2013 Postdraft Q&A: Damon Oppenheimer, Day 1

After a monumental first day of the 2013 MLB Draft, we sat down with the man making the selections to discuss all four picks, including the three 1st rounders. Damon Oppenheimer shed light on Eric Jagielo's power grade, Aaron Judge's polish, if Ian Clarkin has any signability issues, and what motivated the selection of Gosuke Katoh with the 66th overall selection.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Your first pick of the night was Eric Jagielo out of Notre Dame - a polished college hitter who appears to have plus power as well as some discipline. What is your overall impression of him?

Damon Oppenheimer: Yeah, he has a lot of the things we're looking for in a hitter. He sees pitches, he has power, he'll walk, he can hit, and then he's a lefthanded bat with big size and strength. He just brings a lot of quality assets to the table that we're looking to profile at third base.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: What type of power exactly are we talking about? I've heard above average and I've heard plus.

Damon Oppenheimer: Oh he's got plus power. We're talking 60 power.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: What are your thoughts about him sticking at third base?

Damon Oppenheimer: Well, we're drafting him as a third baseman, and with his work ethic he's going to end up being a good defender at third.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: One of your all-time favorite prospect traits is "continually getting better". Does Jagielo fall into that category with regards to his plate discipline over his college career?

Damon Oppenheimer: Yeah, I think he does; I think it's definitely gotten better. He's just become a better overall hitter, and part of that has been being a little more patient.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: How many times did you personally see him?

Damon Oppenheimer: Besides the fact that I saw him play at least five games on the Cape last summer, I saw him in three games this year.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: You've always stressed what an important tool you believe the Cape to be in the evaluations you and your team make. How much of a factor was it in Eric's selection, considering he was playing in a lesser conference at school?

Damon Oppenheimer: Well, the Cape always helps my decision because it's more comparable to the life they're going to live as professionals: it's everyday baseball, it's woodbats, and it's against guys who are really good pitchers - it's against the best. I mean you and I have talked about this before, but the Cape almost has more value than their college year.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: I believe Jagielo is the first college bat you've ever taken with your first pick. Is there anything to that? Were you potentially trying to get a player with a higher floor in order to take higher risks at 32 and/or 33?

Damon Oppenheimer: You know what? I didn't even realize that I did that [laughs]. To be honest with you I didn't even realize that he was the first college bat I'd taken with the first pick. I know that he was the best guy on our board, so that's who we took. When we're lining it up we don't sit there and get to the point where we say we have to make sure we get either a high school guy or a college guy. It was just the way it all lined up.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Is he the kind of guy that could start a little higher and maybe move more quickly than previous guys you've brought in?

Damon Oppenheimer: Eh, I'm just the one that's drafting them and putting them into the system. Our guys are smart - they know where guys should start and play, so I'll leave that up to them.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Is it fair to say though that you see him as an advanced hitter?

Damon Oppenheimer: Yeah, we do, but it's a different game playing professionally. If you go back to last year's draft, Pete O'Brien barely hit .200 in the NYPL, and now he's well over .300 in the Sally League. So it doesn't always happen in two days.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Do you see any issues with signability?

Damon Oppenheimer: We hope to get him signed and out playing as soon as we can.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Moving onto Aaron Judge, what is your overall impression of him?

Damon Oppenheimer: The impression of Aaron Judge is a tremendous ceiling. There's a big ceiling on Aaron Judge that he could become a real special player. He's got the tools, traits, and characteristics that we like. He's an athlete, he's playing in the middle of the field right now, he has huge power, he has tremendous work ethic, and he's shown us the potential for all five tools to be pluses. So he's a high ceiling guy that we were very excited about where we were able to take him.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Hitters at his height - 6'7" - have historically had difficulty developing their swing mechanics. What about Judge makes you think that he will get past that?

Damon Oppenheimer: Well, I think if you just want to pin it to the specific inch at 6'7", you might be able to say that, but how many 6'7" guys have there been? All I know is that Winfield was close to 6'7", Stanton is close to 6'7", so I'm not going to split hairs on the height. My basis, and what I'm looking at, isn't to pinpoint a certain height and rule everyone above that height out - that's a crock to me. There's a lot of people clamoring for us to go trade for Giancarlo Stanton, and what is there an inch difference between these two? [Kevin's Note: That's actually dead accurate, as Stanton is 6'6"] So it's easy to poke holes at that sort of thing, but you know what? There haven't been many 6'7" athletic guys like this that we've seen come through. I can't think of many, and the ones I can think of have become pretty good players.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: So the difference from a scouting standpoint for you is the unusual way he carries 6'7", 255 around a baseball diamond?

Damon Oppenheimer: Yeah. If you watch the guy play there's a grace about him that makes you forget he's 6'7".

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Have you seen him use wood?

Damon Oppenheimer: Yep - Cape. Once again, the Cape, you know? He was there all summer, watched him, probably got at least six games there. I don't know what the results turned out to be, but his at-bats versus Sean Manaea were good, and seeing that against Manaea at that point on the Cape made you feel good. It made you think that this guy can make adjustments and stuff like that.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Did you see him at all when you were scouting Taylor Garrison in 2011?

Damon Oppenheimer: Oh yeah, I mean, we've seen him since high school. I mean, the improvement has just been unbelievable.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Last year you helped set draft fans straight with Austin Aune whom you said the prospect outlets wrongly painted as being mostly athlete and not necessarily having present baseball skills. From what I've read there's a similar vibe from them with regards to Judge - they use his freakish size and athleticism combination to question his baseball skills. Is that justified?

Damon Oppenheimer: Well I don't want to compare the two, but in Judge you're dealing with a guy who's already been challenged by guys who throw mid nineties fastballs and have sliders and changeups - that's not going to be new to him. It's just going to be the fact that he'll see it more now.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: So he's not at all a "project" in the traditional scouting sense due to contact issues and the claim of not taking his BP power into games?

Damon Oppenheimer: Well I don't know why he would be considered a project. I have no idea why that would even be brought up. All anyone has to do is look and see that he's had some success in college baseball. Anyone who says that this guy is a project says to me that they're not paying attention.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Ian Clarkin is a projectable lefty with a good fastball, but would you personally define his breaking pitch as a now curveball?

Damon Oppenheimer: He does have a now curveball, yeah, and we've seen his fastball up to plus, though it hasn't been there all year. It was pretty exciting with Ian Clarkin, that we were able to get a physical, high school lefthander that has faced some good competition in that San Diego/Southern Cal area and has a quality, now breaking ball and some fastball velocity.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: I don't know if he was just talking a good game leading up to the draft, but it seemed like signability could be an issue with his commit to USD. Do you see that being a problem?

Damon Oppenheimer: I don't see that as a problem.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Were you surprised that he made it down to you?

Damon Oppenheimer: You know, I can't predict what everyone else is doing, so it's hard to say if I was surprised when you don't have control of what's going on around you. So I can't say if I was surprised, but we liked him and he was there, so...

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: ...it was a happy moment, then?

Damon Oppenheimer: Yep! Absolutely!

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: How much did his Team USA work help in your evaluation?

Damon Oppenheimer: You know, probably not as much as usual, because we saw every start he made this year - this is a guy that we've seen a lot. Between every start this year, and some from last year, Ian Clarkin is a guy that we've just got a plethora of games and innings pitched on.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Obviously the talk with him is the curveball, and then the fastball flashing plus at times, but is there anything going on with a third pitch? Is there any projectability there?

Damon Oppenheimer: High school guys generally don't have to use three pitches - usually it's a detriment facing that competition [laughs]. We've seen a touch/feel for a change, but it's obviously not an established pitch.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: You wrapped up the day with Gosuke Katoh, who seems to be the most polarizing pick amongst draft fans due to the comments from the prospect outlets and media not being favorable. What warranted his being selected 66th overall?

Damon Oppenheimer: The fact that he's a 70 runner, he runs four-flat down the line, he can hit, he doesn't strikeout, he has power, he's a plus defender at second base, and that power he has is surprising.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Really? Can you touch on that a bit more?

Damon Oppenheimer: The kid has got pop. We've seen him hit balls out of the park, and not too many guys go out of Blair Field at the Area Code Games and he hit balls off the wall there, so we've seen it. I know that we picked the pocket of a team that gets a lot of drafting credit from the media, and I'm not going to say who it is, but we picked their pocket when we took him.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: It's rare that you see a second baseman taken this high in the draft, so does that speak to how good he is with the glove?

Damon Oppenheimer: Well no, I think he actually has the tools to play shortstop. You know he walked into that high school in either 9th or 10th grade, it's late and I can't remember which it was off the top of my head [laughs], as a smallish kid, and the obvious spot was to play him at second base...and they basically just left him there. Now I don't know it for certain, but he has the tools to play shortstop.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: So the reports of him not having the arm to play shortstop aren't accurate?

Damon Oppenheimer: No, there's no question that he has enough arm. I mean, he hasn't played there, so I can't sit here and tell you that he can play shortstop - nobody can because nobody's seen him do it. I suppose we'll find out, though.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: He has a strong commit to UCLA, but does taking him in the 2nd round alleviate that signability question?

Damon Oppenheimer: I think we're in really good position to get him done.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Finally, how exciting was today, having three 1st round picks?

Damon Oppenheimer: Oh we're ecstatic about all four, I'm not just going to single out the three 1st rounders. We think we had a really good haul, and one way or another we think these guys will bring a positive impact to the New York Yankees organization, so we're really excited about it as a group.

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