For the first time in years the Yankees have injected some much needed youth to overhaul their aging roster. After suffering through a season full of injuries and underperformance, Hal Steinbrenner in his State of the Yankees interview had this to say in an interview with Joel Sherman of the New York Post:
"We need to be optimistic about our young players and believe that our veterans will be healthy and better next year."
Fans, bloggers and writers are well aware of the team’s reluctance to play youth over experience, but this season is looking to be a departure from the course. Gone are the Brian Roberts and Stephen Drews of the world and it’s likely that the team will let Jose Pirela and rising prospect Robert Refsnyder battle for the second base job in spring training. Instead of trading for or signing an aging star or stop gap solution, the Yankees obtained the soon to be 25-year old Didi Gregorius, in a trade with Arizona to take over the reins from Derek Jeter. Likewise the bullpen is going to have a couple of openings up for grabs as well, with young talent such as Jacob Lindgren, Nick Rumbelow, Jose Ramirez and Dan Burawa, among others hoping to contribute in the big leagues.
Unfortunately, as Brian Cashman has always said, "Prospects are suspects" and the truth is there are no sure things that prospects will make it in the big leagues. A variety of factors can contribute to prospect failure, such as injury or an inability to make adjustments. The youth movement is a move in which a team is betting on upside and potential, but carries significant risk with it as those players could ultimately flop at the highest level of competition. With the youth movement well underway and more players on their way, here’s a look at an example of a player that made the transition and one that ultimately never made it.
Brien Taylor might very well be the biggest prospect heartbreaker in Yankees history. Drafted as the #1 overall pick in the 1991 draft out of East Cartaret High School in North Carolina, he signed for a record $1.55 million amateur signing bonus. Heading into the 1992 season, Baseball America had named the left-handed power pitcher the #1 prospect in the game. To put into perspective just how highly Taylor was thought of, here’s a quote from agent Scott Boras taken from a 2006 story by Yahoo.com’s Jeff Passan:
"I've been through 28 drafts," Scott Boras says, "and Brien Taylor, still to this day, is the best high school pitcher I've seen in my life."
A bar fight ultimately would be his undoing, resulting in a dislocation and torn labrum in his pitching shoulder. One could only imagine what could have been, if that night would’ve never happened. This one will forever haunt and sting the Yankees.
As easy as it would’ve been to choose Derek Jeter as an example of a player that fulfilled their promise, I chose Jorge Posada instead. The Captain was a first round draft choice and with that comes the expectation of success, while Posada was a 24th round choice in which just making it to the majors would’ve been a major victory. He was chosen by the Yankees as the #646 pick out of Calhoun Community College in Alabama for the 1990 amateur draft. While his bat was never a question, his defensive skills were a work in progress throughout the minor leagues. Possessing a strong arm and a strong work ethic he became serviceable behind the dish and earned himself the backup catching position in 1997. From there he was a leader and a driving force behind the team during his tenure. Posada overcame the odds in a big way, not only becoming a mainstay during the Yankees dynasty, but as one of the best offensive catchers of his era.
While we all are excited that the Yankees farm system is hopefully going to contribute in a big way in 2015, it’s important to keep it all in perspective. For all the Jeters, Posadas and Robertsons in the world, there’s many more that have failed such as Brien Taylor, Drew Henson and Eric Duncan. Either way you look at it the next two years are huge and exciting around the farm teams and in the Bronx. The risk is a bunch of busts and a return to free agency, the reward is a young, cost-controlled core in which to build around. Enjoy the ride and we’ll see how it all plays out.