The Yankees overhauled their player development department in recent years as training techniques and technologies entered a new age. In part, they were catching up to other clubs in the industry and embracing Brian Cashman’s mantra that the Yankees should act like the Yankees and have access to all the best available tools.
Beyond that, it’s just a good model for an organization to have. Perhaps the most straightforward (and cheapest) way to build a baseball team is through the consistent acquisition and development of young talent, and while the Yankees have the resources to pay major league free agents, they come with expensive contracts and long-term commitments. The price is steeper when you are a luxury-tax paying team like New York, because signing qualifying offer free agents costs you two high draft picks and a million dollars in international bonus pool money.
Why a league would punish teams for signing free agents is a discussion for another time, but the reality is that the Yankees enter 2023 more limited than usual in one aspect of player acquisition. They spent money lavishly at the major league level during the offseason, and there is evidence in spring training that the prospects in their organization have continued to progress, but bringing in outside talent to the minor league system will be more challenging than usual this year.
First, the Yankees are expected to contend, which means they are far more likely to move young talent in trades for big league players. They traded eight prospects at last year’s deadline alone, for example. While it is conceivable someone like Isiah Kiner-Falefa could be moved at some point, it is not clear what kind of player or players he would bring back in return. With depth issues arising due to injuries, the Yankees might rather bring in a 40-man roster player who is a true outfielder or a reliever or catcher with options than someone who will spend all of this season in the minors.
The Yankees may wish players like Aaron Hicks and Josh Donaldson could have been moved during the winter, but it is difficult to see that happening now, and each carries a contract commitment unattractive to other teams. There doesn’t appear to be another player on the roster who would be a candidate to be traded this year, and, again, if anyone from the major league group was to be moved it would likely be in pursuit of another big leaguer.
In all likelihood, the most impactful talent the Yankees will add to their system this year will come from the draft. It is unfortunate in a year where there is rumored to be a strong crop of college and high school players that the Yankees will be without their second and fifth round picks because they signed Carlos Rodón. To be clear, the unfortunate part is the league taking the picks, not the Yankees shelling out for Rodón.
It is possible that a trade of Kiner-Falefa happens with a team that has a “competitive balance” draft pick, which can be traded, and that brings back a pick between the first and third rounds the Yankees can use to replace part of what was lost. Barring such a move, there is a little more pressure on Damon Oppenheimer and his group of domestic amateur scouts to continue identifying players in later rounds for the development team to turn into serious prospects. Losing those picks not only removes two potential prospects from the system, but it takes away the corresponding bonus pool money allotted for those draft slots. That may give us a hint at the Yankees’ potential strategy for this coming July, as if the their recent behavior in the draft wasn’t hint enough.
There may not be an organizational mandate to do so, but the Yankees seem to generally gravitate toward college players in the draft. This is not as apparent in the first round, where recent top picks like Anthony Seigler and Anthony Volpe were selected out of high school, but in the last two drafts the Yankees had a combined forty selections and chose only three high school players. The Yankees typically draft in the back half of the each round, so their bonus pool does not offer the kind of flexibility it takes to make enticing offers for high school kids to forgo their college careers.
Overall, the Yankees seem to prefer getting up-the-middle athletes and hitters early, since they are rare commodities, and later taking pitchers who have traits the development team has been adept at improving. It would be something to watch for this July as well. In anticipation of the draft, keep your eyes on catchers, shortstops, or center fielders who can hit and hit for power, especially if they hit left-handed. Also pay attention to college pitchers with good control and strong secondary pitches, since the Yankees seem to feel good about adding velocity in their development program.
The MLB Pipeline list of the top 30 Yankees prospects includes seven players who weren’t in the organization at this time a year ago. One of them is Brando Mayea, who was signed on January 15 of this year when the international amateur free agency period opened. Another is Clayton Beeter, who was acquired from the Dodgers in a trade for Joey Gallo. The other five came from last year’s draft, including two players, Spencer Jones and Drew Thorpe, who appear in the top 10 of the list.
That all illustrates the importance of a draft and how much talent it can add to the farm system all at once. With talent spread throughout the organization, the Yankees can draft at any position and add to a healthy group of prospects who will continue the flow of talent toward the Bronx. It will likely be the most significant way the Yankees add to their minor league system in 2023.