Post-Draft Q&A with Damon Oppenheimer

With the 2005 MLB Draft all over and done with, PinstripesPlus checks in with Yankees' Director of Amateur Scouting Damon Oppenheimer for a Q&A session to talk about how he felt they did in the draft, if Austin Jackson is close to becoming the latest Yankees' prospect, who are names to remember out of this draft class, and much, much more!

PinstripesPlus: Damon, can you confirm that the Yankees have signed Georgia Tech basketball recruit and Yankees' 8th round pick Austin Jackson to a contract? Did you draft him expecting to be able to sign him?

Damon Oppenheimer: No, I can't comment on if it is a done deal or not. Austin Jackson is a kid that our area scout, Mark Batchko, has been following since he was 13 years old. He know Austin and he knows his family real well. We knew it wouldn't be a slam dunk to sign him but when the draft was happening, we felt that it was the time [the 8th round] to take a gamble on him. I think we have a better than average chance at signing him. But I can't say we signed him yet. I can say we're real close.

PinstripesPlus: You drafted two really high ceiling players in C.J. Henry and Austin Jackson. Can you compare the two?

Oppenheimer: Henry is guy that we feel can play shortstop at the professional level. We brought him down here to Tampa to work him out and we found out he has got the hands and the awareness to play shortstop. He's got plenty of upside to him and we just couldn't pass on a guy like him in the first round. Jackson is a gifted center fielder with also a tremendous upside to him. The two players have a lot of offensive potential and there is going to be a lot of excitement around them. We just can't wait to get them both in our organization.

PinstripesPlus: Well when and if you do sign both players, is it safe to assume both players will be making their professional debuts in the Gulf Coast League?

Oppenheimer: Yeah, they'll both start in the Gulf Coast League. We've never drafted a kid out of high school and started them higher than the rookie level in the Gulf Coast League.

PinstripesPlus: How do you think the Yankees' draft went this year?

Oppenheimer: Baseball drafts are tough to analyze. I mean, they're not like the football or basketball drafts where the guys you select make an immediate impact on your club. It will take a while to find out how good a draft it was for us, but I feel like we've done a good job. Only time will tell.

PinstripesPlus: Some critics in New York have pointed out that the Yankees didn't have a very good draft. There seemed, in their opinion, to be a focus on college players and not enough high-ceiling players selected. What are your thoughts about that?

Oppenheimer: The last thing I was thinking about was high school versus college players. Our focus in the draft was taking the best player available. People have to remember that you have to keep it blended in the draft. It is really hard to sign high school pitchers if they are drafted later in the draft. I mean, if you take a good looking high school pitcher later in the draft and he's already committed to play in Southern California or something, chances are you're not going to be able to get him to accept your deal and forgo college. The draft is more than just selecting players. You have to draft players you believe are going to sign. You want quality players for sure, but you also want guys that are signable. You also have to draft players that will help you get available talent in trades down the road too. For example, a guy like Brad Halsey helped us get Randy Johnson this year. The draft this year just worked out that the best available players we felt good about signing were from the college level.

PinstripesPlus: Some members of the New York media have criticized the Yankees for passing on Craig Hansen in the first round. What was the thought process of taking C.J. Henry over Hansen?

Oppenheimer:. It is always interesting to me to hear people from around the country saying different things. In New York, it is why didn't we take Hansen over Henry. And on the west coast, it is why did we take Henry over Carrillo. It is funny to listen to it because of the different locations. There's no question we liked Craig Hansen and he was one of the guys we were looking at. But you don't always get the opportunity to take a player with as high a ceiling like Henry that can play in the middle of the diamond. We hashed over whether or not we wanted a guy like Mariano Rivera or a guy like Derek Jeter. We feel that you just can't pass on guys that can play the shortstop position like that and it was in our best interests to take Henry. But not only is a relief pitcher something you can find a lot easier in the free-agent market, but we feel we also got the top closers in all of college baseball in J. Brent Cox.

PinstripesPlus: Talk about drafting Cox. How would you compare him with Craig Hansen and where do you envision starting Cox off in the Yankees' farm system when you do sign him?

Oppenheimer: Well I'm not going to get into comparing him with Hansen. I will say that we feel we got the best closer in college and he's proven himself in a really big stage. We're really comfortable with the way he closed games for the University of Texas and he should do really well for us. As far as where he begins his career with the Yankees, we're not sure yet. He's still playing right now and Texas could be playing for a while still. We'll need to sit down and go over all of it once he signs. If he doesn't sign until late because of how long Texas will be playing, there's a chance we might want to send him to Staten Island. There's a lot of people that go to the Staten Island games and J.B. [J. Brent Cox] could get used to playing in front of the New York fans and the New York media.

PinstripesPlus: Damon, is there a guy that you guys drafted this year that might be a lot better than people expect, especially considering where he was drafted? Is there a "sleeper" that we should look out for?

Oppenheimer: Well I leave that up to people like you to talk about the speed of a Brett Gardner or the pitching of a Lance Pendleton. I mean, Pendleton was a pitcher we drafted that we're very pleased to have. He not only has a plus fastball and a plus curveball, but he was a pretty good position player too and he's the type of pitcher we're looking for. The pitchers at the Major League level are really good athletes and we think we drafted quite a few of those this year. We're happy with all of our selections but if I had to choose one guy that might be a sleeper like you're talking about, I guess like Alan Horne fits that description. Here's a kid that was drafted by the Indians in the first round a couple of years ago but decided to go to school. He's come back from Tommy John surgery and while he didn't look great in the early going this year, we kept on him. We're hopeful we can sign him and if he does it just makes our draft even stronger.

PinstripesPlus: Are there any other names we should keep in mind as guys that could make some noise?

Oppenheimer: Derek Ducios is a good looking pitcher out of the University of Richmond that we now control. He'll be a 5th year senior and he'll be somebody we keep an eye on as more of a draft and follow. The same with Brady Salter. We took some guys that are 5th year guys that have a good chance to be good players for us down the road. Justin Turner is a really good player we got in the 33rd round and Brett Pill is a first baseman that played with Turner at Cal State Fullerton that will be playing in the Cape Cod League this summer that we'll be tracking. Andrew Rice is a good looking left-handed hitter that will be going to Mississippi State next year and of course there's Diallo Fon that we took a chance on real late. We're going to pay attention to these guys and maybe we can negotiate something there with them.

PinstripesPlus: Talk about Diallo Fon if you don't mind since you brought him up. He was one of the better looking guys coming out the high school ranks. Do you think he's a guy that you could sign and what type of player do you think he is?

Oppenheimer We're going to stay on Diallo. We got to watch him play and we know what's he got. Boy, he's a really intelligent kid and I really have enjoyed talking to him. He is scheduled to go to Vanderbilt next year but we'll see what we can do. He's a really balanced person. That's what I like about him the most. His stock fell because his price tag and his college commitment, but he earned the chance to be drafted out of high school. He worked his tail off all the time and even more so, he was always accessible to us and we appreciated that. I couldn't see him going through his senior year the way he did and not get drafted. Diallo's speed doesn't profile all that much for center field, but he does a lot on pure instinct. We think he has a chance to hit for average and hit for power. We believe he's a kid that has the offensive tools to play a corner outfield position in pro baseball. He's one of the high ceiling guys we'll track and see what we can do with him.

PinstripesPlus.com would like to thank Damon Oppenheimer for taking the time to answer our questions after such a busy week to shed some light into the Yankees' draft picks for our premium members.

Pinstripes Plus Top Stories

\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nPinstripesPlus: Damon, can you confirm that the Yankees have signed Georgia Tech basketball recruit and Yankees' 8th round pick Austin Jackson to a contract? Did you draft him expecting to be able to sign him?
\r\n
\r\nDamon Oppenheimer: No, I can't comment on if it is a done deal or not. Austin Jackson is a kid that our area scout, Mark Batchko, has been following since he was 13 years old. He know Austin and he knows his family real well. We knew it wouldn't be a slam dunk to sign him but when the draft was happening, we felt that it was the time [the 8th round] to take a gamble on him. I think we have a better than average chance at signing him. But I can't say we signed him yet. I can say we're real close.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus: You drafted two really high ceiling players in C.J. Henry and Austin Jackson. Can you compare the two?
\r\n
\r\nOppenheimer: Henry is guy that we feel can play shortstop at the professional level. We brought him down here to Tampa to work him out and we found out he has got the hands and the awareness to play shortstop. He's got plenty of upside to him and we just couldn't pass on a guy like him in the first round. Jackson is a gifted center fielder with also a tremendous upside to him. The two players have a lot of offensive potential and there is going to be a lot of excitement around them. We just can't wait to get them both in our organization.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus: Well when and if you do sign both players, is it safe to assume both players will be making their professional debuts in the Gulf Coast League?
\r\n
\r\nOppenheimer: Yeah, they'll both start in the Gulf Coast League. We've never drafted a kid out of high school and started them higher than the rookie level in the Gulf Coast League.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus: How do you think the Yankees' draft went this year?
\r\n
\r\nOppenheimer: Baseball drafts are tough to analyze. I mean, they're not like the football or basketball drafts where the guys you select make an immediate impact on your club. It will take a while to find out how good a draft it was for us, but I feel like we've done a good job. Only time will tell.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus: Some critics in New York have pointed out that the Yankees didn't have a very good draft. There seemed, in their opinion, to be a focus on college players and not enough high-ceiling players selected. What are your thoughts about that?
\r\n
\r\nOppenheimer: The last thing I was thinking about was high school versus college players. Our focus in the draft was taking the best player available. People have to remember that you have to keep it blended in the draft. It is really hard to sign high school pitchers if they are drafted later in the draft. I mean, if you take a good looking high school pitcher later in the draft and he's already committed to play in Southern California or something, chances are you're not going to be able to get him to accept your deal and forgo college. The draft is more than just selecting players. You have to draft players you believe are going to sign. You want quality players for sure, but you also want guys that are signable. You also have to draft players that will help you get available talent in trades down the road too. For example, a guy like Brad Halsey helped us get Randy Johnson this year. The draft this year just worked out that the best available players we felt good about signing were from the college level.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus: Some members of the New York media have criticized the Yankees for passing on Craig Hansen in the first round. What was the thought process of taking C.J. Henry over Hansen?
\r\n
\r\nOppenheimer:. It is always interesting to me to hear people from around the country saying different things. In New York, it is why didn't we take Hansen over Henry. And on the west coast, it is why did we take Henry over Carrillo. It is funny to listen to it because of the different locations. There's no question we liked Craig Hansen and he was one of the guys we were looking at. But you don't always get the opportunity to take a player with as high a ceiling like Henry that can play in the middle of the diamond. We hashed over whether or not we wanted a guy like Mariano Rivera or a guy like Derek Jeter. We feel that you just can't pass on guys that can play the shortstop position like that and it was in our best interests to take Henry. But not only is a relief pitcher something you can find a lot easier in the free-agent market, but we feel we also got the top closers in all of college baseball in J. Brent Cox.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus: Talk about drafting Cox. How would you compare him with Craig Hansen and where do you envision starting Cox off in the Yankees' farm system when you do sign him?
\r\n
\r\nOppenheimer: Well I'm not going to get into comparing him with Hansen. I will say that we feel we got the best closer in college and he's proven himself in a really big stage. We're really comfortable with the way he closed games for the University of Texas and he should do really well for us. As far as where he begins his career with the Yankees, we're not sure yet. He's still playing right now and Texas could be playing for a while still. We'll need to sit down and go over all of it once he signs. If he doesn't sign until late because of how long Texas will be playing, there's a chance we might want to send him to Staten Island. There's a lot of people that go to the Staten Island games and J.B. [J. Brent Cox] could get used to playing in front of the New York fans and the New York media.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus: Damon, is there a guy that you guys drafted this year that might be a lot better than people expect, especially considering where he was drafted? Is there a \"sleeper\" that we should look out for?
\r\n
\r\nOppenheimer: Well I leave that up to people like you to talk about the speed of a Brett Gardner or the pitching of a Lance Pendleton. I mean, Pendleton was a pitcher we drafted that we're very pleased to have. He not only has a plus fastball and a plus curveball, but he was a pretty good position player too and he's the type of pitcher we're looking for. The pitchers at the Major League level are really good athletes and we think we drafted quite a few of those this year. We're happy with all of our selections but if I had to choose one guy that might be a sleeper like you're talking about, I guess like Alan Horne fits that description. Here's a kid that was drafted by the Indians in the first round a couple of years ago but decided to go to school. He's come back from Tommy John surgery and while he didn't look great in the early going this year, we kept on him. We're hopeful we can sign him and if he does it just makes our draft even stronger.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus: Are there any other names we should keep in mind as guys that could make some noise?
\r\n
\r\nOppenheimer: Derek Ducios is a good looking pitcher out of the University of Richmond that we now control. He'll be a 5th year senior and he'll be somebody we keep an eye on as more of a draft and follow. The same with Brady Salter. We took some guys that are 5th year guys that have a good chance to be good players for us down the road. Justin Turner is a really good player we got in the 33rd round and Brett Pill is a first baseman that played with Turner at Cal State Fullerton that will be playing in the Cape Cod League this summer that we'll be tracking. Andrew Rice is a good looking left-handed hitter that will be going to Mississippi State next year and of course there's Diallo Fon that we took a chance on real late. We're going to pay attention to these guys and maybe we can negotiate something there with them.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus: Talk about Diallo Fon if you don't mind since you brought him up. He was one of the better looking guys coming out the high school ranks. Do you think he's a guy that you could sign and what type of player do you think he is?
\r\n
\r\nOppenheimer We're going to stay on Diallo. We got to watch him play and we know what's he got. Boy, he's a really intelligent kid and I really have enjoyed talking to him. He is scheduled to go to Vanderbilt next year but we'll see what we can do. He's a really balanced person. That's what I like about him the most. His stock fell because his price tag and his college commitment, but he earned the chance to be drafted out of high school. He worked his tail off all the time and even more so, he was always accessible to us and we appreciated that. I couldn't see him going through his senior year the way he did and not get drafted. Diallo's speed doesn't profile all that much for center field, but he does a lot on pure instinct. We think he has a chance to hit for average and hit for power. We believe he's a kid that has the offensive tools to play a corner outfield position in pro baseball. He's one of the high ceiling guys we'll track and see what we can do with him.
\r\n
\r\nPinstripesPlus.com would like to thank Damon Oppenheimer for taking the time to answer our questions after such a busy week to shed some light into the Yankees' draft picks for our premium members.
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