Q&A with Damon Oppenheimer – Part II

PinstripesPlus.com: Let’s move on to sixth round pick Dalton Lehnen, the left-hander.  What’s the book on him?

Damon Oppenheimer: Left-hander with good size, he’s got durability with the delivery, the arm action, and arm strength.  He’s left-handed, 90-94 mph with life, he throws strikes, he’s got good spin to a curveball.  He’s got to develop more consistency with it and he needs to develop control of it.  Not too many people have heard of Augustana College in South Dakota but he had been at the University of Cincinnati, he had been up in [the] Cape Cod [League], so it’s not like he’s purely this small-school guy.  The guy had 52 innings this year as a starter and he struck out 61 guys with 18 walks.  When he throws the delivery resembles Andy Pettitte, it has that look to it.  He’s got a lot way to go to every pitch that way but when we’re talking about the sixth round and getting a left-hander who’s 90-94 mph with spin to a breaking ball, this is the kind of guy in this area we’ve shown some success getting guys to the big leagues.

PinstripesPlus.com: Is he a starter or a reliever in your mind long-term?

Oppenheimer: It’s way too early to say what he is but yeah I see starter delivery, starter repertoire, it’s just a matter of if you have starter command.  We won’t know that until the games tells us a little bit more a few years into it.  We definitely didn’t see him when we took him as a ‘he’s going to go to the bullpen’. 

PinstripesPlus.com: You mentioned a few years and another left-hander who had stuff but took some time honing the command is Caleb Smith.  Is that what we’re talking about here with Lehnen, a Caleb Smith type?

Oppenheimer: You know, I hadn’t thought about that but, not comparing him to Caleb, I could see this guy taking a big jump with the command.  I think it [his command] is probably a bit better than Caleb’s was coming right out of the chute.  We’ll find out but I could see something like that, sure. 

PinstripesPlus.com: Let’s move on to the other Dalton, Dalton Higgins [in the photo above].  What can you tell us about him?

Oppenheimer: He’s one of those guys that I’ve mentioned we’ve had success with where it’s 6-foot-2, 200 pounds in the seventh round throwing 93-96 mph with life, spins a hard curveball and has a hard slider, but they’re a little bit inconsistent.  The delivery is a workable delivery.  I think if we get this guy to pitch at both the top and the bottom of the zone he’s got that kind of fastball that can get in on guys.  When you get a chance with a guy with this kind of power stuff in the seventh round it’s hard to pass up.

PinstripesPlus.com: You mentioned Chance Adams earlier.  When I saw the way the draft was unfolding and saw this selection that’s who immediately sprang to mind.  Is that fair?

Oppenheimer: It could be.  I know Scott Lovecamp felt good about it and he goes out and does our pitching.  He really felt that this guy could make a big jump for us. 

PinstripesPlus.com: Let’s move on to Kyle Zurak, the righty from Radford University.  You don’t see too many guys drafted from Radford.  What can you tell us about him?

Oppenheimer: It’s interesting.  We got him seen.  He’s a reliever and he’s got two solid pitches.  He’s got stuff, he’s got performance, he’s 90-95 mph and he’s got a good slider.  Once again it’s a guy with strikeouts and a low ERA.  We see him as a reliever and as a senior right in here we thought ‘shoot, this guy is hitting on some of our analytical stuff that our analytics guys liked.  We sent out one of our pitching cross-checkers [too] and he saw him good, and liked him.  And here’s an interesting story too.  You know I’m an NHL guy too.  We liked this guy and right before the first day of the draft I talked to Scotty Bowman, who’s a friend of mine.  He calls me up and says ‘I’ve got a friend of mine who’s son has been contacted by the Yankees and his name is Kyle Zurak’.  And I said ‘damn Scotty, we just got done talking about this kid.  This is crazy that you’re calling me about this’.  He and I talked about him and he said his dad is a tough guy and a good guy.  It was just ironic that Bowman knew about him and he talks about baseball to me all the time.  Our people liked him and obviously Scotty knew him because of the family so that always helps a little bit more learning about him makeup-wise.

PinstripesPlus.com: By the way you’re describing him I have a Matt Wotherspoon comp going through my head.  Is that fair?

Oppenheimer: It may be.  It’s been a while since I’ve seen Matt but it very well could be a good comp.  The deception and the way this guy misses bats gives him a chance.  It’s one of those things that as a reliever, even though it’s Radford, the stuff he has gives him the chance to pitch out of a bullpen.

PinstripesPlus.com:  I know very little about Austin Gardner.  What can you tell us about him?

Oppenheimer: We like the fastball.  He’s up to 95 mph and he’s got movements.  He’s got a now slider that was good and he’s got above average control so he hit on some things that we really like.  With a couple of guys who scouted him and saw him, they like the stuff, they like the ability to get it over the plate.  The control numbers were good, the strikeout numbers were good, and it gives him the chance to come out of the pen and be one of those guys that develops with us out of the bullpen, or maybe [player development] sees enough out of him to say ‘we’re going to start this guy’. 

PinstripesPlus.com: Let me skip over some of the next college guys and go to Harold Cortijo, your 14th round pick out of high school. 

Oppenheimer: That’s an interesting story.  He’s up there in Maryland but his family is from Puerto Rico and parents still live there in Puerto Rico.  He’s young and [already] away from home, pitching up there and he’s 6-foot and 170 pounds with some room to fill out.  He’s really athletic.  The kid’s got a good delivery, the arm action works.  It’s a good one for us because he should be able to have enough success to get on the mound, develop, get into the weight room and the nutrition side of it, and develop there too.  That’ll be some big things that he has to do.  It’s pretty neat though to see a kid that young showing up by himself to get his physical and sign, and he’s a high school without his parents.  We don’t see that too often, being 18 years old and coming in to do that.  It’s pretty impressive.

PinstripesPlus.com: What’s the stuff like?

Oppenheimer: We’ve see him multiple times up to 94 mph, pitching right now at 91-92 mph.  He’s got average type movement.  The slider is tad below average right now but they like the spin on it and he should be able to develop more spin.  And he’s got a really quick arm.  I think it’s a good guy to take a shot at here to think you build him up, build him up in the weight room and with innings, and you’ve got a shot who might develop into a starter.

PinstripesPlus.com: Am I off-base given the quick arm, size and makeup that there’s a Manny Barreda thing going on here?

Oppenheimer: Not the same body type.  This one’s thinner.  This one is also a little looser, a little whippier than Manny.  It’s probably not really the right comp.

PinstripesPlus.com: Let’s double-back on the college arms and get some quick thoughts on Chad Whitmer, Shawn Semple, and Aaron McGarity as a group.  What can you tell us about them?

Oppenheimer: We combine these guys with what the scouts have seen and some of the analytical stuff we get from Scott Beneke and the group we have in the analytics department.  These [picks] hit on this stuff.  It’s guys that have had success, it’s guys we’ve seen solid stuff from.  It might not be electric stuff but these guys have ability to pitch and ability to create swing and miss, and they throw strikes.  That’s what I think we’ve got a shot at and get these guys to develop into something, and those kinds of traits seem to help a lot.  Semple is a guy from the University of New Orleans, that’s one of those place that even though it’s New Orleans not a ton of scouts get in there.  He missed bats, struck guys out, he doesn’t walk guys, in terms of his stuff we’re talking 11th round and a guy we’ve seen up to 94 mph, we like the changeup, he’s got a cutter, and he’s got control.

PinstripesPlus.com: Let’s talk about Steven Sensley and Eric Wagaman.  I know they’re later-round college bats and usually those guys don’t have too much ceiling but it appears these guys, at least to some degree, are different.  It seems that these guys actually have a shot given their hit-ability,no?

Oppenheimer: Yeah, Sensley is a good looking athletic guy.  He’s not quite that [Jhalan Jackson] type but he’s a strong looking kid that with some serious power to the pull-side.  We saw him hit balls a long way and backed it up with some Trackman stuff of 110 mph exit velos.  It was easy to see.  The swing right now is more geared towards centerfield to pull-side and he’s developed as a hitter.  We’ve seen this guy all the way back to high school and slowly but surely he got better and better.  Average type run speed but he can hit the ball a long way and that’s what gives him a chance to be dangerous.  And Wagaman was signed to go to the University of Houston and they do a good job of recruiting.  Our scouts, they really like him.  He can hit.  He really developed in his second year out of junior college out at Orange Coast, that’s a good JC league out there.  He’s got power.  He can hit the ball out of the opposite field, he can use the middle of the field to hit, and probably will play first base.  I’ll tell you what, he’s got bat speed, strength, and the ball gets off of his bat pretty good.

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