Last night we went with a “top [whatever] of the decade” theme for the open thread, so let’s continue with that today. Baseball America is running a series in which they looking back at each organization’s top ten prospects of the decade, and so far they’ve gotten to all the clubs in the NL East, NL Central, and NL West. I’m not sure when they’ll get to the AL, probably tomorrow, but I’m going to beat them to it and post my top ten Yankee prospects of the decade.
First off, let’s address the best/worst draft pick issue like BA. Clearly, the Yanks’ best draft pick of the last ten years is Joba Chamberlain. He was a top ten talent before concerns about his weight and a triceps injury caused him to fall all the way to the 41st overall pick in 2006. He’s since rocketed to the big leagues, and his +4.5 career WAR is far and away the best by of Yankee draft pick of the decade (Brett Gardner & Phil Hughes are tied for second at +2.2 each).
As for the worst pick, I’m going to go with Jon Poterson, though I suspect BA will go with a bigger name like Eric Duncan or C.J. Henry. Both Duncan and Henry were elite high school prospects deserving of their first round selection, while Poterson was just a straight up overdraft. The Yanks second pick (#37 overall) in 2004 was a big bodied and unathletic catcher that had to move out from behind the plate before the ink dried on his contract, and he hit just .207-.265-.326 in 215 career games, none above A-ball. Poterson was playing in an independent league less than three years after being drafted. Just a brutal, brutal pick.
Okay, let’s move on to the top ten prospects of the decade. This is all done in hindsight, based on what these guys have gone on to do, not what they were projected to do when they were just minor leaguers. If this were based on potential, it would be Drew Henson then everyone else.
- Alfonso Soriano, 2B: One homer away from becoming the fourth member of the 40-40 club in 2002 (he later joined with the Nats), Soriano hit .284-.322-.502 with 98 homers and 121 steals in 501 games for the Bombers before being traded away for some guy named Alex Rodriguez.
- Robbie Cano, 2B: A career .306-.339-.480 hitter at age 26, Cano has developed into a bat control freak that’s on the brink of stardom.
- Chien-Ming Wang, RHP: Easily the most productive pitcher the Yanks have developed since Andy Pettitte, Wang won 55 games in parts of five seasons with the Yanks, although his tenure came to an abrupt end last weekend because of injuries.
- Nick Johnson, 1B: The man who led all of professional baseball (majors and minors) with a .501 OBP (!!!) during the ’98-’99 seasons quietly hit .256-.376-.424 in parts of three seasons with the Yanks before being dealt in a package for Javy Vazquez.
- Juan Rivera, OF: Traded away in the same deal as Johnson, Rivera has gone to post an under-the-radar .285-.331-.470 batting line while playing solid defense in the corner outfield spots.
- Marcus Thames, OF: Only Soriano has more career homers than Thames among players on this list, and although his contribution to the Yankees was limited, Thames has six productive seasons (107 OPS+) for the Tigers.
- Joba Chamberlain, RHP: Just three full seasons into his pro career, Joba’s already got a 31 start season in the big leagues under his belt, plus a rep as being a dominant reliever. Best of both worlds, I guess.
- Phil Hughes, RHP: Hughes is the messiah, the first prospect that represented the team’s newfound dedication to building from within after years of eschewing the farm system. Still just 23, Hughes has already been a major contributor out of the bullpen for a World Championship club.
- Dioner Navarro, C: Pudgito never got much of a chance in pinstripes, though he’s gone on to be a serviceable backstop for two clubs, not to mention an All Star for a pennant winning club.
- Melky Cabrera, OF: Everybody’s favorite fourth outfielder is still just 25-years-old, and has been a fixture in the Yanks’ outfield for the last four seasons. He enjoyed the best season of his career in 2009, hitting .274-.336-.416.
The talent production really starts to drop off after that. There’s Al Aceves, Brett Gardner, David Robertson, Phil Coke, Brad Halsey, and Andy Phillips, none of whom has sustained much of anything in the majors to this point. Just four of the ten players listed above were drafted by the Yanks, the other six were signed off the international market. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: the draft gets all the attention, but the international market continues to be the backbone of the Yanks’ system.