And now, the conclusion of the sit-down interview that Trentonian beat writer Josh Norris and myself conducted with Damon Oppenheimer, the New York Yankees Vice President of Scouting…
This year’s draft class seemed to have a heavy emphasis on college pitchers. Is that a philosophy, or more of a coincidence?
Damon Oppenheimer: “Well, I wouldn’t say that. The first two picks were both high school position players, and then you get a college pitcher. So no, the emphasis for us is not on trying to attack this or attack that, it’s trying to get what we think is the best and if it happens to be a college pitcher, great.”
The pitchers that you picked were college guys until the 12th round, not all your picks were college players…
Oppenheimer: “I understand. It’s not a conscious effort, that’s for sure. Sometimes it just falls that way.”
You mentioned Jesus Montero a little while ago. Looking at the reports on him, is there anything that would suggest that won’t be able to stay at the catcher position long-term?
Oppenheimer: “I think that will take care of itself. The game will tell us whether he’s going to stay there. Right now, he’s doing everything to say yes, he can stay there. The work that Julio (Mosquera) and all of our catching guys have done with him has been tremendous. If you would have asked me if Montero was going to stay as a catcher right when we signed him, I would have bet probably not. But now, after seeing what they’ve done with him, I’d say yeah, he can stay as a catcher.”
Speaking of catchers, you’ve got some other guys in the system who might be here in a couple of years; Kyle Higashioka, Gary Sanchez, Austin Romine, J.R. Murphy and so on. Can you give us a rundown on those guys?
Oppenheimer: “Romine, I don’t know if you guys have seen Romine, but he’ll be here next year. He can really catch, he can really throw and he can hit. He uses the whole field. I think he’s advanced. He could probably handle being up here right now. But, he’s having a really good year there in a heck of a playoff run there, so let’s let him stay there and really enjoy the success. He’s a really advanced kid mentally and stuff. He has a professional way about him. He grew up in a professional baseball atmosphere and he’s pretty darn good.”
“Higashioka is in Staten Island, and he’s really learning how to catch well. He needs to get a little more arm strength, but he can swing the bat and he’s really bright, he really picks things up in a hurry.”
“Murphy is a kid from this year’s draft who can flat hit. He’s a really good hitter and he’s a really good athlete. There’s been talk that he can play other positons, and he can. But he’s really getting to become good defensively and he’s got a solid-average arm.”
“I haven’t seen enough of Gary Sanchez to give you a real good feel on that one. So I’d rather not comment on that one. But I’ve seen him take BP, and it looks like he can swing the bat pretty good.”
So Romine’s going to be here next year?
Oppenheimer: “That’s my guess, it’s just a guess. He’s definitely ready for this.”
Are there any other players you can say with some degree of certainty are going to be here next year?
Oppenheimer: “That’s probably more for (Mark) Newman and (Pat) Roessler. But that’s just the one that really sticks out to me. I’d hate to say. Those guys, Pat and Mark, they get such a better feel for all the players. Once I sign them or our staff signs the player, we’re not around them quite the same way. The coordinators and the coaches and the managers, and Roessler and Newman, they really know what’s best for them after that. And they’ll send me out to see these guys just to get an idea on what I’ve seen and how things have gone in terms of progress.”
What have you seen from Andrew Brackman this season that leads you to believe he’s on the right path?
Oppenheimer: “Well, since we’ve taken him and stuck him in the bullpen and said just go out there and go ‘em, I think we’ve seen some improvement. There’s been less thinking about thinks so much and not worrying about stuff. We’re seeing some good things coming from him. It’s a learning year for him, it’s not easy coming off of that surgery and it’s not easy being that tall. We’ve seen good stuff. That’s the thing. Now it’s just this off-season and going into next year, we’re really hoping to see him explode.
Does he still profile as a starter in your eyes?
Oppenheimer: “Yeah. It’s just sometimes you have to deviate from the plan a little bit and take a step backwards to go forwards, and that’s where we needed to go with him.”
Have you been keeping track of player rehabs? Any word on where Dellin Betances is at?
Oppenheimer: “Some of them. He’s in Tampa, but he just got the surgery; he just had the Tommy John. So he will be rehabbing down there in Tampa.”
Is there a player in the organization who kind of stands out to you as being under the radar and maybe someone the fans should be keeping an eye on?
Oppenheimer: “Well, I think you guys had one in Kevin Russo here. He’s made a lot of progress and he’s done a good job. I don’t know if that’s under the radar anymore, he’s hitting .330-something in Triple-A. But he wasn’t a big name guy. Kevin’s a guy that people should really keep their eye on. He can play and he’s performed.”
Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com