Grading the NYY 2005 Draft

Brett Gardner: Sing it! Born on a mountaintop in South Carolina, he's not tall but he is very fast... Raised in the woods so's he knew every hive... The Yankees drafted him in two-thousand and five! (AP)

Yogi Berra famously said, "It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future." Teams may haul out the tea leaves, crystal orbs, dart board, gather ‘round an oracle, or channel their inner V Energy or Miss Cleo to help them make selections in the June draft. (Or they could choose the road often taken and use scouting reports.) Unfortunately, most of the guys picked don’t move beyond the A-ball locker rooms. The draft is a crapshoot—even the surest of sure things (Brien Taylor, anyone?) can turn royally flushed.

As the adage goes, hindsight is 20/20, and it’s only years after a draft occurs that you can properly evaluate each team’s haul. Using this benefit, let’s set the time machine to 2005 so we can evaluate the Yankees’ draft performance.

The Top 10

The Yankees’ first 10 selections in the ’05 draft were, in order, C.J. Henry, J.B. Cox, Brett Gardner, Lance Pendleton, Zachary Kroenke, Doug Fister, Garrett Patterson, Austin Jackson, James Cooper, and Kyle Anson. Of those, only sixth-round selection Doug Fister elected not to sign, re-entering the draft in 2006 and signing with the Seattle Mariners. He was never been a standout on the Seattle farm, but the ginormous right-hander broke into the majors with 11 games pitched (10 starts) in ’09 before becoming one of Seattle’s more reliable, non-Felix Hernandez division starters in 2010. He gives up more hits than you would like, but what sticks out most is Fister’s homer rate—he gives up 0.7 taters per nine which, given a friendly home park, is an alarming rate. He doesn’t whiff many, but he doesn’t issue a ton of free passes either. The Yankees picked a useful if unspectacular guy, but they just couldn’t get his signature.

Patterson, Cooper, and Anson turned out to be footnotes. Patterson was never introduced to the strike zone (his lowest walks per nine over a full season was 5.9/9), and a foot injury knocked him out for 2008. After getting thoroughly socked in one game in 2009, he gave up baseball. Cooper has actually posted a couple of nice seasons—the problem is that they came in A-ball. He has never been able to figure out advanced pitching, and the Yankees cut him loose following the ’09 season. He was last seen bopping through Newark in the indie leagues in 2010, where he hit .299/.383/.389. Backstop Anson was not fated to join the Yankees’ great depth at catcher. He couldn’t do much at the dish and wasn’t a wizard behind it (granted, he was a converted third baseman), so it wasn’t terribly surprising that he retired before the 2010 season.

This brings us to the "name" players. Even with players like Colby Rasmus, Jacoby Ellsbury, Clay Buchholz, and Yunel Escobar on the board, the team chose the toolsy, raw shortstop Henry as their first pick. He was always more promise than performance, and in 2006 the Yankees sent the floundering infielder to Philadelphia as part of the package for Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle. After getting cut loose by Philly in 2007, Henry made a brief 20-game return to the Yankees before hanging up the spikes for basketball shoes; with the Yankees footing the bill for his college tuition, Henry attended the University of Memphis and was a walk-on for their basketball team in 2008. Since then he has become a not-exactly-successful traveling man: following his one-year stint at Memphis, he went to the University of Kansas to be with his brother, Memphis Grizzlies guard Xavier Henry. In August, C.J. transferred to Southern Nazarene.

It wasn’t so long ago that J.B. Cox was shortlisted as an heir apparent to Mariano Rivera. Now with a brief retirement and a suspension under his belt, he’ll be lucky to get a shot in another organization.

Torpedo speed on the basepaths and Web Gem-y catches have helped Brett Gardner attain True Yankee status. At least fans can finally call someone "Scrappy" and "Gritty," even if Gardner isn’t really an exemplar of either quality. The fourth-rounder has produced at the major-league level for the last two years, though consistent goodness has yet to come. However, he is one of the success stories that helps salvage the Bombers’ ’05 draft.

The real headliner for the Yankees class was Jackson, who was lured away from a basketball scholarship from Georgia Tech with an $800,000 mound o’ cash. Last December, he was shipped to Detroit in the three-team deal that brought Curtis Granderson to the Bronx. Instead of starting the 2010 campaign on the farm as he likely would have done with New York, Jackson was given an Opening Day assignment in Motown and made an immediate impact. He finished second in Rookie of the Year voting, though his stats were propped up by a .396 BABIP. That mark will likely re-enter the stratosphere in 2011, but A-Jax should still be a solid major-league contributor.

The last two top-10 guys, Kroenke and Pendleton, wound up as Rule 5 selections. The Diamondbacks took Kroenke before the 2010 campaign, while Pendleton was lost to the Astros over the winter. Neither player is brilliant; they’re middling talents at best, though either one could probably gobble up some innings in trash-time or low-leverage situations. Still, as guys who will likely contribute a little somethin’ to the bigs (Kroenke could be a LOOGY and stick around forever), they are a boost to the overall draft grade.

The Rest

After the first 10 picks, the pickings are mostly non-existent. The most noteworthy players of the lot were Alan Horne (11), whose career has been stopped dead by myriad injuries and surgeries, and Eric Wordekemper (46), who has bounced between Double- and Triple-A for the last two years. Josh Schmidt’s stuff has meant he has never been given much love by the organization; despite consistently solid work at Double-A, he has only had a tiny whiff of Triple-A. Chris Malec (16) was a fun guy to root for as a testicular cancer survivor, but the Yankees released the Californian in March 2010. Justin Turner (29) and Brett Pill (45) elected not to sign with the Yankees. Both Cal State Fullerton products signed after being drafted in 2006, Turner with the Reds and Pill with the Giants. Turner has had a sliver of big-league time in the last two years, with a .114/.225/.143 triple-slash line in 35 plate appearances, but he has some pop for a middle infielder (.309/.373/.442 in 503 minor-league games) and could play a utility role with the Mets this year. Pill completed his age-25 season at Triple-A Fresno in 2010, batting .275/.319/.433 in 567 plate appearances.

The Final Line

While the 2005 may have been considered one of the best crops of talent in recent memory, the Yankees had a forgettable draft. The team only drafted a few true major league-caliber talents, and they managed to sign just two of them.

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