Yankees go to school in Draft
Bombers select 40 college players in 50 picks
MILWAUKEE -- The Yankees, as they have done with the big league team in recent years, went with experience in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft, selecting 40 college players among the 50 players taken over the two-day event.
After taking a high schooler, shortstop C.J. Henry with their first pick on Tuesday, New York took six consecutive college players, a trend which would continue throughout the two days for the organization.
When the first day was completed, 15 of the team's 18 selections were college players, while a 16th was a 23-year-old Cuban who did not attend school last year. Wednesday, the Yankees added 25 more college athletes and just nine high schoolers.
"We line them up with college and high school players and it just happens," said Damon Oppenheimer, the Yankees' vice president of scouting. "We tried to take the best available guy, and it could have easily gone the exact opposite way for us. We don't make a conscious effort to go either way."
Of the 50 players taken by the club, 18 were right-handed pitchers and eight were southpaws, making it a total of 26 pitchers.
"We didn't go into it with any expectations at all with trying to fit numbers as far as positions," Oppenheimer said. "I didn't want to do that, I wanted to take who we felt was best."
The Yankees also selected nine outfielders, six catchers, five first basemen, two second basemen, one shortstop and one third baseman.
"I think we got better, and I think we got more athletic," Oppenheimer said. "Overall, it's hard to analyze. Drafts are hard to assess, because you always think you did well, but it takes a long time to come to fruition."
Henry, a two-sport star at Putnam City High School in Oklahoma City, was taken with the 17th overall pick, the Yankees' highest first-rounder since they selected Matt Drews in 1993 with the 13th pick.
Although he has orally committed to the University of Kansas, Henry indicated to the Yankees that he wants to play baseball.
"As soon as a deal can get done, I'd like to get it done and be playing in Tampa," Henry said Tuesday. "I've always wanted to play baseball over basketball. Basketball is something I'm good at, but I always wanted to play baseball."
New York's other high school pick is another two-sport star, though this one may not be as eager to sign with the Yankees as Henry. Center fielder Austin Jackson (Billy Ryan High School in Denton, Texas), a point guard who has a full scholarship to Georgia Tech, was taken in the eighth round.
Oppenheimer believes that the Yankees have a legitimate shot to sign Jackson, though the general consensus is that he will go play both sports at Georgia Tech.
"I think we're making progress," Oppenheimer said. "If we're able to sign him, I'll feel real good about things. I wouldn't rule that one out."
The first pitcher taken by the Yankees was J. Brent Cox, who took over for Oakland's Huston Street as the closer for both the University of Texas and Team USA. Cox's fastball hits high-80s to low-90s with a lot of sink, but his slider is his No. 1 pitch.
Oppenheimer feels that of all the players taken on Tuesday, Cox should move through the team's system the quickest.
"We got some real quality athletes in this draft, some athletes that can play baseball," Oppenheimer said. "We got at least one pitcher in J. Brent Cox who is close to the big leagues, and we got some left-handed pitching."
In the third round, the Yankees took outfielder Brett Gardner from the College of Charleston, a speedster whom Oppenheimer says has "great plate discipline," but no power.
"He's an absolute flyer," Oppenheimer said. "He's a fast runner who can really patrol center field. He can steal bases, has instincts to run and has performed with the bat."
The team's fourth rounder was Rice University's Lance Pendleton, a junior who played right field in college but will pitch in the Yankees' system.
"We took him as a pitcher, but he's a heck of an athlete," Oppenheimer said. "He has power as a position player, but he has a big arm and a plus curveball. We like him better as a pitcher."
In the late rounds, the Yankees selected two sons of former Major Leaguers. The first was 23rd rounder Matthew Wallach, a catcher from Cypress College (Ca.) whose father is former five-time All-Star third baseman Tim Wallach. The second was 38th rounder Clayton Young, a 6-foot-5 left-hander out of Glendale College (Ca.) who is the son of Matt Young, who pitched in the Majors for 10 years.
"Wallach has become a catcher, and he's making a lot of progress," Oppenheimer said. "Hopefully it's there for him next year."
Many of the team's late picks were draft-and-follow candidates, including Dialo Fon and Andy Rice, both of whom are planning to attend SEC schools.
"We'll see who we end up getting signed, once we get that part of it done, I can tell you one way or another," Oppenheimer said. "Of the guys we were able to select, I feel real good. Whether we can get them signed is another story."
Mark Feinsand is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.