Yankees draft philosophy summed up in three words: Pitching is destiny

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports /

Yankees overwhelming selected pitchers throughout the 2017 draft. The draft is a crapshoot, so loading up on pitchers makes sense. But Brian Cashman and his team came in to the draft with an interesting philosophy: bigger is better and too many is never enough.

Yankees draft picks have not always worked out. The list of great starting pitchers drafted and developed by the Yankees over the last 25 years reads Andy Pettitte, definitely, and Luis Severino, maybe. But that does not tell the whole story.

Brian Cashman and his team have drafted and produced a few starting pitchers—Ian Kennedy, Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes, etc—and a few incredibly valuable bullpen players; Dellin Betances is at the top of that list.

Both are needed to be successful in the world of pitch counts, innings limits, and multiple Tommy John surgeries. The only problem is that the Yankees have not produced enough of them.

They have taken steps to rectify that.

The Yankees have used 28 of their 40 picks so far on pitchers, including fifteen of their first twenty picks. Starters, relievers, right-handers and lefties, the Yanks took them all.

I did a random survey and found that the Red Sox took 18 pitchers with their first 40 picks, the Cardinals took 23, and the Blue Jays 22. So it seems Brian Cashman and the team are at the far end of the curve.

A Tall Draft

There are, of course, two good reasons to draft a lot of pitchers. The first is that the system is stocked with position players. Sometimes it’s like you can see all the way to Tampa. And the other is that the Yankees will be more active this year when the international market signing period starts in July.

Remember they blew out their budget in 2014. That meant they were not allowed to spend more than $300,000 for any one player. Now, even with the new rules as outlined marvelously by Baseball America’s Ben Badler, the Yankees will have 4.75 million to spend and can dispense it as they see fit. My guess is they will see fit to give it to position players.

But the Yankees looked for specific types of pitchers. For instance, they paid a lot of attention to size. There is a theory in baseball that bigger pitchers, like CC Sabathia, can handle the wear and

Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports /

tear of a baseball career. That’s why they passed on Johan Santana and waited for the big man a year later.

Based again on a random survey, it appears the Yankees drafted more pitchers 6’3” and above than anyone else. That includes second pick overall Matt Sauer (6’4”) as well as their very next pick, Trevor Stephan, who is 6’5”.

Glenn Otto, Garrett Whitlock, Austin Crowson are also all pitchers and all 6’5”. That does not even include 6’8” Colby Davis.

Another very clear message about the Yankees philosophy.

Crapshoot is a Weird Word

And there is one more if you look closely enough. The Yankees are looking for pitchers who have some mark of excellence, rather than a body of work. The message seems to be that since the draft is a crapshoot, better to take chances on potential greatness than on solid, consistently good players.

Clarke Schmidt got all the prime-time, Friday night starts, for example. Cashman obviously graded his numbers on a curve and wanted a player who has already done well under the spotlight. Schmidt was only ranked 48th because of his injury but the Yankees showed they were willing to risk a high draft slot for Clarke’s potential rewards.

More from Yanks Go Yard

Eighth round pick Kyle Zurak had an okay college career and finished with his best season. But what convinced the Yankees to draft him was that he got the starts in two of the biggest games of the year for Radford University: the Louisville Regional elimination game and the Big South Tournament Championship game.

Cash was more willing to take a chance on someone whose college coaches saw something special in. Trevor Stephan was not the best pitcher on his own team but he has a plus-fastball. It was his primary weapon as he struck out 120, fourth in the SEC, but walked only 20 in his 91 innings.

Calculated Risks

Then there’s Dalton Lehnen. He put up a 2.60 ERA and struck out 61 batters in 52 innings. Okay, that sounds great. But he accomplished that after transferring to South Dakota from the University of Cincinnati. Both are fine schools but the level of competition is not the same.

Is Lehnen already akin to a Quadruple-A player? The most important thing for the Yankees is that he was able to be special, the level not being nearly as important as the accomplishment.

The Yankees are more willing to take a chance on him than a player with worse numbers against better competition because he has that singular mark of distinction, that of a strikeout pitcher. This thinking extends to position players, as well. Utility man and fourth round pick Canaan Smith must have an amazing eye; Brendan Kuty of NJ.com pointed this out:

"Smith, an Arkansas signee, has 32 walks in 24 games this season. In six district games, he’s been walked 10 times, a rate of 1.67 per game.In 2004, Barry Bonds set the MLB record for walks with 232 in 147 games played. That’s 1.58 per game."

A Round of Darts

The 2017 New Yankees draft picks have confirmed the organizational philosophy. They are clearly looking for signs of diamonds in the rough. Take Glenn Otto, as the Yanks did with their fifth pick. He had been a prime time pitcher until he experienced shoulder soreness early this year. Colleges, in general, can overuse pitchers and the rumors about Rice are that they do not disagree with this approach.

It could be nothing or it could be chronic. If it is chronic, the Yankees fifth round selection did not work out, which is not unusual. If he regains his form, Cash and the boys will have pulled out another steal. Jacob Markle agrees as he wrote here:

"While almost every prospect is a total crapshoot, the floors on pitchers can be far scarier that those on position players, and Otto is no exception. The upside is there, and the fastball and curve offer plenty to dream on. It is undeniable that he could be something remarkable. If the pieces come together, he could also get to the majors pretty quickly. However, if things go sideways, then his value will drop like a stone, so while the appeal is obvious, the risk is correspondingly high."

So the 2017 draft is in the books and the Yankees have thrown a lot of darts with the word pitcher on them. I appreciate their taking chances on greatness instead of playing it safe. And we should see one or two of these players by 2019.

But even if that is not true, it’s got to be better than that 2001 draft. Someone has to be able to do better than Jon Skaggs, right?