2011 Draft: A historical look at the Yanks’ picks

The ankle is fine, now the shoulder is giving Rendon problems. (AP Photo/Bill Feig)

The more things change, the more they stay the same. We’re now less than three months away from the draft, but there hasn’t been enough time for any major developments to … uh … develop, so the best draft prospects from last month are still the best draft prospects this month. Keith Law posted his updated list of the top 50 prospects yesterday (Insider req’d), and had UCLA RHP Gerrit Cole jumping ahead of Rice 3B Anthony Rendon as the top talent. There’s not much of an argument against that ranking right now, Cole’s showing three knockout pitches every Friday while Rendon is battling shoulder issues that have limited him to mostly DH duty. They’re both premium guys, but for now, Cole’s in the lead.

TCU LHP Matt Purke fell a handful of spots because he’s been battling blister issues and his stuff hasn’t been as crisp this year as it was last, so I’ve got my fingers crossed that the slide continues and he’s available when the Yankees’ first pick comes around. Personal fave Taylor Guerrieri has gone from a second-ish round guy to the best high school right-hander in the country, so the Yanks’ won’t be getting a shot at him. For shame.

The Yankees’ first pick doesn’t come until number 51 overall, in case you’ve forgotten, which isn’t exactly a high-end slot. That doesn’t mean its doomed for failure though. I went back and looked at the list of players taken there throughout the 45-year history of the amateur draft, and then I did the same thing for their next three picks as well. Here are the results, which are for your information only and are not intended to be some kind of analysis of the caliber of player the Yankees could land…

(AP Photo/David Kohl)

First Pick, #51
The most productive player ever taken with the 51st overall pick is a Hall of Famer, or someone that should be in the Hall of Fame, anyway : Barry Larkin. It’s a major, major drop-off after that, with guys like Chris Haney and Rocky Biddle representing the familiar names. As for recent prospects, there’s Anthony Gose (part of the Roy Oswalt swap) and personal fave Jeff Locke (part of the Nate McLouth trade), but Larkin’s it, the one legit, long-term big leaguer to be taken 51st overall.

As for the 52nd and 53rd overall picks, since those players were available at 51 as well, you’ve got Carl Crawford, Gary Carter, Andy Messersmith, Sean Casey, Ryan Sweeney, and Pirates’ farmhand Stetson Allie. That’s a fine group right there.

Second Pick, #88
Kirk McCaskill, who spent a dozen completely unspectacular seasons in the big leagues in the mid-80’s to mid-90’s highlights this pick, but after that you’ve got bit pieces like Alex Cora and Eli Marrero. Yikes. There are a few interesting prospects running around that were taken 88th overall, led by Robby Rowland of the Diamondbacks (2010). This pick has historically been a bit of wasteland, but go up to the 89th pick and you’re looking at Justin Morneau, Nick Johnson, Chris Young (the pitcher), and then some guy named Randy Johnson who is probably the best left-handed pitcher most of us will ever see. Of course that was when the Braves drafted him out of high school, not when the Expos drafted him out of college. Imagine RJ with Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz. Wowza.

Third Pick, #118
The biggest name here (to date) is Mickey Tettleton, but the Rays took this spot in 2005, added an above-slot $500,000 bonus, and landed themselves a frontline guy named Jeremy Hellickson. The Angels drafted and failed to signed eventual seventh overall pick Matt Harvey here four years ago. Sal Bando and Todd Stottlemyre highlight the history of the 119th overall pick, and number 120 is complete barren unless you happen to be a Mickey Morandini fan.

(AP Photo/Joe Holloway Jr.)

Fourth Pick, #149
There’s some premium names here (emphasis on name), specifically Michael Young and Deion Sanders, plus a few recent and interesting prospects like Jason Adam (Royals), Jeff Samardzija (Cubs), and Brandon Allen (ChiSox, now with the D’Backs). The Yankees have some history at this pick as well, taking Zach Day here back in 1996. He was eventually packaged with Ricky Ledee and Jake Westbrook for David Justice, who put on a Superman costume for half-a-season in 2000. Dan Hudson and Mike Marshall are the only noteworthy players taken with the following two picks.

* * *

Like I said, don’t read much into this at all, it’s an exercise in history more than anything else. It has zero predictive value. Every draft class is different, and the way teams draft today is considerably different than the way they drafted five years ago and worlds different than the way they drafted ten years ago. Having to wait 50 picks before your first selection is a pretty big handicap, but there’s always talent to be had, it’s just a matter of finding it.

Book Review: In Tampa, an Extra 2% edge

The Tampa Bay Rays are one of the least heralded success stories in sports of the past decade. In 2007, it was business as usual for the then-Devil Rays. They went 66-96, good for their ninth last place finish in ten seasons as a Major League club, and just under 1.4 million fans watched Alberto Reyes rack up 26 saves.

Since then, the Rays have won the AL East twice and made the World Series once. They’ve dethroned the league’s two richest teams and still sport a solid young core of players that make them a perennial threat in the American League. They don’t have a new stadium and still draw under 1.8 million fans per season. Yet, the Rays have become the latest small-market success story. How?

The how is the subject of Jonah Keri’s latest book. Entitled The Extra 2 %, Keri’s book explores, as the lofty subtitle says, “how Wall Street strategies took a Major League Baseball team from worst to first.” With a new ownership group in place that was willing to experiment and push the envelope, the Rays took advantage of their position at the bottom of baseball’s economic pecking order to dig for advantages. Luck played no small part in it, but the Rays have something that works, for now.

To set the stage, Keri spends the first few chapters exploring the tortured history of baseball in Tampa Bay. The sprawling metropolitan had always appealed to Major League Baseball more as a threat than as an actual landing place for a team. Whenever a successful franchise needed a new stadium, it would threaten a move to St. Petersburg. The White Sox did so in the early 1990s; the Mariners followed suit a few years later; and the San Francisco Giants were apparently this close to shacking up in the Trop.

Yet, despite the fact that St. Petersburg went so far as to build a stadium — an ugly one at that — without a tenant, Major League Baseball never graced the area with a team. Miami got its franchise first, and it took the threat of a lawsuit that would have rocked baseball from its lofty perch atop an antitrust exemption to see the Devil Rays enter the world.

When they did, it was a spectacular disaster. Vince Naimoli was the wrong man to own the team, and Chuck LaMar was the wrong general manager. The club burned draft picks by signing bad free agents. They wasted other picks by avoiding top talent in the name of “signability.” Sometimes, they landed the right guy; Carl Crawford stuck. But Jason Standridge and Dewon Brazelton are a testament to the disaster.

Keri’s narrative picks up the Extra 2 % when Stuart Sternberg, a baseball fan and Wall Street guy, buys the club from Naimoli. He brought Matthew Silverman and Andrew Friedman with him. Together, these three guys changed the franchise. They changed the way it does business; they spruced up Tropicana Field as best they could; and they began to search for the edge — the Extra 2 % — that would allow the Rays to remain competitive in the rich American League East.

Unfortunately for Keri’s book, the meat of the Extra 2 % is a proprietary one. James Click and Josh Kalk, two former Baseball Prospectus writers, are among the top figures working behind the scenes, but the Rays, who cooperated with Keri only at the end of his reporting, keep these minds away from the press. A certain part of the Extra 2 % is still a secret.

Yet, that doesn’t leave the book lacking, and Keri provides deep insights into the Rays’ process. He talks with Silverman and Friedman about their baseball arbitrage process, and while he doesn’t go inside the Rays’ draft room, he explains how the club is working to identify baseball talent on the cheap while selling high and drafting wisely. The Extra 2 % comes from the organization’s idea that they have to be that much more diligent than their competitors. The Devil Rays might have missed out on Albert Pujols in the early 2000s, but that’s a mistake the current regime will not make again.

Ultimately, the book is a great read, and I can’t recommend it enough for Yankee fans of all stripes. We might envy the Rays their recent success and no longer view them as the pushovers they once were. But that doesn’t make them an unlikeable franchise, and Keri’s book humanizes a franchise long scorned by the baseball cognoscenti.

The end of Keri’s book, on the current stadium, left me wanting the more than isn’t there yet. Tropicana Field is ugly and out of the way. It’s in a town with very high unemployment, and while the Rays have the highest TV ratings in the game, they can’t get fans to come. They also can’t force the area to fork over public funds for a new stadium.

So my question still remains: Can the Rays maintain their success? Keri says they can, but I’m less optimistic. (Perhaps, that’s my inner Yankee fan speaking.) Their payroll this year is much lower than in recent seasons, and their bullpen and lineup approach resembles something of a band aid. They will rise and fall on their arms, but as the young guns grow up, can they keep winning? The cast of The Extra 2 % came of age at a time when the Rays had the right guys making the right Number 1 draft picks. Success comes at a price, and in 2011, we’ll learn if the Rays can sustain success of it small-market wins are merely cyclical.

Editor’s Note: Jonah Keri is a good friend of mine, and his publisher supplied me with a review copy of the book. Joe and I are also mentioned by name in the Acknowledgements. Still, this review is an impartial one.

Cashman shoots down Perez rumor, thankfully

Via Chad Jennings, Brian Cashman shot down the rumor about the Yankees having interest in Oliver Perez rather bluntly this afternoon. “I was asked [by those] above me to look into it just to be certain,” said Cashman. “We always look at everything, but it’s not something that right now makes sense for us based on everything we’ve seen.” That’s the politically correct way of saying Perez sucks.

It’s also good to know that those above Cashman have such a keen eye for talent that they asked him to check out Perez. You can never be too sure, right?

Open Thread: Good journalism vs. bad journalism

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

I tend to have very little interest in players’ personal lives. It adds zero value to my life, all I worry about is what happens on the field. So when Austin Romine left camp for a few days last week for a personal reason, I thought nothing of it. Stuff comes up, who cares, none of my business. Jack Curry wrote about Romine today, and it turns out the young backstop had to leave camp to attend the funeral of his younger cousin, who was killed while participating in a combat operation in Afghanistan. “At this point in time,” said Romine, who remained in camp for ten days after learning of his cousin’s death, “I have no more tears.” It’s a great and heartfelt article that gets RAB’s highest recommendation.

Unfortunately, that side of journalism, the good side, is generally overshadowed by garbage. Instead of more columns like Curry’s, we get stuff like this complete assassination of Marcus Thames by T.J. Simers of The LA Times, a hatchet job that went so far as to attack the pronunciation of the guy’s name. Based on what we read and saw last year, Marcus was as nice a guy as they come, and if you needed any reason to root harder for him, well Simers provided it. I’m glad Thames took the high road and refused to stoop to that level, a level unfit for the hackiest of hacks.

Anyways, here is your open thread for the night. YES is playing an encore of this afternoon’s Yankees-Orioles game, and MLB Network will be doing the same with Mets-Tigers. All three hockey locals are in action as well. Talk about whatever, go nuts.

Colon & Garcia’s Opt-Out Dates

We’ve known for a while that both Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon have the ability to become free agents if they don’t make the Yankees out of Spring Training, but now we have some actual dates thanks to Ken Rosenthal. Garcia can opt out of his minor league deal on March 29th (next Tuesday) while Colon can do so on Opening Day, March 31st (next Thursday). If the Yankees plan on releasing Sergio Mitre, they’ll have to do it before March 28th (next Monday) to avoid paying him his full season salary ($900,000). In that case they’d only owe him 45 days termination pay.

I suspect the opt-outs won’t be that big of a deal, the Yankees are going to need to make a decision about the fourth and fifth starters very soon, by the end of the weekend at the latest simply because there are only so many games left in Spring Training. They need to start lining guys up and stretching everyone out to maximum capacity.