I recently got an email from a reader of this very site, asking me how I would fix the Yankees farm system. It took me a day or two to answer because I didn't know how to fix it, or at least I thought I didn't. I finally sat down and prepared to give him an answer, but suddenly I found myself providing an intricate step-by-step plan that would hopefully help the Yankees improve their farm system without having to go through the challenge of a rebuild. It was probably a much longer email than he ever wanted to see, so I apologize to him and his inbox, but I felt I should at least share my ideas and see what everyone thought. Here we go:
How would I fix the farm system? That's a tough one.
I think first you have to set the environment in which these players are supposed to be growing in. If I had to choose one person to fire, be it Mark Newman (player development) or Damon Oppenheimer (draft) I would choose Newman. It seems that their problem isn't necessarily drafting because evaluators have praised a lot of their picks, but the system is unable to develop any of them into useful players. Even if it's all a coincidence, neither has done a good enough job to keep around. People say change for change's sake is bad, but status quo out of fear of change is even worse and I think it's time for the Yankees to finally step out of the status quo they have been living in for the last decade. Try something new, because what you have now clearly isn't working.
They need to change what they focus on in the draft. Like they did in 2013, they valued college over high school, hoping to take the more ready-to-produce talent over the projectable teenagers. If the organization is struggling to develop players, finding talent that will likely take the least amount of development should be the obvious way to go. Their 2013 first-round picks were a perfect example of what they need to aim for - projectable talent (Clarkin), matured talent (Jagielo), and work-in-progress talent (Judge). All three show massive potential and they need to stick to a strategy, instead of trading by position (Culver) or name recognition (Bichette). Smart drafting goes a long way.
The Yankees eliminated a few scouting roles this offseason, but I feel like they need to be looking at expanding their stable of scouts. Bring in guys with traditional evaluating talent, but also people who can analyze video, crunch numbers, and find any kind of strength or weakness to a player that might add some extra value. This isn't even a prospect-specific plan, just something the Yankees, as an organization, need to start getting on board with.
They need to open their scope internationally. They are already big in Latin America, but with the financial might the Yankees have, they can seemingly spend their way into a productive farm system. They haven't had a problem signing the likes of Jesus Montero, Manny Banuelos, and Gary Sanchez, but like the Cubs did last year, and the Rangers before them, they shouldn't be afraid to go on a spending spree, like they reportedly plan to do this offseason.
They can't be afraid to take chances on amateur talent or top talent coming out of Cuba and Japan. Too many times have they allowed Yasiel Puig, Yoenis Cespedes, and Yu Darvish slip through without so much as a slight interest. Players like this might not necessarily help the farm, but they would circumvent the need to rely on the farm at a time that they have nothing to offer. Puig could have been a great success story for the organization once he graduated to the majors.
Finally, they need to not just say the farm is a "priority," They need to actually make it one. The 2013 Draft is, again, the perfect example with three first-round picks. While there is something to be said about fielding a championship-caliber team, the roughshod method they used this offseason seems to have left them with no conceivable advantage anywhere. They completely gutted their draft class while not improving the team in a significant way when they have to rely on Brian Roberts and absolutely no one at third base.
Next season, if the Yankees really want to make the farm system a priority, they need to gain as many draft picks as possible while filling out their roster with mid-tier talent. Filling the roster with All-Stars and scrubs doesn't get the team anywhere at the major league level or the minor league level. There's something to be said for making a certain player a priority over simply signing whatever talent you can. Better planning in the 2014-2015 offseason could leave the Yankees with competitive major-league talent without taking a scorched earth policy with the draft.
I know that the Yankees are a brand and they feel they have to add brand names (Ichiro, Beltran), but they also can't be afraid to run their team like a baseball team. That means, if they're bad, they can trade some of their players for prospects. The Yankees are the Yankees and the presence or absence of Alfonso Soriano or Kelly Johnson or even Brett Gardner is not going to make or break attendance by midseason. Get attention focused on the young players coming through, the next Derek Jeter, if you will, whether it's true or not. Show that you're not just dedicated in putting the best product on the field, but also making the right decisions.
Improving the farm system is not a one-and-done solution, it takes time and effort. And resources. The Yankees have the most resources in baseball and they shouldn't be afraid to throw it around anymore. It's time to roll up the sleeves and do some hard work. It doesn't have to hurt the immediate product and it could pay off down the road.
There we have it. That's my plan, I suppose, but let's hear what you have in mind. What's your opinion and what's your plan?
I also want to say that I'm always available via my listed email account, jasoncraigcohen (at) yahoo (dot) com, so if you value my opinion, feel free to ask a question. Maybe we can make it into a regular mailbag feature, who knows.