There's no getting around the fact that the Yankees have had mixed success with the MLB draft over the years. Since they have been so good for most of the draft's existence, they rarely had top picks to obtain top talent, and they lost even more picks due to free agent compensation. Fortunately, there have still been numerous diamonds in the rough over the years. Last year, I ran a list of my top 10 Yankees draft picks of all time, but to add a ripple to it, I posed the following question: If one was to assemble a team of the Yankees' greatest draft picks, who would play each position? Some of these players will be quite mediocre, but some of them are among the best to ever don pinstripes.
Catcher: Thurman Munson
Drafted: 1968, 1st round, #4 overall (Kent State University)
Munson was an absolute icon in New York despite his gruff personality, and he was probably the Yankees' best all-around catcher since the days of Elston Howard and Yogi Berra. He quickly made a splash by winning the 1970 AL Rookie of the Year just two years after being drafted, and over an eight-year stretch from then until '77, he hit .292/.349/.420 with 183 doubles, 103 homers, a 121 wRC+, and a terrific 40.0 rWAR. By FanGraphs measures, only Johnny Bench was a better catcher over this dominant stretch. The Yankees captain was named to seven All-Star teams, earned three Gold Gloves for his superb defense (career 38% CS%), and won the '76 AL MVP as the Yankees returned to the playoffs for the first time in 12 years.
To add a cherry on top, Munson was a career .357/.378/.496 hitter in 30 playoff games, winning back-to-back World Series titles in '77 and '78. Munson started to decline a little bit, but who knows what numbers he could have posted had he not tragically lost his life in a plane crash on August 2, 1979? It was perhaps the darkest day in Yankees history, and the Yankees lost a remarkable human being as well as their first truly great draft pick.
First base: Don Mattingly
Drafted: 1979, 19th round, #493 overall (Reitz Memorial High School, Evansville, IN)
The most successful Yankees first baseman since Lou Gehrig was the hero of a generation and arguably the best hitter in baseball for a few years during the '80s. Yet Mattingly was drafted all the way down in the 19th round, between such luminaries as Wayne Kellam and Bob Birrell. No one else in Mattingly's draft round reached the majors, but "Donnie Baseball" surpassed all expectations and simply hit everywhere he went in the minors. By late June of '83, he was in the majors for good and immediately made an impact by winning the AL batting crown over superstar teammate Dave Winfield, winning the '85 AL MVP, and setting franchise records with 238 hits and 53 doubles in a career-best 7.2 rWAR season in '86. He was named to six AL All-Star teams in a row, won nine Gold Gloves, set a record with six grand slams in '87, and he tied a record with a homer in eight consecutive games that year, too.
Alas, back injuries robbed Mattingly of his prime years and a more substantial Hall of Fame case, leading to an early retirement after his first playoff series in '95 at age 34. Nonetheless, Mattingly will always be the hero to a generation of Yankees fans and the go-to example of why late draft picks should not be overlooked.
Second base: Pat Kelly
Drafted: 1988, 9th round, #235 overall (West Chester University)
Woof. What a giant step down in quality from two amazing captains to Pat Kelly. Second base has been a position of basically no success at all for the Yankees in their drafting history. Their two best second baseman of the past several decades were not draft picks--Willie Randolph was a trade acquisition at age 21 from the Pirates, and Robinson Cano was an international free agent signing. Pretty much every second base draft pick has been a washout.
Kelly was drafted as a shortstop, but the Yankees made him a second baseman in the minors. He joined the big club in May of '91 at age 23 and hung around for parts of seven seasons with the Yankees. Unfortunately, as PSA's Greg Kirkland is always quick to point out, Kelly could never seem to stay healthy. He topped 100 games just twice in his career and played only 13 games during the Yankees' championship season in '96, as he was replaced by the capable Mariano Duncan. Kelly's career year was probably the '93 campaign, when he hit .273/.317/.389 with 24 doubles and a 92 OPS+ in 127 games, good for 2.4 rWAR. Kelly was far from a slugger, but he did come up with arguably the Yankees' biggest hit of their run to the Wild Card in '95. The Yankees were essentially in must-win mode throughout late September, as they could not afford to lose any ground on the Angels and Mariners for the Wild Card spot that could have gone to the loser of their AL West division title race. With the Yankees trailing the Blue Jays 4-3 in the ninth inning of the third-to-last game of the season, Kelly, a dismal 68 OPS+ hitter in '95, stunned Toronto with a go-ahead two-run homer:
It was the most important hit of Kelly's career, and the Yankees went on to win the Wild Card, though they of course lost a tight Division Series to the Mariners. Unfortunately, Kelly continued to struggle with injuries and the Yankees let him walk in free agency after the '97 season. Kelly's career didn't make it into the new millennium. Yet his 4.7 rWAR with the Yankees remains easily the best for their draft picks who became second basemen. Hopefully, Rob Refsnyder or Gosuke Katoh can change this one day.
Third base: Mike Pagliarulo
Drafted: 1981, 6th round, #155 overall (University of Miami)
Yeah, third base hasn't seen much success either, though "Pags" did have a few more healthy and productive seasons. Offense was never the Yankees' problem in the '80s, and Pagliarulo was certainly a crucial part of the wrecking crew. His lefty swing was well-suited for Yankee Stadium, and he hit 79 homers over three seasons from 1985-87, including a career-high 32 in '87, which tied with Cleveland's Brook Jacoby for best in the league among third basemen. A poor man's Curtis Granderson, his big flaws were hitting for low average (.229 career as a Yankee) and striking out a fair amount (20.1% K% as a Yankee).
However, the dingers certainly helped make up his production, and when Pagliarulo was dealt to the Padres in a deadline deal in '89, he ended his six-year career as a Yankee with a .229/.300/.427 triple slash and 105 homers, good for a 98 OPS+ and 5.0 rWAR. Pags later won a World Series ring in '91 as the Twins' third baseman, so his patience missing out on the playoffs with the Yankees paid off. Like Kelly though, it would be nice to see one of the Yankees' recent draft picks (Eric Jagielo, perhaps?) meet the not-too-formidable goal of passing Pags as their best draft pick third baseman.
Shortstop: Derek Jeter
Drafted: 1992, 1st round, #6 overall (Central High School, Kalamazoo, MI)
What more can you say about Jeter? He's easily the Yankees' best draft pick of all time and ranks up there with Cal Ripken Jr. and Barry Larkin as the greatest shortstops to ever spend the vast majority of their career at the position. To date, he's a 13-time All-Star, owner of 3,349 hits, 529 doubles, 257 homers, and a remarkable .312/.381/.445 triple slash, tremendous for a shortstop. Add in five World Series rings, the 2000 World Series MVP, exactly 200 career playoff hits, 20 playoff homers, and an .838 career playoff OPS (slightly higher than his regular season .826 OPS) and you have a truly tremendous player.
Just imagine--if Astros scout and Hall of Fame pitcher Hal Newhouser had his druthers, we would probably be talking about the double-play combination of Jeter and Craig Biggio as perhaps the best in baseball history. Maybe the Astros would have actually have a championship to their name. Hell, maybe they would have more than just the one pennant. Maybe they wouldn't be trudging along right now in miserable rebuilding mode. Fortunately for the Yankees, the Astros decided to take Phil Nevin with the top pick of the '92 draft, and Jeter fell to the Yankees at number six. Furious, Newhouser quit his job and never returned to the game. He sent him a note that said "Al Kaline bought a tee and ball and swung at it all winter. Look where it got him, the Hall of Fame." The rest is history.
Left field: Dan Pasqua
Drafted: 1982, 3rd round, #76 overall (William Paterson University)
The outfield is another bit of a weak area in Yankees drafting history. Most of the greats on the championship teams were either MLB free agents , trade acquisitions, or international free agents. Soooo it's a bit disappointing to see a guy like Dan Pasqua on here. Pasqua wasn't a slouch though. He was in the majors at age 23 three years after being drafted and had a solid 95 OPS+ rookie campaign before breaking out in '86. That year, Pasqua hit .293/.399/.525 with an impressive 151 OPS+ in 102 games. That was worth 2.5 rWAR and makes up most of the value he gave them during his brief three-year stint in the Bronx.
Pasqua slipped back to his rookie year form in '87, which he ended with a 96 OPS+ in 113 games. In the off-season, the Yankees tried to improve their pitching by sending Pasqua to the White Sox in a package to acquire starter Richard Dotson and swingman Scott Nielsen. Neither panned out, and Pasqua notched a fine 119 OPS+ over his next four seasons in Chicago--just another in a long string of deals that backfired on the Yankees in the '80s.
Center field: Brett Gardner
Drafted: 2005, 3rd round, #109 overall (College of Charleston)
Believe it or not, Gardner is already the Yankees' most accomplished home-drafted outfielder since the pre-draft days of Bobby Murcer and Roy White. Gardner's quickly moving up the Yankees' all-time list in stolen bases with 170 at this point, which ranks ninth in Yankees history--he just needs 15 more steals to move up to sixth all-time, a mark easily attainable this year. Gardner has one of the best defensive reputations in the game, though he strangely still does not own a Gold Glove Award. He does own two Fielding Bible awards for advanced defensive statistics, earned in 2010 and 2011.
Gardner has also evolved from low expectations about his bat to hit .272/.358/.388 with 78 doubles and 26 triples since 2010, a stellar 7.3 rWAR season by itself. Gardner is already a 20.3 rWAR player in just 657 career games, which averages out to a little over a mere four seasons despite being in the seventh year of his career. Here's hoping the Southern Comfort continues flowing through his veins and Gardner continues his outfield excellence throughout the four-year extension he signed prior to the 2014 season.
Right field: Shane Spencer
Drafted: 1990, 28th round, #750 overall (Granite Hills High School, El Cajon, CA)
Like Pasqua, another bit of an underwhelming choice for this team, but Spencer was still a fine player. It took Spencer a long time to reach the major leagues, as he was still in High-A at age 23 in '95. Desperate to reach the majors, he even crossed the picket line during the 1994-95 Players' Strike and played spring training as a replacement player, earning him the scorn of many of his fellow players, even though he probably just needed the money. (Life isn't easy as a minor league player.) Thus, he could never appear on any MLB merchandise since he was not allowed in the MLB Players' Association. That sucked, but Spencer persevered and finally made a splash in the Yankees' tremendous '98 season.
Spencer was just another remarkable story of that season, joining the team as a late call-up and playing absolutely out of his mind by hitting .373/.411/.910 with 10 homers in just 27 games. He set a MLB rookie record with three grand slams, all in September (also a record). Although he began to slump in the ALCS, Spencer still hit a pair of homers in the playoffs, and the Yankees won the World Series. Meeting the enormously high expectations caused by the small sample size proved to be a challenge throughout the rest of Spencer's career, though. He could never prove himself worthy of consistent playing time and never topped 100 games in a season with the Yankees. He slumped badly in '99 but rebounded in 2000 to hit .282/.330/.460 with a respectable 99 OPS+. Spencer slipped to a 93 OPS+ in '01 and an 86 OPS+ in '02, though he did slug a crucial solo homer in Game 4 of the 2001 World Series against Curt Schilling. The Yankees let him walk as a free agent after '02, ending his five-year tenure with the team at .263/.324/.444, 43 homers, a 98 OPS+, and 3.9 rWAR. Once again, I must say that it would be delightful if one of the young minor leaguers in the farm system now could replace Pasqua and Spencer on this team.
Designated hitter: Jorge Posada
Drafted: 1990, 24th round, #646 overall (Calhoun Community College)
Yeah, yeah, Posada wasn't really a DH for most of his career, but in order to make it onto this team, I think it's fair to put Posada at DH. He's not catching with the defensively superior Munson behind the plate anyway. Besides, Posada's bat is what carried him to the majors and helped him excel as arguably baseball's best catcher of the 2000s. A native of Puerto Rico, Posada moved to Alabama to play in a community college at age 18, and the Yankees took a flyer on him in '90. Posada hit at every level he played, but it was a struggle to adapt to catching. Posada's hitting was enough to earn him a couple cups of coffee in the majors in '95 and '96 before becoming Joe Girardi's full-time backup in '97. Despite a season-long slump in '99, Posada's bat and progress with the glove were enough for the Yankees to let Girardi go and make Posada the full-time starter in 2000.
For the rest of the decade, Posada proved to be an invaluable force in the lineup, hitting .283/.386/.492 with 288 doubles, 208 homers, and a 129 OPS+ from 2000-09. Although never the best defensive catcher, he became passable for a point during the mid-2000s and his strong arm even helped him throw out 37% of baserunners in '05. Most importantly, he was durable, playing 142 games per year from 2000-07, a hefty workload that took its toll through concussions that combined with declining defense to force him out from behind the plate in 2011. The switch-hitter was a five-time All-Star who also tied Yogi Berra's team record for homers from a catcher in a single season with 30 in 2003, a third-place AL MVP finish for him. He reached a career-high with a .338/.426/.543 triple slash in '07, good for a 153 OPS+ and a sixth-place AL MVP finish. In the end, Posada actually has a decent Hall of Fame case, if not a lock for a Monument Park plaque and perhaps a retired number. Definitely a career worthy of this team.
Starting pitcher: Andy Pettitte
Drafted: 1990, 22nd round, #594 overall (Deer Park High School, Deer Park, TX)
How incredible is it that two of the most important players in Yankees history were drafted within two rounds of each other long after the 500th overall pick of the 1990 MLB Draft? Like Mattingly, Posada and Pettitte are reasons why late-round talent cannot be too easily dismissed. In fact, Pettitte just narrowly beat out '71 third round pick Ron Guidry for the starting nod on this team. ("Louisiana Lightning" should not be forgotten, as the lefty actually finished third on my rankings last year, but with competition so fierce, he will have to settle for a reserve nod here. Maybe he can just play second base instead of Pat Kelly.)
Pettitte was soft-spoken but the ultimate competitor on the mound. The southpaw was quite durable, making 438 starts and pitching almost 2,800 innings in pinstripes. After a third-place Rookie of the Year finish in the Yankees' Wild Card run in '95, Pettitte had his two best seasons as a Yankee in '96 and '97, which combined for a 3.36 ERA 3.49 FIP, 141 ERA+, and 13.9 rWAR. He was an All-Star and finished among the top five in Cy Young votes each season. After a couple down years in '98 and '99 (when he still never dipped below a 100 ERA+), Pettitte remained steady throughout the rest of his Yankees career, ignoring the three-year detour he took to the Astros when the Yankees were too lazy to actually pursue him in the 2003-04 off-season.
Remarkably, Pettitte pitched to 3.81 ERA in the playoffs that was nearly identical to his career 3.85 ERA regular season mark, not an easy feat considering the heightened level of competition in the playoffs. Like Jeter, he was a part of five World Series championship teams and rarely came up small in big games. One day, he will also be in Monument Park. Pettitte was a beloved member of this team, and even though he was 41 and showing signs of age last year, he still posted a steady 108 ERA+ in 30 starts. Think the Yankees couldn't use that now? I miss Andy.
Closer: David Robertson
Drafted: 2006, 17th round, #524 (University of Alabama)
It might be surprising to learn that D-Rob is already the best draft pick reliever in Yankees history. It makes sense though--Sparky Lyle and Dave Righetti were trade acquisitions, Mariano Rivera was an international free agent, and Goose Gossage was a regular ol' free agent. Robertson is just another late-round success story, and he just barely missed the cut on the top 10 draft picks last year. If the list were being made now with another successful year in the books, he would certainly crack the top 10.
D-Rob's rise to prominence has been a pleasure to watch as he mastered his control and has proved to be arguably as important to the bullpen's success over the past few years as the great Rivera himself. He fanned 13.5 men per nine in an All-Star 2011 campaign that ended with a sparkling 1.08 ERA and 1.84 FIP, and that was while he was still walking the ballpark! Since then, he's sacrificed a bit of his strikeout numbers in exchange for far superior control--his BB/9 since 2012 stands at 2.6, and he's remained strong with a 2.32 ERA and 2.58 FIP. Robertson is not under contract past 2014, but hopefully, him and his curve will stay with the Yankees for a long time.
So yeah, more draft picks like these guys would be nice. Hopefully more Mattingly than Pagliarulo, though. Get it done, Cash.