Yankees ‘unique’ MLB draft prep will be tested with $20,000 signing explosion

A year ago, the Yankees drafted 41 players.

This year, thanks to a shortened draft and losing picks for signing Gerrit Cole last offseason, they only selected three players.

“This was obviously a unique deal because it was really quick,’’ Damon Oppenheimer, the team’s VP and Director of Amateur Scouting said Friday on a conference call.

It was part of a process that’s been drastically altered by baseball being shut down at virtually every level since March, cutting short — or in some cases eliminating — college and high school seasons.

So instead of traveling the country watching games, scouts instead relied on Zoom calls and even more on conversations with players’ coaches.

“We were able to get some looks [at players],’’ Oppenheimer said. “It’s definitely not as comfortable for us to make some of the selections we were looking at on our board… [but] we did really conscious work in the summer and fall and combined it with the data we had incorporated that.”

And in some ways, they got more insight into players than in other years.

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“We actually probably learned more about players as individuals this year with the amount of phone calls we did,’’ Oppenheimer said. “We dug into them. It was the details of them as players. It was different, it was hard, the fact you didn’t get to see them with your eyes and [see them] interact with their teammates.’’

For some, they’d hardly been scouted since last summer, making it impossible to see how much bigger or stronger they may have gotten.

“It made it hard and a little more guessing to it,’’ Oppenheimer said. “We did the best we could with it.”

They ended up with Arizona catcher Austin Wells with the 28th pick in the first round, followed up with infielder Trevor Hauver from Arizona State in the second round (99th overall) and junior college right-hander Beck Way from Northwest Florida State in the fourth round (129th overall).

Ordinarily, the players would get signed and then assigned to a minor league team. That’s not going to happen this 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 teams can talk to players who weren’t drafted. The players 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.”

The organization’s scouts, like the rest of the sport, have been off the road for months.

“Most of them in this business have never been home and slept in the same bed for 70-some days in a row,’’ Oppenheimer said. “It’s crazy we’ve never done it, most of us, but that’s what’s happened. They’ve just found a way. They found a way to talk to the player, to recruit the player, to dig deep. That’s gonna be a huge part of what starts on Sunday with trying to acquire players for the $20,000. Everybody’s gonna kind of be in the same boat. It’s an even playing field in terms of the money and what you can do. So if the player has an affection for you and believes in the people, you might have a better shot.’’

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