Q&A with Damon Oppenheimer

PinstripesPlus.com checks in with Yankees Vice President of Scouting Damon Oppenheimer for a Q&A session to talk about the first three picks on Monday, if he believes the Yankees went the safe route with the selections, what he thinks of each player, and much more.

PinstripesPlus.com: Let's start off with the first pick and get with your impressions of James Kaprielian.

Damon Oppenheimer: We're obviously excited to get James. He's a proven on the big stage -- Team USA, UCLA -- a big game winner. Since he was a freshman at UCLA the stuff has been constant. He's been 90-95 mph and we saw towards the end of this year and he getting stronger and stronger, pitching at 93 to 94-95 [mph]. He's got an out-pitch curveball, he's got a very good changeup, he creates a lot of swing and miss. He gets strikeouts with his fastball and curveball. He's a deluxe makeup kid who knows how to work, knows how to compete, he's got a real quality body, and he's been a healthy pitcher. He's got all of the makings to be a top-line starting pitcher in the big leagues.

PinstripesPlus.com: You know a lot of the pre-draft chatter out there noted him more a high pitch-ability guy than a stuff guy. By your description it seems you guys think he has better stuff than some of the pundits believe.

Oppenheimer: Yeah I don't know how many of his games they were at. I know we were at every game he's pitched for at least two years. You know with starting pitching sometimes those guys will pace themselves a little bit and you'll see 90-92 mph. If he wants to he'll sit there at 94-95 mph. I also don't know if their definition of stuff is totally related to what comes on the gun but it's hard not to look at that curveball and say that's not stuff. I don't know what their definition of stuff is I guess. We need a few more guys like this in our system.

PinstripesPlus.com: Let's move on to Kyle Holder. What can you tell us about him?

Oppenheimer: From within our organization and probably anybody you poll outside our organization it's probably as good if not the best shortstop glove in this draft. It's by far one of the best we've seen, and I've been doing this a long time, that we've seen come through a draft. He's athletic, he plays the position with ease, he's got range, he's got a plus arm, and he continues to hit. He keeps getting better if you look at his batting average, how little he strikes out, and the power numbers are starting to show up. He gives you a lot of optimism that this guy is going to be a left-handed hitting, plus defensive shortstop.

PinstripesPlus.com: Again, the pre-draft chatter is saying the bat is the weakest part of his game. How confident are you that the bat is going to come around? How confident are you in the ceiling here offensively?

Oppenheimer: We feel good about it. If we thought we were getting a defensive-only guy we wouldn't have taken him this high. We know we're getting the defense which is an absolute commodity at the shortstop position at the Major League level and we have a really good feeling that the bat is going to play.

PinstripesPlus.com: Some fans are already calling him Cito Culver Part Two as a defensive wiz whose bat may never come around. Are there comparisons to Cito or is Holder more of an offensive player?

Oppenheimer: No, this guy's bat is already doing stuff at the college level, this guy's bat is already doing stuff at the Cape [Cod] level, this guy has more strength to him than Cito. It's not a comparison at all.

PinstripesPlus.com: One last general question with the Holder pick -- you guys, at least in my opinion, are loaded at the shortstop position from A-ball down with Tyler Wade, Jorge Mateo, Angel Aguilar, Thairo Estrada, and all of the guys you signed on the International market last year, was there a concern about getting Holder at-bats with the throng of shortstop prospects already in the system?

Oppenheimer: I'm happy to have it. I'd feel absolutely brutal if we passed on this guy at shortstop because we thought we had enough of it, and you look up a year later and the guy is playing shortstop against you in the big leagues. That just can't come into my thought process.

PinstripesPlus.com: Let's move on to the second round pick then, Jeff Degano. What are your impressions of him?

Oppenheimer: Really athletic, college lefty, and he's got velocity. For a lefty he's 90-94 mph as a starter and he holds his velocity. He's got a good slider, he locates his fastball well to both sides of the plate, and the guy can pitch. He creates strikeouts. It's that stuff we're looking for; does the stuff create swing and miss. He gets strikeouts and he's not a high walk guy from the left side with quality stuff.

PinstripesPlus.com: He's a guy who reportedly has already had Tommy John surgery in the past, hasn't pitched as much as a result, and is a bit older than most. Despite the lost time is he a candidate that can still move relatively quickly?

Oppenheimer: He was fully checked out by our medicals beforehand. We did an ultra-deep job on that. I don't know what the track will be on him and how fast he'll move but it's a strong possibility that -- sometimes guys come in that first year from the increased workload and you don't see it until the following first full season, kind of like Jordan Montgomery and how that one came last year. You turn around the next year and you're like 'that's what we got'. If everything goes right he's got a chance to move quick I think.

PinstripesPlus.com: Is the changeup the aspect of his game that he'll need to work on the most at least initially?

Oppenheimer: A little bit. I don't think it's that big of a thing though. He just needs to firm up his secondary pitches.

PinstripesPlus.com: Just a general question about the first three picks so far -- it's been said by some that you guys went conservative here, that you went safe. Do you feel that way?

Oppenheimer: Unless you take a guy that's ultra-risky everybody thinks you go safe. If they're from a remote area in the country, if they've got a lot of stories behind them, then it's considered you went risky and you shot for the moon. We don't think we went safe at all. We just think we checked off a lot of things that went into guys being good Major League players; makeup, tools, performance, bodies, etc. All of that stuff we checked off. Sometimes the risky guys will have tools and that's all they'll have. We've got to do a full-service job of scouting to make sure we cover everything. We don't think that these guys are low ceiling guys, I can tell you that much.

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