start in full-season ball with either Charleston or Tampa. Keep in mind that he missed most of his sophomore year of college, so he’s a little bit less experienced than most juniors. If he performs well, perhaps he’ll move through the ranks like a typical college draftee does.

My take

There’s nothing in Smith’s various scouting reports that wows me, but that doesn’t make him a bad choice at 67. After familiarizing myself with him, I realized that he reminded me of the Yankees’ second rounder in 2016: Nick Solak. Also a second baseman (or middle infielder, if you prefer), Solak was dealt in the Brandon Drury trade prior to last season.

I will say that I am intrigued by Fangraphs’ note about his swing. All publications seem to agree that Smith has decent raw power, though Fangraphs is alone (among these three) in projecting average game power. For what it’s worth, Solak didn’t hit for much power in college but launched 19 dingers in Double-A last season. He has 10 already this year in Triple-A. It sounds like Smith has potential to do the same thing.

Even if Smith can’t convert his raw power into game power, it’s good to read that he isn’t an overly risky pick. The Yankees are betting on Anthony Volpe, so to ostensibly draft a future utility man in the second round is good. I know it’s not exciting, but there’s value in that.

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Draft Profile: TJ Sikkema


As part of the return for Sonny Gray, the Reds sent the Yankees a competitive balance draft pick. On Monday night, the Yankees used that pick, 38th overall, to select TJ Sikkema. Let’s get to know him.

Background

Sikkema, a stocky (6-0, 221 lb.) left-handed pitcher hails from Iowa. He wasn’t drafted out of high school, but built up his prospect status after heading to the University of Missouri. He was a jack of all trades for the Tigers; Sikkema started and relieved throughout his collegiate career.

Turning 21 in July, Sikkema just finished off his best season in school. He pitched in 17 games, 13 of those starts, and owned a minuscule 1.32 ERA in 88.2 innings. He struck out 101 batters, allowed 54 hits, walked 31, and allowed just four homers. His first two collegiate years were solid as well, but he took a big step forward this year particularly in the hits allowed column.

Although his junior year was impressive, his performance in the Cape Cod League last summer helped raise his profile. He threw 31.1 innings across five starts and recorded a 1.72 ERA. His strikeout total wasn’t high (23), but he only walked 8 and didn’t give up any homers. That’ll do.

What the scouts say?

Sikkema isn’t regularly a hardthrower. MLB Pipeline has him sitting 89-91 with his fastball, though he can reach back for 95. Fangraphs has him a tad higher, sitting 90-94 topping out at 95 while also praising his pitchability. That said, the Yankees’ player development department has a penchant for getting guys to throw harder. Don’t be shocked if Sikkema sits in the mid-nineties at some point in the next year or so.

The southpaw relies on three pitches and will throw them at different release points. His heater has has good sink and tailing action on it, but his slider is his best pitch. Per MLB Pipeline, Sikkema’s slider is high-spin offering which is something the Yankees covet. Additionally, he’s able to throw variations of the pitch, ranging from 78-83 on the gun with different breaks. Baseball America (subs. required) actually calls one version a slurve and the other a more traditional overhand curveball. His changeup isn’t anything special, but it sounds like it can and will be a usable pitch.

Based on his skillset, the consensus is that Sikkema could get to the major leagues quickly as a reliever. That said, he has a chance to be a reliable back of the rotation starter too. How do the Yankees plan to deploy the lefty? Here’s Damon Oppenheimer, Vice President of the Yankees’ Amateur Scouting Group (bold emphasis is mine):

Sikkema has a unique ability to throw from different angles,” said Oppenheimer. “He’s got plus stuff, he throws it for strikes, and the guy’s a real ultimate competitor. He really gets after it on the mound. He can probably get to the big leagues quickly as a reliever, but we see him as a starter. When you can get a guy who pitched in the SEC with success, it goes a long way.

Signing bonus and what’s next

It didn’t take long for Sikkema to officially join the organization. He signed for slot money on Friday. That amounts to $1,952,300 to be exact, but there could be some give or take. I had thought that Sikkema might get a little less than slot, but what do I know.

Anyway, anyone who lives in the Tri-State area might have a chance to see Sikkema pitch this summer. I anticipate him starting off in the New York-Penn League with Staten Island. Their season opens this Friday and we should hear about the rosters very soon.

As reports insinuate, Sikkema could be a quick mover. I wouldn’t expect him to advance above Staten Island this summer, but he could be in Double-A by the end of next season if all goes right. Perhaps he opens with High-A Tampa in 2020 and earns a promotion to Trenton.

My take

I think there’s a lot to like about Sikkema, especially pairing him with the organization’s player development team. For now, it sounds like he can get by with his low 90s fastball and secondary stuff, but if the Yankees can add a couple more ticks like they’ve done with so many other hurlers, look out. That could bring his floor from a middle reliever role to perhaps a higher leverage bullpen option. Further, it also might raise his starter upside from back-end to middle of the rotation.

I’m fine with the Yankees trying Sikkema out as a starter, but in today’s game, I wonder if his best value would come as a reliever even if he developed into a borderline third starter. Either way, relief is a good fallback option to have. There’s no need to hurry him through the system in the next year or two in order to get bullpen help; it’s doing just fine in the Bronx.

The Volpe selection comes with risk, so I’m pleased that they followed up with someone deemed safer like Sikkema. Even if that’s just as a bullpen arm, it’s something. I hope he signs quickly and get some reps in Staten Island this summer so I can see him pitch.

Day Three Draft Recap: Yankees Draft Jack Leiter

Don’t get too excited: even though the Yankees did indeed draft Jack Leiter in the 20th round this afternoon, it would be a stunner to see him sign with the club. Expect him to head to Vanderbilt.

It’s quite common for teams to use one or two late round selections on friends or family of someone with ties to the organization. Yes, Leiter is a big prospect in this instance, but this selection screams courtesy more than anything. Remember when the Yankees took Mariano Rivera’s son 29th round of 2014? He didn’t sign, and the Nationals wound up taking him in the fourth round in 2015.

Unless Leiter suddenly wants to accept a steep discount (perhaps Anthony Volpe too), there’s no way the team can meet his demands in order to convince him to sign. They could go way over their draft pool and forfeit next year’s first round pick if they wanted, but that really only makes sense if you go way, way over. The Yankees have taken a ton of college kids with little leverage, so yeah, that strategy isn’t happening.

Anyway, the draft is near complete, but I had no plans of listing all picks 11 through 40 because that would just be silly. So, just go check out MLB.com’s draft tracker instead. The rest of our draft coverage can be found here. As a reminder, we’ll profile the picks in the coming weeks.

Draft Profile: Anthony Volpe

Rob Manfred reoponed old wounds when he announced that the Yankees selected Anthony Volpe, a high school shortstop, with their top pick. The organization has taken prep shortstops with their first selection in the past, and though it couldn’t have gone any better with Derek Jeter, more recent busts like CJ Henry and Cito Culver immediately come to mind.

Of course, drafts of years past have nothing to do with the caliber of player Volpe is. There’s an understandable frustration about the lack of success most of the club’s first rounders have had over the last decade or so, but perhaps Volpe can make a difference. I’m no expert, and won’t pretend to be, so let me present you with what others opine on him. I’ll leave you with my take on the pick at the end, but take it with a heaping grain of salt.

Background

A local product from New Jersey, Volpe just graduated from Delbarton High School in Morristown where he was teammates with Jack Leiter. Volpe is young for his class, having just turned 18 in April. There are often concerns about drafting older prep players, but that’s not the case for Volpe.

As you’d expect, Volpe had a prolific senior year at Delbarton, though the school’s campaign isn’t done just yet. The team is playing for the NJSIAA Non-Public A title this afternoon.

Some basics on Volpe: he hits and throws right-handed. Though the Yankees drafted him as a shortstop, he does have some experience at second base as well. He’s not a big guy, standing at 5-11 and 180 pounds.

Along with his teammate Leiter, Volpe is committed to play college ball at Vanderbilt. Considering the stature of Commodores’ program, the Yankees must feel confident that they can convince Volpe to go pro.

Lastly, as a bonus, it sure looks like Volpe is a Yankees fan:

What the scouts say

Before we get to thoughts from independent publications, here’s what the Yankees’ vice president of amateur scouting Damon Oppenheimer had to say:

We like a lot about him, he’s going to be a shortstop: the guy can hit, he can run, he’s got plus actions, he’s got really good hands, and he’s got a shortstop’s arm. He’s got tools. He’s been on the big stage with the USA national teams, so he’s got performance, and with a deluxe make-up, the kid brings it every day.

There’s a bit to unpack from that quote, which I’ll get to in a moment. Let’s dive into his on-field abilities first.

Offensively, it doesn’t sound like Volpe will ever be much of a power threat. Given his stature, that’s not a big surprise. However, he’s already earned praise for his approach at the plate and ability to put the bat on the ball. Granted, that’s against high school competition in the northeast, but positive nonetheless.

While Volpe’s hitting potential doesn’t sound like much, his defensive tools stand out. Fangraphs called him “the steadiest defender in the class” and “likely to be a plus shortstop defender”. They already assigned him a present 50 fielding and present 55 arm, which is impressive for a high schooler. Baseball America more or less agrees with Fangraphs’ opinion, though the site did note that he lacks elite arm strength. BA’s comment on his arm contradicts Oppenheimer’s assessment.

On-field skills aside, it’s pretty clear the Yankees love Volpe’s makeup. Oppenheimer made that pretty clear and so did MLB Pipeline:

Volpe is the kind of player who grows on evaluators the more they see him, with his whole being greater than the sum of his parts. He gets an 80 on the 20-to-80 scouting scale for his makeup and work ethic.

There’s no question that the Yankees emphasize character in their scouting ranks. We’ve heard very similar things said about numerous draftees in recent years, so it’s no surprise that we’re hearing the same in this instance.

Will he sign?

The slot amount for the 30th pick is $2,365,500, but Volpe will get more than that if he signs. Why? His commitment to a big time college program gives him some leverage. The Yankees have gone on a run of college selections after the first round, ostensibly to divert savings from those choices to the team’s first rounder.

If there was any consternation about Volpe’s signability, allow his high school head coach, Bruce Shatel, to assuage those concerns:

Anthony loves the game so much, he was willing to sacrifice the Vanderbilt education and college experience and just play baseball everyday.

Sheesh, talk about a dead giveaway. Look, nothing is official until the ink is dry, but that was more or less an admission that Volpe is going to sign. The only question now is: for how much money?

There’s a good chance that the Yankees knew they’d be able to sign Volpe, by the way. Though it’s technically against the rules, the two sides could have come to a pre-draft agreement which essentially gave the Yankees the go ahead to select him.

My Take

If Volpe can pick it at short as scouts seem to indicate, he should be able to carve out at least a utility infielder role. That’s valuable! Still, it’s not an overly exciting outcome for a first rounder.

Obviously, the Yankees expect more out of Volpe than a future role player, especially considering the glowing reviews of his character. My guess is that they think his makeup gives him a better chance at maximizing his potential, most importantly his hitting ability. That definitely is his make or break tool that the team is banking on.

Personally, I preferred louder tools, but that doesn’t make Volpe a bad choice. Based on what I read, I liked Kameron Misner, a powerful left-handed outfielder from Missouri. He was still available at 30, but what do I know.

Yankees’ Day Two Draft Recap

Rounds one through ten of the draft are now complete. The Yankees made three picks yesterday and had eight more today. As a refresher, the Yankees selected Anthony Volpe, a shortstop out of Delbarton High School in New Jersey with their first choice (30th overall). Southpaw TJ Sikkema (Missouri) and infielder Josh Smith (LSU) were their next two choices at 38th and 67th, respectively.

In the coming days and weeks, we’ll put together profiles of everyone the Yankees drafted in the first ten rounds. Thereafter, we’ll profile anyone from the later rounds who the team actually signs.

Now, on to the recap of day two:

  • 3rd Round, Pick 105: Jacob Sanford, CF, Western Kentucky – Video
  • 4th Round, Pick 135: Jake Agnos, LHP, Eastern Carolina – Video
  • 5th Round, Pick 165: Ken Waldichuk, LHP, Saint Mary’s
  • 6th Round, Pick 195: Hayden Wesneski, RHP, Sam Houston State – Video
  • 7th Round, Pick 225: Nick Paciorek, RHP, Northwestern – Video
  • 8th Round, Pick 255: Zach Greene, RHP, South Alabama
  • 9th Round, Pick 285: Spencer Henson, 1B, Oral Roberts
  • 10th Round, Pick 315: Mitch Spence, RHP, USC Aiken

Unfortunately, there isn’t good scouting video for everyone here. If I do find something, I’ll update.

Again, more details on each of these choices in our prospect write ups to follow.

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