By Joel Sherman
The Yankees pick 16th in Monday’s draft, their highest selection since taking Matt Drews 12th in 1993.
They have been so good for two-plus decades that they no longer have access to high draft picks. But that is bad because it means the Yankees do not have access to high draft picks.
Consider that through May 31, 768 players who had been drafted had played at least one inning in the majors this year. And 139 of them were taken before the Yankees ever selected.
That means the Yankees did not have even a chance to pick 18.1 percent of the drafted players currently in the majors.
And though there are good — and even great — players to be found beyond the first round, the surest stuff is at the top.
For example, since 2009 these drafted players have won the MVP (drafted, not international signs like Miguel Cabrera): Clayton Kershaw, Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen, Buster Posey, Ryan Braun,
Justin Verlander, Joey Votto, Josh Hamilton and Joe Mauer. All were picked before the Yankees’ first selection. All were first-round picks except Votto, who was taken in the second round in a year (2002) when the Yanks lost their first-round pick as compensation for signing free agent Jason Giambi.
Since 2009 these drafted players have won the Cy Young: Kershaw, Corey Kluber, Max Scherzer, R.A. Dickey, David Price, Justin Verlander, Roy Halladay, Tim Lincecum and Zack Greinke. Of that group, all were taken before the Yankees’ first pick except Kluber, who was a fourth-round tab by the Padres in 2007.
This is not to exonerate the Yankees. The general view is they have drafted better in the last few years, but for most of the two decades prior they selected and developed poorly, especially when it comes to position players.
They had just four drafted position players appear this year (Brett Gardner, Austin Jackson, Slade Heathcott and John Ryan Murphy).
Again, this is from the draft, so Yankees’ international signs such as Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera do not count. The Yanks hope they have turned this around and that players such as Aaron Judge, Eric Jagielo, Greg Bird and the rising Rob Refsnyder soon will play, and play well, in the majors.
Because it takes a while to develop players (particularly those taken out of high school), the key drafts to judge effectiveness begin four years earlier and stretch back a decade.
For now, that would mean looking at the 2002-11 drafts, from which 633 of the 784 active draft players (82.4 percent) were taken.
Keep in mind this study does not include those who have not played at all this year due to injury, such as Bobby Parnell, and the bulk numbers include both those who have had a major impact and those who have played as few as one game in 2015, but does not include players who have played in previous years but not in 2015.
The Yanks have 21 players in the majors from those drafts, 17th out of the 30 teams. But they simply whiffed big too often in that timeframe. They gambled, for example, in 2007 with the 30th overall pick on Andrew Brackman, liking his talent though he almost certainly was going to need Tommy John surgery.
In the next 48 picks, Todd Frazier, Josh Donaldson, Jordan Zimmermann, Giancarlo Stanton and Freddie Freeman were taken. To be fair, that means the entire industry — not just the Yanks — passed on all of those guys at least once.
But the Yanks had a lot of first-round whiffs in this era — such as Eric Duncan, C.J. Henry and Cito Culver. Six of their 13 first-round picks from that period never played in the majors, and Jeff Marquez pitched in four games and Brackman in three.
Their 2008 first pick has played in the majors — but never for the Yanks. Both the Yanks and Gerrit Cole’s advisor, Scott Boras, tell essentially the same story.
The Yanks knew Cole was going to be a high-priced tough sign out of high school, but his talent was just so much better than anyone else left on the board at the 28th pick.
However, the suggested slotting system that existed then necessitated first what amounted to a negotiation with the MLB commissioner’s office by a team owner or president to get a wink-wink that it was OK to go over slot.
In the time that was going on, Cole went for an extended recruiting trip to UCLA. He fell in love with the idea of pitching there and his parents felt that three years of college would lead to a higher selection and less time in the minors. They refused to even hear offers from the Yanks. And, indeed, Cole was the first overall pick by the Pirates in 2011, made just 42 minor league starts and had good results in 2013-14 before pitching like an ace so far this year.
The Yanks actually have done pretty well with pitchers, particularly relievers in the draft — even if Tyler Clippard, Joba Chamberlain and Dellin Betances were picked as starters, as opposed to Mark Melancon and David Robertson, who were taken as relievers. The Yanks have a rotation worth of drafted players — Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy, David Phelps, Adam Warren and Shane Greene.
The Cardinals, with 36, had the most drafted players still active and the second-most from that critical 2002-11 period. Much of their success is owed to their pipeline, as they had used the second-highest amount of homegrown players this year (19) to the Mets’ 21.
Conversely, the Giants were tied for the second fewest drafted players (18) and second fewest from 2002-11. Their key to winning championships is in not missing with top-10 picks in 2006-09 (Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner, Buster Posey and Zack Wheeler) plus finding most of their infield without top-of-the-first-round picks (Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt and Joe Panik).
The A’s have enjoyed regular success without having much use for their own draft picks. They had just four homegrown players on their roster this year — five fewer than any other team.
In fact, the 2014 A’s went to the playoffs using fewer of their own drafted players (three: Sean Doolittle, Sonny Gray and Dan Straily) then those picked by the Devil Rays — and there is no typo there, because John Jason, Jason Hammel, Stephen Vogt and Jonny Gomes were all picked by Tampa Bay before 2008, when it officially dropped the “Devil” from the team name.
The Mets ranked 11th in drafted players used this year (27) and those from 2002-11 (23), most of those still coming from Omar Minaya’s drafts as general manager (2005-10).
The Yanks have used 13 homegrown players this year, of which nine were drafted, but just three have provided much impact (Betances, Gardner and Warren, though their 2014 top pick, Jacob Lindgren is now up).
On Monday, they may have their best chance in more than two decades to find great impact.