The Cubs, Astros, and Orioles are all recent examples of teams that tanked at the MLB level in an effort to rebuild their organizations. Since the league has incentivized losing and allots more resources to teams who choose at the top of the amateur draft, the opportunity exists for those teams to add a haul of premium talent, and stacking those draft classes together can charge a farm system and lead to ultimate success at the big league level. The Astros got World Series trophies partly by hitting on several picks in consecutive drafts, the Cubs snapped their 108-year drought doing the same, and the O’s are now brimming with outstanding young players who are reaching the majors for a team on the rise.
The Yankees do not employ the tanking strategy, but that does not make the draft any less important for them. They typically pick in the back half of the first round due to their winning records, and, because the league dishes out extra picks to teams in smaller markets in the name of “competitive balance,” they usually have to wait longer for their second and third picks than several other teams do. This puts a little more pressure on the amateur scouting department to identify the right players for the organization, but recently there is evidence that working in concert with the minor league development group is yielding some benefits.
If you’ve watched this spring, you’ve seen a parade of former Yankees’draft picks take the field in games. Five of the organization’s last six first-round picks—Clarke Schmidt, Anthony Seigler, Anthony Volpe, Trey Sweeney, and Spencer Jones—have seen game action for the Yankees, and the sixth, Austin Wells, would be playing if not for a rib injury. Schmidt and Volpe are competing for spots on the big league club, Wells, Sweeney, and Jones rank among the organization’s best prospects, and Seigler (admittedly the low man in the group) will play a major role in Double-A this year. Signs are pointing to the Yankees stringing together productive drafts, and, in particular, the classes of 2021 and 2022 could hugely impact the farm system in the year to come.
Eight players selected by New York in 2021 appeared on MLB Pipeline’s recently-released list of the top 30 prospects in the organization. There are other respected prospect lists, and consensus is not to be found among them, but it’s significant that over 25 percent of the players mentioned by Pipeline only have one full season on their resumes. Not only that, but those players have already spread themselves throughout the farm system.
The shortstop Sweeney, third baseman Tyler Hardman, and pitcher Will Warren reached Double-A after debuting with High-A Hudson Valley in 2022. Richard Fitts came up from Low-A Tampa and dominated on the mound for Hudson Valley later in the year. Zach Messinger and Sean Hermann both pitched for Tampa, while Brock Selvidge threw in the complex league. Second-rounder Brendan Beck has yet to throw his first pitch in a game for the Yankees due to Tommy John surgery, but he remains an anticipated prospect who could begin his career by skipping some levels.
Consider that outside the group of players who have received positive attention from media evaluators, there are four players from the 2021 draft class who played well enough in their first seasons to be promoted to Hudson Valley. Pitcher Jack Neely, infielder Ben Cowles, catcher (and maybe first baseman) Ben Rice, and outfielder Grant Richardson are all, at the very least, interesting players who bring enough to the table to offer hope of raising their profiles in 2023. Also remember that three players from that draft have already been traded for big league talent: infielder Cooper Bowman went in the deal for Frankie Montas and Lou Trivino, pitcher Robert Ahlstrom was in the trade for Jose Trevino, and pitcher Chandler Champlain was part of the package for Andrew Benintendi. That’s 15 players in a class of 18 signed draft picks who have made an impact on the major league team and minor league system in just one year. Not bad. Not bad at all.
Now, we wonder if it can happen again. If the 2022 draft class performs like their predecessors, the Yankees will have stacked two classes of talent together and overhauled their minor league talent base just as some of their premium prospects graduate and a group of exciting teenagers ascends through Rookie ball. Oswaldo Cabrera has already been a key contributor for an AL East champion, and Oswald Peraza and Anthony Volpe seem destined to follow — with a solid chance of even more success. Jasson Domínguez is playing himself into future plans, but the rest of the prospects in the upper levels may be used in trades if the Yankees are in contention near the deadline and find themselves in need of reinforcements.
That all opens a window of need for players to develop and replenish the depth of legitimate MLB options. Being that the Yankees did not draft a single high school player in 2022, and they signed all 20 of the collegians they did draft, the possibility is strong that the rosters of the Tampa Tarpons and Hudson Valley Renegades will be populated with players in their first professional seasons.
Yankees prospect Taylor Aguilar fires a seed to the plate to end the inning. Aguilar was a 15th round pick in 2022 out of Grand Canyon. pic.twitter.com/3zfVWPSta5— Gershon Rabinowitz (@GershOnline) February 28, 2023
The success of the 2021 draft class thus far makes the anticipation of the full-season debuts of last year’s picks that much more exciting. The hitting development group has helped prospects tap into game power; can outfielders Spencer Jones and Anthony Hall follow in the paths of Sweeney and Hardman? Can infielder Brett Barrera and outfielder Tayler Aguilar surpass what Cowles and Richardson accomplished last year? On the pitching side, will we consider Drew Thorpe and Trystan Vrieling in the same realm as the one currently inhabited by Warren and Fitts? Who will emerge among a large group of pitchers we know very little about? With the way the pitching development group has performed of late, Trevor Kirk, who was the last pick in the Yankees’ draft in 2022, is just as interesting as Eric Reyzelman, who was taken 15 rounds earlier.
One of the most compelling parts of the minor league season to come will be following the progress of the last two classes of Yankees draft picks, and a year from now, the players from those drafts could make up the majority of the list of top prospects in the organization. There may be nothing that could impact the Yankees’ farm system more in 2023.