It has been a little over a decade since the Yankees selected Gerrit Cole in the first round of the 2008 MLB Draft. In the time between his decision not to sign and finally donning pinstripes, the Yankees have held 15 first round selections, including compensatory and competitive-balance picks. How have those picks panned out for the Bombers?
The good news is that arguably the best overall player on the Yankees roster was taken with one of those picks. Aaron Judge was selected 32nd overall in 2013 as compensation for Nick Swisher signing with the Indians after declining the Yankees’ qualifying offer. However, outside of their superstar right fielder, the results do not paint a pretty picture of the Yankees’ scouting and development departments
2009 - Slade Heathcott, 29th overall
As compensation for their failure to sign Gerrit Cole the previous year, the Yankees selected outfielder Slade Heathcott in the first round of the 2009 MLB Draft. He made his MLB debut in 2015, when he was promoted to fill in for an injured Jacoby Ellsbury. Even though he only played in 17 games for the Yankees, he raked during his cameo, batting .400 with two home runs and eight RBI. He was released the following year and bounced around the minor league systems of the White Sox, Giants, and Athletics before retiring in 2019 to become a commercial pilot.
2010 - Cito Culver, 32nd overall
In 2010, the Yankees selected Cito Culver out of Meridian Community College ahead of guys like Noah Syndergaard and J.T. Realmuto. The shortstop played eight season in the Yankees’ minor-league system before signing a minor league deal with the Marlins in 2018. He currently plays for the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks of the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball.
2011 - Dante Bichette Jr., 51st overall
In 2011, the Yankees selected Dante Bichette Jr. as compensation for Javier Vazquez’s release. The third baseman played in the system for seven years before signing a minor-league contract with the Rockies. He bounced around several independent leagues and is currently in the Nationals’ organization.
2012 - Ty Hensley, 30th overall
In 2012, the Yankees selected pitcher Ty Hensley out of Santa Fe High School. He missed the 2013 season to hip surgery and all of 2015 and 2016 to two successive Tommy John procedures. He was selected by the Rays in the 2016 Rule 5 draft, and last played for the Utica Unicorns of the United Shore Professional Baseball League.
2013 - Eric Jagielo, 26th overall; Aaron Judge, 32nd overall; Ian Clarkin, 33rd overall
Aside from the aforementioned Judge the Yankees selected third baseman Eric Jagielo and pitcher Ian Clarkin in 2013. Jagielo was part of the trade brought Aroldis Chapman to New York, while Clarkin was included in the deal that netted Todd Frazier, David Robertson, and Tommy Kahnle from the White Sox. Neither have played in the majors.
2015 - James Kaprielian, 16th overall, Kyle Holder, 30th overall
Following a draft in which they held no first round picks due to their free agency bonanza, the Yankees took pitcher James Kaprielian in the first round and shortstop Kyle Holder in the compensatory first round following David Robertson’s departure to Chicago. Kaprielian was considered a top prospect, but pitched fewer than 30 innings in the minors for the Yankees due to elbow injuries, then was included in the trade for Sonny Gray. Holder has yet to make his Yankees debut, but has a cult following among Yankees fans as a spring training darling.
2016 - Blake Rutherford, 18th overall
Rutherford was a highly regarded prospect out of California. He played less than two years in the Yankees system before being packaged in the trade for Frazier, Robertson, and Kahnle. He has continued to progress through the White Sox minors and was added to the 40-man roster following last season.
2017 - Clarke Schmidt, 16th overall
Schmidt was selected in the first round despite recently undergoing Tommy John surgery. He has bounced back from his procedure, and is currently one of the most promising prospects in the Yankees system. He showed electric stuff during the abbreviated 2020 spring training, placing him second in organizational prospect rankings and 88th in the country according to MLB Pipeline, leaving Yankees fans excited for his major league debut. With two of their starters in contract years, the Yankees are hopeful they have a ready-made replacement in Schmidt should one or both depart this winter.
2018 - Anthony Seigler, 23rd overall
The Yankees selected the switch hitting, switch pitching prospect with the hope of further developing his skills as a catcher. He has struggled with injuries in his two years with the Yankees organization. Expectedly, his development has been delayed, as he has batted only .216/.350/.267 with one home run and 15 RBIs in 54 games across two seasons.
2019 - Anthony Volpe, 30th overall; TJ Sikkema 38th overall
The Yankees selected Volpe directly out of high school following a monster senior year campaign. While none of the shortstop’s tools project too well, the Yankees were enamored with his makeup and maturity. In his first year in the organization, he slashed .215/.349/.355 with two home runs and 11 RBIs before his season was cut short by a Mono infection. At only 19 years old, there is still plenty of time for the young infielder.
Sikkema was the Yankees’ other first round pick, in the competitive balance round, which they acquired in the trade that sent Sonny Gray to Cincinnati. He pitched 10.2 innings for the Staten Island Yankees last year, posting a 0.84 ERA and 0.656 WHIP with 13 strikeouts.
Of course hindsight is twenty-twenty, however it seems the Yankees’ choices in the first round have been generally disappointing. Only two players made it to the major-league roster, with the rest either never breaking out of the minors or leaving the organization via trade or release. The Yankees are hoping their pick in this year’s draft will break this trend. Austin Wells certainly has the tools to make an impact, now it is on the developmental staff to get him to the bigs.