2010 MLB Draft Q&A: Damon Oppenheimer

Fresh off his morning workout, we sat down for an interview with the Czar of the Yankees draft the day before his team's 1st round selection would be made. Topics included the draft budget, what the situation in the 1st round looks like, and the composition and individual roles of his scouting team.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Before getting into tomorrow's fun, how about a couple of questions from last year? Was/is there anything going on with Pat White?

Damon Oppenheimer: We tried contacting Pat a couple of times but never really got any response from him personally, although we did hear from his agent. We thought there might be an opening, but he did well in the NFL and as you and I discussed last year right after we made the pick, it was obviously a huge longshot.


Kevin Levine-Flandrup: You drafted Jacob Petricka as a DES throwing high-80s/low-90s last year in the 34th round and now he's sitting mid-90s, touching 98 MPH, and earning consideration for the 1st. Was he ever close to signing?

Damon Oppenheimer: He really wasn't, to be honest with you. We went and scouted him last summer, we went out to the league he was playing in, but he's just really come on lately. Last year, even in the summer his performance didn't really stand out and there was a big difference in what he was seeking and what we thought the value was at that time. Guys change though, and that's one of the toughest parts of this job – trying to predict which one of these guys is going to be Petricka and which ones are going to stay the same.


Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Last year when we spoke before the draft you said you had been impressed by the Carolinas. Have any states stood out to you this year?

Damon Oppenheimer: You know what, it's been pretty spread out. There have been a lot of kids in Georgia, and there's quite a bit of stuff up in the northeast actually. California has been good as usual, and usually you don't see the quality of players in the northwest that have been produced this year, so it's a good year for some spots and it's really spread out.


Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Have you seen a discrepancy between the high school class and the college kids?

Damon Oppenheimer: It appears the high school group is a little stronger than the college side this year, on both the position player and pitching sides.


Kevin Levine-Flandrup: In the scouting process, when do you get involved? Are you strictly high-level, or do you ever see kids first?

Damon Oppenheimer: No, I'll start it, too – at the core of it I'm a scout the same as all of our area guys, so I can be the first one to see him, and I can be the last one to see him. Because the process is so long, it doesn't necessarily have start off at the grass-roots area scout level and end up at the scouting director level. Hell, by next Friday I'll probably be out in Cape Cod or at an amateur event seeing guys for 2011, so I might be the first one to lay eyes on a player as soon as then.


Kevin Levine-Flandrup: With Kevin Towers as a new addition to the organization this year you have an influx of scouting acumen. Have you been using him in the process, and if so, in what role?

Damon Oppenheimer: Yeah, he's been great. Kevin and I go back years to when both of us were area scouts for the San Diego Padres, so we've had a rapport for a long time and the whole thing was an easy transition. Kevin's got a great strength in evaluating pitching, so he's bounced around and seen about 30 pitchers for me, and about 10-15 position players that fell in line with where he was at the time, too. He's just been great – no maintenance at all, and as a guy who has been a GM he gives you nothing but support. He's not pretentious at all about where he goes or who he sees – his roots are as a scout and it shows through his work that that's what he likes to do. He's been a great addition for the organization, and specifically for our scouting team.


Kevin Levine-Flandrup: In interviewing the top prospects I stumble occasionally on kids that had been down to the complex in Tampa to meet with you guys. Are those generic invites, or are they oriented towards specific players to get to know them better?

Damon Oppenheimer: What happens is our area scouts are really good at getting to know players, and in getting to know them they seek to educate the player about what professional baseball is all about. A lot of the times through that process they'll tell them that since they've been recruited by colleges made recruiting trips to campuses, it would be a great idea to go down to Tampa, see what the facilities look like, see what a minor league park looks like, basically take a semi-recruiting trip towards the New York Yankees and professional baseball. It gives the players a direct idea of what this is all about, it's their eyes that are seeing things, and not just hearsay from other people. So if the kid says he's interested in doing it, we make sure to set it up for them.


Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Were Evan Grills and Jesse Biddle two of the bigger prospects you had? Were there others that you are looking at in the higher rounds?

Damon Oppenheimer: We've ran a lot of people through here, Kevin, and some of them could be 1st round picks, and some of them might not be drafted at all. It's a long list, and lately there have been quite a few that have come through the complex, especially kids from the east.


Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Another interesting thing that came up in the course of my interviews was the mental conditioning coach that you have sent to speak to prospects rather than use the traditional written exam. Can you give us some information on that process?

Damon Oppenheimer: I have two guys, Chris Passarella works out of Tampa down here and spends most of his time with the minor leaguers and the draft guys, and then I have Chad Bohling who used to have that role, but is now in New York spending the majority of his time with the Major League team. So we go over things throughout the year and pinpoint guys we think should be talked to, could be talked to, guys that might be in our mix, guys that maybe had some family issues, or maybe had some perceived off the field issues, and then have our guys talk to them. Both of those guys will end up seeing players, and we probably end up with about 50-60 players that we talk to. If we don't talk to them it doesn't necessarily mean we don't have interest or won't take a player, though.


Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Before last year's draft you told me that you had been given a hard budget for the first time. Is it a similar situation this year or will there be more flexibility?

Damon Oppenheimer: Yeah, I've got a number that I have to meet. It's no different than when Brian and the guys up there had a budget on the Major League side, couldn't sign every free agent they wanted, and couldn't bring everybody back. There's a fiscal responsibility that the Steinbrenners have implemented and we're good with that because we know what the number is, so we can move forward and plan our draft around it.


Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Is the budget similar to last year? Bigger? Smaller?

Damon Oppenheimer: I'd say it's probably right around the same.


Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Over the last few days several media outlets have mentioned rumblings you that you wouldn't go for the really big ticket item this year in the 1st round. Is there any truth to the notion that a guy like Brackman or Gerrit Cole wouldn't be on your radar in 2010?

Damon Oppenheimer: It's not that they're not on our radar, it's just that that's not what's out there. This is a year where there are a lot of good players in the draft, but those selections you mentioned were the rare exception that cause you to rethink your philosophy when they are available, and we don't see this draft shaping up that way. To be clear, that doesn't mean we're taking a lesser player; the player we're taking is going to be the best player on our draft board at that point. Your readers have to remember that, even in the biggest businesses, the concepts of value and worth are extremely important. In the draft, just because a player has a high pricetag doesn't magically improve his skillset or mean he's worth it. We've spent months, and sometimes years, assessing and evaluating these guys in order to make the most accurate determination on them and put together the best draft board possible.


Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Have you seen any changes in the way you've done your job this year, or has it been status quo?

Damon Oppenheimer: This year has been more rough in terms of travel. There have been less prospects in the Tampa area this year, which you know is my home, so there's been a lot of bouncing around, but as you know that's just the ebb and flow of how scouting works.


Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Speaking of local prospects, how unique is it to have one of the best catching prospects in the nation, Shane Rowland, be the son of one of the most integral members of your scouting team?

Damon Oppenheimer: You know, I've been watching Shane play for years, and it's been a great situation for both Shane and Donnie because he's been around us for so long. He's a great kid and he's got the chance to be a good player.


Kevin Levine-Flandrup: A this point how far down have you narrowed the list for the 1st round pick? Five that you expect to be there? Ten?

Damon Oppenheimer: Generally in the past you would have a better idea of what might get to you, and 32 players deep is a long way and makes prediction hard in any draft, but this year it's just all over the map. I mean, you'll hear of a name of a guy in the 1st round, and I've talked to some scouting directors that will say "shoot, we like him, but we like him in the 5th." So it's really unique at this point and we haven't seen many years like this, but we've got evaluators with hundreds of years of combined experience on this staff, and that gives us confidence. I can guarantee that our list is going to look a whole heck of a lot different than the one Baseball America, Perfect Game, or ESPN has out, but we've got a lot more resources to be out there scouting.


Kevin Levine-Flandrup: How excited are you that the draft is finally here?

Damon Oppenheimer: Oh, I'm very excited. I think we've put ourselves in a great postion and I can't wait for it all to start.



Pinstripes Plus Top Stories

\r\n \r\n\r\nKevin Levine-Flandrup: Before getting into tomorrow's fun, how about a couple of questions from last year? Was/is there anything going on with Pat White?

\r\nDamon Oppenheimer: We tried contacting Pat a couple of times but never really got any response from him personally, although we did hear from his agent. We thought there might be an opening, but he did well in the NFL and as you and I discussed last year right after we made the pick, it was obviously a huge longshot.


\r\n\r\nKevin Levine-Flandrup: You drafted Jacob Petricka as a DES throwing high-80s/low-90s last year in the 34th round and now he's sitting mid-90s, touching 98 MPH, and earning consideration for the 1st. Was he ever close to signing?

\r\nDamon Oppenheimer: He really wasn't, to be honest with you. We went and scouted him last summer, we went out to the league he was playing in, but he's just really come on lately. Last year, even in the summer his performance didn't really stand out and there was a big difference in what he was seeking and what we thought the value was at that time. Guys change though, and that's one of the toughest parts of this job – trying to predict which one of these guys is going to be Petricka and which ones are going to stay the same.


\r\n\r\nKevin Levine-Flandrup: Last year when we spoke before the draft you said you had been impressed by the Carolinas. Have any states stood out to you this year?

\r\nDamon Oppenheimer: You know what, it's been pretty spread out. There have been a lot of kids in Georgia, and there's quite a bit of stuff up in the northeast actually. California has been good as usual, and usually you don't see the quality of players in the northwest that have been produced this year, so it's a good year for some spots and it's really spread out.


\r\n\r\nKevin Levine-Flandrup: Have you seen a discrepancy between the high school class and the college kids?

\r\nDamon Oppenheimer: It appears the high school group is a little stronger than the college side this year, on both the position player and pitching sides.


\r\n\r\nKevin Levine-Flandrup: In the scouting process, when do you get involved? Are you strictly high-level, or do you ever see kids first?

\r\nDamon Oppenheimer: No, I'll start it, too – at the core of it I'm a scout the same as all of our area guys, so I can be the first one to see him, and I can be the last one to see him. Because the process is so long, it doesn't necessarily have start off at the grass-roots area scout level and end up at the scouting director level. Hell, by next Friday I'll probably be out in Cape Cod or at an amateur event seeing guys for 2011, so I might be the first one to lay eyes on a player as soon as then.


\r\n\r\nKevin Levine-Flandrup: With Kevin Towers as a new addition to the organization this year you have an influx of scouting acumen. Have you been using him in the process, and if so, in what role?

\r\nDamon Oppenheimer: Yeah, he's been great. Kevin and I go back years to when both of us were area scouts for the San Diego Padres, so we've had a rapport for a long time and the whole thing was an easy transition. Kevin's got a great strength in evaluating pitching, so he's bounced around and seen about 30 pitchers for me, and about 10-15 position players that fell in line with where he was at the time, too. He's just been great – no maintenance at all, and as a guy who has been a GM he gives you nothing but support. He's not pretentious at all about where he goes or who he sees – his roots are as a scout and it shows through his work that that's what he likes to do. He's been a great addition for the organization, and specifically for our scouting team.


\r\n\r\nKevin Levine-Flandrup: In interviewing the top prospects I stumble occasionally on kids that had been down to the complex in Tampa to meet with you guys. Are those generic invites, or are they oriented towards specific players to get to know them better?

\r\nDamon Oppenheimer: What happens is our area scouts are really good at getting to know players, and in getting to know them they seek to educate the player about what professional baseball is all about. A lot of the times through that process they'll tell them that since they've been recruited by colleges made recruiting trips to campuses, it would be a great idea to go down to Tampa, see what the facilities look like, see what a minor league park looks like, basically take a semi-recruiting trip towards the New York Yankees and professional baseball. It gives the players a direct idea of what this is all about, it's their eyes that are seeing things, and not just hearsay from other people. So if the kid says he's interested in doing it, we make sure to set it up for them.


\r\n\r\nKevin Levine-Flandrup: Were Evan Grills and Jesse Biddle two of the bigger prospects you had? Were there others that you are looking at in the higher rounds?

\r\nDamon Oppenheimer: We've ran a lot of people through here, Kevin, and some of them could be 1st round picks, and some of them might not be drafted at all. It's a long list, and lately there have been quite a few that have come through the complex, especially kids from the east.


\r\n\r\nKevin Levine-Flandrup: Another interesting thing that came up in the course of my interviews was the mental conditioning coach that you have sent to speak to prospects rather than use the traditional written exam. Can you give us some information on that process?

\r\nDamon Oppenheimer: I have two guys, Chris Passarella works out of Tampa down here and spends most of his time with the minor leaguers and the draft guys, and then I have Chad Bohling who used to have that role, but is now in New York spending the majority of his time with the Major League team. So we go over things throughout the year and pinpoint guys we think should be talked to, could be talked to, guys that might be in our mix, guys that maybe had some family issues, or maybe had some perceived off the field issues, and then have our guys talk to them. Both of those guys will end up seeing players, and we probably end up with about 50-60 players that we talk to. If we don't talk to them it doesn't necessarily mean we don't have interest or won't take a player, though.


\r\n\r\nKevin Levine-Flandrup: Before last year's draft you told me that you had been given a hard budget for the first time. Is it a similar situation this year or will there be more flexibility?

\r\nDamon Oppenheimer: Yeah, I've got a number that I have to meet. It's no different than when Brian and the guys up there had a budget on the Major League side, couldn't sign every free agent they wanted, and couldn't bring everybody back. There's a fiscal responsibility that the Steinbrenners have implemented and we're good with that because we know what the number is, so we can move forward and plan our draft around it.


\r\n\r\nKevin Levine-Flandrup: Is the budget similar to last year? Bigger? Smaller?

\r\nDamon Oppenheimer: I'd say it's probably right around the same.


\r\n\r\nKevin Levine-Flandrup: Over the last few days several media outlets have mentioned rumblings you that you wouldn't go for the really big ticket item this year in the 1st round. Is there any truth to the notion that a guy like Brackman or Gerrit Cole wouldn't be on your radar in 2010?

\r\nDamon Oppenheimer: It's not that they're not on our radar, it's just that that's not what's out there. This is a year where there are a lot of good players in the draft, but those selections you mentioned were the rare exception that cause you to rethink your philosophy when they are available, and we don't see this draft shaping up that way. To be clear, that doesn't mean we're taking a lesser player; the player we're taking is going to be the best player on our draft board at that point. Your readers have to remember that, even in the biggest businesses, the concepts of value and worth are extremely important. In the draft, just because a player has a high pricetag doesn't magically improve his skillset or mean he's worth it. We've spent months, and sometimes years, assessing and evaluating these guys in order to make the most accurate determination on them and put together the best draft board possible.


\r\n\r\nKevin Levine-Flandrup: Have you seen any changes in the way you've done your job this year, or has it been status quo?

\r\nDamon Oppenheimer: This year has been more rough in terms of travel. There have been less prospects in the Tampa area this year, which you know is my home, so there's been a lot of bouncing around, but as you know that's just the ebb and flow of how scouting works.


\r\n\r\nKevin Levine-Flandrup: Speaking of local prospects, how unique is it to have one of the best catching prospects in the nation, Shane Rowland, be the son of one of the most integral members of your scouting team?

\r\nDamon Oppenheimer: You know, I've been watching Shane play for years, and it's been a great situation for both Shane and Donnie because he's been around us for so long. He's a great kid and he's got the chance to be a good player.


\r\n\r\nKevin Levine-Flandrup: A this point how far down have you narrowed the list for the 1st round pick? Five that you expect to be there? Ten?

\r\nDamon Oppenheimer: Generally in the past you would have a better idea of what might get to you, and 32 players deep is a long way and makes prediction hard in any draft, but this year it's just all over the map. I mean, you'll hear of a name of a guy in the 1st round, and I've talked to some scouting directors that will say \"shoot, we like him, but we like him in the 5th.\" So it's really unique at this point and we haven't seen many years like this, but we've got evaluators with hundreds of years of combined experience on this staff, and that gives us confidence. I can guarantee that our list is going to look a whole heck of a lot different than the one Baseball America, Perfect Game, or ESPN has out, but we've got a lot more resources to be out there scouting.


\r\n\r\nKevin Levine-Flandrup: How excited are you that the draft is finally here?

\r\nDamon Oppenheimer: Oh, I'm very excited. I think we've put ourselves in a great postion and I can't wait for it all to start.


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