Late last night, word came down from Hal Steinbrenner that the Yankees will not be making any changes to their player development system this winter. No major personnel changes, anyway. Damon Oppenheimer will remain amateur scouting director, Mark Newman will remain VP of Baseball Ops, and Pat Roessler will remain director of player development. This comes after nearly three months of auditing the farm system and trying to figure out why it was so unproductive this past season and has been over the last several years.
“Yeah, we have. We’ve made some changes,” said Hal to Andy McCullough yesterday when asked about the development staff. “The vast majority of the changes will be procedural. We’ve changed a few coaches, and we’ve brought in a few people. But [Brian Cashman] spent a lot of time, a good two months, looking at process: How we do things, how people communicate with each other. And we found some things that we were not happy with. So we changed them.”
“Procedural” changes. They’re going to change the way they communicate. They’re going to rearrange some furniture, slap some lipstick on the organizational pig, and go about business as usual. The problems were big enough to swap out some coaches and improve communication but not make wholesale changes. The guys in charge are on the right path, they just need to tweak some things and everything will be good. Change some procedures and ¯\_(:-/)_/¯. That’s one way to take that quote.
Now, let’s be serious for a second. Over the last few years, the Yankees have seen many prospects either stall out or go down with a major injury, especially pitchers. The last top pitching prospect, a “hey this guy could be really special” guy, to not blow out his arm in the minors was Joba Chamberlain in 2007. Andrew Brackman blew out his arm, Dellin Betances blew out his arm, Manny Banuelos blew out his arm, Alan Horne blew out his arm, Jose Campos blew out his arm, and Christian Garcia blew out his arm twice. Ty Hensley blew out his hip, so I guess he’s the exception right now.
There are always going to injuries (especially to pitchers) and there will always be some level of attrition. It’s completely unavoidable. But I think we’re beyond the point of blaming it on attrition or bad luck. The Yankees admitted to feeling the same way when Hal launched his investigation into the team’s farm system a few months ago. That was an admission on his part that something is going wrong somewhere, that things are not turning out the way they should be. Simply put, New York has not been able to turn their prospects into productive big leaguers. They fart out some relievers every so often but so does every other club, they aren’t anything special in that regard.
Now here’s the thing: I think the Yankees actually do a pretty good job of acquiring high-end talent, both internationally (before the spending restrictions were put into place, anyway) and in the draft. Yes, it could be better (it could always be better), they have made some questionable high picks in recent years (Cito Culver and Dante Bichette Jr., most notably), but they still walked away with top shelf guys like Tyler Austin, Mason Williams, and Greg Bird in the later rounds, for example. Williams has underperformed, Bird has dealt with injury, and Austin has battled both. The talent is there, they just can’t get these guys over the developmental hump.
As an outsider, evaluating a farm system and a development system is close to impossible because so much of it happens away from cameras and reporters. All we see is the results and, let’s be real here, the results stink. They’ve stunk for a few years now. The Yankees are in the middle of this weird transitional period where payroll is coming down and the last remnants of the dynasty years are fading away, so support from homegrown young players is vital. They haven’t been getting it though, the results are obvious. In the five years since Brett Gardner and David Robertson came up, the team’s best homegrown player has been Ivan Nova (104 ERA+ in 504 innings), and that’s just not good enough.
“It’s really easy to say, ‘Get rid of this guy. Get rid of this guy. And get rid of that guy,’” said Steinbrenner. “But that doesn’t always solve the problem. Sometimes it’s procedural or process, the way scouts influence each other because they’re talking too much to each other — somebody has a preconception about a player they haven’t even seen yet because they’ve talked to two scouts about them and they go in to go see the player with those preconceptions. So those are the kind of things we’re working on, communication. We’re teaching the scouts. We’re going to teach them to look for different things, maybe things they haven’t looked at before.”
I was being a jerk and downplaying the value of procedural changes before but they are important. Something had to change and something did. We don’t know the scope or extent of those changes but something is being done behind the scenes unless Hal is lying. It’s possible these adjustments will fix everything, get the position players on track and stop the top pitchers from visiting Dr. Andrews once a year. But I think the track record of developmental failure is too long to only make procedural changes. New sets of eyes and new voices could help the club crack the player development riddle no one in the organization seems to be able to solve. The Yankees had a chance to make meaningful changes to their farm system these last few weeks, but they opted for the half-measure instead.