For Yankees’ first-round pick Austin Wells, there are plenty of questions about whether the 21-year-old will be able to stay behind the plate after struggling defensively at Arizona.
Damon Oppenheimer, the team’s VP and Director of Amateur Scouting, is confident the 28th overall pick in this year’s shortened draft can improve.
“There a lot of [room] for growth,’’ Oppenheimer said on a Friday conference call. “His mentality is so strong and he’s a good athlete. And even from talking to the guys who coached him in college, they know there’s more to be done with him defensively because the coaching hasn’t been the best coaching for him as a catcher. Nothing against the guys that coached him. We’ve just got guys that are much better at it and that’s gonna help him get better at a quick rate.”
There’s even more pressure to get these picks right this year, since the Yankees were limited to three selections in the amateur draft, thanks to the abbreviated five-round format put in place because of the coronavirus pandemic, as well as the two picks they gave up for signing Gerrit Cole.
Wherever Wells winds up on the field, the Yankees will be looking for his left-handed bat to live up to its potential.
“We think he can be an impactful guy, especially in our stadium,” Oppenheimer said. “He’s a mentally strong kid, so I think the weight of the pinstripes aren’t gonna affect him like some others.”
The Yankees are also confident that the elbow injury that sidelined Wells as a high school senior is also behind him. They drafted him in the 35th round in 2018 despite the injury, before Wells opted to go to college.
Oppenheimer noted Wells had a PRP injection in high school, but he’s “gotten through everything.”
“He’s able to throw every day and doesn’t have to do any special postgame work on his elbow,’’ Oppenheimer said. “Stuff like that happens and it’s been a long time [since] that flared up or affected him.”
Oppenheimer said the team’s second-round pick (99th overall), Trevor Hauver from Arizona State, would likely move back to the infield after switching to the outfield in college.
“We really like his bat and power from the left side,’’ Oppenheimer said. “He’s got plate discipline and the ability to hit the ball really hard.”
And the Yankees believe he’d be more valuable as an infielder if he can adapt.
Their final pick was junior college right-hander Beck Way from Northwest Florida State in the fourth round (129th overall).
The Yankees actually got a decent look at Way, since his JUCO team started its season early.
“The only thing we would have liked to have happened was see him [pitch] a full season and how he would have held up,’’ Oppenheimer said.
That was just a part of how different this draft process was, as instead of traveling the country watching high school and college games, scouts instead relied on Zoom calls.
And ordinarily, the drafted players would get signed and then assigned to a minor league team. That’s not going to happen this year, with no minor league season.
“Right now, we’re trying to meet and decide how we move forward with these guys,’’ Oppenheimer said. “Obviously, they still have to do physicals and sign contracts, but the details of where they’re gonna be, we’re still not sure yet.”
For teams, the next step begins Sunday, when they can talk to players who weren’t drafted, although they will be limited to signing for $20,000.
Oppenheimer said the process of going after those players began months ago” and includes putting together videos for each player they are interested in signing “to sell the player on what they’d be looking at becoming a Yankee.”