For the past week-plus I’ve been writing about the same, familiar issues that loom over the Yankees this offseason: Uncertainty in the infield, lack of experience in the bullpen, and the need for one more arm in the rotation. It’s hard to get away from those topics because they’re so significant for everything facing the Yankees in the short term and the long term.
But in writing about those specific issues, I’m reminded of the Yankees recent first-round draft picks, each of whom seems to fit perfectly with the specific narrative of this offseason.
No one ready to step in at second or third? No on-the-verge shortstop? No in-house elite starting pitcher? No proven reliever outside of Dave Robertson? Might not be that way if these Yankees top draft picks had worked out as the team imagined on draft day.
2003 — 3B Eric Duncan
New Jersey kid with a big bat. He raked in the lower levels, hit 19 homer runs as a 20-year-old in Double-A, then his career stalled. Duncan’s second Triple-A season was 2007 when he was still just 22. If that he’d hit that year, would the Yankees have re-signed Alex Rodriguez that winter? Would they face such uncertainty at the position this winter?
2004 — RHP Phil Hughes
He made an all-star team, won at least 16 games twice, and played a key bullpen role for that 2009 season that ended in a championship. But still, the lofty expectations mean Hughes’ career with the Yankees will be viewed as a disappointment. He’s not the dependable, top-of-the-rotation arm the Yankees are looking for this winter.
2005 — SS C.J. Henry
The Yankees seemed to acknowledge quickly that this pick might not work out. A year later, he was traded for Bobby Abreu (a good deal that cost the Yankees nothing of significant value). But if Henry had lived up to his athletic upside — it was always assumed he would move positions at some point — he might have emerged as either a third baseman or a second baseman.
2006 — RHP Ian Kennedy
In these years, the Yankees trended toward risk-reward high school players, which made college pitcher Kennedy a relatively safe choice. He moved quickly through the system, but after struggling in 12 big league starts, Kennedy was traded as part of the package that brought Curtis Granderson. He’s been up and down, but Kennedy would be interesting No. 4 starter option if the Yankees still had him.
2007 — RHP Andrew Brackman
Taking a big risk on Brackman’s big arm — and big frame, which made his mechanics hard to repeat — the Yankees were thinking pure upside with Brackman. It was pretty quickly mentioned that, if he didn’t work out as a starter, he might be a terrific late-inning reliever. The Yankees could certainly use one of those right now.
2008 — RHP Gerritt Cole
Obviously the Yankees had the right idea. Cole is, in fact, a terrific young pitcher. But he’s pitching for the Pirates after turning down the Yankees contract, playing college ball and being drafted again. The Yankees were shopping for an ace, but couldn’t sign him. As compensation, they were able to draft…
2009 — CF Slade Heathcott
Left-handed center fielder known for his aggressive approach, his terrific speed, and his potential as a leadoff hitter. This was essentially the Yankees attempt at drafting a Jacoby Ellsbury-type, but Heathcott’s been hurt, and the Yankees had to sign Ellsbury instead.
2010 — SS Cito Culver
Even if things had worked out perfectly, it’s hard to assume a high school kid drafted in 2010 would be ready for an everyday big league job in 2014. If you figure one year at each level — beginning with Low A in his first full season — Culver would be moving up to Triple-A this season. Instead, he’s probably heading back to High-A with his prospect status considerably faded. Best-case scenario, though, the Yankees would have a shortstop waiting for a post-Jeter world in 2015.
2011 — 3B Dante Bichette
Now we’re getting into the time frame when it’s hard to expect these guys, in any circumstance, to be ready for a big league role next season. In Bichette, the Yankees thought they were giving themselves an eventual alternative at third base. The power played for a half season, but Bichette has struggled ever since.
2012 — RHP Ty Hensley
Here’s the Yankees past decade of first-rounders in a nutshell: High school kid who immediately had injury problems. With Hensley, it was at least a hip issue, not a shoulder or an elbow. Wouldn’t be in the big league picture yet even without the injury.
2013 — 3B Eric Jagielo
Every time someone writes or mentions that the Yankees need to change something about their player development and scouting, I point to Jagielo. A clear change from their previous draft strategy, Jagielo was one of the most polished bats available, and he happens to play one of the positions of absolute uncertainty. Not ready yet, but the Yankees were actively working to fix a problem. Just have to wait to see how well he develops.
Associated Press photo