RAB Live Chat

Mailbag: Shields, Moncada, Rotation, O’Brien, Tanaka

I know it’s Retro Week, but nothing gets in the way of the weekly mailbag. I’ve got a dozen questions for you this week. If you want to send us anything, use the “For The Mailbag” form in the sidebar.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Many asked: Is it time for the Yankees to jump in on James Shields?

Yes, I think so. They passed on Max Scherzer because they don’t want another never-ending big money long-term contract, but, at this point, Shields’ market seems to be slow and there’s a chance he’ll come at a relative discount. As I wrote in our Scouting the Market post, the only concern with Shields is his age and workload. His performance continues to be excellent. He had been asking for five years and $110M earlier this offseason, but what if he’s willing to take something like three years and $54M now? Or even one year at $20M so he can try again next offseason? I don’t think that will happen — multiple reports indicate Shields will sign soon and I still think he’s going to get four or maybe even five years — but Spring Training is right around the corner and his agent is presumably feeling the heat. The Yankees have to at least check in. They could end up getting a very good pitcher on very favorable terms.

Mark asks: What are your thoughts on the current and future state of the franchise if the Yanks either elect not to pursue Yoan Moncada or end up losing him to another team? I would also be curious to get your thoughts as to whether this likely means the Yanks are not in on any major free agent for the foreseeable future?

My thoughts on the state of the franchise wouldn’t change all that much regardless of whether the Yankees sign Moncada. It would improve slightly if they sign him but not a substantial amount. We are still talking about a 19-year-old kid here who, in the best case scenario, is two years away from being an impact player. It would be great if the Yankees sign him, but I wouldn’t consider it to be a franchise-altering decision.

Moncada isn’t a major free agent in the traditional sense — he’s going to cost a massive amount of money up front, not some kind of multi-year contract. I do think the Yankees are looking to avoid big money long-term contracts right now, at least until guys like Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran start coming off the books following the 2016 season. That could always change in an instant, plans have to be flexible (e.g. Shields), but I definitely think the team is trying to avoid those pricey contracts that buy decline years in bulk for the time being. It’s about time, really.

Chris asks: Do the Yankees have an advantage in the Moncada situation because they have already burned their next two years of international spending? It would seem like other teams would be hesitant to do so without also having signed a huge IFA class like the Yankees did this past year.

If they do have an advantage, it’s a very small one. Whoever signs Moncada is going to blow through their international spending pool and get stuck with the 100% tax, so it’s an even playing field in that regard. I don’t think many clubs will hesitate to pursue a player of this caliber because international free agency is such a crapshoot each summer. Every MLB club can afford an ~$80M up front payment — say $40M bonus and $40M tax — it’s just a question of which owners are most willing to be aggressive. It’s hard to believe anyone would pass on Moncada based on talent. This feels like something that will come down to ownership’s approval.

Will asks: With regard to the international spending penalties in 2016-2017, is there a hard cap on total spending, or just the $300K player cap?

This is important: the Yankees spending pool for the 2015-16 and 2016-17 signing periods will not change. They’re still going to get the same amount to spend as they normally would — based on last year’s pools the team will have $2.3M or so to spend in 2015-16 — but won’t be able to sign a player for more than $300,000. So, instead of a few big bonuses, they just have to hand out a lot of small bonuses. The Yankees are quite good at finding quality Latin American prospects on the cheap (Luis Severino signed for $225,000, for example), so they’ll still be able to do some damage, they’re just going to have no shot at the top talent.

Mitchell. (Presswire)
Mitchell. (Presswire)

Dan asks: In your opinion, do the Yankees have enough starting pitching depth to compensate for the major injury risks to their rotation?

Right now, no. I like Bryan Mitchell but I don’t think he’s as ready to step into a big league rotation as Shane Greene was last season. That said, I’m pretty confident — perhaps foolishly confident — the Yankees will be able to patch the rotation in-season. Remember, they were without Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia, and Ivan Nova for big chunks of last season too, and they still got by. I think Brian Cashman & Co. will be able to cobble things together again if necessary. I’m sure we’ll hear plenty of rumors about impending free agents like Ian Kennedy, Jhoulys Chacin, Trevor Cahill, Bartolo Colon, and Kyle Lohse being rental candidates as the season progresses.

Bill asks: Loved the series “Ranking the 40 man roster,” but it got me thinking … What if you had to rank the 40 most important players in the organization regardless if they are on the 40 man roster or not? What about Moncada?

I’m glad someone liked that series. If we opened it up to every player in the organization, the top of my list wouldn’t have changed all that much. The highest ranked non-40-man player would have been Aaron Judge and I would have had him tenth, behind Chase Headley and ahead of Andrew Miller. Judge is the Yankees’ best prospect, but, at the end of the day, he’s still a prospect who has yet to play above Single-A. Moncada is a different story because he’s supposedly so damn good. I would have had him fourth behind Tanaka, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Pineda. The back-half of the list, the 20-40 range, is where there would have been a ton of change. Guys like Severino and Greg Bird and Rob Refsnyder all would have ranked ahead of big leaguers like Chris Capuano, David Carpenter, and Justin Wilson.

A.J.R. asks: Not sure if anything is different, but this offseason, the writing has been excellent regarding the historical articles. Has this been a decision bought on by the current state of the Yankees, or have I just underestimated the past few winters’ writing sprees?

Nah, it has nothing to do with the state of the team. We did a Retro Week two or three years ago and people liked it, so we decided to do it again. These last few weeks of the offseason in late-January and early-February really drag and it’s hard to come up with something that hasn’t been written about a bunch of times earlier in the offseason. It’s a good time to do something different and Retro Week is a change of pace from the usual.

Ethan asks: What the heck is Arizona thinking with Peter O’Brien? Do you really think he’ll be on their 25 man on opening day?

The D’Backs traded Miguel Montero to the Cubs earlier this winter and the only catchers on their 40-man roster are journeyman Tuffy Gosewich and Rule 5 Draft pick Oscar Hernandez. They also just signed Gerald Laird to a minor league contract. GM Dave Stewart, manager Chip Hale, and bench coach Glenn Sherlock all mentioned O’Brien as a MLB catcher candidate to Nick Piecoro and that seem so very far-fetched. Basically no one outside the D’Backs organization thinks he can catch. I’m rooting for him, I hope he makes the Opening Day roster, but it’s tough to see him hacking it as a big league catcher. The Yankees seem to know catcher defense as well as any organization in baseball and they were relatively quick to cut him loose.

Pete and the pitch clock. (Presswire)
Pete and the pitch clock. (Presswire)

Anthony asks: Outside of fewer pitching changes or a pitch clock, how else could MLB make the game more appealing to the younger generation?

I think pace of play is incorrectly being blamed for MLB losing out on younger viewers. Shaving 10-15 minutes off the average won’t make much of a difference reeling in young fans. I think the easy answer is better marketing and more outreach programs. MLB finally got around to putting together a player-specific commercial last year (Clayton Kershaw) and needs to do more of that. Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen, Giancarlo Stanton, Felix Hernandez, Tanaka … plaster these guys on billboards and stick them in commercials and internet ads. The stars need to be promoted. More FanFest or caravan events would help too. Maybe mandate that each team has to do at least one event each offseason, and/or that every player on the 40-man has to be available for autographs at some point in the offseason? I’m not sure. The closer the kids get to the players, the more appealing baseball will be to them.

Bobby asks: Is it just me or is the offense and defense bound to be better than last season?

No, it’s not just you. I’m apparently one of the few people who think the Yankees are better than last season. The left side of the infield has been upgraded tremendously, on both sides of the ball too. (I love Derek Jeter, but c’mon, he was pretty terrible last year.) The worst case scenario at second base is what, that Stephen Drew repeats what Brian Roberts did last season? In that case he’d be cast aside and Refsnyder would get a chance. The bullpen is much better and deeper as well. I also think the farm system is in much better position to provide help, both in terms of calling guys up and using them as trade chips. Are the Yankees substantially better than they were in 2014? No, but I do think they’re a handful of wins better, mostly because the run prevention is improved.

Doge asks: So I get that four doctors told Tanaka to hold off on getting surgery. But do you think there’s a risk to him staying healthy for a year or so, only to fully tear the ligament when the team is finally in as spot to make a WS run and needs him the most? Would it have made sense for the team to get the surgery out of the way now, when they don’t have the best shot at making the playoffs? Conversely, do you think that the timing of his inevitable surgery could have an impact on whether or not he exercises his opt out clause?

Oh sure, I totally get it. There’s a very good chance Tanaka will need Tommy John surgery at some point in the future, and he could need it at a very inopportune time. Right before the postseason, after all the top free agent pitchers sign next offseason, right before his opt-out clause, something like that. If he blows out his elbow and is unable to show he’s back to being the awesome version of Tanaka before the opt-out, I think he’d stay with the Yankees and take the guaranteed money.

That said, what are the Yankees supposed to do? When four world-renowned doctors tell you to rehab your $175M investment, you rehab him. Surgery is always a last resort, remember. There’s always a chance Tanaka will come back like, say, Ryan Madson, which is to say he wouldn’t come back at all. This is a really sucky and unfortunate situation. There’s really nothing more we or the Yankees can do other than hope for the best.

Stan asks: Who are your choices for greatest Yankees at their positions ever, and that you have seen play?

What better way to close out the Retro Week mailbag post than with this question? Here are my picks:

Position Best Ever Best I’ve Seen
C Yogi Berra Jorge Posada
1B Lou Gehrig Don Mattingly
2B Robinson Cano Robinson Cano
SS Derek Jeter Derek Jeter
3B Alex Rodriguez Alex Rodriguez
OF Babe Ruth Bernie Williams
OF Mickey Mantle Rickey Henderson
OF Joe DiMaggio Dave Winfield
RHSP Red Ruffing Mike Mussina
LHSP Whitey Ford Andy Pettitte
RHRP Mariano Rivera Mariano Rivera
LHRP Dave Righetti Dave Righetti

I skipped DH because it’s just a weird position. (The team’s all-time WAR leader at DH is Danny Tartabull with 7.9.) Otherwise most of this is straight forward, yes? You could nitpick a few spots — Dave Winfield over Hideki Matsui, etc. — but I think this is in the right ballpark. I suppose you could argue Graig Nettles was the best third baseman in franchise history if you really detest A-Rod for the off-field stuff, but in terms of on-field production, it’s not close. And I know I just wrote about Willie Randolph’s awesomeness, but Cano is far and away the best hitting second baseman in franchise history, so I’m going with him. So what do you think?

Thursday Night Open Thread

This is your open thread for the evening. The Islanders are the only local team in action tonight, and there are only two games on the college hoops schedule as well. Good night to fire up Netflix, I guess. You know how these things work, so have at it.

Judge, Severino, Bird, Lindgren, Refsnyder headline Spring Training invitees list

Refsnyder. (MiLB.com)
Refsnyder. (MiLB.com)

Two weeks from tomorrow, pitchers and catchers will report to Tampa for the start of Spring Training 2015. Baseball’s getting closer, folks. On Thursday, the Yankees officially announced their list of Spring Training invitees, a list that runs 66 (!) players deep.

As a reminder, everyone on the 40-man roster automatically goes to big league Spring Training, because duh. Here’s the 40-man roster and here are the 26 non-40-man roster players who have been invited to big league camp, which include some of the Yankees’ top prospects:

POSITION PLAYERS
C Francisco Arcia
C Trent Garrison
C Juan Graterol
C Kyle Higashioka
C Eddy Rodriguez
1B Greg Bird
1B Kyle Roller
IF Cito Culver
IF Cole Figueroa
IF Jonathan Galvez
IF Nick Noonan
IF Rob Refsnyder
OF Jake Cave
OF Slade Heathcott
OF Aaron Judge

PITCHERS
RHP Andrew Bailey
RHP Scott Baker
RHP Jose Campos
RHP Nick Goody
LHP Jacob Lindgren
RHP Diego Moreno
LHP James Pazos
RHP Wilking Rodriguez
RHP Nick Rumbelow
RHP Luis Severino
LHP Tyler Webb

Obviously the biggest names here are Judge, Bird, Severino, Refsnyder, and Lindgren, five of the team’s very best prospects. Lindgren, the Yankees’ top pick in last year’s draft, has a legitimate chance to make the Opening Day roster. So does Refsnyder, but he has more bodies ahead of him on the depth chart. I can’t see any scenario in which Judge, Severino, or Bird make the roster out of camp.

Bailey has been rehabbing from shoulder capsule surgery for nearly two years now and appears to finally be healthy. Could he step in and close with Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller working as setup men? Bailey has closer experience, you know. Graterol, Figueroa, Galvez, Noonan, Baker, and the two Rodriguezes were added a minor league free agents for depth this winter. The rest are farm system products. Guys looking to put themselves on the map for a midseason call-up.

Teams always need extra catchers to help catch all those early-Spring Training bullpen sessions, which is why the Yankees are bringing five non-roster backstops to camp in addition to the four catchers already on the 40-man roster. The last bullpen spot is up for grabs — it could be more than one if Adam Warren and/or Esmil Rogers are needed to help the rotation — so camp is a big opportunity for these pitchers, especially guys like Rumbelow, Webb, Goody, and Pazos, who aren’t top prospects.

The titanic, but nearly fruitless, 1989 Albany Yankees

ACYStadium

Just as the Yankees entered their darkest period since the mid-60s, they saw a glimmer of hope for the future.

For a few years they’d been a franchise in decline, but 1989 represented the turning point. They’d won just 74 games, finishing fifth in the AL East for the second straight season. Dave Righetti was on his way out. Don Mattingly’s back would start giving him issues the next season. Their best starter in 1989 was Clay Parker.

That is to say, while I wasn’t quite as attuned to the Yankees then as I am now (I was seven in 1989), it seemed easy to predict some lean years ahead.

Yet there was reason in 1989 to believe that the lean years wouldn’t last long, perhaps not longer than the 1990 season. While the major league squad lacked quality young players, the farm system appeared ready to deliver. The AA Albany-Colonie Yankees had just finished one of the most dominant seasons in minor league history.

ACY

The 1989 Albany-Colonie Yankees won 92 games, 18 more than the big league squad in 22 fewer games. Even crazier: at one point in July they were 70-20, 23.5 games ahead of the second place Harrisburg Senators. While they wouldn’t finish at such a torrid pace, they did win the league by 19 games.

Along the way they simply left other teams in the dust. They scored more than a third of a run per game more than the next-closest team, outscoring them by 58 runs in 140 games. On the other side of the ball they were similarly dominant, allowing a half run less per game than the next-closest team, a difference of 59 runs.

Adkins

The pitching side was perhaps more impressive. As Norm Alster notes in his July article for the New York Times, the Albany-Colonie staff didn’t exactly feature heat throwers. Their ace, 6-foot-6 lefty Steve Adkins might not have consistently hit 90 on the gun, but he struck out 10.1 per nine. That led Eastern League starters by a full strikeout per nine. Before that July article they’d promoted four pitchers to AAA Columbus, including Darrin Chapin and Kevin Mmahat, who is said to be a huge inspiration on Ben Kabak’s 2013 season. (Jokes aside, he did make it to the show in ’89, was rocked, and never appeared in the bigs again.)

Also impressive was 22-year-old Rodney Imes, who made 24 starts and produced a 2.73 ERA, his second straight phenomenal season. The 23-year-old Royal Clayton also built off his quality 1988 season to lead the Albany Yankees in innings pitched, producing a 2.98 ERA in 25 starts. (In his 175 innings he struck out just 74, which is pretty absurd.) To close out games the Albany Yankees turned to 25-year-old Tim Layana, who allowed 13 earned runs in 67.2 IP, allowing just two homers all season.

On offense Jim Leyritz led the way. He’d just made the conversion from third base to catcher and took well to his new position, leading the team in OPS while batting .315 with 10 homers. Leading the way with power was first baseman Rob Sepanek, who hit 25 homers after losing most of 1988 to injury.

Bernie

Both Leyritz and Sepanek were older, 25 and 26, and so probably ready to graduate from AA anyway. (Indeed, Leyritz mashed in AAA in 1990 before getting a promotion to the bigs and holding his own; he probably got stuck in AA because of his catching skills.) Most impressive was 20-year-old Bernie Williams, who hit .252/.381/.443 in 91 games before getting the call to Columbus. Hensley Meulens, still with his prospect shine at age 22, led the team with 21 doubles. Sideshow Deion Sanders and the lovable Andy Stankiewicz also produced on both sides of the ball.

One easy to overlook aspect of that team is its manager, Buck Showalter. He’d spent seven seasons toiling in the Yankees minor league system, starting at Class-A Fort Lauderdale in 1977 and topping out at AAA Columbus, bouncing between there and AA Nashville from 1981 through his last season, 1983. In 1985 he started managing at Low-A Oneonta, taking over High-A Fort Lauderdale in 1987 and finally AA Albany in 1989. He’d join the big league squad as their third base coach in 1990.

Even as the Yankees entered the 1990 season with a lean squad, the 1989 Albany team had to give them hope. Combined with a very good 1989 Columbus team that featured Hal Morris, Kevin Maas, and a number of kids promoted from AA (Williams, Meulens, Sanders, Oscar Azocar) it might have appeared as though the Yankees, at least on the offensive side of the ball, could weather a poor 1990 and recover in 1991.

That simply did not happen. While Williams’s debut was decent enough, Meulens flopped and Leyritz took a huge step back in ’91. Stankiewicz didn’t get the call until 1992. The pitching staff was a tatters. While 19 of 35 players on that AA Albany squad appeared in the majors, and 15 with the Yankees, only two were any good: Leyritz and Williams. The only pitcher to make an even minute impact was Scott Kamienicki, who fell into a swingman role before losing effectiveness by 1996. He earned a ring, but was nowhere near the celebration.

Showalter

“This is a prospect-laden club,” Showalter said of the Albany crew, but that just wasn’t true. On Baseball America’s list of 1989 Yankees prospects (found via The Baseball Cube), only Meulens, Sanders, and Williams were on the prospects list. Showalter wouldn’t have any of them for much longer, as they all made the trip to AAA sometime in late July or early August. The 1990 list reveals just two players, Williams and Meulens, who appeared on the 1989 team.* So even with huge performances, the guys on the ’89 Albany Yankees just weren’t considered impact prospects.

*Which is weird, because I’m pretty sure Sanders didn’t exhaust his rookie service time in 1989, but was off the list.

Adkins, the lefty with the big strikeout numbers, got promoted to AAA in 1990, where he was effective if a bit wild. The Yanks actually let him start five games in the bigs that year, but he stumbled hard, walking 29 in 24 innings. The stumble continued in AAA in 1991, and the Yanks traded him away for a guy who never reached the majors. Adkins didn’t pitch any more innings there either.

In December 1989 the Yankees dished Imes, along with Hal Morris, to the Reds for Tim Leary. The former Met 2nd overall pick was OK in 1990 before completely dropping off a cliff in 1991, while Morris had a few damn fine seasons in ’90 and ’91, when the Yanks probably could have used him.

Clayton started 1990 in AA again, but graduated to AAA, where he toiled from 1991 through 1994. I presume he was a minor league free agent at that point and departed for San Fran’s minor league system (there’s a Brian Sabean tie there) before fizzling out. Mmahat (mmm, a hat) never made it back to the bigs after his cup of coffee in ’89. He hurt his shoulder in 1990 and tried to pitch through it. The result, a torn rotator cuff, effectively ended his career. Chapin was dealt in the first Charlie Hayes deal. Azocar was generally terrible and best known for these two baseball cards.

It seems insane that a team so dominant could produce so few standout major leaguers. We’re not talking a very good farm team, either. Only when Williams, Meulens, and Sanders were promoted did the opposition stand even a chance. While they were on the squad, they were 50 — FIFTY — games over .500 in July. You’d be hard pressed to find a team that so thoroughly trounced opponents.

The best prospect the Yankees ever had … for six weeks

(SI.com)
(SI.com)

These days, everyone with an internet connection is familiar with their favorite team’s prospects. You might not know the full scouting reports and all that, but, if you’re a Yankees fan, chances are you’ve seen the names Aaron Judge and Luis Severino at some point. Cubs fans know who Kris Bryant is. Twins fans are counting down the days until Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano show up.

That wasn’t the case not too long ago. Prospects were unknown to the casual fan as recently as ten years ago, before Baseball America and Twitter put everything at everyone’s finger tips. Twenty years go? Only the hardest of die-hards knew prospects. Thirty years ago? Forget it. No one knew prospects at all. But everyone knew John Elway. You couldn’t follow sports and not know who John Elway was in the early-1980s.

At Stanford, Elway was a star quarterback and a star baseball player. The football team was thoroughly mediocre during his time there (20-23 in four years) but Elway finished his collegiate career with basically every school and conference record possible. Simply put, he was one of the best college football players ever. On the baseball field, he hit .361 with nine homers and 50 RBI in 49 games in 1981 while playing right field. He also had a 4.51 ERA as a pitcher.

The Yankees drafted Elway as an outfielder in the second round of the 1981 draft knowing full well that he could wind up playing football long-term. Not just playing football, but going first overall in the 1983 draft and taking over as the face of a franchise. The Yankees took a shot anyway. If there was any team that could lure Elway away from football, it was the New York Yankees.

The team drafted Elway — their second rounder was their first pick that year after they forfeited their first round selection to sign Dave Winfield — and George Steinbrenner paid him $140,000 to spend six weeks with the team’s NY-Penn League affiliate in 1982. Here’s what Elway did that summer, via Baseball Reference:

Year Age AgeDif Tm Lg Lev G PA R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1982 22 1.2 Oneonta NYPL A- 42 185 26 48 6 2 4 25 13 3 28 25 .318 .432 .464 .896

That is one hell of a performance, especially for a player who split his time between baseball and football in college. More walks than strikeouts? High average? Power? Elway did it all on the field and scouting reports were glowing.

“If he had devoted himself to baseball instead of football, he’d probably be in the big leagues now,” said player development director Bill Livesey to Baseball America that summer, after the publication named Elway the organization’s top prospect. “Once he got to Oneonta last year and got into it, his progress was in leaps and bounds.”

The football scouting reports were glowing too, however. Elway returned to Stanford in the fall and played football (as planned), then, after the season, he sat down with the Yankees to discuss his future. Steinbrenner brought Elway and his family to New York in early-April 1983, weeks before the NFL draft, and put VP of Baseball Ops Bill Bergesch in charge of wining and dining them.

”The things I’ve talked to (Elway’s father Jack) about are, No. 1. you can get an injury in football, but chances are remote in baseball,” said Bergesch to the New York Times. “No. 2, baseball has the finest pension plan of any sport. And third, any neutral survey will show a top baseball player will make more money — maybe not in the first year, but over the years he will. And the Yankees’ pay is among the highest in baseball.”

On April 26th, two weeks after sitting in front of Steinbrenner and the rest of the Yankees’ brass, Elway was selected first overall in the NFL draft by the Baltimore Colts. Elway was wary of joining the Colts because they stunk and head coach Frank Kush had a reputation for being tough, especially on young players, so he used the Yankees as leverage and forced a trade out of town. On May 2nd, Elway was dealt to the Broncos for two players and a first round pick.

The trade ended Elway’s baseball career. The Yankees were offering him a ton of money, an unprecedented sum of money for an unproven minor leaguer, but it couldn’t compare to the six-year, $12.7M contract he signed with the Broncos after the trade. Elway, as you know, went on to have a Hall of Fame football career and helped Denver to two Super Bowl wins.

By all accounts, Elway was a potential star baseball player, someone who could impact the game both offensively and defensively. “He has a well-above-average major league arm. He runs well, makes contact, and this year he started hitting for power. That’s the big attraction,” said Yankees scout Gary Hughes to Joe Jares after the team drafted him. It was not meant to be though.

As for Elway himself, he admitted to Yankees Magazine in 2011 that he regularly finds himself thinking about how his baseball career would have played out. “I think about that all the time, even though my football career turned out the way it did.”

Reviewing the farm system’s lean years from 2003-06

(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Wanger. (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Over the last … I don’t know … five or ten years, the Yankees have been criticized quite heavily for their player development failures and deservedly so. They haven’t developed many useful homegrown pieces of late, and I don’t just mean stars. They’ve struggled to produce even average players who could fill in on the cheap. Things have been a little better recently but for a long time there the system was barren.

At the turn of the century, the Yankees had a great farm system headlined by Alfonso Soriano and Nick Johnson. Things really started to thin out by 2003, however, mostly because the team was trading away all their good young players and forfeiting first round draft picks to sign free agents. In 2002, Baseball America ranked New York’s farm system as the 5th best in baseball. Then, from 2003 through 2006, they ranked 17th, 27th, 24th, and 17th. That’s bad. The Yankees shot back up to 7th in 2007 thanks to their outstanding 2006 draft class, which produced ten big leaguers overall and five regulars.

So, since we are now nearly a full decade removed from that 2003-06 farm system dry spell, let’s go back and see who the Yankees had in the system back then, and what happened to those players. Because they’re the best in the business, let’s use Baseball America’s annual top ten prospects lists as the basis of our little trip back in time. I’ve cherry-picked a quote from the scouting reports for each player as well. Some are funny, some are serious. Away we go…

Pre-2003

No. 1: OF Juan Rivera
Select Quote: “On his way to his first game at Yankee Stadium, he got lost on the subway. Then he broke his right kneecap when he ran into a golf cart during pregame drills, which knocked him out for two months.”
What Happened: In 2002, a then-23-year-old Rivera hit .325/.355/.502 with 21 doubles and eight homers in only 65 games with Triple-A Columbus before playing almost everyday in the Bronx as a September call-up. Rivera went up and down a bunch of times in 2003 and was then traded to the Expos in the Javy Vazquez deal after the season. He spent one year in Montreal before being traded to the Angels. Rivera played in parts of 12 MLB seasons and hit .274/.323/.443 (102 OPS+) with 132 homers and 9.5 bWAR. Not a bad outcome at all.

No. 2: OF Bronson Sardinha
Select Quote: “Bronson was named for his mother’s favorite actor, Charles Bronson. His brothers Dane (named after a famous Hawaiian surfer) and Duke (named for John Wayne) play in the minors for the Reds and Rockies.”
What Happened: The Yankees bought Sardinha away from Pepperdine with a $1M bonus as the 34th pick in the 2001 draft. He hit .279/.362/.427 with 16 homers and 19 steals in 129 games spit between Short Season Staten Island and Low-A Greensboro in 2002, then he sorta stopped hitting. Sardinha put up a .239/.333/.353 batting line between Low-A Battle Creek and High-A Tampa in 2003 before stagnating in the minors for a few years. He did reach the big leagues though, going 3-for-9 in ten games with the 2007 Yankees. Sardinha has been out of baseball since 2011. Fun fact: His middle name is Kiheimahanaomauiakeo. Seriously.

Claussen. (Getty)
Claussen. (Getty)

No. 3: LHP Brandon Claussen
Select Quote: “Claussen emerged as one of the game’s top lefthanded pitching prospects by leading the minors with 220 strikeouts in 2001. He also topped the organization with 187 innings, and the workload took a toll on his arm in 2002, as he had Tommy John surgery in June.”
What Happened: Ah the good ol’ draft-and-follow system. Back in the day, teams could draft a player, keep tabs on his progress in junior college the following spring, then decide whether to sign him. Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada were both draft-and-follows. The draft-and-follow system died when MLB implemented the signing deadline a few years ago. It was a good run.

Anyway, Claussen returned from Tommy John surgery at midseason in 2003 and was never quite the same, showing less stuff and not missing nearly as many bats (65 strikeouts in 95.2 innings in 2003). The Yankees called him up for a spot start against the Mets in late-June (two runs in 6.1 innings) then traded him to the Reds for Aaron Boone at the deadline the following month. Claussen spent three seasons in Cincinnati (86 ERA+ in 309.2 innings) and bounced around the minors until 2007. Tommy John surgery: not without risk!

No. 4: 3B Drew Henson
Select Quote: “Few prospects can match Henson’s size, strength and athleticism. He can mash fastballs down in the zone and hit mistakes a long way … His take-charge mentality makes him a favorite of Yankees brass.”
What Happened: Henson was my first real head over heels prospect crush. I thought he would be a megastar. He hit .240/.301/.435 with 18 homers in 128 games for Triple-A Columbus in 2002 — the Yankees traded Henson to the Reds for Denny Neagle in July 2000 and reacquired him for Wily Mo Pena in March 2001 — and then hit .234/.291/.412 with 14 homers in 133 games for Columbus in 2003. He went 1-for-9 in two MLB cups of coffee. After the 2003 season, Henson announced his retirement from baseball and decided to go play football, quarterbacking for the Cowboys, Vikings, and Lions from 2004-08. He’s now a hitting coach for one of the Yankees’ two rookie level Gulf Coast League minor league affiliates.

No. 5: RHP Chien-Ming Wang
Select Quote: “There hasn’t been a Taiwanese pitcher who has come to the States and avoided major injury, so his durability remains a question.”
What Happened: Wang missed the entire 2000 season due to a shoulder injury, which prompted that quote in Baseball America’s write-up. He stayed healthy in the minors from 2003-05 and was just okay (4.00 ERA in 308.1 inning) before getting called up to MLB in May 2005. Wang pitched to a 3.79 ERA (117 ERA+) with 15.4 bWAR from 2005-08 for the Yankees. Then he hurt his foot running the bases. Then he blew out his shoulder. CMW is still kicking around in the minors — he signed a minor league deal with the Braves a few weeks ago — but he hasn’t been effective at all since hurting his foot in 2008. For shame.

No. 6: IF Robinson Cano
Select Quote: “He generates plus bat speed and has a knack for making adjustments with his hands to put the barrel of the bat on balls in different zones. He covers the plate well with a good idea of the strike zone, makes consistent hard contact and projects to hit for power.”
What Happened: Cano hit .276/.319/.437 with 15 homers between Short Season Staten Island and Low-A Greensboro in 2002. Then he hit .277/.322/.374 with six homers between High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton in 2003. That’s not very good! Cano improved a bit with Trenton and Triple-A Columbus in 2004 (.283/.339/.457 with 13 homers) and, before you knew it, he was hitting .342 in the big leagues by 2006. Robbie was an MVP candidate with the Yankees from 2010-13 before signing a ten-year, $240M contract with the Mariners last offseason. We know nothing about prospects.

No. 7: LHP Danny Borrell
Select Quote: “His arm has relatively low mileage, and Borrell could throw harder with more innings.”
What Happened: Despite that low mileage, Borrell blew out his shoulder in 2003 and continued to battle injuries until he retired following the 2008 season. He threw only 282.1 ineffective minor league innings (4.53 ERA) the rest of his career after being dubbed the team’s seventh best prospect by Baseball America. Borrell has been working as a pitching coach and pitching coordinator in New York’s farm system for several years now.

No. 8: RHP Jorge DePaula
Select Quote: “DePaula was able to channel his intensity to become more efficient on the mound. He must continue to keep his emotions in check to avoid losing control of the game.”
What Happened: The Yankees acquired DePaula from the Rockies for Craig Dingman (Craig Dingman!) back in 2001 and he developed into a quality pitching prospect from 2001-03. He spent most of the 2013 season in Triple-A (4.35 ERA in 167.2 inning) and got a September call-up, allowing one run on three hits and one walk in 11.1 innings. DePaula made the Opening Day roster in 2004 but blew out his elbow that April and needed Tommy John surgery. He returned in 2005 and just kind of sputtered. The Yankees cut him loose after 2006 and he bounced around the minors until 2009. (DePaula pitched in Mexico as recently as 2012.) DePaula retired with a 4.00 ERA (114 ERA+) in 27 big league innings, all with New York from 2003-05.

No. 9: OF Rudy Guillen
Select Quote: “Guillen might have the highest ceiling in the organization … While Guillen has five-tool potential, his ability to hit for average will be tested against more advanced competition.”
What Happened: After hitting .306/.351/.397 with three homers in 59 games for the rookie GCL Yanks in 2002, Guillen hit .260/.311/.414 with 13 homers in 133 games with Low-A Battle Creek in 2003, which was pretty good for a 19-year-old in full season ball. After that though, Guillen hit .259/.302/.359 with 20 homers from 2004-07 and simply didn’t develop. He played a total of 49 games above Single-A ball, all with Double-A Trenton. Guillen has been out of baseball since 2007. Yet another reminder to not get worked up over rookie ball stats.

No. 10: LHP Sean Henn
Select Quote: “The Yankees drafted Henn twice, but it wasn’t until his velocity jumped two grades that they signed him to a $1.701 million bonus, a record for a draft-and-follow. Henn went down with a sore elbow nine games into his pro debut and needed Tommy John surgery that wiped out his entire 2002 season.”
What Happened: Henn returned from elbow reconstruction in 2003 and was pretty rough, striking out 62 and walking 40 in 80.1 innings. The next season he had a 4.41 ERA with 118 strikeouts and 63 walks in 163.1 innings with Double-A Trenton. Henn got to MLB for the first time in 2005 and allowed 16 runs in 11.1 innings. He walked eleven and struck out three. Three! Henn went up and down in both 2006 and 2007 and wasn’t any good — 37 runs allowed with 35 strikeouts and 32 walks in 46 innings. Eventually the Yankees gave up and put Henn on waivers. The Padres claimed him and he’s been bouncing around since. Henn last played with the Mets in 2013. Like, the big league Mets, not their Triple-A team. Classic case of a guy with a big arm who never figured it out but kept getting chances because he’s a lefty.

Pre-2004

Navarro in Trenton. (Mike Ashmore)
Navarro in Trenton. (Mike Ashmore)

No. 1: C Dioner Navarro
Select Quote: “Nagging injuries — including an inner-thigh infection that led to a sty in his eye, and a hand injury from a home-plate collision — weren’t enough to stop him from raking. His combined .321 average ranked fourth among minor league catchers.”
What Happened: After hitting .321/.376/.469 with seven homers in 110 games as a 19-year-old for High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton in 2003, Navarro slipped down to .263/.341/.366 with four homers in 110 games for Trenton and Triple-A Columbus in 2004. The Yankees called him up in September then traded him to the Diamondbacks for Randy Johnson after the season. Arizona flipped him to the Dodgers for Shawn Green and the Dodgers flipped him to the (Devil) Rays for Toby Hall and Mark Hendrickson. Navarro’s been in the show on and off since 2004 and is a career .255/.313/.375 (85 OPS+) hitter with 7.4 bWAR.

No. 2: 3B Eric Duncan
Select Quote: “Some teams compared Duncan’s lefthanded power potential to Jim Thome’s. As with Thome, Duncan’s defense at third base may force him to move across the diamond to first.”
What Happened: Duncan had a really good year in 2004, hitting .258/.357/.473 with 16 homers in 123 games while climbing from Low-A Battle Creek to Double-A Trenton. He was only 19 too. Duncan hit 19 homers in 2005 but his slash line (.235/.326/.408) was pretty ugly. The Yankees had him in Triple-A by age 21 and he just stopped hitting, putting up a .226/.290/.343 line with in parts of four seasons at the level. Duncan had serious power but not much else. It didn’t help that the team rushed him up the ladder in an effort to boost his trade value.

No. 3: Guillen

No. 4: SS Joaquin Arias
Select Quote: “Nicknamed ‘Spiderman’ because his arms and legs appear to be going in every direction at once, Arias displays good body control in the field.”
What Happened: As you may know, Arias was traded to the Rangers along with Alfonso Soriano for Alex Rodriguez in February 2004. Texas selected him from a pool of prospects that also included Cano. Yankees got lucky there, eh? Arias had some nice upside but didn’t develop as hoped. He bounced from the Rangers to the Mets to the Giants, where he’s been since 2012. Arias is a career .269/.298/.354 (82 OPS+) hitter with 0.9 bWAR. Two World Series rings though.

No. 5: RHP Ramon Ramirez
Select Quote: “Ramirez had Japanese-style mechanics with a hip-turn and hesitations, but pitching instructors Billy Connors and Greg Pavlick converted him to a more conventional over-the-top delivery.”
What Happened: Ramirez has a weird back story. He was originally outfielder but converted to pitcher after signing with the Hiroshima Carp in 2002. The Carp posted him in March 2003 after a strong winter ball showing and the Yankees won his rights with a $350,000 bid. They signed him for $175,000 and he pitched to a 4.83 ERA in 284.2 innings at three minor league levels from 2003-04, then was traded to the Rockies for Shawn Chacon in 2005. Ramirez is still active — he pitched in one game for the Orioles last season but spent most of the summer in the minors — and has a 3.42 ERA (125 ERA+) with 6.9 bWAR in 434.2 career innings, all in relief. Not a bad little career.

No. 6: Cano

No. 7: SS Ferdin Tejeda
Select Quote: “A switch-hitter, Tejeda handles the bat well from both sides and uses quick hands and an efficient line-drive swing. He puts the ball in play, though not with the same authority as Joaquin Arias.”
What Happened: So Arias with less bat, got it? Tejeda had some nice defensive skills but man he didn’t hit at all — .220/.288/.247 in 94 games at High-A and Double-A in 2004 — so much so that the Yankees stuck him on the mound in 2005. He had a 1.80 ERA with 15 strikeouts in 15 innings for the GCL Yankees in 2005 and was lost on waivers to the Padres that summer. Tejeda’s been out of baseball since 2008 and only played 30 games above Single-A ball.

N0. 8: DePaula

No. 9: OF Estee Harris
Select Quote: “The Yankees went against the consensus to snag Harris in the second round, but they love his bat … Harris has drawn comparisons to a young Garret Anderson and could produce 30 home runs annually once he matures.”
What Happened: Shockingly, the Yankees went against the grain in the draft and it didn’t work. Harris hit .221/.306/.368 with ten homers and 153 strikeouts in 113 games split between three levels of Single-A in 2004 and was playing in an independent league by 2007. He’s been out of baseball since 2011 and hit .218/.296/.365 with a 30.7% strikeout rate in 327 games with the Yankees, none above Low Class-A.

No. 10: Sardinha

Pre-2005

No. 1: Duncan
No. 2: Cano

Hughes. (Post and Courier)
Hughes. (Post and Courier)

No. 3: RHP Phil Hughes
Select Quote: “The Angels strongly considered him at No. 12 before deciding to take top-rated pitcher Jered Weaver.”
What Happened: We all know what happened, but man, Hughes was the bomb back in the day. He had a 2.19 ERA with 93 strikeouts and 20 walks in 86.1 innings for Low-A Charleston and High-A Tampa as a 19-year-old in 2005 then had a 2.16 ERA with 168 walks and 34 strikeouts in 146 innings for Tampa and Double-A Trenton in 2006. Baseball America ranked him the top pitching prospect in the game before the 2007 season. Well, top non-Daisuke Matsuzaka pitching prospect. Hughes had a (very) up and down tenure in New York but seems to have found himself with the Twins after leaving as a free agent last winter.

No. 4: RHP Steven White
Select Quote: “White’s development was an important step for the Yankees, who could use an innings-eater as soon as possible. He fits that profile, but needs at least a year to hone his secondary stuff.”
What Happened: White was a four-year college guy with okay stuff who got overrated as a prospect pretty quickly because he dominated Low-A Battle Creek and High-A Tampa as a 23-year-old (!) in 2004 — 2.61 ERA in 117.1 innings. He had a 4.45 ERA with a weak 16.9% strikeout rate from 2005-08, though he did at least reach Triple-A. White’s been out of baseball since 2008. The lesson here: age relative to level is important!

No. 5: Navarro (hadn’t yet been traded when Baseball America released their Yankees top ten)

No. 6: RHP Christian Garcia
Select Quote: “He has easy velocity on his fastball, working at 93-94 mph and topping out at 96 … His curveball, at times a true power hammer, could be a better pitch.”
What Happened: Man, Garcia had nasty, nasty stuff. He just couldn’t stay healthy. Two Tommy John surgeries, an oblique strain, and some other stuff limited him to only 258.1 innings — none above Double-A — from 2005-10 before the Yankees gave up and released him. The Nationals picked him up and he actually made it to the big leagues with them in 2012, allowing three runs with 15 strikeouts in 12.2 relief innings in September 2012. Here’s that “true power hammer” curveball:

Christian Garcia

Garcia got hurt again in 2013 and has thrown only 27.2 innings the last two seasons. Washington released him last June and from what I can tell, he’s still a free agent. Great, great arm. Just couldn’t stay healthy. Pitching prospects, man.

No. 7: 3B Marcos Vechionacci
Select Quote: “Vechionacci can hit. His advanced approach includes plate discipline, smooth swing mechanics and the ability to use the whole field. He shows developing power as well.”
What Happened: Well, no, Vechionacci couldn’t hit. Or at least he didn’t. He followed up his strong 2004 season (.319/.390/.454) with a .252/.314/.348 line and two homers in 128 games for Low-A Charleston in 2005. From 2005-09, Vechionacci put up a .245/.314/.345 batting line before having a nice dead cat bounce season with Double-A Trenton in 2010, hitting .283/.350/.421 with eleven homers in 114 games. People asked if he was regaining prospect status. I said no. They mocked at me. Vechionacci became a minor league free agent after that season, no team bothered to sign him, and he’s been out of baseball since. So no, he didn’t regain prospect status. Jerks.

No. 8: OF Melky Cabrera
Select Quote: “One club official compared his offensive game to Jose Vidro’s.”
What Happened: Melky has turned into a nice little player. His cup of coffee in 2005 was a total disaster, he looked like a deer in the headlights, but in 2006 he hit .280/.360/.391 (95 OPS+) while filling in for the injured Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield. Cabrera hit .267/.323/.385 (84 OPS+) from 2007-09, got traded to the Braves for Javy Vazquez, got fat, got released by Atlanta, signed with the Royals, got less fat, and has hit .309/.351/.458 (124 OPS+) since. Melky is a career .286/.339/.415 (103 OPS+) hitter with 17.7 WAR and just signed a three-year, $42M deal with the White Sox. Too bad he didn’t figure it out while in pinstripes. By the way, when he was Melky’s age, Vidro had 17.0 WAR. Freaky.

No. 9: Sardinha
No. 10: Wang

Pre-2006

No. 1: Hughes
No. 2: Duncan

No. 3: OF Jose Tabata
Select Quote: “His ceiling is as high as any Yankees minor leaguer since Alfonso Soriano.
What Happened: Tabata was peak Yankees Hype Machine. There were Manny Ramirez comps flying around and they were ridiculous. Tabata did hit though, at least at first. He authored a .298/.377/.420 line in 86 games with Low-A Charleston in 2006, his age 17 season, and Baseball America ranked him as the 27th best prospect in the game after the season. Then he hit .307/.371/.392 in 103 games with High-A Tampa the next season.

Tabata was not without his issues, however. He had been insubordinate — he literally left the stadium in the middle of a game while with Double-A Trenton in 2008 because he didn’t like a strike three call — and there were always whispers he was older than believed. Those whispers still exist too. Anyway, the Yankees got fed up with Tabata’s act and traded him to the Pirates in the Damaso Marte/Xavier Nady deal in 2008. He’s a career .275/.336/.379 (99 OPS+) hitter with 2.5 bWAR in part of five seasons. Tabata never developed any power and the off-the-field issues persist. The Yankees did well to cash him in as a trade chip when they did.

No. 4: SS C.J. Henry
Select Quote: “Henry is a premier athlete, already the best in the system. He has well-above-average raw power and is a plus runner.”
What Happened: Henry was a great athlete who split his time between baseball and basketball in high school, and the lack of experience showed in pro ball. He didn’t hit at all. Henry had a .240/.330/.353 line with a 27.2% strikeout rate in 77 games with Low-A Charleston when the Yankees cut bait and sent him to the Phillies as part of the package for Bobby Abreu in 2006, one year after drafting him. Henry briefly returned to the organization in 2008 but never made it out of Single-A ball. He played college hoops from 2009-11 at Kansas and Southern Nazarene University, tried independent ball in 2003 (.332/.410/.523!) and has been out of sight since. I thought Henry was a great pick at the time (17th overall), he was loaded with tools, it’s just didn’t work out.

No. 5: OF Austin Jackson
Select Quote: “Jackson’s basketball jones threw off many area scouts, who doubted his desire to play baseball. But Mark Batchko realized Jackson wanted to be a Yankee, having written his first scouting report on him when Jackson was 12.
What Happened: The 2006 season at Low-A Charleston was a little rough (.260/.340/.346 with 151 strikeouts) but Jackson broke out in 2007 and was one of the team’s very best prospects before being traded to the Tigers for Curtis Granderson during the 2009-10 offseason. Jackson is a career .274/.336/.402 (101 OPS+) hitter with 19.9 bWAR in five MLB seasons. He’s turned into exactly the player he was projected to be. Sometimes it all makes sense.

No. 6: SS Eduardo Nunez
Select Quote: “Nunez had a 70 arm on the 20-80 scouting scale and good hands defensively … Nunez has shaky footwork at shortstop, and some question whether he’ll have the range or mobility to stay there.”
What Happened: Oh Nunie. He didn’t hit at all from 2006-08 (.243/.312/.329), broke out with Double-A Trenton in 2009 (.322/.349/.433), held his own with Triple-A Scranton in 2010 (.289/.340/.381), and saw way too much playing time with the Yankees from 2010-13. With New York, Nunez hit .267/.313/.379 (88 OPS+) with -1.8 bWAR and plenty of hilaribad defense:

Eduardo Nunez

Nunez was traded to the Twins last year and did more of the same in Minnesota (82 OPS+ and 0.3 bWAR) while also playing some outfield. If nothing else, he was a goofy guy good for some comic relief. But geez, Nunie’s defense was gross.

No. 7: Vechionacci
No. 8: Garcia

No. 9 : RHP Jeff Marquez
Select Quote: “Marquez shows three pitches that could be 55 or 60 offerings on the 20-80 scouting scale … If his control and command improve to be major league average, Marquez could top out as a No. 2 or 3 starter.”
What Happened: Marquez was a pretty good pitching prospect who had solid yet unspectacular years in 2006 (3.58 ERA in 98 innings) and 2007 (3.65 ERA in 155.1 innings) while climbing from High-A Tampa to Triple-A Scranton. He struggled in 2008 (4.47 ERA in 102.2 innings) and the team sent him to the White Sox as part of the package for Nick Swisher after the season. Marquez returned to New York on waivers in 2011 and allowed one run in five innings for the team that summer. He’s been out of baseball since 2012.

No. 10: RHP Tyler Clippard
Select Quote: “Clippard combines a knack for pitching with solid-average stuff and a strikeout pitch. He profiles as a No. 3 starter and could move quickly.”
What Happened: Clippard was a pretty polarizing prospect back in the day because he had gaudy minor league numbers but the scouting report was just meh. He manhandled Double-A in 2006, posting a 3.35 ERA with 175 strikeouts in 166.1 innings, and although he sorta stunk with Trenton and Triple-A Scranton the following year (4.50 ERA with 83 strikeouts in 96 innings), the Yankees called Clippard up and he beat the Mets in his MLB debut.

Yankee Clippard

The Yankees traded Clippard to the Nationals for Jonathan Albaladejo after the season and that trade has been a disaster. Albaladejo mostly stunk in pinstripes and Clippard took off when Washington moved him into the bullpen full-time in 2009. He’s been one of baseball’s elite relievers ever since, pitching to a 2.64 ERA (150 ERA+) with 10.1 bWAR in an absurd 453.2 innings from 2009-14. Quite the blunder by the Yankees. Oh well. You win some and you lose some.

* * *

Baseball America ranked 27 different players among New York’s top ten prospects from 2003-06, and, of those 27, there is one superstar (Cano), two above-average players (Wang and Clippard), five solid big leaguers (Jackson, Melky, Rivera, Navarro, Hughes), four spare part big leaguers (Arias, Ramirez, Nunez, Tabata), and 15 others who either flamed out or got hurt or turned into up-and-down guys. Other players ranked among the team’s top 30 prospects in Baseball America’s Prospect Handbook from 2003-06 were IF Andy Phillips, OF Marcus Thames, RHP Scott Proctor, OF Brett Gardner, RHP Jeff Karstens, and the late LHP Brad Halsey. Gardner’s the prize there.

More than anything, I think this little exercise shows just how ridiculously difficult it is to project future MLB success. Ranking prospects is a fool’s errand but hey, it’s fun and people love rankings, so everyone does it anyway. Quality MLB players come in all shapes and sizes and have all sorts of different backgrounds. Jackson was a basketball prospect who became a big league center fielder. Arias was a stud shortstop prospect who now can’t hit his weight. Navarro looked like a monster who turned into a fringe regular. Cano was an okay prospect before turning into a star. Go back and look through the worst ranked farm systems in history and, inevitably, they produced some decent big league ballplayers.