Q&A with Damon Oppenheimer - Part III

PinstripesPlus.com checks in with Yankees Vice President of Scouting Damon Oppenheimer for a Q&A session. In final part of our three-part series he talks about the ceilings of some of the middle to late round high school guys like Michael Hicks and Andrew Miller, if the draft was intended to be so college-centric, and much more.

PinstripesPlus.com: I realize we won't have time to ask about every single player drafted so let's lump the next four picks, all right-handed pitchers, together. Among the group of Will Carter, Bret Marks, Kolton Mahoney, and Brody Koerner, is there a potential 'sleeper' in the group?

Oppenheimer: They're all different types of guys. Carter's a guy who, if we're talking about projection, he might be what you're talking about. He had better success coming out of the pen when we saw him for Alabama with our connections there with Andy Phillips being a coach there. Andy kept telling us to stay him, that 'he might not be the greatest but he's up to 97 [mph]' and we saw that. He pitched at 94-97 coming out of the pen. Our area scout, Mike Wagner, really liked the curveball and really liked the fastball. We think we're buying close to a 70 fastball. He's got to throw the ball over the plate better, that's what there is to it. At this point, to get 97 mph in the 14th round of the draft, and quality spin to a breaking ball, we're happy to take a shot at that to see if we can develop it and see if that ceiling comes. Marks has busted his rear from the first time we had drafted him. He turned himself into a really good pitcher. A lot of times he was the Friday night guy at the University of Tennessee in the SEC this year. He does it from a little bit of a funky angle but he gets deception, but once again we like strikeouts and less hits than innings pitched and Bret hit some of those markers with stuff that kept getting better and better. He'd go as a starter and pitch at 88-92 mph and hold it. He has a unique deal in that he comes from a lower three-quarter slot and he has a split which you don't see too often, but it gets swings and misses. I'm not sure if he'll continue as a starter or go in the bullpen but it's the proverbial if you put him in the bullpen the stuff will play up a bit better for shorter innings. He's a tough kid, good makeup, and we're buying performance along with a couple of pitches that are least average.

PinstripesPlus.com: Since you talked about the first two guys, what about Mahoney and Koerner?

Oppenheimer: Mahoney as you know was really, really good in the Cape [Cod League] last year. He might have been the Pitcher of the Year but don't hold me to that one. With Kolton out there at BYU we leaned a lot on what we saw out there in the Cape last year. We got great reports on the makeup, great reports on what he does versus wood, he had high strikeouts there and he's always had pretty low walks, and his strikeouts continued to stay good this year at BYU. 90-94 mph with an average slider, curveball that approaches average, and control, so get a potential starter here in the draft we were like 'yep, let's go'. With Brody, our area guy Billy Godwin who was a college coach in that area for a long time, we think we're buying stuff. He saw him at 89-94 mph with a now curveball that was a really good. There were times he saw him where he was absolutely lights out with a bunch of swings and misses. There's been some inconsistencies but with our pitching guys and the way this guy's stuff comes out, if we can turn it into consistent strikes and consistent break on the breaking ball, we've got the chance to get something. He holds his velocity from the stretch, true curveball, so there's some ceiling on this guy.

PinstripesPlus.com: What can you tell us about Mark Seyler?

Oppenheimer: The thing about Seyler that we really like is he has a tremendous ability to get ground balls. That's pretty special for us. It's not the high strikeout rate but it's a good walk rate and he gets a tremendous amount of ground balls. I think we're buying that ability which is a unique deal. In the 19th round we're still talking about a 92 mph fastball too with plus movement and control. He's got the chance to be all right. He might be a bit of a sleeper with more to come and an elite ability to generate a ton of ground balls.

PinstripesPlus.com: Of these later round guys it would seem to me that Isiah Gilliam would be the biggest 'sleeper' of the group, no?

Oppenheimer: Gilliam's a guy that was talked about potentially as a high round draft pick two years in a row. He's going to go to Cotuit [in the Cape Cod League] and we're going to watch him there a little bit to see if we can make something work. With Isiah he's a young junior college kid who's as young as a lot of high school guys in this draft. At Chippola, we saw him there and we saw a switch-hitter with legitimate raw power from both sides of the plate. Early in the year it was some bad luck; he was hitting balls at people but by the end of the year he was swinging it pretty darn good and showing power from both sides of the plate. I think this is a matter of us just trying to see if we can make it attractive enough for him to sign. If we can get that one done there's some pretty good ceiling to get excited about.

PinstripesPlus.com: You proceeded to take four straight right-handed pitchers with the next four picks -- Josh Roeder, Cody Carroll, Garrett Mundell, and Patrick O'Brien -- is there a guy in this group who could pop up long-term as a 'sleeper' prospect?

Oppenheimer: Mundell is a big, big physical guy that's out of Fresno [State University]. We've done okay out of Fresno State with guys that have hung around and played pretty well for us. We know they're tough. He's got a big arm when he comes out of the pen. I think if we get his slot back a little bit lower, more of what we saw in the Cape -- it's one of those guys we like to get; big and physical, and can throw hard. I think he has a high chance to be one of those guys for us that's attractive in the bullpen. As a starter he's more 90-92 mph but in the Cape out of the pen it was averaging 93 and up to 95 [mph]. We think about taking him back to that role and seeing if we can create some more value in the bullpen. Patrick O'Brien is a conversion guy that we're going to watch so that one is interesting. We were able to see him throw because he was playing for Santa Barbara; he threw before the draft. He had been a catcher and was still a catcher most of the time but the velo touched 97 mph for a short period of time. He's also big and physical. We're going to scout him a couple of times in the summer and see what we've got. If the velocity is what it is and if he has a feel for strikes it might be a little bit of a 'sleeper' pick as well as a conversion guy. He looks the part of what we like.

PinstripesPlus.com: Let's move on to the high school kid you took in the 27th round, Michael Hicks. Listed at 6-foot-7 and 245 pounds, he seems to be a bit of a beast physically.

Oppenheimer: He's huge. He comes from an area where scouts don't get to [all that] often because of the weather and just where it's at. He's got huge raw power and he's got a short swing. There's guys that have huge raw power that it looks like a softball swing from them but not this one. This guy has some shortness to his swing, especially for a big guy, and on top of that has legitimate now power that would show up and make people go 'wow'. We need to try to see if it translates to some game stuff because it was just hard to see. Mike Thurman and Jeff Patterson, and those guys did a nice job getting up there but we're trying to make the family have a comfort level for what professional baseball is all about. This kind of came new to them. He wasn't one of the big summer guys who was prepared for all of this stuff, but we're going to take a good, good hard look at this to see if it's the right time to sign a kid like this. It could be an impact power tool.

PinstripesPlus.com: How's the hit tool?

Oppenheimer: It's not a long swing so that's the thing that makes it a little more attractive than the guys who are just big and long, and have long swings that generate leverage. That's the thing that made him even more attractive to us. We're going to try to work this pretty quick since you don't have a ton of time to follow guys but hopefully we can make a better educated decision on the stuff we see early in the summer.

PinstripesPlus.com: Again I'm going to lump a lot of thse right-handed pitchers together -- Icezak Flemming, David Sosebee, Chad Martin, Hobie Harris, Christian Morris, and Alexander Robinett -- is there a guy in this group who could pop up long-term as a 'sleeper' prospect?

Oppenheimer: Robinett was pretty darn successful for Army. We're going to get him for a summer then he's going to have to do his commitment. It is what it is, that's what we deal with. I think the kid Chad Martin that we took out of Delaware has a unique delivery and we liked what we saw out of the velocity starting to come. I think there's a chance for this guy to continue to blossom once we get him into our system and get him more consistent with his offspeed stuff. That one's pretty intriguing. The velocity started out at 88-91 mph and as he kept progressing he was running it up to 94 mph.

PinstripesPlus.com: Let's move on to Andrew Miller, the Andrew Miller you took out of high school in New Jersey. What can you tell us about him?

Oppenheimer: With everything that went on up there with the weather early in the year it's really hard for guys to get on a roll. I think early in the year scouts went up there and the stuff wasn't really playing up to where it was and where it might be. Cesar Presbott stays on him and by the end of the year the guy comes to our workout in Staten Island and he's pumping some 92s and 93s, and it's a short stint. He's another one we're going to try to get a look at soon, see how things have progressed. He's got the commitment to [the University of] Maryland but we'd like to see if we can make a run at him, and get him signed. It's going to take a little bit of time though to confirm what we've seen and that it's going in the right direction. This guy's got the chance to be pretty good. Scott Lovecamp, our pitching guy, was pretty intrigued by him.

PinstripesPlus.com: What about the other late high school kid, Deacon Liput? Word is he has a strong commitment to the University of Florida.

Oppenheimer: He can rip it. He's one of those kids who can hit. He swings the bat good and it's going to be a battle if we can get something done with him. You always have to protect yourself in case something might happen where you have extra money and you want to be prepared. We've had good hit reports on this kid going back to East Coast Pro. He's a good kid. He's going to be a solid, solid player. He's not a huge tools guy but there's a pretty darn good hit tool there. If something happens and we've got some money, maybe he's a guy we take a run at.

PinstripesPlus.com: I have to ask about Will Albertson because he's got all of these pretty ridiculous numbers posted -- what's the book on him?

Oppenheimer: As you know we try to combine what the scouts see with what the analytics guys see and this guy was really attractive to the analytics department. He did a lot of things that are special numbers so that was one of their guys that they said make sure we get a look at. Our area guys gets a look at him and see some bat potential there too, but we did not have long, long looks at him so he's playing in Coastal Plains. We're going to take a look at him to get some cross-check looks at him to see if those numbers translate to moving forward in professional baseball. If that's the case we'll make a run at him.

PinstripesPlus.com: Just a general question about the draft -- it seems this year's draft was very college-centric. Was that a designed plan based on the recent success your college picks have had, being more college-centric in this year's draft?

Oppenheimer: Honestly it's not. It easily could have gone three straight high school guys and maybe four. It was just a pick here and a pick there, and it changed. And then it gets a point that unless you've saved a bunch of money somewhere then it becomes a little more challenging to sign the high school kid in those middle to late rounds that's ready to play professional baseball. I think generally when you look at a lot of people's drafts once they've signed guys I'm not sure they sign a ton of the high school kids deeper into the draft. You can draft them; I could have sat there and drafted a bunch of them but don't end up signing and then it looks more even between high school and college, but at the end of the day it's what you sign. Our responsibility here is to sign guys that can get to the big leagues. We don't go into the draft saying 'we're staying away from high school guys'. That's not the case. We've got Mason Williams up in the big leagues and he was from high school in 2010. Although it was short because he got hurt but Slade [Heathcott] goes up and that was high school. We're on track with these high school guys; we're not afraid to draft them. It just a pick here and a pick there and the landscape could have looked totally different.

PinstripesPlus.com: It could look different too once all of the signings are done and that was going to be my next question -- do you think you've set yourselves up well to make a strong run to sign some of these middle to later round high school guys?

Oppenheimer: Yeah I do. I don't think we took any of them up towards the top that we're not going to sign. That part we feel good about. Then we've got to do some work on some of these other guys and you can almost classify Isiah Gilliam as a high school guy. There were high school guys that might have been older than him and he was a junior college. I don't even look at him as a college guy based on age.

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