The story behind how Nick Yorke landed with the Red Sox

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By WEEI 93.7

Shorts.

That's how Nick Yorke's relationship with the Red Sox began.

It was Josh Labandeira's athletic wear, to be exact, that allowed for the initial introduction, which started on a bench at Banner Island Ballpark in Stockton, Calif. and was punctuated with the Red Sox using the 17th overall pick in Wednesday night's MLB Draft on Yorke.

"His older brother Joey was at the tryout and I happened to have my Fresno State shorts and he goes, ‘Hey man, my mom went there.’ I said, 'No kidding. What is your mom’s last name? He said 'Yorke.' I almost fell off the bench and I said, ‘Your mom is Robyn Yorke,'" Labandeira said via a Wednesday night phone call with WEEI.com. "I started talking with Joey and met Nick the same day."

Of course, the Red Sox scout knew Robyn Yorke. She was the four-time All-American softball player who helped recruit Labandeira's wife to Fresno State, where the couple met.

"I got to meet him that day. The relationship started there," Labandeira said. "The game is going on and the kid is right next to me and we’re talking throughout the game. We talked about pitching. We talked about the hitters and what he’s looking for. The kid was just so far advanced. He just knew a whole lot about his swing and what he was trying to do. An advanced player mentally.

"Nick had me from Day 1. His personality will grab you. Just an all-around great kid. Great personality. Can light the room up. He has the 'It' factor around his teammate. He has a presence. The way the other kids interact to him, the respect they have for him … I don’t know to how keep describing … His makeup alone, man. He’s going to win you over when you get around him. It’s how he is. He’s an amazing person."

Flash forward to Wednesday night and the rest of the world got their introduction to Yorke.

#RedSox fans might be looking for video of their first-rounder, Nick Yorke. Here you go. pic.twitter.com/jnZB1iDhyi

— Josh Norris (@jnorris427) June 11, 2020

MLB Network. ESPN. The analysts commentating on the pick were universal in their surprise, offering the impression that this was quite a reach for the Red Sox. That was their opinion. As far as Labandeira was concerned, they didn't understand the Northern Californian high schooler like he did. Like the Red Sox did.

"That was a shame because they don't know Nick," the scout said of those initial bits of analysis.

"You can look at a couple of years ago when Dylan Carlson went in the first round (of the 2016 Draft to the Cardinals) but we have seen how Dylan Carlson has turned out. He’s one of the premier prospects int he game. It boils down to how much do you feel comfortable with the player, not necessarily what the outside rankings are. We spent a lot of time with Nick. We were comfortable with Nick’s ability and the potential that he could be a special player down the road."

How comfortable? Pretty darn comfortable.

"Time will tell, obviously," said Red Sox Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom on a Wednesday night Zoom call with the media. "There’s a lot of unknowns with anything in the draft but I think we have to focus first and foremost on the process we have and with respect to the evaluation ability of the guys here when it comes to high school hitters I’d put them up against anybody in the industry so we felt really good about the process and recognizing there’s always unknown with the draft. I think you have to stick with your own process rather than focusing on outside opinions."

"Quite honestly, I think at least our perception of the industry’s interest in him didn’t match the public perception," added Red Sox Amateur Scouting Director Paul Toboni on the same call.

It is a perception that was born from that first meeting in Stockton.

Labandeira kept the conversations going with Yorke. The middle infielder had his bumps in the road -- having to live life as a designated hitter his junior year due to shoulder surgery -- but the momentum never stopped when it came to the Red Sox' interest in the righty hitter.

Yorke would play in seven high school games before the COVID-19 shutdown, with Toboni getting a chance to witness five of them. The scouting boss was getting a chance to see what Labandeira had been telling him about.

"His junior year I went to a game on purpose. I showed up and he homered at the game I was there. I joked with him, saying, ‘I know you were swinging for the fences because I was videotaping you.’ He just chuckled and laughed," the Sox scout said. "From that point on I spent a lot of time with him. He’s the kind of kid where it’s like talking to one of your buddies, like your teammates. He’s just really easy to talk to. He’s very mature for his age.

"I can’t say enough about his makeup and what drives him on a daily basis. The kid wants to be a good player and is going to be a good player. It’s just how his mind works. He’s one of the best hitters I have had in the area since I started scouting. He’s a difference-maker in my opinion and that’s what you’re looking for at the top, a kid who is going to be able to swing the bat, control the strike zone and provide some power. He’s just going to be a very good player."

The ultimate sign of faith in Yorke of course came Wednesday night.

With plenty of higher-profile high school and college names still on the board, the Red Sox shocked the baseball world. Yorke, who had been slated to enroll at the University of Arizona before coming to a financial arrangement with the Sox for a deal under the slot price of $3.61 million -- ("Once their requirements hit my requirements it was kind of just an opportunity to jump on and go play ball for them," he said on a Zoom call Wednesday night) -- was being identified as a big part of the Red Sox' future.

"Deep down inside I really hope we were going to take him at 17 but when we actually called his name … I was really surprised. I had no clue we were going to take him at 17," Labandeira said. "I knew I had put us in a position for us to scout him to take him at 17. The kid just lived up to the hype with everything I said about him. When Paul got around him he saw a lot of things I saw, and not just the tools."

"I remember working him out sometime in December and he was driving away and I asked him if he was going to get something to eat and he was leaving the park and going straight to the Christmas tree lot til midnight then he was going to study and sleep and wake up and do it all over again," Toboni remembered. "Just a blue-collar baseball rat, the type of kid that from the time he was 6 years old was riding his bicycle with his two brothers to the park and they were throwing batting practice to each other for hours on end. Then just the type of kid he is. You talk to the athletic director at the school and his teachers and what he does for the students who maybe aren’t athletes or aren’t involved in much socially and him going out of his way to help those kids, we kept hearing it from so many different angles and it’s so easy to see when you talk to the kids. He’s a really special kid."