Following the five-round 2020 MLB First-Year Player Draft, MiLB.com takes an organization-by-organization look at each pick with help from team scouting executives.
Despite being faced with all the obstacles brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, as well as being limited to three selections for the first time, the Bronx Bombers and vice president of domestic amateur scouting Damon Oppenheimer stuck to a familiar formula in this year’s Draft. The team focused up the middle: catchers, pitchers, middle infielders and center fielders.
After landing the off-season’s prized free agent in ace Gerrit Cole, New York forfeited its second- and fifth-round selections in the revised Draft format. That didn’t stop the organization from executing a strategy that has served it well since Oppenheimer took the helm of Yankees Drafts in 2005.
“We never draft for need, that’s just something that’s always been preached to me. Our focus is to always get the best available talent on the board and continue to try to work the middle of the field,” Oppenheimer said. “So we tried to execute that plan by using all the resources we had, as well as all the looks we had at guys in the summer, fall and shortened spring, and on top of that mixing in all the data we acquired and then grinding on all the video.”
The result was selecting a catcher in the first round for the second time in three years -- Anthony Seigler was taken 23rd overall in 2018 -- with Austin Wells, second baseman Trevor Hauver and right-handed pitcher Beck Way. All three ranked among MLB Pipeline’s Top-200 Draft prospects.
First Round: C Austin Wells (No. 28 overall)
Familiarity played a major factor in this pick as the Yankees initially selected the Draft-eligible sophomore out of high school in the 35th round two years. However, the Bishop Gorman High School product was exclusively a DH during his senior season and had committed to the University of Arizona, making him a tough sign.
But New York kept an eye on Wells as he put together a solid freshman season, batting .353 with 27 extra-base hits, 73 runs scored and 60 RBIs. That performance earned him Pac-12 Freshman of the Year honors.
The 6-foot-2, 220-pounder carried that success into the summer and hit .308 with seven homers in the wood-bat Cape Cod League.
Dubbed the “best available left-handed power bat” by MLB Pipeline, the 27th-ranked Draft prospect was tearing the cover off the ball again this spring before the season was halted, batting .375 with eight extra-base hits, 14 RBIs and 12 runs scored across 56 at-bats.
“We’ve known him for a long time and we’ve seen him against the best competition, going all the way back to high school when he was playing elite levels to Arizona and the Pac-12 to Dennis-Yarmouth and the Cape Cod League,” Oppenheimer said. “So we got to know him really well and we love his tools and his makeup. His ability to swing, plate discipline, strike-zone awareness, power from the left side -- which is obviously a huge one for us -- and he can be a frontline catcher.”
That final point has been debated by scouts and baseball experts who've deemed Wells’ glove and arm below average -- labeling his throws as “inconsistent” -- and believe a position change is imminent for the Las Vegas native, who has played the outfield and first base.
The Yankees and Wells do not.
“He’s heard the chatter -- we’ve talked about it -- and it’s just fuel for him,” Oppenheimer said. “He’s really competitive and it’s something that he’s mentioned that is driving him to want to be a Gold Glove-caliber catcher. I think his intensity on this will help move him forward, and we’ll give him every chance to stick there. ... We felt very comfortable calling him a catcher when we selected him.”
Third Round: 2B Trevor Hauver (No. 99 overall)
Like Wells, Hauver supplies pop from the left side of the plate. The Arizona State product batted leadoff in front of Spencer Torkelson -- this year’s top overall pick -- in the Sun Devils’ lineup last season and behind him (third) this spring.
After a tough go his freshman year, the 21-year-old found his footing as a sophomore when he compiled a .339/.433/.574 slash line with 13 homers, a triple and 16 doubles in 57 games. Before the 2020 season was shut down, Hauver hit .339/.494/.695 with five dingers and six doubles in 17 games and was riding a 15-game hitting streak.
In addition to the plus hit tool, the 6-foot, 205-pounder displayed advanced plate discipline, drawing 39 walks last season and 20 in the spring.
A shortstop out of high school, the Arizona native spent most of his college career in left field. However, his average arm and speed, combined with limited range, profile best as a second baseman at the next level. And that's a position where the Yankees lack depth in the system.
“One of our cross-checkers who lives in the area and has seen [Hauver] play since he was in 10th grade always believed he could hit and saw him play in the middle of the field, so that made it easier for us,” Oppenheimer said. “We fell in love with the bat and felt comfortable that he’s not only going to hit at the next level but hit for power. Combine that with the ability to shift to second base and play well there was a big plus. ... The other key for us was his plate discipline -- once we saw that, this was an easy one to jump on here.”
Fourth Round: RHP Beck Way (No. 129 overall)
Signability may have been the biggest reason why Way -- the 95th-ranked Draft prospect -- was still on the board this late, but that didn’t deter the Yankees from taking the hard-throwing right-hander with their final pick.
“I don’t know why, but the junior college guys that are in the Deep South area tend to last on the board,” Oppenheimer said. “We had a guy like that a few years back in Nick Nelson, who has turned out to be a really good prospect for us.
“With Beck, I think coming from community college to having a commitment with LSU, that might have scared some teams off. But we had him ranked high and we thought he would be selected well before this point. So I think it really worked out for us.”
Way began his college career at Belmont Abbey, where he appeared in 19 games as a reliever and posted a 3.98 ERA over 20 1/3 frames while sporting a 31-to-13 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Last summer, the 6-foot-4, 200-pounder caught the attention of scouts in the Cape Cod League, where he flashed a 98 mph heater and punched out 18 over 13 1/3 innings.
The 20-year-old transferred to Northwest Florida State College, where he moved into the rotation this spring. Using a three-quarters delivery, Way not only showed the ability to throw three pitches effectively but displayed plus command. Armed with a low- to mid-90s fastball, a low-80s slider and a dynamic changeup, the Pennsylvania native went 5-0 with a 0.67 ERA and 58 strikeouts against nine walks over 40 innings.
“He’s got really good stuff, and the command really developed this year,” Oppenheimer said. “We think he’s definitely a starter. He’s got a plus changeup and a future plus breaking ball that made big strides to go with his plus fastball.
“We got to meet with him on Zoom and found out a lot about him in terms of his desire to be great and learn and listen to coaching to get there. So we’re really happy with how this worked out and we’re hopeful to get him signed and here real soon.”
Overall Outlook: After decades of relying on acquiring marquee names through free agency, general manager Brian Cashman's renewed focus on replenishing and maintaining a talented farm system has been paying dividends at the big league level since 2017.
And despite being limited to three picks this year, the Yankees played to their strengths. They selected a pair of lefty sluggers whose swings and plate approaches appear to be tailor made for the short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium, as well as a hard-throwing righty whose versatility projects well as baseball implements a “three-batter minimum” rule for pitchers.
But coming off a 2019 Draft in which the team selected 41 players, the reality of potentially adding only three new players didn’t sit quite right with Oppenheimer and his staff.
“It was a weird feeling afterwards,” he said. “We were really pleased with the guys we got but wish we had more. You’re kind of sitting there going, 'We should be doing this another day, adding another 25 names into the system.' … it was just odd. A sweet feeling for who we got but also an unfinished feeling for not finishing off a normal Draft.”
Rob Terranova is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @RobTnova24.