Shotgun Spratling | Scout

We sat down with Yankees scouting director Damon Oppenheimer to discuss the first five draft picks.

PinstripesPlus.com checks in with Yankees Vice President of Scouting Damon Oppenheimer for a Q&A session. In part one of our multi-part series, he talks about the first five picks in this 2016 draft, how high each player's upside really is, who can move quickly, and much more.

PinstripesPlus.com: Let's start right from the beginning and get your thoughts on the first Yankee selection, outfielder Blake Rutherford. 

Damon Oppenheimer: We really like Blake.  He's a great high school talent whose got the ability to play centerfield, he can run, he has an advanced bat, we think there's power there, [actually] we know there's power there, and we've seen him do it on the big stage now for quite a few years and he's got the chance to be a quality Major League player.

PinstripesPlus.com: Look I know it's the draft and anything can happen but going into the draft did you envision a scenario where Rutherford was going to fall to you guys?

Oppenheimer: We try to anticipate everything and try to make sure we're prepared for everything, and that's why we go scout all of them.  That's why I go see them, because you just never know.  Going into the season we wouldn't have expected it, no, and we wouldn't have expected it a week before the draft either.  It's not something you can really plan for and that's why you do the work and don't skip on guys.  That's what happened here; we did the work, we were prepared, and he got to us and we were like 'yeah, we're excited about this'. 

PinstripesPlus.com: You know I'm a big comp guy and conversely I know you're not but I still have to ask the question; is there a guy in the farm system or at the big league level style-wise that you can compare his game to so our readers can get a better idea of the type of player we're talking about.

Oppenheimer: It's always hard for me to do these.  You never compare Major Leaguers to other Major Leaguers so I usually don't ever go down that avenue.  I think it's really hard on a player once you do that to him but I'll just say again that I think this kid has a great chance to be a quality Major League player who's going to hit and hit the heard of a Major League lineup with how he plays the game hard. 

PinstripesPlus.com: Let's move on to Louisville second baseman Nick Solak.  What are your impressions of him?

Oppenheimer: Nick can really swing the bat, he's a plus runner, he plays a really good second base, he plays the game hard, the power was coming on to where we think this guy is going to have power and hit, and play the middle of the field at second base.  He really has an edge to the way he plays the game too.  He plays hard and has grit.  He's just a tough, tough player who can swing the bat who's plus run and has power coming.

PinstripesPlus.com: I read the same things you just said about him and I heard the same things you said about him from scouts I know, and I can't help think of a speedier version of Rob Refsnyder.  Again, I know you're not a comp guy but where am I wrong on this comparison?

Oppenheimer: [Solak] is more advanced defensively at second base than Rob ever was.  Rob had played in the outfield for a long time so it's not the same in terms of already being able to play second base.  I don't think that question will ever come in to play with Nick as it has with Rob.  It's the same kind of bat though and there's power in there, and you've got to be happy with that.

PinstripesPlus.com: Considering how fast Refsnyder advanced through the lower levels and got to the upper level so quickly, could Solak be one of these quick movers as well as soon as he gets into the farm system?

Oppenheimer: I don't see why he takes anymore time than what would be normal for a college position player.  You always expect those guys to move at a normal to advanced pace but that's up to player development.  Our job is to put him into the system and support him.

PinstripesPlus.com: Let's move on to right-handed pitcher Nolan Martinez; what's your scouting report on him?

Oppenheimer: This is one of those guys that we think we've got the ideal projection guy.  He's a very good athlete.  We combine a lot of things over here when it comes to our player evaluations.  There's the tool side, the scouting side which is the same thing, the performance side of it which we found was good, there's the stuff John Kramer does on the performance science part of it where you test guys for the potential to add strength and where they are athletically, there's the stuff that Scott Lovecamp does with our pitching analysis, and then the makeup side.  Nolan's a kid who is very young and checks off a lot of those boxes.  Does he throw 96-97 mph right now?  No but he's got the potential to do it.  We've seen him up to 94 mph, he's got a really good curveball, and he's really young.  We're trying to hit here on a potential starter that's young high school and has a high ceiling.

PinstripesPlus.com: I get it and I think most Yankee prospect followers have seen it.  Guys like Rookie Davis and Gabe Encinas were not throwing nearly as hard coming out of high school as they did in the Yankee farm system.  Like them, I'm guessing you see Martinez developing that power as he gets bigger, older, and develops what most scouts like to call his 'man strength', correct?

Oppenheimer: Yeah, exactly.  That's what we're looking at and we've got a lot of stuff to back up why we believe it [is going to happen], the potential that this kid has.  A lot goes into these decisions and we hit on a lot of departments to answer these questions.

PinstripesPlus.com: You mentioned the advanced curveball.  Drew Finley, last year's third round pick, entered the farm system with a plus curveball too for a high schooler.  How do the two curveballs compare at a similar point?

Oppenheimer: I'd say that Nolan has a good a spin and as good a depth and bite as Finley [but] maybe not the same consistency for strikes that Drew had at the same stage.

PinstripesPlus.com: The first three picks were rather easy to dig up information on but your fourth round pick, right-handed pitcher Nick Nelson, hasn't been nearly as easy.  What's the book on him?

Oppenheimer: He's a really interesting guy for us because Nick's been a guy who has been a two-way player at the junior college level, and he was headed to the University of Florida where he could have played both roles also.  It tells you how good an athlete he really is, talking about possibly going to an SEC school and doing both [pitching and hitting].  We drafted him as a pitcher though.  We like his ability.  We've seen him up to 96 mph, at 92-93 mph towards the end of the year when he was probably worn down doing both.  He has a really good breaking ball [and] he has a good ability to locate his fastball.  Next year once he's had some rest we could see this guy having two plus pitches and a developing changeup, plus the ability to command his stuff.  He played first base [in junior college] and hit in the heart of their lineup, [and pitched]; that's not common anymore. 

PinstripesPlus.com: So it sounds like another high ceiling guy like Martinez, no?

Oppenheimer: It's not the same kind of physicality.  Nolan's the kind of guy who is going to put on 25 pounds by the team he's reaching the big leagues and with Nick -- you remember what David Huff looked like [physically]?  Nick has that kind of frame so I think his projection comes from the fact that once he's not doing both [hitting and pitching] that's when it's going to take off for him.

PinstripesPlus.com: Let's move on to Dom Thompson-Williams.  I know he's a college guy but there seems to be some upside with him.

Oppenheimer: Athletic centerfielder from the University of South Carolina.  He's got power, he's a plus-plus runner, [and] he was a first-year player in the SEC at South Carolina after his junior college history.  We really like the left-handed bat, the power potential, and the fact that he's got speed to go along with it.  I think it's a good pick with some ceiling in the middle of the diamond.  He swung the bat well for South Carolina all year [too] so I think at this next level it's all about learning how to handle left-handed pitching better which most young left-handed hitters do need to do.  There's a good feeling here [with this one].


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