Last year was the 50th anniversary of the first ever MLB draft. On Thursdays, PSA will dust off the old time baseball time machine and have a look back at some of the more fruitful and interesting draft classes in New York Yankees' history.
This week we'll look at the Yankees' 2005 draft class, which was thought to be loaded with impact talent and that produced a few eventual big leaguers (but only one of which actually ended up playing for the Yankees).
Free Agent Compensation Picks
SS C.J. Henry (Round 1, 17th overall; compensation for losing Jon Lieber to the Philadelphia Phillies)
P J.B. Cox (Round 2, 63rd overall; compensation for losing Orlando Hernandez to the Chicago White Sox)
Looking back, it's easy to criticize the Yankees for their choices in drafting Henry and Cox with their first two choices in '05, especially since neither reached the big leagues. However, at the time, both were seen as players that would inject some much-needed talent into a minor league system that was perceived as lacking in it.
For example, take what MLB.com had to say about Henry, a Oklahoma City-native who was drafted out of high school:
"Built similar to Alex Rodriguez. Similar kinds of ability. Puts some strength into a slightly uppercut swing. Home run power from alley to alley. Quick and agile in the infield w/ sure hands. Likes to run. Good instincts on the base paths. Makes everything look easy."
Baseball America ranked Henry as the team's fourth best prospect following the 2005 season, behind only Phil Hughes, Eric Duncan, and Jose Tabata. Henry never made it above Single-A and hit only .222/.296/.353 in four minor league seasons (his last coming in 2008). Still only 29, Henry has played two seasons of Independent League ball since 2008 (with the Frontier League in 2013 and the American Association last year).
Meanwhile, Cox was listed as the team's eight best prospect following the 2006 season by BA and was said to have to the "best slider" in the entire organization. The former University of Texas closer was expected to move quickly through the Yankees' system, but he did not perform in the minors the way many expected him to (3.62 ERA and 153 strikeouts in 219 minor league innings from 2005-2010). He has not pitched professionally since 2010.
On a side note, with each of these respective selection, the Yankees passed on players who would eventually be fitted for pinstripes. Six picks after the Yankees selected Henry, the Boston Red Sox took Oregon State University outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury 23rd overall, while Cox was taken just three slots ahead of Chase Headley, who was tabbed as the 66th overall pick by the San Diego Padres out of the University of Tennessee.
Other Notable Selections
OF Brett Gardner (Round 3, 109th overall)
Who would've thought in 2005 that a former walk-on at the College of Charleston would arguably the best player in the Yankees' draft class?
Heading into the 2005 draft, Gardner was regarded as one of the fastest players available, with scouts rating his speed as an 80 on the 20-80 scouting scale. While many viewed Gardner as a steady hitter, he was projected to develop into a Jason Tyner-type player (speedy, defensive backup outfielder with slightly below-average to average offensive production). In fact, here is what BA said about Gardner following the 2008 season:
"The consensus inside the organization and out sees Gardner as a second-division regular or fourth outfielder. In the best-case scenario, Gardner has a Juan Pierre-type of career with more walks. At worst, he's another Jason Tyner."
The lefty has developed into one of the best defensive left fielders in baseball over the past several years. Offensively, Gardner has shown much more power than anyone thought he possessed (56 career home runs, including 33 over the past two seasons), while also earning the reputation of someone who sees a lot of pitches per plate appearance.
While Gardner isn't the base stealer that Pierre once was (Pierre topped 30 steals in eleven of his 14 seasons while Gardner has only done so twice in eight years), it's safe to say Gardner has certainly bested the "fourth outfielder" prediction and is much closer to the Pierre comparison than the Tyner one.
P Doug Fister (Round 6, 199th overall)
Drafted out of Fresno State, Fister spurned the Yankees in favor of returning for another season with the Bulldogs. Fister would then be drafted the following year by the Seattle Mariners in the seventh round. To this point, the 6-foot-8 right-hander has ridden his sharp-moving sinker to 3.42 career ERA and 117 ERA+ in close to 1,100 innings in his seven seasons.
As many Yankee fans know, this was not the only time Fister eluded the Yankees. Since his big league debut in 2009, the Yankees have had varying degrees of interest in the righty, including this past offseason.
OF Austin Jackson (Round 8, 259th overall)
While drafted in the eighth round (due to concerns that he would choose to attend Georgia Tech on a full basketball scholarship rather than play baseball), Jackson quickly began rising up on the radars of many talent evaluators once he entered pro ball.
BA cited his "all-around ability", "premium" athleticism, and "strong personality and leadership skills" when the publication listed him as the Yankees' top prospect and baseball's 46th best prospect overall following the 2008 season. From 2005-2009, the outfielder hit .291/.358/.410 in the Yankees' system, earning that top prospect status.
With the departures of Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui following the 2009 season, Jackson figured to be in the Yankees' outfield plans in 2010. However, the right-handed hitter never got the chance to call Yankee Stadium home as the Yankees included Jackson in the trade that brought Curtis Granderson to New York.
While Jackson hasn't hit for the power many scouts thought he would develop as he matured, he has put together a very productive big league career. In six seasons, he has slashed .273/.333/.399 with 55 home runs and 106 stolen bases.
2B Justin Turner (Round 29, 889th overall)
Like Fister, Turner chose not too sign with the Yankees after getting selected out a California university (this time Cal State Fullerton). Instead, Turner signed a year later after the Cincinnati Reds drafted him in the seventh round, three picks after the Mariners took Fister.
After debuting in the majors in 2009, Turner played in just 21 games in 2009-10 for the Baltimore Orioles and New York Mets before putting together three solid seasons for the Metropolitans from 2011-13. Turner's career has taken off since signing with the Los Angeles Dodgers in February 2014, hitting .314/.384/.492 in two seasons there.
All told, the Yankees' '05 draft class produced seven big leaguers out of 50 players drafted. Those seven players have a cumulative WAR of 77.7 so far, with the outfielders Gardner (26.9) and Jackson (22.2) accounting for more than half that total.