Like many, I am not ecstatic with the development of major league talent by the Yankees. However, with respect to drafting, the one clear disadvantage the Yankees have had is the fact that they have, as a result of constantly being a playoff team, been consistently picking toward the lower part of the first round. This disadvantage is more significant than many people realize.
While gems in drafts can be found anywhere, probability significantly favors teams picking players in or around the top ten in the first round. As evidence of the same, please see below recent years first round picks (excluding 2013 because it is premature to judge most prospects from that draft yet.)
2012- 1st picks - 1. Carlos Correa, 2. Byron Buxton, 3. Mike Zunino, 4. Kevin Gausman, 5. Kyle Zimmer, 6. Albert Almora, 7. Max Fried, 8. Mark Appel, 9. Andrew Heaney, 10. David Dahl; 11. Addison Russell, 12. Gavin Cecchini, 13. Courtney Hawkins. Notably, all of these guys are top prospects and a couple have already been promoted to the majors. In fact, most of these guys are among the top 50 prospects and a few have been in the top 10. Notably, while there a guys who are among the top 100 prospects who were picked after 13, ranked players mostly disappear after 22. And where did the Yankees pick? 30. Ty Hensley. This does not necessarily mean that Hensley may not become a solid prospect or player but it does show that the pick slot was not favorable for teams in front or behind the Yankees. In fact, Hensley was pulled from a winning rotation that produced some top ranked prospects from earlier drafts.
2011 - 1st picks - 1. Gerritt Cole, 2. Danny Hultzen, 3. Trevor Bauer, 4. Dylan Bundy, 5. Bubba Starling, 6. Anthony Rendon 7. Archie Bradley, 8, Francisco Lindor, 9. Javier Baez, 10. Corey Spangeberg, 11. George Springer. Again, but for one player, each of these guys have been high ranked prospects many of whom are at or have been at or near the top 10. There were some nice prospects generated later in the round. The Yankees did not have a 1st rounder in 2011 but if they did, the pick would have been in the bottom third, of which, only 3 are top prospects, which is actually better than most years but still makes probability unfavorable.
2010 - 1st picks - 1. Bryce Harper, 2. James Taillon, 3. Manny Machado 4. Christian Colon, 5. Drew Pomeranz, 6. Brett Loux, 7. Matt Harvey, 8. Delino Deshields, 9. Karsten Whitson, 10. Michael Choice. Of these picks, two did not sign, three are dominating the majors, one has been a disappointment in the majors, and 3 are still top prospects. There are another 7 or 8 guys in the next 40 who are ranked top prospects but mostly scattered throughout the next picks. The Yankees picked Cito Culver at 22. While he is already a bust, so were most of the picks before and after him though there were a couple nice picks after like Aaron Sanchez, Tajuan Walker, Nick Castellanos, Mike Olt and Noah Syndergard. The fact that these guys were available after Culver shows that there was talent to be had, most teams wound up with guys who are now no names too.
2009.- 1st picks -not one of the better drafts from 1-10. Strasburg was 1st. The rest of the notables were Dustin Ackley, Zach Wheeler, Mike Minor, Mike Leake, Aaron Crow, Drew Storen, Strasburg is a stud and Leake and Minor have shown some ability but two of the guys mentioned are closers while Ackley had to tweak his game and Wheeler is just getting his career started. Not bad but to date, only 2 or 3 picks are studs to date. After that the best picks in the round were Shelby Miller, Mike Trout (the best pick of the draft) and Nick Franklin. The Yankees at 29 picked Slade Heathcott. Notable picks after that are Rex Brothers, Matt Davidson, James Paxton, Tyler Skaggs and Chris Owings, all high end prospects but still representative of the vast minority of good picks.
2008 - We are now more than 5 years post the 2008 draft which in most instances means the players, if they were any value would have made or come close to the majors already. Of the top 10 picks, these are the guys who made a dent in the majors: Pedro Alvarez, Eric Hosmer, Brian Matusz, Buster Posey, Yonder Alonso, Aaaron Crow, Gordon Beckham, Jason Castro, Dustin Smoak, or most of them. Of these guys, 3 to 5 of them could be considered better than average players. 7 of the next 20 made the majors though only one who currently looks like a star, a guy who failed to signed but when he was drafted a few years later and was the top pick of the draft, Gerritt Cole, taken 28th by the Yankees. Most of the other players in the draft have faded into oblivion from a prospect standpoint.
2007- 4 high end players were taken among the top 10 picks, followed by about 7 guys who made a dent in the majors though only Jason Heyward has done anything star like. The Yankees took Andrew Brackman 30th. Only 3 picks taken afterward had any real value to date.
2006 was largely a terrible draft. In the top 11 was Evan Longoria, Brandon Morrow, Clayton Kershaw, Tim Lincecum and Max Scherzer. Of the rest only Tyler Colvin, Kyle Drabek and the 22nd pick, Ian Kennedy, made any real dent in the majors, the latter of whom was picked by the Yankees...and a guy named Joba Chamberlain, who was chosen 41 st by the Yankees. Ian Kennedy did not do much for the Yankees but then again he had what, 7 starts? He did still win 20 games for the Dbacks. Joba has been a poor pitcher the last couple years but he at least provided value at times unlike most of the guys in the draft.
In the 2005 draft, 8 out of the top 12 guys turned out to be stars or high end players. The Yankees picked 17th the highest in a long time and whiffed on CJ Henry. Notably, they could have had Matt Garza, Clay Buchholz, Jed Lowrie, Jacoby Ellsbury or Colby Rasmus. Again though, most guys picked by 17 and beyond were busts as were most of the guys after the 12th pick as well.
From the 2004 draft, only Justin Verlander and Homer Bailey have done anything to write home about with respect to the top 10 picks. Jered Weaver, Neil Walker, Billy Butler, Stephen Drew, and Glen Perkins were all picked before the Yankees picks and all have contributed nicely. The Yankees picked Phil Hughes at 23rd. He never became an ace but he did make it to the top 10 as prospects and was a solid pitcher even if not great for most of his tenure. After he was picked, the only real difference makers were Huston Street who is a closer who gets hurt a lot but is very good and Yvonni Gallardo who is a solid power pitcher but who consistently has a high WHIP and might not have fared better in NY than Hughes.
2003 had a few nice picks in or close to the 1st round but no studs. Even the 1st two picks, while making the majors never became real stars. The Yankees took Eric Duncan 23 who did nothing for them but then again very few guys drafted before or close after him did either.
That is 10 years of drafting. In those 10 years, the Yankees have not produced a single star. Not one. Clearly, that is not good and needs to change. However, as seen from above, where the Yankees have picked, the majority of picks taken in the slots before and after them were largely busts as well. Nevertheless, it seems that in those 10 years, the last 4 has been better at producing major leaguers which suggests that scouting is getting better. Further, the Yankees, while not the only ones have passed on talent that, while no one can say for sure were better, have accomplished more than the Yankees picks. Yet, but for 2005, and the last 4 years, drafts did not seem to result in the same amount talent in the 1st 50 picks. So while we can say the Yankees 1st round has not been great for them, the same is true for the vast majority of teams in baseball. Conversely, since scouting seemingly is getting better over the last 4 years, it would seem that other teams are getting better at scouting. Further, we have seen gems more likely among the top 50 picks than in the past. Accordingly, while the Yankees should be given somewhat of a break for some of their past picks, the same would not seem to hold true if guys like Hensley, Aaron Judge, Eric Jagielo, Ian Clarklin, and future first round picks turn out to be more bust than boom.