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Lack of draft success points to importance of Yankees’ international signings

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International signings are propping up a farm system that hasn’t seen many draft graduations.

2021 SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game

Exciting news came yesterday — the New York Yankees signed perhaps the No. 1 international prospect, 18-year-old Dominican shortstop Roderick Arias. Though it will almost certainly be more than a few years before he’ll debut in MLB, it’s a good thing for New York to land a consensus top prospect, considering they’ve struggled within the last decade of finding successful major league players through the domestic draft.

The obvious recent exception is Aaron Judge, who the Yankees drafted 32nd overall in 2013. Aside from him, the first-round picks the Yankees made in the last 20 years who have actually debuted with the team are Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy, Joba Chamberlain, Andrew Brackman, Slade Heathcott, and Clarke Schmidt — the latter trio combining for a grand total of 25 big league games. (Obviously, it is too soon to reasonably expect the picks from the more recent drafts to have debuted.)

Hughes was a key player out of the bullpen for the 2009 World Series team and had a few seasons after that as an effective starter (albeit with his best coming with the Twins), and Chamberlain was an electric reliever for a little while, but the bulk of these players had disappointing careers. Of course, not only first-round players make for effective big leaguers, but the only certain players on the Yankees to have actually been drafted by the team next year besides Judge are Jordan Montgomery, Nestor Cortes Jr. — although he didn’t debut with New York — and Kyle Higashioka (Gerrit Cole doesn’t count!). Montgomery is very important to next year’s rotation, and Cortes showed surprising impact, but two mid-rotation starters and a backup catcher is not the most sterling group.

And the Yankees haven’t even really dealt any draftees who would have made too much of an impact despite swinging some blockbusters. Maybe James Kaprielian can turn himself into a reliable starter in Oakland, but he’ll be 28 in March with only 26 career games under his belt. The two prospects sent to Miami for Giancarlo Stanton haven’t panned out at all; Gleyber Torres was acquired from the Cubs for Aroldis Chapman.

Meanwhile, four of the Yankees top five best prospects, according to FanGraphs, were international signings. Oswald Peraza, Luis Medina, Jasson Dominguez, and Alexander Vargas all have exciting potential, but it demonstrates perhaps that Brian Cashman and his team recognize the importance of paying international prospects considering how little fruit their drafts have borne as late.

But of course, as with even the most can’t-miss prospects, all four of these players could fail to develop into even replacement-level major leaguers, or not make it at all. If the Yankees are, at least at the present moment, reliant on international signings more than draftees for their highest ceiling prospect depth, then it’s especially crucial that the scouting is correct and these players pan out.

It’s not totally barren outside of that group for the Yankees. Shortstop prospect Anthony Volpe is among the best prospects in all of baseball, and was drafted out of New Jersey; the aforementioned 2017 first-round selection Schmidt has battled injuries, but he could see his first substantial major league innings in 2022. Still, most if not all the Yankees top prospects were signed young and are at least a season or two away from debuting, if not more.

The Baltimore Orioles’ apparent disinterest or general failure to sign international prospects just a few years ago was pointed to as a reason for their recent run of plain awful baseball. That helps to demonstrate that the Yankees should be going after these players, even if they had a draft-driven core like the Los Angeles Dodgers. After all, if the Yankees weren’t signing players like Arias, Dominguez, and Peraza, the outlook for the farm system would seem rather bleak.