Yanks grab Judge-esque OF, ace RHP in Draft

Yanks grab Judge-esque OF, ace RHP in Draft

NEW YORK — The Yankees using a first-round pick in the MLB Draft to select a big-swinging, 6-foot-7 collegiate outfielder, one capable of blistering balls past fielders with eye-popping exit velocity readings? There’s something very familiar about all of this.

When the Yankees selected Vanderbilt outfielder Spencer Jones with the 25th overall pick in the 2022 MLB Draft on Sunday, it was impossible not to contrast and compare against the club’s 2013 choice of Aaron Judge from Fresno State University.

With their second and final selection on Day 1, the Yankees selected Cal Poly San Luis Obispo right-hander Drew Thorpe with the 61st overall pick.

As evidenced by Judge’s MVP-caliber season, one that has the slugger heading to his fourth All-Star Game this week in Los Angeles, that gamble by Yanks vice president and director of amateur scouting Damon Oppenheimer has paid off. Perhaps history will also view this year’s choice of Jones favorably.

“We were very happy to have been able to select Spencer,” said Damon Oppenheimer, Yankees vice president of domestic amateur scouting. “We love how athletic he is and that he can play center field. He is a legitimate five-tool type guy with big power and plus speed. He has some of the best exit velocity in this year’s draft. We are really excited about his ceiling.”

The 21-year-old Jones boosted his Draft stock with a breakout junior season at Vanderbilt, where he batted .370/.460/.643 with 21 doubles, three triples, 12 homers, 60 RBIs and 14 stolen bases in 61 games.

A two-way player who missed part of the ’21 season while recovering from arm injuries that included Tommy John surgery, scouts view the 225-pound left-handed hitter as having the potential to hit for average, while producing solid contact and scorching hits past fielders.

“This year, finally being healthy, I have that confidence that I’m a dude,” Jones told The Tennessean. “I can go out there and play with everybody.”

At last month’s MLB Draft combine in San Diego, Jones averaged 103.6 mph on his 10 swings and had the day’s hardest-hit ball at 112.2 mph. Like Judge, there is some swing-and-miss in Jones’ offensive game; he struck out 64 times against 32 walks in 230 at-bats this year.

Jones has also taken the field for the Brewster Whitecaps of the Cape Cod League — the same club for which Judge patrolled center field a decade ago.

“His future is well ahead of him, and you can’t say that about every kid,” Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin told The Athletic earlier this month. “Sometimes they max themselves out. You can’t say that about Spencer. He’s just starting to climb the stairs right now. I think 10 years from now, we’re going to look back and say, ‘Whoa, what a big league career he’s having.’”

The Angels previously selected the Encinitas, Calif., product in the 31st round of the 2019 Draft. This year, he was named to the All-SEC second team and earned honors as the Corvallis Regional Most Outstanding Player. Jones is the first outfielder selected with the Yanks’ top pick since high schooler Blake Rutherford was the 18th overall choice in 2016.

A finalist for the NCAA’s National Pitcher of the Year, the 21-year-old Thorpe made 15 starts as Cal Poly’s ace this past season. He was 10-1 with an NCAA-leading 149 strikeouts in 104 2/3 innings, posting a 2.32 ERA while holding opponents to a .175 batting average.

“He just has the right mentality,” Cal Poly head coach Larry Lee told the San Luis Obispo (Calif.) Tribune. “He has swing-and-miss stuff, and he wants to strike everybody out.”

The 6-foot-4, 190-pound Thorpe hails from St. George, Utah, where he was an undrafted two-way player out of Desert Hills High, having pitched and played shortstop. Upon arrival at Cal Poly, Lee determined that Thorpe’s future should be on the mound, noticing that the hurler showcased a promising changeup.

Thorpe also throws a four-seam fastball that sits in the low 90s, while touching 96 mph, and a developing slider. This past season, Thorpe was third in the nation in hits allowed per nine innings (5.59), sixth in WHIP (0.86), 10th in wins (10) and 13th in strikeouts per nine innings (12.81).

“We love Drew’s size and the Major League stuff and command he possesses,” said Oppenheimer. “We have seen him up to 96 (mph) and he has arguably the best changeup in the draft. He is still projectable to add velocity and his overall ability to create swing-and-miss is elite. He has the ability to move quickly through the minor leagues with a good Major League starter ceiling.”

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