Last month the Yankees picked Austin Wells with the 28th overall pick in the MLB Draft. Players taken in the first round are much more likely to find major league success than those in any other round. This season the Yankees will have six former first round picks in their camp, but they’ve all moved with different trajectories from draft day to land at where they are now.
Gerrit Cole was selected in the first round of the MLB draft twice, eventually going first overall to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2011. This came after the Yankees selected him with the 28th overall pick out of high school in 2008. As expected with a number one overall pick, Cole did not waste much time in the minors, making his major league debut with Pittsburgh during the 2013 season.
During his first four seasons with the Pirates he posted a combined 3.23 ERA, and was 4th in the National League Cy Young voting in 2015. Cole struggled in 2017, but was still targeted by the Yankees and Astros when he was put on the trade market that winter. After arriving in Houston Cole blossomed into one of the best pitchers in baseball, posting back-to-back top five finishes in the American League Cy Young voting.
When the Yankees selected Gerrit Cole 28th overall in the 2008 draft, it was 14 picks after the Minnesota Twins had selected high school outfielder Aaron Hicks. After being drafted Hicks was routinely considered among the best prospects in baseball, ranking as a top-100 prospect by Baseball America four times before his making the major leagues in 2013.
His initial output with the Twins did not live up to the hype, posting a below-average 81 OPS+ as he moved up and down from the minors. He battled injuries hitting the injured list four times in parts of three seasons in Minnesota. This performance is what allowed the Yankees to acquire him before the 2016 season for the relatively cheap price of a back-up catcher in John Ryan Murphy.
Since arriving in the Bronx, Hicks has continued to battle injuries but his production has improved dramatically posting a 120 OPS+ since 2017. Hicks has recognized his potential when he is on the field, but continues to struggle with the injury bug that has slowed him down.
Two current Yankees were selected in the first round of the 2013 draft. Going fifth overall to Cleveland was an outfielder from Georgia named Clint Frazier. Frazier was a top prospect during his time in the Cleveland system and considered by many to be the prize of the prospect haul that the Yankees brought in during the summer of 2016.
He was moved to the major leagues faster than anticipated when the Yankees outfield was hit with a rash of injuries over the summer of 2017. Since then Frazier has battled concussions and bouts of terrible defense that have prevented him from locking down a major league roster spot. The Yankees have a deep roster of outfield talent and 2020 will be a big year for Frazier to show that he has a future in pinstripes.
A few hours after Frazier was picked by Cleveland, Aaron Judge was selected by the New York Yankees 32nd overall. Judge was not considered an elite prospect out of the gate, failing to make Baseball America’s top-100 prospects list after the 2014 season. Scouts wondered if his high strikeout rate would derail him at the highest levels of the game. Despite those doubts, Judge’s performance placed him in the bottom half of most top-100 prospects list by the end of the 2015 season.
Yankees fans know the Judge story very well. After a limited debut in 2016, Judge won the AL Rookie of the Year in 2017, and has been one of the best players in baseball since. He is the face of the Yankees and, when healthy, one of the best players in baseball entering his fourth full season.
Two years after the Yankees selected Aaron Judge with the 32nd pick, they used the 30th overall pick on University of San Diego shortstop Kyle Holder. The pick was not as big of a reach as some fans may remember as Holder was ranked as the 38th best draft prospect by Baseball America. He was widely considered the best defensive player in that entire draft class. Despite a major league ready glove, Holder has not been able to hit until recently in his minor league career.
The lack of offensive production has kept Holder off of many prospect rankings. He has only cracked the Yankees top-30 prospects for a short time after being drafted and hasn’t come close to being considered a top-100 prospect in baseball. Last season was the first time Holder produced above-average offensive production, when he finished with a 119 wRC+ for Double-A Trenton. He is in camp with the Yankees as a member of the taxi squad, but not on the 40-man roster.
The final former first round pick in camp with the Yankees is Clarke Schmidt, who was selected 16th overall in 2017. He was drafted a month after having Tommy John surgery, lowering his near-term expectations in the eyes of many. Now after a strong finish to 2019, Schmidt is gaining recognition as an elite prospect, ranking as one of the best in the Yankees system and baseball. His performances in spring training and the first televised scrimmage this year indicate he is very close to the majors.
Player development is not linear and that is showcased by a look through the Yankees 60-man roster. Six players on the roster were drafted in the first round, and they have taken different routes to where they are today. Players like Cole and Judge have established themselves rather quickly as elite major league players. Other players like Frazier have struggled to meet the high expectations their draft slots warranted early on in their careers.