Bloodlines key theme of Yankees' Draft
From Bichette to James, club values those with family history
NEW YORK -- Seeing a familiar last name on the Draft board has been a warning sign for Damon Oppenheimer more often than not.
"You have to really read through it," the Yankees vice president of amateur scouting said Thursday. "Sometimes the pedigree guys, they feel like they're entitled, and this one doesn't act like he's entitled to anything."
That one is Dante Bichette Jr., the Yankees' first-round choice with the 51st overall pick in this year's First-Year Player Draft and the son of the former big-leaguer with the same name.
Bichette Jr. was one of three players the Yankees selected during the three-day Draft that has a relative with Major-League playing experience, joining Justin James (13th round, No. 419 overall) and Conner Mach (46th, No. 1,409).
By the conclusion of the Draft on Wednesday, the Yankees had taken 34 pitchers with their 50 picks, including 27 right-handers. Twenty-eight of New York's picks were out of high school. Eight outfielders, seven infielders and one catcher were taken.
"I think most drafts end up with a lot of pitching, but I honestly thought that we ended up with some more power, potential power bats that could possibly be middle of the lineup-type guys," Oppenheimer said, citing Bichette Jr., Matthew Duran (fourth round, 149th overall), Gregory Byrd (fifth, No. 179) and Austin Jones (seventh, No. 239).
He added: "You're going to end up with a lot of pitching. We know we needed to infuse some power into the system and it seemed like it was what was available this year to us. Last year it seemed like it was middle of the field. This year it seemed like there was more corner power guys."
The 18-year-old Bichette Jr. was chief among them. A two-time All-Central Florida Player of the Year, Bichette Jr. led Orangewood Christian High School with a .640 batting average while scoring 58 runs and collecting 10 doubles, 14 home runs and 30 RBIs in 30 games. He played shortstop but projects as a third baseman or corner outfielder at the next level.
His father, Dante Bichette, enjoyed a 14-year career with five teams, hitting .299. He was so close with current Yankees manager Joe Girardi during their playing days that Girardi named his son Dante.
"Our club felt he was the best available player at that spot, and I'm thrilled to death, because I've known this little guy for a long time," Girardi said.
Bichette Jr. said he used to call Girardi "Uncle Joe," joking that he would likely have to cut that out now that he hopes to one day play for the Yankees' skipper.
So do James and Mach. James is the son of Dion James, who hit .288 over an 11-year, four-team career in the Majors that ended with the Yankees 15 years ago.
Justin James hit .309 in 43 games this past season for Sacramento City College, driving in 20 runs and stealing 19 bases.
Mach has hit .288 for Missouri. His grandfather, Phil Gagliano, hit .238 during a 12-year, four-team career from 1963-74.
Bichette Jr. knows the advantage of having another big leaguer in the same family.
"I think my dad definitely taught me from a young age to hit as a big leaguer would, to behave myself on the field as a big leaguer would and to have a strike zone, which is very important, as a big leaguer would," Bichette Jr. said.
Bichette Jr., who has committed to the University of Georgia, said he has every intention of joining the pros as soon as he can.
"I'm going in, as I was hoping I'd be able to get on the field as soon as I can," said Bichette, who is advised by Dan Evans. "So I think we'll be able to reach a conclusion pretty quickly and get out there."
It is that mentality that stood out for Oppenheimer, who said he also does not think there will be any problems coming to terms on a deal.
In Bichette Jr., Oppenheimer saw none of the typical warning signs he has come across in the past while evaluating relatives of former big leaguers - be it pampered, overly-sheltered or financially well-off.
"This kid works; he is a hardworker," Oppenhiemer said of Bichette Jr. "His regiment, his schedule, his routine, from the way he eats, to the yoga, to the spending time at the gym to hitting is second to none. There haven't been many like this in terms of what he does makeup wise.
"The parents have installed in him what it takes to be a professional baseball player from on the field to off the field, so that's a big obstacle that he's already working through. So I think with this situation it's, you get guys sometimes in [the] draft whose goals are to be drafted, whether the goals are to be drafted high or their goals are to get X amount of dollars from the draft. And in this situation his goal has nothing to do with where he's drafted. His goal has to do with what kind of Major League Baseball player he's going to be, and that's a different mindset that some guys have to learn later, and he doesn't have to learn that. He knows what he wants, so it's a big deal."
Matt Fortuna is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.