Oppenheimer chats with Yankees fans
Scouting director discusses his approach to the Draft
Damon Oppenheimer, the Yankees' vice president and director of scouting, stopped by on Tuesday to chat with fans. He discussed his approach to scouting, players Yankees fans should look for and what happens in the typical day in the life of a scout.
Oppenheimer: Thanks for all the Yankees fans that pay attention to the Draft. I look forward to talking to you and giving you a rundown of the players we just selected.
ken7963: Can you name a few players in the Draft that you loved going into the Draft, and were the Yankees able to draft them?
Oppenheimer: Yes. Obviously, our first pick, Slade Heathcott, we were excited to get, and our second pick, JR Murphy, we were also excited to get. They were guys we had targeted and hoped to get and were crossing our fingers, so we're glad we got them.
ruthfan09: Hey, Damon, I was wondering if the Yankees have turned their attention to position players with their top picks -- is that why you guys passed on Tanner Scheppers?
jorgeposad: How heavily do you weigh strikeout rates when evaluating prospective offensive players?
Oppenheimer: It is like anything -- if it is drastically bad or exceptionally good, it makes a difference. If it is somewhere in the middle, then it is really not that big a deal. It is exactly the same with pitchers.
satmd: All things being equal, if you had a choice, do you favor a college pitcher over a high schooler?
Oppenheimer: All things being equal. ... The problem is that it is never a vacuum where all things are equal. Would I rather have Darren Dreifort, a college pitcher, over Josh Beckett? I don't think so. Each case is an individual case.
21yanks51: How big a role does attitude and work ethic play when you are scouting college and high school ballplayers?
Oppenheimer: There are three components that we really pay attention to a lot -- that is tools, performance and makeup. You'd like your prospects to have all three, but that doesn't always happen. It is one of the three key components that we look at.
clar5: With the way the bullpen is now, and will be in the future, how does this Draft year in pitching compare to other years, such as the 2004 (Phil Hughes) and 2006 (Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain) Drafts?
Oppenheimer: Hughes, Kennedy and Joba were all taken in the first round, so when you drop out of the first round in pitching, there is obviously a drop. What we did try to target this year is guys with velocity and some left-handed pitching. I think we are giving player development more tools to work with on this Draft, but at this stage, they aren't as complete a pitcher as those guys at this stage.
Colin4Yanks: I know that the Yankees drafted position players this year, one of them being a catcher: Murphy. Could he possibly be an above-average Major League catcher?
Oppenheimer: Murphy is a very advanced hitter with power, and he is new to catching, but has a very good arm and his hands work well. He is a good athlete and is very intelligent and has a good makeup. We think he can be an above-average catcher who hits. I feel lucky to have gotten him, because I know the Red Sox were very high on him right after us.
riddle22: What MLBer would you compare Heathcott to?
Oppenheimer: I try not to make comparisons, because that isn't fair to either party, but the one guy that I would compare his tools and skills to is a very young Kirk Gibson.
coconutkid: What is a typical work day for you like?
Oppenheimer: That's a tough question, because it changes so much. Usually, my day starts at 4 a.m., I'm on a plane by 6 a.m. I watch a couple of games that day, go to the hotel, catch up on the phone and e-mail with scouts until 11:30 p.m. or 12 a.m., and then start all over again.
snydeley: How many scouts do the Yankees have, and how do you go about becoming a scout?
Oppenheimer: In my department, domestic scouting, we have 14 domestic scouts, two national cross-checkers and three regional cross-checkers. Most scouts come from a playing or coaching background and usually have expressed interest to other scouts or myself. After a thorough interview, some guys are hired to help us out.
gehrig6203: Which player that you have evaluated has surprised you the most by their Major League performance, either by exceeding expectations or failing to perform?
Oppenheimer: We traded Dan McCutchen last year in the Xavier Nady deal. He came on to the scene very quickly and helped us acquire someone of Nady's talent. How quickly David Robertson came up surprised me a bit. He was drafted in '06 and was in the Majors in '08. We knew he was talented, but how quickly he advanced did surprise us a bit.
pstripemd: Welcome, Mr. O. Happy with the results. Are there any players expected to come right up, or will they all go through the Minor League system?
Oppenheimer: We weren't targeting guys to be quick movers. We're just trying to target guys that have the tools and athleticism and makeup to play in New York. You never know. Adam Warren is pretty advanced. He might be a guy who could move through the system quickly. You have two high school kids that you hope would move at a good pace, but we're not in a hurry to get them there.
mikeysnow: What do you think of 16-year-old phenom Bryce Harper?
Oppenheimer: The thing that impresses me about him is that he has very good tools, especially for a 16-year-old. What really impressed me is that he doesn't take his tools for granted. He plays with such fire, and wants to win. You don't typically see that in players that age with really good talent. A lot of things can happen, but at this stage, he has the tools to be very good.
riddle22: When drafting in later rounds, how do you separate the players in that huge bunch of guys?
Oppenheimer: Like I said earlier, three of the main things we scout are tools, performance and makeup. When you get to the later rounds, you're trying to buy one of those things, or you're projecting on all of those things. We try to put those guys in a semblance of an order and use our scouting and information our statistics people have given us, and hopefully, we find a few diamonds in the rough in the bottom of the Draft.
bir1: How much do you rely on number crunching/stats//moneyball approach, and how much do you rely on traditional scouting evaluations in determining your Draft choices?
Oppenheimer: The talent comes first, definitely. We are making progress learning more about some of the number crunching and stats. It might make decisions to help separate a guy or two. Talent is definitely first. We continue to use the statistical part of it. It has definitely made progress over the years.
jorgeposad: Can you define the three dimensions you mentioned: tools, performance and makeup?
Oppenheimer: A pitcher's tools would be fastball, control, delivery and arm action. With a position player, it would be hits, power, run, field and throw. Those are the tools we talk about when we talk about players. Performance is self-explanatory. That is some statistical stuff. It is more important to us at an elite level. Some big showcase situations for high school kids, Cape Cod league. That would be performance for us. Makeup covers a broad spectrum. There is off-field and on-field. On-field is what is the guys work ethic, what is his will to win. What kind of teammate is he? Off-field is taking care of himself to affect his on-field performance.
ken7963: Out of all the prospects you drafted this year, who has the most velocity that you have seen? For Minor League baseball fans, who should we be excited about?
Oppenheimer: Obviously, we need to sign this guy, but Caleb Cotham, our fifth-round pick, pitched well for us every time we saw him this year. Hopefully, we can get him in the system. There are guys with good arms -- Sean Black, Sam Elam and Gavin Brooks -- good arms that need to be developed, but can be good. There are guys down the line I will be able to talk to you about that are very exciting as well. Time for one more question, and then I have to run.
ax1camp: When you pick so late in the first round, do you include guys who might be projected top-10 picks on your board, or do you just focus on guys you think will be there when it comes to your pick?
Oppenheimer: No, we scout everybody, even if they are supposed to be gone, because you just never know. Stephen Strasberg to Dustin Ackley, all of the players. Some guys slide, some guys get hurt ... Anything can happen. Most of the time, people want to look at Drafts as just the top few players, because those are the ones they kow. It is beneficial to look at a Draft from all perspectives, because there are good guys deeper in the Draft. Some of the guys in the later rounds will surprise us.
Thank you very much for joining me. I look forward to speaking to you again soon.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.