Q&A with Damon Oppenheimer - Part II

PinstripesPlus.com checks in with Yankees Vice President of Scouting Damon Oppenheimer for a Q&A session. In Part Two of our three-part series he talks about the ceiling of Drew Finley and Jeff Hendrix, if slugger Brandon Wagner has the chance to stick in the infield, how toolsy Donny Sands is, if there are some 'sleepers' in the middle rounds of their draft, and much more.

PinstripesPlus.com: Let's move on to right-hander Drew Finley and your impressions of him.

Damon Oppenheimer: We've seen Drew a lot over the last couple of years; we've scouted him numerous times. He's got some quality now stuff with the fastball which in just his last outing was up to 94 [mph] and a now curveball that's an out-pitch that he gets a lot of swings and misses with. He does a lot of things that we try to target with pitchers, no different than anybody else; he throws the ball over the plate with some command and he gets swings and misses, and strikeouts. We really like that and we think there's makeup to go along with it. We see him as a starter with three potential plus pitches. The thing that makes him different than most is for a high school kid he's got pretty damn advanced command of a curveball.

PinstripesPlus.com: You mentioned the now stuff but it sounds like you feel there's some considerable ceiling with him too, no?

Oppenheimer: Yeah there's still more to go. He's a physical high school kid now but he's got a work ethic where he's done a lot with his body already and he'll make it stronger. There's probably still more room for improvement there.

PinstripesPlus.com: By your description of him and from everything I've ready about him it sounds like he's a bit of a higher-ceiling version of Brady Lail; high makeup guy, good feel for pitching right out of the gate.

Oppenheimer: Yeah if you're going to make comps that's a pretty fair one to make.

PinstripesPlus.com: Let's move on to Jeff Hendrix. He seems like a guy who does a little bit of everything.

Oppenheimer: Jeff was a walk-on guy at Oregon State and a multi-sport athlete so he worked his tail off to be as productive as he was this year. He can really play centerfield. He's a now defender in centerfield with plus speed. With Reggie Willits as our base running coach and outfield coach we've just got to continue to make the speed more useable as a base stealer, but the ball really gets off of his bat well and he's got power that's starting to come. It was a college pick with ceiling. It's not a done deal, this guy's got more to come.

PinstripesPlus.com: How would he compare to Ben Gamel?

Oppenheimer: Faster. Bennie was always a really good swing that was a hit first, power second type guy and I think there's a little more raw ability from Hendrix that could come out in the end.

PinstripesPlus.com: Moving on to Chance Adams, it seems there's some significant arm strength to this guy.

Oppenheimer: Big arm strength! By the end of the year we were seeing 97s coming out of the pen. He's also started though. He's a strong guy. We really like what we saw out of his stuff. That was a really good staff and the stuff kept getting better and better throughout the year. He gets swing and misses again, something that we're really into; high strikeouts, high velocity, command of the fastball better as the year went on. I think we might try to start him and see if we can get power stuff there as a starter.

PinstripesPlus.com: That was going to be my next question -- he seems a little like Corey Black and my thought was perhaps he would start initially if for no other reason than to allow him some more time to develop his secondary pitches.

Oppenheimer: He's a bigger guy than Corey, a stronger guy. He's got power stuff probably to the degree of Corey with probably a bit more command of his fastball.

PinstripesPlus.com: Brandon Wagner if nothing else seems to be one of the more intriguing guys with the power from the left side. Talk about him a little bit.

Oppenheimer: Howard College is not the most convenient place to get to but our area guy did a great job of getting out there and seeing him. He really has a simple swing with power. He generates a lot of power to all fields. He's from New Jersey. You watched what he did the year before and this year he kept getting better. The walks and the strikeouts kept evening out, and the power is legit. The ball really jumps off of his bat. There's a lot of work to be done at second base but the guy has legitimate easy power, and he's a runner. He's a plus runner too so he can steal bases so we'll see how it works out. He's 19 years old so there's high school kids damn near that old now. Twenty doubles, 22 home runs, walked more than he struck out, he hits a lot of things that we like.

PinstripesPlus.com: So he's not just a power guy, he's a hitter too?

Oppenheimer: Yeah I know it doesn't mean a lot but he hit .435 in junior college and that's still really impressive. He's got a good swing and squares the ball up, and he's got some plate discipline. Power and plate discipline are huge, and we're seeing it with the walks and the home runs.

PinstripesPlus.com: Last question on Wagner; you mentioned the plus speed -- does his athleticism lend itself to some optimism that he can make the adjustment to playing second base long-term and becoming a solid defender there?

Oppenheimer: Yeah I think with what we've got with our infield [coaches] it gives him plenty of chances to stick at second base. It's going to take work. He's not going to walk in and think he's a plus defender right away.

PinstripesPlus.com: Moving on to Jhalan Jackson, he seems to fit that power mold too.

Oppenheimer: This guy is really put together. He's got a great body, he's athletic, he's got a plus arm from right field, so we're starting off with some profile tools for a corner outfielder with the power and the plus arm. He's got the chance to really take off. He was a raw kid in high school and went to junior college before going to Florida Southern, and really produced well there. We've had him over here [at the minor league complex] being that he's a Tampa kid for a little while. We've gotten to know him. He's a solid 'yes sir, no sir' kind of guy with tools that I think are going to stand out and play.

PinstripesPlus.com: Given his numbers the power seems pretty obvious. How's the hit tool overall?

Oppenheimer: From what we saw this year -- if you saw him two years ago you'd say this was a raw power guy and you're hoping with the bat -- but he kept making more and more progress with the bat so the actual ability to swing the bat turned out to be something that's pretty good. It's not just raw power, now it's become the ability to square the ball up and use the whole field, and he's got good power all over the ball park.

PinstripesPlus.com: Let's move on to Donny Sands. Doing our interview with him he just seems like a high energy, high makeup, hard working kind of guy but talk about the physical tools. What kind of player are we talking about?

Oppenheimer: We've known him for a while. He's got plus bat speed, he's an average to perhaps a tick above average runner, and he's got an above average arm. We're not exactly sure if he's going to go to second base, shortstop, or third base, we're still not sure on that part, but the guy has pretty special hands at the plate that work really well. He should hit. He's really hungry, he's got great makeup and desire. I think there's a high chance he comes in and hits right away, and lets himself take off.

PinstripesPlus.com: You mentioned he may have the athleticism to play the middle infield -- does he have the kind of long-term power to be a corner guy should he move over there?

Oppenheimer: I think so, that's what we saw. He came down here [to Tampa] on his own and worked out for us down here. As a high school guy that flies out on his own before the draft, you don't have a ton of guys that do that. We've got future plus raw power on him and now average Major League power. Yeah, if you asked him to move to third he could profile as a power-hitting corner guy and if we keep him in the middle of the field obviously that's something we'd like to do. I think for a high school guy in this part of the draft I think it's one we keep an eye on that could really take off.

PinstripesPlus.com: Moving on to Ryan Krill, I realize taking college seniors in round five through ten have become more prevalent over recent years but despite being a senior does Krill still have some ceiling to him?

Oppenheimer: Yeah he's a senior guy, a big strong guy with pop. He hit 13 home runs this year and that's not an easy park to hit home runs in and in that weather. So he's got power. The plate discipline for a power guy, I mean almost the same amount as walk to strikeouts which is impressive. For a guy that comes from Kalamazoo who goes to college and keeps getting better each year, we know we're buying now raw power and a guy whose got some plate discipline but we've got some grades that would rate it as 70 raw power. We're getting a big tool. You get a first baseman with 70 power it gives him an avenue to potentially get to the big leagues at that position.

PinstripesPlus.com: Another left-handed bat, how does he compare to Kyle Roller?

Oppenheimer: You know Kyle was probably a more consistent hitter over his life than Ryan is right now but this one's a pretty decent glove guy. There might be some comps there.

PinstripesPlus.com: What can you tell us about the two lefties you took after Krill back to back, James Reeves and Joshua Rogers?

Oppenheimer: James is something we like, a lefty with a big body, 6-foot-4, 215 [pounds]. For a lefty as a starter it's consistently been 88-92 mph. For a lefty that's plenty good. The fastball command has been very good, we like what we've seen from both of the breaking balls, good arm action, but mainly it's about getting yourself a lefty in this area of the draft in the tenth round whose had a lot of success and thrown strikes. Lefties with that innings pitched with more strikeouts, that was a big attraction to us. He creates swing and misses, and we think we can make some adjustments to help improve the breaking ball enough for it to be a true factor for him to give him more than one swing and miss pitch. Rogers is a sophomore eligible guy and his ability to pitch as a lefty made him real attractive to us. Our scouts saw him and there's a real gut feel from our scouts on this guy. There's more in the tank from him. The fastball plays, the control plays, and what we've got on him is a now average to above average slider. He's 87-92 mph with a 50 slider and plus control, that's pretty enticing for a guy coming from the ACC and had success there.

PinstripesPlus.com: Let's move on to Terrance Robertson, your 12th round pick. You guys didn't take a whole lot of high school guys -- what can you tell us about his game and his ceiling?

Oppenheimer: Interesting kid. He's from the south side of Chicago and the family moves out to Surprise, Arizona. He needs to get stronger but he's got a real good feel for the bat. He looks like a guy who's going to hit and he's going to use the whole field to hit, and drive the ball. We've got him a a plus runner, he plays centerfield with instincts. He's not raw, he just needs to get stronger and fill out. If this guy gets some strength in him and he could take off. He seems to have a lot of desire and good makeup. I think it was the combination of his ability to hit, the plus run speed, the instincts to play centerfield, and now he's a guy for the strength and conditioning guys to help get stronger. If you take that in the 12th round I'd take that everyday.

PinstripesPlus.com: By your description it almost sounds like Mason Williams when he came out of high school. How does he compare to Williams?

Oppenheimer: Mason was probably a grade and half better runner. If you ran him in the 60 [yard dash] his run grade probably would have been an 80 at the time. [Robertson] is probably more like a 60-65 run guy. It's not the huge burner speed but if he had the 80 run speed with the other stuff we wouldn't be talking about him here.

PinstripesPlus.com: Moving on to Trey Amburgey, another centerfielder taken with the very next pick, how does he compare to Robertson?

Oppenheimer: He's an interesting guy because he's probably not a well known guy. This year we were able to scout him quite a bit because we hired Ronny Merrill who used to be a scout with the Rays so he lives right here so we were able to scout the guy quite a bit. This guy has some pretty special tools. He's 6-foot-1, 210 pounds, strong, there's power in the bat. When we did some testing on him some of his exit velocity was some of the better ones we had at our workouts. His bat speed was one of the top ones we had at our workouts and that he had speed. He's a guy who has legitimate speed, stole 32 bases this year and backed that up with run times that we saw here at our workouts that made him a plus runner, he's an athlete. He's got some athleticism, some tools, and he performed very well at the junior college level that made you think that with what you saw tools-wise that is was going to continue to play.

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