Watching 150 to 160 baseball games per year means I get to see games with dozens of different people. Each one brings something to the table, and the experience is never the same with any two. I enjoy games differently when watching with Ben than I do watching with Mike. The experience really changes as I watch with more casual fans, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. They might not have the hardcore, intricate knowledge of the game, but if they’re watching they’re watching for a reason.
One of my best friends pays particular attention to the commentators. He hates phrases like “late break” and pokes fun when announcers make over-generalized, and usually false, statements. It’s not just the negative he picks out, though. One phrase he always notes is, “former Yankee farmhand.” It seems like one of the commentators says it every time we watch a game. Have the Yankees really sent that much talent through their system?
On LoHud today, Jesse Ghiorzi assembled the all former Yankee team. I want to take that in a different direction, assembling a team of players around the league who played, at one point or another, in the Yankees’ system. It won’t be as good as Jesse’s team, but it’ll be interesting to see who came up with the Yankees.
Catcher: Brad Ausmus
Drafted in the 48th round of the 1987 draft, Ausmus never donned pinstripes in the majors. Before the 1993 season the Rockies selected him with the 54th pick of the expansion draft, and then they flipped him to the Padres mid-season. Ausmus was never much of a hitter, reaching a 100 OPS+ just once as a full-time catcher, during his career year in 1999 for Detroit. He’ll turn 41 this year on the same days I turn 28, and is still kicking around, having just signed a minor league deal with the Dodgers.
Career line: .252/.325/.344
First base: Marcus Thames
In a way it makes sense that the best former Yankee farmhand first baseman is a guy who has logged just 239.1 innings there in his career. For years the Yankees sought a first baseman better in the field than Jason Giambi, and for years they settled for mediocre free agents. I suppose Andy Phillips could fit here, but I’m not even sure he’s still in the game. Thames is teamless currently, after six seasons in Detroit. Might the Yankees look to bring him back on a minor league contract? (Ed. Note: Phillips spent 2009 with the Hiroshima Toyo Carp. He’ll start 2010 with the Japanese Pacific League’s Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.)
Career line: .243/.306/.491
Second base: Alberto Gonzalez
He’s technically a shortstop, but the pickings were slim for second basemen. Plus, he has 391 major league innings at second and 475 at short, so it’s close enough. Gonzalez came to the Yankees when they traded Randy Johnson back to Arizona. He wasn’t supposed to amount to much more than a utility infielder, and that’s basically what he’s become. He spent just a year and change in the Yankees system before they traded him for Jhonny Nunez in 2008. (The Yankees included Nunez in the Swisher trade.)
Update: There were two trades with the Nats in 2008, and I mixed them up. Sorry.
Career line: .256/.298/.345
Third base: Mike Lowell
Drafted in the 20th round of the 1995 draft, Lowell wore the pinstripes for just eight games, covering 15 plate appearances. That was the year they acquired Scott Brosius, and he put up the best year of his career. High on Marlins pitching prospect Ed Yarnall, the Yankees traded him south in the off-season of 1998-99 and saw little return on it. Lowell went on to post big numbers for the Marlins, and followed that up with a quality four years in Boston.
Career line: .280/.343/.468
Shortstop: Christian Guzman
Two years after they drafted Derek Jeter, the Yankees signed Christian Guzman as an amateur free agent. He made his stateside debut with the GCL Yankees two years later, posting a respectable .294/.341/.382 line. After an uninspiring 1997 season, spent mostly in Greensboro of the Class-A Sally league, the Yankees traded Guzman to the Twins in the Chuck Knoblauch trade.
Career line: .271/.307/.386
Corner OF: Alfonso Soriano
I’m sure there are people who assume that the Yankees signed Soriano as an amateur free agent, but they actually purchased his contract from a Japanese team in 1998. He spent most of the next two seasons in the Yankees’ system, posting good power numbers, especially for a second baseman. He hit .290/.327/.464 in AAA in 2000 before finally getting the call-up for good in 2001. The Yankees, as we know, then traded him for Alex Rodriguez in 2004.
Career line: .278/.326/.510
Corner OF: Juan Rivera
After the 2003 season, it appeared the Yankees might have something in Rivera. The 24-year-old showed flashes of power, slugging .468 with seven home runs and 14 doubles in 185 plate appearances. He figured to start in right field for the 2004 season, but the Yankees needed pitching after Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens, and David Wells all left. They traded him to Montreal in the Javy Vazquez trade, and a year later Montreal flipped him to the Angels, where he continues to play. Last season was the first time he eclipsed 500 plate appearances in his career.
Career line: .285/.331/.470
Center field: Melky Cabrera
He hasn’t played another game for his new franchise yet, but he’s a former Yankee farmhand playing elsewhere. Considering the other former Yankee center fielders out there (read: none), this is an easy choice. Signed as an amateur free agent in 2001, Melky came stateside in 2003 and spent most of the next three seasons in the minors before getting the full-time call in 2006, when both Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield got hurt early in the year.
Career line: .269/.331/.385
SP: Ted Lilly
Lilly is kind of a stretch here, because he spent just one season in the Yankees system. They acquired him from the Expos in the Hideki Irabu deal, and then flipped him two years later to acquire Jeff Weaver from the Tigers. Regardless of time spent in the minors, he’s easily the best pitcher on this list.
Career ERA: 4.25
SP: Ross Ohlendorf
Like Lilly, Ohlendorf spent limited time in the Yankees system after they acquired him from another team. Like Alberto Gonzalez, Ohlendorf came over in the Randy Johnson trade and spent much of the 2007 season in the minors. The Yankees liked him in his limited relief role that year and kept him in the bullpen in 2008, where he was hot and cold before being demoted and eventually traded. He had a pretty good season starting for the Pirates.
Career ERA: 4.54
SP: Jeff Karstens
Also involved in the Nady/Marte trade, Karstens actually spent his younger years in the Yankees’ system, having been drafted in the 19th round of the 2003 draft. He came up in 2006 when the team desperately needed starters and pitched well enough. A line drive off his leg cut short his 2007 season, and he didn’t pitch in the bigs in 2008 until the trade to Pittsburgh.
Career ERA: 5.15
SP: Eric Milton
Another component of the Knoblauch trade, Milton seemed like the one the Yankees would regret. While he did p[itch well in the late 90s and early 2000s, Milton’s production peaked in 2001 and never really returned. Since he signed his first free agent contract in 2004 he’s been basically useless. He did return to the Yankees’ system in 2008 as he recovered from Tommy John surgery, but he signed a minor league deal with the Dodgers before the 2009 season.
Career ERA: 4.99
RP: Jose Veras
RP: Manny Acosta
RP: Russ Springer
RP: Ramon Ramirez
RP: Tyler Clippard
Looking back at the list, it seems like the Yankees did a good job of hanging onto the right guys. Lowell is easily the best name the Yankees let go, and while that hurts, it did leave open the door to the Alex Rodriguez acquisition. Especially on the pitching side, it seems like the Yankees did well to trade guys who didn’t come back to bite them.
Am I missing anyone from this list?
Update: From the commenters, players I left off this list: Jake Westbrook, Ian Kennedy. I left off Carlos Pena because he signed a MiL contract when he was out of options, and was just depth, rather than a developing player.