Q&A with Frankie Piliere

PinstripesPlus.com: Let’s start right at the beginning and get your thoughts on Yankees first round pick Clarke Schmidt.  What are your impressions of the pick?

Frankie Piliere: I like it.  The Yankees have shown they will gamble on guys like that before regardless of the injury history.  Teams are confident now that these guys are coming back from Tommy John; Eric Fette a couple of years ago, Jeff Hoffman, etc. I don’t think anyone is scared off anymore.  Looking back we probably as an industry underestimated how highly valued he still was.  Coming into the spring I saw him in the final scrimmage before Opening Day and he was 92-95 mph, locating his breaking ball, the changeup was better, and if he [hadn’t gotten hurt and] done that all spring I think we would have been talking about him as a guy who was going to go in the top 12, 13, or somewhere in there.  I think [the pick] surprised everyone.  It surprised me just because I wasn’t hearing his name as much.  I thought maybe he was slipping a little bit because of the Tommy John but I think there were a few teams in that range looking at him and It think it was a smart move.  A lot of the other college pitchers slipped a little bit.  Once you get outside the Kyle Wrights of the world all of those guys kind of had warts.  Bukauskas got knocked because of his height.  I think in Schmidt you get a guy who, one he comes back from injury, and I said it on the day of the draft, he’s a guy who could probably pitch — I don’t know if the Yankees would do it right away — but he could probably pitch in Double-A as is.  I don’t think he’s going to be a guy who takes a couple of years to work him up to the upper levels.

PinstripesPlus.com: On that final note you made, after talking to him and talking to scouts who know him I get a James Kaprielian vibe with him, in my humble opinion.  Do you see the comparison?  Am I off-base on that?

Piliere: No, I think you’re pretty close on that.  I definitely think we’re starting to see a type that the Yankees like with their early picks and I think it’s good taste.  It’s a blend of power guys with feel that have that sort of pedigree.  Even with their lower picks they like the Jordan Montgomerys of the world, guys who have a couple of years as a Friday guy [in college], pitching in big games.  With the level that college baseball is being played at now, especially in the SEC, these guys that pitch really well in those environments it says a lot.  Pitching for South Carolina in some hostile environments, I think the Yankees, especially some of the games they pitch in at Fenway Park for example, getting guys who can thrive in those environments with your early picks I like it.  I think getting guys from the big programs is important.  They come with some big-game experience.

PinstripesPlus.com: I know you’re a college baseball expert but what do you know about the Yankees’ second round pick, Matt Sauer? .

Piliere: The velocity jumped up this spring.  He was good last summer too.  It’s an up-tempo delivery with some effort to it so I’m curious to see what happens, what the Yankees change with that, but he gets it up to 96 mph, 97 mph, has a real tight breaking ball.  Again, I’ll be interested to see if he can start long-term but he’s young and the Yankees have done a lot of good things with guys with changing their deliveries and making necessary adjustments.  The arm is clean.  I don’t think there’s really anything rough there but there is some effort and I think that’s probably the only thing that kept him out of the Top 20 or 30 picks.  But it’s electric stuff.  He locates pretty well too that I think he’s going to advance pretty quickly.

PinstripesPlus.com: Let’s move back to the college ranks and get your thoughts on third round pick Trevor Stephan.

Piliere: He’s good.  I saw him in March and I saw him pitch in the rain, and it was about 48 degrees.  He wasn’t great [then] but the velocity picked up down the stretch.  What I had heard he was I didn’t get the best version of him in March but he’s got a lot of action and life to his fastball.  He was 91-94 mph down the stretch, he’s got a little sink, and the slider picked up.  He was a guy getting by mostly on his fastball life early on in his career but the slider has picked up now and if you look at the strikeout numbers he missed a ton of bats.  He’s not easy to pick up [when hitting], he hides the ball well.  I kind of had the sense he was going to be a reliever when I saw him but now I think he’s got the chance to start.  We’ll see how they develop the third pitch with him but he’s durable, he’s strong, and he’s got a fastball that can carry him deep into games.  I think it’s another guy with the chance to start and worst case scenario I think you’re getting another power arm out of the bullpen.  In short stints in Fall ball he was getting up to 96-97 mph pretty consistently so if nothing else you’re racking up power arms.

PinstripesPlus.com: By the way you’re describing him it almost sounds like he’s a taller Chance Adams, no?

Piliere: Yeah!  That’s actually funny, we were talking about Chance Adams a lot.  I don’t know, it could be coincidence, but it seems like they’ve done well with [Adams] and now they’re going for it and going back to that well.  There are a lot of power arms like that who have potential to be starters long-term and if not you’re still getting a good reliever.

PinstripesPlus.com: Going in order here, again, I know you’re the college guy but what are your impressions of Canaan Smith?

Piliere: He’s interesting.  I kind of had to do my homework on him on draft day because he wasn’t a big showcase circuit guy but it sounds like there’s some legit power there that projects for more power.  I got conflicting reports on his athleticism though on Draft Day.  I got some people saying he was more of a first baseman long-term but pretty consistently it seems the scouts like the bat.  It sounds like they expect him to be a production guy in the middle of the lineup and I think they expect the athleticism to kick up a little bit.  It sounds like there’s some physical maturation that needs to happen but across the board I got pretty positive feedback on his hit tool. 

PinstripesPlus.com: I know the high school ranks are not exactly your wheelhouse so let’s go back to the college ranks and talk about Glenn Otto, the big right-hander from Rice University. 

Piliere: There’s another case of a guy who has been relieving in college but if you look at the size, 6-foot-5 and 240 [pounds], and he’s got really good stuff, and you wonder if he’s another case where they can flip him and try him as a starter.  I’ll be curious to see what Damon [Oppenheimer] says on that.  I think that was some of the speculation.  I talked to a few teams who thought he could maybe make that transition in pro ball.  He gets up to 95 mph pretty routinely, he sits 92-95 mph the breaking ball has been pretty well spotted, he’s durable, and he looks like a guy who could potentially eat up innings.  We’ll see how healthy he stays but he certainly has the physical profile for that.

PinstripesPlus.com: Do you have any information on left-hander Dalton Lehnen?

Piliere: Sits 91 mph, up to 94 mph, three average pitches with good command.  The changeup is ahead of the curveball at this point.  It sounds like he’s had some nagging injuries but it’s another case of a physical arm that they think they can move relatively quickly because the command has been good when he’s been on the mound.

PinstripesPlus.com: What about the other Dalton, Dalton Higgins?

Piliere: Higgins is a potential fast-track reliever.  He missed a lot of bats this spring.  He sits 92-95 mph, touches 96 mph, and he’s got a very tight slider that ranges 82-84 mph.  That DBU [Dallas Baptist University] pipeline of power arm guys, especially now that Adams looks like he’s going to be a starter long-term, it looks like they do a good job of producing these power type arms.  There’s more coming in the next couple of years too.  It seems like the Yankees and a lot of other teams really trust what they’re doing there and how they’re developing these guys.  Higgins I think has the chance to come into his own.  He repeats his delivery and he’s got power stuff.  It’s a guy you hope you can use in a setup role in the next couple of years.

PinstripesPlus.com: Are all of these guys pretty similar then — Zurak, Gardner, Whitmer, etc?

Piliere: I am not as familiar with that group.  Whitmer’s got a good fastball.  I haven’t seen the Radford kid or Gardner but going down [the list Aaron] McGarity is that kind of guy, [Garrett] Whitlock is that kind of guy.  Whitlock is really interesting too.  I haven’t had a whole lot of recent reports on him but he’s a lower slot, tall guy who’s been up to 96-97 mph.  I know the results have been up and down but he’s got a huge upside with his deception and power stuff. 

PinstripesPlus.com: That was going to be next question — the Yankees have been known to grab one or two of these later-round sleeper types in the draft — is Whitlock the guy in your opinion?  Any other later-round selections stand out in your mind as potential ‘sleepers’?

Piliere: I think he’s one of them just because he’s one of the more unique guys.  I think if you’re going to pick one of these mid-90’s, potential reliever types he’s one that stands out.  It’s a lower slot, it’s a little funky, but I think you want to see him spin the ball a little bit better at the professional level.  It’s in the mid-90s though with a lot of life to it and with his slot and his size there’s a lot to work with there.  I think he’s a guy who if he gets his command tightened up a little bit could be pretty interesting.

PinstripesPlus.com: Anybody else stand out?

Piliere: Jason Junk got it up to 98 mph this spring.  They used him a lot in Seattle as a starter because they had a lot of injuries out there but I think you stick him in the bullpen and just let him air it out, and it’s going to be pretty good.  He’s got a hard breaking ball [too] but he needs to be better with it.  He’s a primary fastball guy right now but they might get in there and adjust his grip and see if he can spin the ball better.  But he’s got a huge arm.  It’s hard to argue getting a guy like him in the 22nd round, you can’t ask for much more than that.  

PinstripesPlus.com: It’s no secret that the Yankees took a ton of pitching in this draft.  Some fans question the wisdom in it.  What’s your take on their drafting philosophy this year?

Piliere: I think look around baseball right now and kind of the way it’s headed — the game is getting shortened for starting pitchers, the hitting is coming back and home runs all the sudden are up again — I think it’s kind of arms race right now.  Every bullpen now has 3-4 guys who are touching 97-98 mph or better and they’re trying to stay ahead of the curve a little bit, keep stockpiling guys in the bullpen.  From a fans perspective it might look like they’re drafting for need but we know that’s not the case.  Their position players do look pretty good right now though for the next few years and it probably couldn’t hurt to stockpile these arms for the next few years that you can bring into at the end of the game. 

PinstripesPlus.com: It also seems to me that where they draft each year that it’s easier to find these ‘sleeper’ pitching types later in the draft.  I mean let’s face it, not too many everyday position guys are going to be had in these later rounds.

Piliere: Exactly.  Also, I’m pretty sure not too many people were all pumped up when they drafted Chance Adams and look what’s happened with that.  Also, looking down the list, I’d be interested to see if they think there’s any chance they can lure Tanner Burns.  I mean that kid is going to be an absolute monster.  If he goes to college and it looks like he’s going he’s probably going to be a Top 15 pick in three years.  He’s 93-96 mph right now with a hammer.  He’s going to be a Friday night starter for [Alabama] for a couple of years.  I read in a local article that he’s 100 percent going to school but if he was signable for me he was a first-round talent. 

PinstripesPlus.com: Well that was going to be my next question, among the later round high school guys are there any that could be potentially signable in your mind?

Piliere: They drafted Steven Williams too.  In the same article I read that he and Burns were both absolutely going to Alabama, no ifs ands or buts about it, but if they could get one of those guys signed — I would think they’re probably not signable but it’ll be interesting to see if they can make a run at one of them.  Burns would be the guy to go pursue because you don’t get arms like that very often.

PinstripesPlus.com: But does that go into why the Yankees took Schmidt where they did?  A lot of pundits have opined they took him where they did as a cost-savings move in a potential move to sign some of these seemingly unsignable guys, that Schmidt could have been had in the second round perhaps.  Is he a guy that they can save some money on and maybe sign one of these guys?

Piliere: It could be.  Look at their draft, they got Tristan Beck in the 29th round, they got Jake Mangum in the 30th round.  Those are both guys with leverage that were eligible as sophomores.  I think Beck wants big-time money, like top 30-35 pick type money, so I don’t see that happening.  But Jake Mangum is the Yankees type of player.  He’s not exactly the same but he’s cut from that Brett Gardner mold.  I wouldn’t be surprised if they were aggressive trying to sign him.

PinstripesPlus.com: So overall — I realize it’s tough to ask because it takes a while for these players to materialize at the professional level — but what do you think of the Yankees draft overall?

Piliere: I think it’s pretty good, especially if they sneak in one of these late guys, just one of them and there’s a bunch of them down there — if they can talk Mangnum out of going back to Mississippi State, or get one of these high school guys, I think that would put it over the top.  I think it’s a solid class as is but kind of sneaking in of these guys could put it over the top and make it one of the top tier classes.  There’s a ton of talent there at the bottom but it comes down to can you get any of them signed.  There are a lot of names on that list.

PinstripesPlus.com: So with all of this talk about signing one of these later-round guys, gun to your head, was the Schmidt pick made where it was made to get Schmidt or was it made to save money to get one of these later round guys?

Piliere: Honestly, while I think it could be the second thing I just think they wanted Schmidt.  Knowing how they’ve operated — a lot of teams will say this and not mean it, the Yankees don’t care what other people think or how they’re stacking up guys.  They’ve gone off the board a few times here and they don’t care what the consensus is, what a list like D1Baseball puts out or anyone else puts out.  I think they’ve been very clear that they’re not worried about perception.  And now they’ve got the luxury of being right on a lot of these guys, especially recent guys like [Aaron] Judge, it gives them some leverage to be like ‘hey, this is the way we had it stacked up and we’ve been right before’.  I think given their proclivity for guys like Kaprielian and arms like that over the years, even Ian Kennedy way back who was sort of similar in that mold, I think this is what they like.  I would not be surprised if Schmidt was just really high on their board and I don’t blame them.  I really, really like that guy when I saw him in the spring.

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