Currently sitting at 70-62 and firmly entrenched in the postseason race, the New York Yankees’ season can only be considered a success. While the strong play of youngsters Gary Sanchez and Luis Severino have helped tremendously, the story of this season has been slugger Aaron Judge.
Judge’s ascension into MLB stardom has been surprising, but it’s not because of his mammoth home runs or his silly consecutive strikeout games record. It is surprising because of where the Yankees drafted him.
The 25-year-old was drafted in the first round, 32nd overall, of the 2013 Amateur Draft. What makes that notable is the Yankees have a remarkably bad history of drafting first round talent over the last two decades.
Between 1998-2012, the Yankees drafted 21 players in the first round. Of those 21, 19 of them signed. Ironically, Mark Prior (1998) and Gerrit Cole (2008), perhaps the best players drafted by the Yankees in this time, are the two who chose not to sign. Among the 19 who did sign, only eight have played in the majors. When the criteria jumps to 20 games played in the majors, that number drops to three.
Phil Hughes (2003), Ian Kennedy (2006) and Joba Chamberlain (2006) are the team’s only first-round picks since 1998 to make any sort of impact in the major leagues. Using Baseball Reference’s WAR (wins above replacement) tool, the three players rank as such: Kennedy (14.9), Hughes (11.7), Chamberlain (8.0). The combined WAR of every other first round pick between 1998-2012: 0.7.
The combined WAR of their first-round picks is 35.3, which ranks dead last in baseball over that span. Besides the Padres combined WAR of 39.1, no other team is below 76. Those numbers are eye-popping, bordering on concerning (The four World Series titles in that span does help alleviate some of the pain). Despite what the past may show, the Yankees may have turned it around.
Since 2013, the Yankees have drafted seven players in the first-round. While the aforementioned Judge is the only of the seven to reach the big leagues, most have made their impact on the team already.
Left-handed pitcher Ian Clarkin and outfielder Blake Rutherford, the team’s first-round picks in 2013 and 2016, respectively, were part of a trade package that landed relievers David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle and third baseman Todd Frazier in July.
Right-handed pitcher James Kaprielian was one of the team’s first-round pick in 2015. Had it not been for various injuries, Kaprielian most likely would be making an impact for the Yankees right now. Instead, he was part of a deadline deal that landed Oakland ace Sonny Gray.
Shortstop Kyle Holder, the other first-round pick in 2015, and their 2017 first rounder, right-handed pitcher Clarke Schmidt, round out the seven players chosen since 2013.
Holder is a high-floor player whose defense will carry him to a major league roster. While it is far too early to evaluate Schmidt — especially because he is recovering from Tommy John surgery — he showed great promise in college.
Judge may be the lone member of the group who has reached baseball’s highest level so far, but the Yankees have shown the ability to identify and draft high-end talent over the last five years. That is a welcome sign for a team that struggled in that department for so long, one that could finally begin to rewrite the narrative in coming years.
Dillon Healy is a contributing writer to Bronx to Bushville.