The Yankees select the 20th Sunday in the first round of the MLB draft. It ties in with their fifth highest pick in the last 28 drafts.
At that time, their initial election has never been higher than the 16th, reflecting their winning records for more than a quarter of a century and the signing of free agents that has led to losing elections as compensation. Their first choice has been 30 or later eight times in that period – and on three occasions, 51 or later.
So even though the Yankees have found too little production (even average production), much less influence, in the draft, there are mitigating factors, none more relevant than where they draw. Remember that the draft mainly involves domestic players ̵
Also with other sports growing in popularity, athletic talent is drained from the draft. So not having regular access to the top five or ten choices where the difference in making a difference complicates the drafting.
At the end of 4. the July weekend there had been 955 played players in the majors this year. Of those, 173 – or 18.1 percent – were elected before the Yankees had their first election.
By Wednesday, no organization had drafted more position players who were in the top 50 in the combined Wins Above Replacement from 2019-21 than the Astros’ four. But three of them – Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman and George Springer – were all called up before the Yankees were selected (Ramon Laureano, taken in the 16th round was the fourth).
Having a friendly hitter like the Mets’ Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo and Dom Smith would benefit the Yankees. But they were taken 10th, 11th and 13th overall.
Perhaps most famously, the Angels used a compensation pick that was received when the Yankees signed Mark Teixeira as a free agent to take Mike Trout for a total of 25 (a pick after they had already grabbed Randall Grichuk). I believe the stories that the Yankees valued trout much higher than most of the industry and had him as number two on their board in general to Stephen Strasburg. Instead, they did not choose until the 29th and took Slade Heathcott.
Trout were among 44 out of 65 All-Stars announced last weekend who were drawn. The Yankees picked two – Aaron Judge and Mark Melancon. But of the other 42, a third (14) were drafted before the Yankees got a turn.
“American baseball is good,” said Damon Oppenheimer, who has run the Yankees’ draft scout director since 2005. “But the impact on these [later first-round] areas are thin. It’s really slim. The difference makers are the best choices, and choosing 20-50, it is a completely different type of player and ceiling. Everything is different on it. It’s not the same opportunity to get high-end impact guys. ”
To try to compensate, the Yankees have often played on great talent who had gone for various reasons. Heathcott fell into that category as a left-wing, athletic center field. So did Andrew Brackman, a 6-foot-10 athlete with double sport (basketball) in North Carolina State who went 30th to the Yankees in 2007. So did Gerrit Cole, who the Yankees took 28th in 2008 despite of strong insistence that he should go to UCLA (as he did).
But what did the Yankees miss? For example, I do not think it is fair to ask: Why did the Yankees not take JD Martinez rather than Heathcott? Martinez was taken in the 20th round in 2009 by the Astros – meaning even Houston ignored him for 19 rounds. It’s fairer to look at who was taken within 10 picks of the Yankees’ first choice as the general pool of who could have been taken instead. Often there was a better choice or two, but in general there was also a lack of greatness and many who never did majors.
So just a snapshot from, for example, 2010-17 – the drafts that most fill the current list: In 2010, when the Yankees took the Cito Culver 32nd, five of the next 10 never made it to the big ones and the best in this range was Noah Syndergaard . In 2011, the Yankees’ Dante Bichette Jr. took over. 51. Blake Snell walked beside the rays. But he was actually Tampa Bay’s seventh out of 10 first-round picks, five of which never reached the big ones and the second-best after Snell was Mikie Mahtook.
In 2012, with the 30th pick, the Yankees once again tried boom-or-bust with high-loft high school pitcher Ty Hensley – who, like Bichette and Culver, never made the big ones – and the next 10 picks included Jose Berrios, Mitch Haniger and Joey Gallo. In 2013, the Yankees had the 26th, 32nd and 33rd picks. Two – Eric Jagielo and Ian Clarkin – never played in the majors, but the Yankees had by far the best pick in this area in the Judge. In 2014, the Yankees’ first choice was first Jacob Lindgren at 55, and Alex Verdugo was in the next 10.
In 2015, the Yankees’ James Kaprielian took 16th place. He helped them land Sonny Gray, who in the end this year is healthy and throws well. Walker Buehler was the only quality player in the next 10.
In 2016, the Yankees selected Blake Rutherford 16. He has yet to play in the majors, but was key to helping the Yankees land Todd Frazier, Tommy Kahnle and David Robertson of the White Sox. Kahnle and Robertson were originally Yankees drafts; Robertson was part of Oppenheimer’s best draft in 2006, when the Yankees also landed Ian Kennedy, Joba Chamberlain, Dellin Betances and Melancon.
But 2016 was also when the Yankees’ West Coast doubles, the Dodgers, had a brilliant move, taking Gavin Lux and catcher Will Smith after the Yankees selected Rutherford. So in consecutive years, the Yankees could have had Buehler and either Lux or Smith rather than Kaprielian and Rutherford, highlighting a reason why the Dodgers have risen while the Yankees roll.
In 2017, the Yanks took Clarke Schmidt first. The best currently from the next 10 is David Peterson of the Mets.
Where have the Yankees fared well? Presence. Annually, they have among the most played players in the majors. They had 38 last year – only the Cardinals (43), Royals (43) and Astros (39) had more. They were tied for second place in 2019 with 42 and 2018 with 45. But what is generally lacking is advanced expertise.
Not that Baseball America is infallible, but it does provide a picture at the moment. And the Yankees have not had a drawn pitcher in their top-30 rankings before the season since Chamberlain was third in 2008, and no position player since 2002, when Drew Henson was ninth and Nick Johnson 13th.
The Yankees have only had 13 playoff positions in majors this year: Judge, Jake Cave, Dustin Fowler, Ben Gamel, Brett Gardner, Chris Gittens, Kyle Higashioka, Mark Payton, Rob Refsnyder, Austin Romine, Nick Solak, Tyler Wade and Mason Williams. Referee, Gardner Johnson and Austin Jackson have been by far the best draft Yankees position players of this century. One could say that the Yankees have used a general amateur philosophy of finding position players internationally like Robinson Cano and Gary Sanchez and drafting pitchers. But they have not exactly excelled at starting pitching either.
Some of this is explained by not having high choices. The Yankees’ development program is not celebrated around the sport either. Still, it’s not as if players like Cave, Gamel or Solak are leaving the Yankees’ teaching and excelling elsewhere.
It is also difficult to pull well. For example, there is a perception that rays and athletics build through the draft. But they are far more experts at finding underrated talent in industries – Tampa Bay had the fewest players pulled out in corn when it won the AL pennant. Few organizations are particularly good at consistently finding talent in the journal. The Cardinals stand out for doing that.
The Yankees are not the best, they are not the worst. But when trying to maintain expertise, they need more from their draft, no matter how late they choose.