LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- For the second straight year, clubs took a look at a Yankees system brimming with interesting pieces and took turns picking away at the unprotected scraps.
In 2016, New York lost four players in the major league phase alone--catcher Luis Torrens (Padres), righthander Tyler Jones (D-Backs), lefthander Caleb Smith (Brewers) and lefthander Tyler Webb (Pirates). Of those four, only Torrens--who had never played above low Class A--stuck in the major leagues for the full season.
Jones, Webb and Smith were returned to the Yankees. The Brewers got a second crack at Webb in July when they acquired him for first baseman Garrett Cooper, who was then flipped with Smith to the Marlins in November for international slot money as part of the Yankees’ effort to sign Japanese two-way star Shohei Ohtani.
They also lost 2013 first-rounder Ty Hensley (Rays) in the minor league phase, as well as righthander Kelvin Magallanes (Royals) and infielder Kevin Cornelius (Cubs).
This year was more of the same.
Four of the 18 picks in the major league phase came from the Yankees farm system: Righthander Anyelo Gomez (Braves), lefthander Nestor Cortes (Orioles), first baseman Mike Ford (Mariners) and righthander Jose Mesa Jr. (Orioles).
Gomez belonged to the Yankees’ glut of righthanders who touched 100 mph this year. The fastball, coupled with an above-average changeup, helped him go from low Class A Charleston all the way to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in the span of one season.
Cortes was the polar opposite. He reminds evaluators of former Yankees farmhand Vidal Nuño for his lack of knockout stuff, but abundance of moxie and his willingness to attack the strike zone over and over again. He never made the same headlines as the higher-profile guys in the system, but the results were always there.
A 36th-round selection in 2013 out of high school in Florida, Cortes is 25-14, 2.08 in his career with 344 strikeouts against just 76 walks. He’s allowed just 247 hits in that span as well.
“You know, the teams, some of the major market teams, the teams that are active on the international market, they’ve done a good job--like the Yankees, and they had several pitchers drafted. So that’s really the way the system is set up to work,” Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said. “There’s opportunity for players on other clubs, they get drafted to their major league roster. So we needed more pitching depth, picked up a couple of Yankee pitchers.”
Even though they already have Ryon Healy in the fold, the Mariners saw enough from Ford’s power and patience to take a flyer on him.
"Obviously (he's) a guy who all he's done is gone out offensively and controlled the zone with the bat from both sides as far as versus left and versus right," Tom Allison, who oversees the Mariners amateur and professional scouting departments, said. "And one of the things that really attracted him to us, to use an old Pat Gillick line, is that a lot of times you scout the player and then you acquire the person."
The Orioles struck again when they took Mesa, who was drafted in the 24th round in 2012 but didn’t debut until 2014 because of Tommy John surgery. He broke out a bit this year, going 5-1, 1.93 between high Class A Tampa and Double-A Trenton with 101 strikeouts. He’s got just 226 strikeouts over his career, so this year’s figure represents 44.6 percent of that total.
He operates with a fastball between 92-95, as well as a mid-80s slider and a mid-80s changeup.
Two more Yankees were selected in the minor league phase: Yancarlos Baez (Twins) and catcher Sharif Othman (Marlins). Baez was signed by New York as a shortstop in 2012 for $650,000 but converted to pitching this year and went 0-2, 3.51 with 16 strikeouts in 25.2 innings at the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League. Othman was in the Marlins’ system until 2016, was signed by the Yankees in 2017 and now returns to Miami.