Mailbag: Former Yankee farmhands succeeding elsewhere

Looking at Todd Coffey
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(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Bernie asks: Saw your tweet on Wilton Lopez and thought it might be a good idea for someone to put together a list of players that were drafted or signed by the Yankees but are currently enjoying success with another MLB team.

Bernie’s referring to this tweet, when I said I had no idea that Lopez, the great setup man for the Astros, was the same Wilton Lopez that pitched in the Yankees’ minor league system back in 2004. He actually retired after that year, then talked the Yankees into releasing him off the restricted list a few years later. Lopez then signed with the Padres and spent two years in their minor league system before being claimed off waivers by Houston in April of 2009. His 2010 season featured a 6.72 K/9 with a 55.7% ground ball rate and just four unintentional walks in 67 innings (0.53 uIBB/9), leading to a 2.96 ERA. With Matt Lindstrom gone, Lopez is expected to be Brandon Lyon’s primary setup man next season.

The other obvious player to mention is John Axford, who will start the 2011 season much like he finished the 2010 season: as Milwaukee’s closer. The Yanks signed him as an undrafted free agent after the 2006 draft and used him as a classic organizational arm the next year, assigning him to whichever affiliate needed a fresh arm on a given night. Axford pitched for Triple-A Scranton, High-A Tampa, Low-A Charleston, and Short Season Staten Island in 2007, striking out 9.6 batters per nine but walking 45 in 63 innings. He was released after the season, hooking on with the Brewers for 2008. He spent that year in the minors, and after the season Milwaukee tinkered with his mechanics, most notably raising his arm angle. That led to some increased velocity and earned him a September call-up in 2009. Axford established himself this past season with an 11.79 K/9 and a 3.72 uIBB/9 (2.48 ERA), usurping Trevor Hoffman as closer.

Carlos Monasterios, who the Yankees signed as an international free agent back in 2005, threw 88.1 innings with the Dodgers this past season, striking out just 5.30 batters per nine and unintentionally walking 2.64 (4.38 ERA). He was traded to the Phillies in the Bobby Abreu deal, then the Mets selected him in the 2009 Rule 5 Draft before selling him to the Dodgers for what I hope was some kind of profit. Zach Kroenke (2005 fifth rounder) is another Rule 5 guy, but the Diamondbacks worked out a deal to keep him in the organization this past season. He made a very brief big league cameo this September after the team turned him back into a starter in the minors. He’ll compete for a job in Spring Training.

The Yankees traded Ramon Ramirez to the Rockies for Shawn Chacon after signing him as an international free agent back in 2003. He’s since bounced from the Rockies to the Royals to the Red Sox to the Giants, accumulating a 3.29 ERA in 295.2 big league innings. Manny Acosta was signed as a international free agent back in 1998 before being released in 2003. He caught on the with the Braves, pitched out of their bullpen in parts of three seasons, and finished the 2010 season as one of Jerry Manuel’s better relievers. In 39.2 innings with the Mets, Acosta struck out 42 batters and walked 17 unintentionally, leading to a shiny 2.95 ERA.

Randy Flores (yet another reliever) is still around as well; the Yanks drafted him in the ninth round of the 1997 draft before trading him to Texas for Randy Velarde way back in the day. He’s enjoyed a moderately successful career as a lefty specialist, mostly with the Cardinals. Shelley Duncan (2001 second rounder) is still trying to make it work out in Cleveland, hitting eleven homers with a .324 wOBA in 259 plate appearances this past season. Matt Carson was the team’s fifth round pick in 2002, though he didn’t reach the big leagues until 2009, after signing with the Athletics as a minor league free agent. He owns a career .255 wOBA in 105 plate appearances.

Here’s a list of some other players that were originally drafted or signed by the Yankees, but went on to have varying degrees of success elsewhere. I probably don’t need to mention most of them, but I will anyway (in no particular order): Tyler Clippard, Austin Jackson, Mark Melancon, Juan Rivera, Randy Choate, Jose Tabata, Phil Coke, Ian Kennedy, Cristian Guzman, Alfonso Soriano, Mike Dunn, Jeff Karstens, Melky Cabrera, Joaquin Arias, Dan McCutchen, Jeff Karstens, Marcus Thames, Nick Johnson, and the recently retired Mike Lowell. I’m not counting Hideki Matsui (Japanese vet) or Juan Miranda, and although Jake Westbrook spent some time in the Yanks’ farm system, he was originally drafted by the Rockies (came to New York from the Expos in the Hideki Irabu trade). Among the big leaguers that the Yankees drafted but did not sign: Casey Blake, Daniel Bard, Aaron Heilman, Brian Tallet, Chris Davis, Drew Storen, Doug Fister, and Jason Grilli. I don’t think Phil Humber counts anymore. I’m sure I missed some players, but I think I hit on all the key ones. Let me know if I’m wrong.

Looking at Todd Coffey
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  • first name only male (formerly Mike R. – Retire 21)

    Ted Lilly?

    • ClayBuchholzLovesLaptops

      He came over with Westbrook in the Irabu deal.

      • first name only male (formerly Mike R. – Retire 21)

        Thank you. I knew he had been in the system, but I was fuzzy on how he got here.

        • ClayBuchholzLovesLaptops

          No problem. If I’m of no other value to the comment section, at least I can tell almost all the prospects the Yankees acquired and gave up in trades in the last 10 years.

  • hello9

    Well, if league avg starter and a guaranteed starting spot on a bottom 5 team is succeeding, I’d include Russ Ohlendorf too.

    • ClayBuchholzLovesLaptops

      He wasn’t an original signing, he was part of the second Randy Johnson trade.

      • hello9

        Ah, ok.

  • Mike HC

    Interesting article. Good question. Well done overall.

  • Jake LaMotta’s Left Hook

    Does Chris Davis, count or is he still bouncing between the majors and minors? He was a 50th round selection in 2004.

  • Rams Bladder Cup

    Good thing you guys weren’t around to do this in the early 90’s. It would have been much more depressing.

    Top o my head, and not positive about original start but:

    • JGS

      Carl Everett too

    • T-Dubs

      Would’ve been less depressing after 1996, even less so after 1998, completely acceptable after 1999, and well worth it by 2000

      • RollingWave

        yes… but in 1990 it would have been a nightmare watching Rijo win the WS MVP while McGriff was about as good as all starting 9 on the Yanks combined

    • kosmo

      …Tewksbury ,Deshaies…

  • Mister Delaware

    Again, this sort of list really shows how good Cashman is at avoiding that major release/trade mistake.

    • Mike HC

      I think it is more of a reflection of how depleted our farm system has been. Once Cashman started to build the farm of late, we have traded some very nice players away, like Tabata, Kennedy and AJax.

      • YanksFan

        Let’s wait awhile on those guys. IPK did it in the NL West, Ajax should have some regression & Tabata(?). You may have lost some depth, not stars in that group. And if Granderson can put up late Aug/Sept. numbers for a full year it would be well worth it.

        • Mike HC

          I’m not even evaluating what we got in return for those guys. Just that the better our farm system gets, the better the players we trade away are going to be.

          You are right that all three of those guys are still a bit of an unknown, but there is no denying they are nice ballplayers with the potential to improve.

          As for AJax, his is only going to improve, which will off set some of the luck he had early in the season. And I also don’t think all of it had to do with luck. He was also “lucky” in AAA with the Yanks. He is most likely going to be a guy with a high BABIP for his career

          • YanksFan

            True. But we do have to have some sort of evaluation of players we get back to see if Cash made a mistake.

            I think Ajax will always be “lucky” the question is how much. He was what, ,380 in the first month or two, & ended up at .293. He struggled big in the last month or two. He will never be as good as the beginning of the year, but will not be as bad as the end of the year. IF he’s somewhere in the middle he would be a real nice player w/ great D in CF. Has real value but is not someone that we regret trading.

            • Mike HC

              That is the thing with players who hit like AJax. They will inevitably go through streaks where everything finds a hole, and also go through streaks where everything is hit right at somebody.

              There is a pretty decent chance in my opinion that we slightly regret making that trade, but Granderson is obviously a very nice, productive ballplayer, so all is not lost.

              • Mister Delaware

                And while there are factors that go into BABIP, it can’t be stated enough that his .396 was the highest 400+ PA mark since prior to the worst playoff series in the history of playoff serieses (not a word).

                (Ichiro was at .399 in 2004.)

          • ClayBuchholzLovesLaptops

            Just that the better our farm system gets, the better the players we trade away are going to be.

            I kind of disagree with this. When the Yankees had a lot of scrub and few decent prospects, they had to deal the good ones to even get marginal players.

            For example: Brandon Claussen, who was their top pitching prospect at the time, for Aaron Boone, who was merely above average.

            If you don’t have any “B” prospects, you have to substitute them with “A” prospects.

            • Mike HC

              I don’t think Brandon Claussen was an A prospect though. If you don’t have any A prospects to trade, you can’t possibly trade away A prospects. When the system is stacked, it is inevitable that you will have to give up some very good players.

              • ClayBuchholzLovesLaptops

                I disagree. Look at his minor league stats till the trade in 2003, he was flat-out dominant.

                I don’t remember how much upside he had, but he difinately had the results. When I heard they traded him for Boone I was absolutely pissed.

                • Mike HC

                  A lot of guys have dominant minor league stats. But I honestly have no idea how highly regarded Claussen was at the time so I’m not even going to pretend to know.

                  I’m really not sure how you disagree with my general contention though. That the better the players you have the minors, the better chance you will have to trade away good players. There are only so many spots on the major league roster, especially with a team like the Yanks where they lock their good players down for a decade or more. It is impossible to keep all your good prospects if the system is that good.

                  I do get what you are saying though as well. If you only have one or two top prospects, it would be impossible not to trade them when making deals because those are the only guys with any value.

                  • ClayBuchholzLovesLaptops

                    I’ll ask Mike in the chat if he remembers about Claussen.

                    You are right of course, there are both effects. And I don’t disagree with you about the point that the more good players you have, the more good players you will trade. My point in my original comment was only: You could be forced to trade good prospects if you don’t have a lot of above-average prospects.

        • Accent Shallow

          Jackson is really confusing to me. He followed up his 2007 crushing of Tampa with a good but not great season in 2008 in Trenton (.285/.354/.419), and then had a similar season in Scranton (.300/.354/.405), which wasn’t bad, but is an uninspiring way to hit .300. He then went on to more or less duplicate 2009’s stats in the majors (.293/.345/.400), which is a major improvement.

          Still, he hasn’t really shown any power since 2007, but he has hit right around .300 while taking an OK amount of walks and playing great defense. I’m on the fence about him, and whether or not he’ll become someone we miss.

  • Ben Vinutti

    Drafted but unsigned: Mark Prior

    • Matt Imbrogno

      Yeah, but, technically, he’s a Yankee now.

  • Josh

    this list would have been particularly brutal if mo actually signed with the sox.

    • T-Dubs

      Or if Jeter signed with the Nippon Ham Fighters

  • Bryan L

    Daniel Bard… Oy…

  • Andrew

    Can anyone shed some light on the Daniel Bard situation? Did he want too much money?

    • Mister Delaware

      Probably just a signability flyer given that he was picked in the 20th round. One that panned out, certainly.

  • Jerome S.

    Melky Cabrera didn’t have any degree of success IMO.

    • Mike HC

      He was the starting centerfielder for a championship team and ripped it up in the ALCS that year. The guy had success for the Yanks. In my opinion.

      • Mister Delaware

        But Mike HC, you’re forgetting that internet commenting is an all or nothing game.

        Option 1: Player is awesome
        Option 2: Player sucks
        Option 3: Does not exist

        • Mike HC


          • Mike Myers

            Dont forget Melkys

            1) awesome walk offs
            2) Million Dollar Smile
            3) few amazing home plate assists
            4) great for the time “got melk?” T-Shirt

      • Jerome S.

        I meant after the Yankees. Negative WAR is not good.

        • Mike HC

          Oh, got ya. My bad. I should have realized what you were referring to based on the post.

  • NextYankeeDynasty

    Thanks Mike, much appreciated!!


  • FIPster Doofus

    Damn … Storen and/or Bard would have been nice to have right now.

  • HeavyHitter

    Gerritt Cole, who will be drafted in the top 5 this year (and may be #1 overall), will soon be considered “the one that got away.” And I’ll never understand why the Yankees didn’t bid more for Sano or Chapman.

  • Trent M.

    I think that Tabata will be the one that got away. I believe he will have a couple all-star seasons. He is a head case though with discipline issues, so I don’t feel too bad. I think Austin Jackson is the next Jerome Walton and I don’t mean that in a good way.

    And for your somewhat old-timers out there, don’t forget about Al Leiter and Otis Nixon. Of Damaso Garcia for that matter.

  • Crusader10

    That is a pretty sorry list there. Put all those players together on one team, and you are a cellar dweller. The cold, hard, fact is, aside from Brett Gardener, there is nobody that the Yankees have produced, who is still active, who anyone would consider as anything more than a spare part or back of the rotation/relief pitcher. The last star I can remember them producing is the recently retired Rafael Soriano, and even he was a free agent signing who learned his baseball in Japan. Other than that, you have to go back to Jeter, Rivera, Posada and Petitte.