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Yankees prospects history: Best years of Major League debuts

Eight Yankees made their Major League debuts in 2013. Which year did the Yankees have their best group of players make their debut?

1995 was a pretty good year for Yankee call ups.
1995 was a pretty good year for Yankee call ups.
Al Bello

One footnote to the injury-induced chaos that has characterized the 2013 Yankees' roster is the sheer number of players they've used. When J.R. Murphy made his Major League debut on September 2, he became the fifty-second player to appear in a game for the Yankees, a team record (they've since extended that record to 55 with the debuts of Mike Zagurski, Jim Miller and Brendan Ryan). Including Murphy, this year's team has had eight players make their Major League debut - four position players and four pitchers. In order of debut, they were Vidal Nuno, Preston Claiborne, Corban Joseph, David Adams, Brett Marshall, Zoilo Almonte, Cesar Cabral and Murphy. What can we reasonably hope for from 2013's debuts, and which Yankee team had the best group of newcomers?

Starting with the Class of 2013, J.R. Murphy has a good shot to develop into a solid regular catcher. David Adams, Corban Joseph and Zoilo Almonte are more likely to be career backups or fringe players. Vidal Nuno seems likely to have a future in a major league bullpen, if not at the back of someone's rotation. Brett Marshall, Preston Claiborne and Cesar Cabral all have a decent chance of being solid contributors out of the bullpen, with Claiborne doing just that as a rookie.

The 2008 Yankees debuted 11 players, including Brett Gardner, David Robertson, Alfredo Aceves and Francisco Cervelli. While Robertson is (so far) the only All-Star, Gardner and Aceves have both had some very good seasons, and Cervelli is a solid backup catcher.

The 2007 team debuted 13 players, including dual-staff aces disappointments Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain. Ok, when you add in Kei Igawa, Ian Kennedy and Chase Wright, it might be the most disappointing group of debuts.

The 1995 Yankees debuted four future All-Stars, two of whom are certain Hall of Famers and two of whom deserve consideration - Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada. Not a bad crop at all.

The players who made their debut in 1987 and 1986 typify my frustrations with the dark ages Yankees that I grew up with - a farm system that was fairly productive, but for other teams. Jay Buhner hit 310 career home runs and had a seven-year stretch in which he averaged 32 home runs and 99 RBI. From 1995-97, he averaged 41 homers and 123 RBI. Needless to say, those seasons all occurred in Seattle. When Al Leiter came up that September, I thought he was going to be the Yankees' answer to the Dwight Gooden-led Mets rotation. While he was never quite that good, he had a nice 10-year run that averaged 30 starts, 191 innings pitched, a 13-10 record, 3.46 ERA and 123 ERA+. Unfortunately, that stretch came with the Blue Jays, Marlins and Mets. He started and ended his career with the Yankees, but they only got 11 of his 162 career wins. Despite a few decent years on bad teams, Kelly was ultimately viewed as a disappointment, and was traded to the Reds for Paul O'Neill in an exchange of disappointing outfielders. Although Kelly hit .301 in seven years after leaving the Yankees, I doubt you'll find many Yankee fans who disapprove of that trade today.

In 1986, the Yankees broke in a pair of starters who would combine for four top-five Cy Young finishes and 265 wins. Unfortunately, only 17 of those wins came with the Yankees. Immediately after being traded, Doug Drabek averaged 32 starts, 221 IP, 14 wins and a 3.11 ERA (117 ERA+) over the next eight seasons with Pittsburgh and Houston. Bob Tewksbury took a few more years to establish himself, but six solid seasons as a starter, mostly with the Cardinals.

1965 saw the debuts of Bobby Murcer and Roy White. Murcer averaged 23 home runs and 89 RBI while hitting .285/.357/.464 from 1969-74, making four All-Star teams, finishing in the top ten in MVP voting three times, and winning a Gold Glove before the Yankees sent him to San Francisco for Bobby Bonds after the 1974 season. Roy White did just about everything well, and averaged 4.7 bWAR over 10 seasons in left field. Both were (and are) generally underrated by the low-offense era they had the poor fortune of playing in.

The Yankees broke in Al Downing and Tom Tresh in 1961. Downing spent five years in the rotation, averaging 30 starts, 200 IP, and 12 wins per season. Tresh was an All-Star and Rookie of the Year of the year at shortstop in the next year, before moving to the outfield. In his first five seasons, he put up a 123 OPS+, won a Gold Glove and was a two-time All-Star.

The 1956 Yankees broke in Jim Coates, Jerry Lumpe, Norm Siebern and Ralph Terry. Coates pitched just two innings in 1956, but was a solid swingman from 1959-62, making the All-Star team in 1960. He went 37-15 with a 3.84 ERA in 39 starts and 128 relief appearances before being traded to the Senators for Steve Hamilton, who had a nice eight-year run in the Yankee bullpen. Ralph Terry got roughed up in his 13-inning cameo in 1956, was traded to the Kansas City Athletics in 1957, then was re-acquired in 1959. He went 66-38 with a 3.23 ERA from 1960-63, winning 23 games in 1962. Jerry Lumpe also debuted in 1956, and after three seasons as a backup shortstop and third baseman (hitting a career-best .340 in 1957) was traded to Kansas City for . . . Ralph Terry. Norm Siebern was the final debut of note in 1956. He was a solid outfielder for the Yankees in 1958 and 1959, then was traded to (who else?) Kansas City. He had a solid nine-year run where he put up a 122 OPS+ with the Yankees, Athletics, Orioles and Angels. Siebern is less noted for his accomplishments as he is for the trade to Kansas City, which sent him, Hank Bauer, Don Larsen and Marvelous Marv Throneberry west for Roger Maris.

In 1955 they debuted an MVP catcher (Elston Howard) and a Gold Glove-winning second baseman (Bobby Richardson).

In 1951, the Yankees debuted Mickey Mantle, Gil McDougald and Bob Cerv. Mantle won three MVP awards, a Triple Crown and seven World Series before retiring with the third-most home runs in baseball history. McDougald was a fine hitter with a triple slash line of .285/.368/.423 over his first seven seasons. He was Rookie of the Year, a five-time All-Star, and finished in the top-10 in MVP voting three times as part of five World Series winners. What really makes him unique is what he did defensively. From 1951-53, he primarily played third base, with good deal of second base thrown in as well. In 1954 and '55, he primarily played second base, but also saw significant time at third base. He primarily played shortstop in 1956 and '57, then went back to second base in '58, played all three in '59, then went back to third and second in 1960. McDougald didn't just play those positions, he played them all extremely well. Bob Cerv didn't stick in the majors until 1954, and over the next three years hit .300/.378/.513 in 165 games before the Athletics purchased him after the '56 season. He had three good years as a regular for the Athletics before splitting time with the Yankees and another team in each of the next three seasons.

The 1950 Yankees saw the debuts of Whitey Ford, Lew Burdette, Jackie Jensen and Billy Martin. Ford only became the greatest pitcher in Yankee history, while Martin played second base for five pennant winners and four World Series winners before General Manager George Weiss banished him to Kansas City. Jensen totaled 289 plate appearances in parts of three seasons for the Yankees before they traded him to the Senators, who traded him to the Red Sox. In his first six years with Boston, he hit .285/.378/.490, driving in 100 or more runs five times (and 97 once), leading the league three times. Burdette only pitched in two games for the Yankees before he was traded to the then-Boston Braves the next year for Johnny Sain. While Sain helped the Yankees win three World Series (going 33-20 with a 3.31 ERA in 31 starts and 91 relief appearances), Burdette became a mainstay in the Braves' rotation for 10 years in both Boston and Milwaukee. He won 17 or more games for six straight seasons, leading the league in wins, winning percentage, ERA, starts, complete games and innings pitched once each. He made three starts against the Yankees in their 1957 World Series loss to the Braves, all complete game wins. Burdette allowed two runs in game two, then threw shutouts in games five and seven.

The 1946 Yankees got the first glimpse of Yogi Berra and Vic Raschi. All Berra did was hit 358 home runs, win three MVP awards (with four other top-four finishes), and win 10 World Series while becoming arguably the greatest catcher of all-time. Raschi averaged 18 wins and 236 IP over a six year run. I discussed his place among the Yankees' top 20 starters here.

In 1943, Tommy Byrne, Billy Johnson, Aaron Robinson and Snuffy Stirnweiss all broke in. Byrne spent three full seasons with the Yankees, leading the league in walks twice and hit batters all three years while going 38-21 with a 4.00 ERA (104 ERA+). The Yankees traded him to the St. Louis Browns in 1951, then re-acquired him in September 1954. He made five good starts that year, and was a solid swingman in 1955 and 1956. Third baseman Billy Johnson finished fourth in MVP voting in 1943, missed two and half years for military service, then came back for two and a half seasons of solid play before struggling in 1949 and '50. He was traded to the Cardinals a month into the 1951 season to make room for Gil McDougald. Aaron Robinson played one game and had a single plate attempt in 1943 before leaving for the war. He returned in 1945 and was a solid backup outfielder, hitting .284/.377/.469 with 29 homers and 124 RBI in 858 plate attempts across three seasons. He was traded to the White Sox prior to the 1948 season for Eddie Lopat, who I ranked as the team's sixth best starting pitcher here. Stirnweiss hit just .219 in 1943, but played solid defense. He did not go off to war, however, and instead was one of baseball's best players for the next two years. In 1944, he hit .319 while leading the league in runs, hits, triples and stolen bases, finishing fourth in the MVP voting. In 1945, he won the batting title with a .309 average, and also led the league in runs, hits, triples, steals, slugging percentage, OPS, OPS+ and total bases, finishing third in MVP voting. He returned to being a low-average hitter with little power once most of the players returned from the military in 1946, but walked enough to put up a .356 OBP with excellent defense for four more years.

In 1932 it was Johnny Allen, Frankie Crosetti and Johnny Murphy. Allen went 50-19 with a 3.79 ERA (106 ERA+) in four seasons. Crosetti spent better part of 14 seasons as the Yankees' no-bat, good-glove shortstop (.245 average, 83 OPS+, 13.8 dWAR, from baseball-reference) who was good enough to play for six World Series winners. "Grandma" Murphy led the league in saves four times in 10 seasons in the bullpen, and was a part of six World Series winners.

In 1930, Ben Chapman and Lefty Gomez made their major league debuts with the Yankees. Gomez (who I discussed here) is a Hall of Famer won 20 games four times, leading the league in wins, winning percentage, ERA and ERA+ twice each, and strikeouts three times. Chapman played second and third as that year, but moved to the outfield the following season. During his six full seasons with the Yankees, he his .306/.381/.452 with 101 runs scored, 95 RBI, and 30 steals per seasons (leading the league three times).

There's a few awfully impressive groups there. I think the finalists are 1995 (Jeter, Rivera, Pettitte, Posada), 1965 (Murcer and White), 1951 (Mantle, McDougald and Cerv), 1950 (Ford, Burdette, Jensen and Martin) or 1946 (Berra and Raschi). My vote goes to 1995, which produced four players who were championship cornerstones for 10 years, although I could easily be talked into 1951 or 1950. What do you think?

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