INDIANAPOLIS -- The last time the Yankees had the first pick in a draft was 1991, when they took Brien Taylor first overall in the June amateur draft. On Thursday, thanks to the Brian Bruneytrade with the Nationals, the Yankees had the rights to the first pick in the Rule 5 draft, and they hope outfielder Jamie Hoffmann, whom New York selected from the Dodgers, has more success than Taylor ultimately did.
Hoffman has major league experience and tools, and at 25 he's still got room to improve. He hit .291/.390/.466 between Double-A Chattanooga and Triple-A Albuquerque last season, and went 4 for 22 with a homer in 14 big league games. He's a career .285/.357/.407 hitter in 2,428 at-bats since singing as a nondrafted free agent in August of 2003.
"He's a big, physical outfielder with big league experience," said Yankees pro scouting director Billy Eppler. "Our scouts saw some good things in him, including good defensive ability and a good arm. He runs well for his size, we've got him as a 55 runner [scouts use a 20-to-80 scale to grade each tool; 50 is considered major league average] at 6-foot-3, 235. Kevin Long, our hitting coordinator, looked at him on video and thinks there's a foundation there hitting-wise."
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said that Hoffmann will compete for the final roster spot for the World Series champions. Hoffmann was also picked in the 2003 NHL draft by the Carolina Hurricanes. "He's got a hockey mentality, a Minnesota kid," Cashman said. "A very athletic, hard-nosed outfielder."
Hoffmann was the first of 17 players picked in the major league phase of Thursday's draft, with 21 players going in the Triple-A phase and four in the Double-A phase. Among the major league phase players, just three position players were picked -- Hoffman, outfielder John Raynor and third baseman Jorge Jimenez.
Raynor, a top-of-the-line runner, went second overall to the Pirates, who selected him from the Marlins system. Jimenez went eighth overall to the Astros, who sent him to the Marlins to complete the Matt Lindstromdeal. Florida assistant general manager Dan Jennings said that the Marlins consider Jimenez to have 80 arm strength and a chance to stick at third base, and they like his left-handed bat, as he has shown strength and bat speed. Jimenez hit .289/.366/.422 at Double-A Portland in 2009 and is a career .298/.377/.423 hitter who clubbed 13 of his 24 career home runs in '09.
The major league phase included lefty Chuck Lofgren, selected by the Brewers from the Indians. He has the best pedigree of anyone selected on Thursday, having been Cleveland's No. 2 prospect heading into 2007. He was a fourth-round pick in 2004 out of famed Serra High in San Mateo, Calif., and has Triple-A experience.
However, he also had a miserable 2008 season, including a disastrous turn in the Arizona Fall League, a year when his mother was diagnosed with cancer. He struggled in Triple-A in 2009 (6-10, 5.31) after a good 3-1, 1.48 start at Double-A Akron. Lofgren throws both a two- and four-seam fastball, as well as a curveball, slider and changeup.
Reached by phone on Thursday morning, Lofgren was excited for a new opportunity with the Brewers, who have only one lefty reliever in Mitch Stetter and are also looking for starting pitchers.
"Obviously it's sad in a way because I made a lot of friends with Cleveland, and I respect the players and the front office in that organization," Lofgren said. "But I have to be excited because I have been picked by a club like Milwaukee that wants me.
"I'd describe myself as determined, a bulldog on the mound, someone who always keeps my head up no matter what the situation is. When my mom got sick, there were things out of my control that affected me, but she's survived cancer and is feeling better."
Lofgren was one of six left-handers picked in the major league phase. The Royals will give their pick, Edgar Osuna, a chance to start. They were familiar with the Braves lefty, as many members of Kansas City's front office came with GM Dayton Moore from Atlanta. Pro scouting coordinator Gene Watson said that the Royals were excited to find a potential starter in the Rule 5 and that Osuna clinched his selection by pitching well in the Mexican Pacific League, where he was 1-0, 1.40 in 19 innings while being used primarily in relief.
"He has very good command and feel as a left-hander," Watson said. "He's putting up good numbers in Mexico and we're excited about him. We have history with the kid and feel like there's upside [because] he has very good fastball command and a good curveball."
Other lefty relievers picked include Zack Kroenke, who goes from the Yankees to the Diamondbacks after posting a 1.99 ERA at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last year, and Ben Snyder, whom the Orioles selected from the Giants. Baltimore then traded Snyder to the Rangers to complete the Kevin Millwooddeal. The Giants took right-hander Steven Johnson, son of ex-big leaguer Dave, from the Orioles.
"I was with the Dodgers when they drafted Johnson," Giants scouting director John Barr said, "but this was really from what our scouts saw. When we had our meetings, they were enthusiastic about his ability to throw four pitches for strikes. Dick Tidrow and these guys do a great job with pitchers. We're sorry to lose Snyder because he was solid at [Double-A] Connecticut for us, and we realized he had a chance to get picked [because] he's got a solid fastball and spins a breaking ball.
"The Rule 5 is like any draft. People like to say there's no players, but you'll look up and see that there was talent in this draft, like there is in any draft."
The Rule 5 draft has been a staple of the winter meetings for years and was created as a method to prevent teams from stockpiling talent in their minor league systems. Players not on major league rosters would otherwise have little or no chance to play elsewhere, though that restriction was further eased in the 1980s when minor leaguers got the right to become free agents after six full seasons.
Major league teams must protect players on their 40-man rosters within three or four years of their original signing. Those left unprotected are available to other teams as Rule 5 picks.
Players who were 18 or younger on June 5 preceding the signing of their first contract must be protected after four minor league seasons. Players 19 and older must be protected after three seasons.
Teams pay $50,000 apiece for players in the Rule 5 draft. They must either remain on the major league 25-man roster or disabled list all season or be offered back to their original club for $25,000. Every once in a while, a Rule 5 pick makes a significant impact, Pittsburgh's Roberto Clemente in 1954 (from the Dodgers) being the classic example. Johan Santana, Dan Uggla and Josh Hamilton were also Rule 5 picks.