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Yankees history: The Yankees’ first draft class

As the Yankees try to lock in their 2018 class, let’s look back at their inaugural class.

MLB First Year Player Draft Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Wednesday saw the end of the 2018 MLB Draft. It remains to be seen how many of the 40 Yankees’ picks will end up signing and playing in the organization, never mind how many of them actually end up making the major leagues.

One draft we absolutely can look back on and make judgments about in the 1965 MLB Draft.

The 1965 draft was the first ever held, after teams voted in favor of it in 1964. It was an attempt to curb the way teams acquired players out of high school and colleges. Prior to that, richer teams such as the Yankees were said to have an advantage due to the money they could offer players. Needless to say, the Yankees did not vote in favor of it.

The Athletics had the first pick in that inaugural draft and selected Rick Monday. Other eventual All-Stars that would go ahead of the Yankees’ first pick included Joe Coleman, Ray Fosse, and Jim Spencer.

The Yankees had the 19th selection, having lost the World Series in 1964. With their first round pick, they took Bill Burbach. The pitcher out of a Wisconsin high school would go down in history as the first ever Yankee draft pick.

After a rough start in the minors as a 17-year old, Burbach started steadily putting up solid numbers over the next couple seasons. He would make the Yankees to start the 1969 season, getting the start in the fifth game of the season. Burbach allowed just two runs, one earned, on five hits in six inning in his debut. He got a no decision as Lindy McDaniel would blow a save, only to get the win when the Yankees scored seven runs in the eighth and ninth innings.

Burbach would throw 140.2 innings across 31 games (24 starts) in his rookie year. His 3.65 ERA was slightly below average for the era, but he seemingly didn’t have a bad year for a 21-year old playing in his first season.

For whatever reason, Burbach would only get 19.2 innings across the next two years. (Allowing 23 runs in those innings probably had something to do with it.) He was traded to the Orioles in 1971 and never played in the majors after leaving New York.

Three picks after Johnny Bench was selected by Cincinnati, the Yankees took Danny Thompson in the second round. Thompson would go on to have a seven-year major league career, just not with the Yankees. He didn’t sign out of high school, and would eventually become a first-round pick for the Washington Senators a couple years later.

The best Yankee draft pick to come out of 1965 was Stan Bahnsen. The fourth-round pick beat the three Yankees’ picks ahead of him to the majors, making his debut in September 1966.

After four games that season, Bahnsen wouldn’t play again in the majors until 1968. That season, he would go on to win Rookie of the Year, getting 17 of 20 votes. It wasn’t the Yankees’ best season, but he was a bright spot, having the best season of any Yankees starter. He finished with a 2.05 ERA in 267.1 innings.

Bahnsen wouldn’t have another season that good with the Yankees, and would be traded in December 1971. His career finished in 1982, after a solid 16 years. He didn’t live up to his Rookie of the Year season, but he was by far the best player from the Yankees inaugural draft class.

On the other hand, we have the players who did not come close to the majors. The 16th round pick, #311 overall, was Morton Zenor. (Who was not chosen as an example here just because of his name. Definitely not.) Zenor was a high school player out of Iowa when he was selected by the Yankees.

He was sent to Johnson City, who were the Yankees affiliate in the Appalachian League in 1965. Zenor had a respectable OPS of .788 in 53 games as a younger than average player in the rookie league in 1965. However, he started the following year in the Gulf Coast League as an older than average player. In 21 games there, his numbers took a pretty big drop from the previous season. After just six hits in 37 at-bats, he wouldn’t play another minor league game again. (At least not any that appear on Baseball Reference.)

Other eventual major leaguers that were selected by the Yankees that year include Darcy Fast, Mickey Scott, Tommy Gramly, and Tom Shopay. (They combined for -1.1 WAR.)

The other person from this draft to make the majors was 40th round pick Dick Such.

The Yankees took Such with their final pick in the 1965 draft, but failed to sign him. He stayed at Elon University, and vaulted into the eighth round the following draft. Such was selected by the Senators, which is the team he would debut with in 1970. It didn’t go great.

Such walked 45 of the 239 batters he faced in the majors, not shockingly finishing his career with an ERA over seven.

The 1965 Yankees draft is a microcosm of the baseball draft as a whole. You won’t have ever heard of most of them. The first round picks might not have a long career, and even the final pick can theoretically make it.

All historical draft info and stats are courtesy of Baseball Reference.