A Look at the Yankees First Round Picks From the Most Recent Decade
By Chris O’Connor
Nov. 9, 2020
Drafting and development talent from within an organization has become the foundation for sustainable success in Major League Baseball today. Yankees fans should know this better than anyone. The Core 4 of Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, and Andy Pettitte were all drafted or signed as amateurs to the team in the early 1990’s and led the team to four World Series wins in 5 years from 1996-2000. The Dodgers, with 8 straight division titles and showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon, have become the model for a team that can compete for a championship year-in, year-out. In recent years, despite consistently picking later in the later rounds of the draft, they have found numerous core players to build around in round 1 such as Corey Seager, Walker Buehler and Will Smith,. The Yankees, meanwhile, have found success in recent years in developing talent that other teams discarded such as Aaron Hicks, Luke Voit, and Gio Urshela. Their player development system is clearly at or near the top in all of baseball, but how have they done specifically at the top of the draft? Let’s take a look at the Yankees first round picks from the past decade.
In 2010, the Yankees drafted Cito Culver, a high school shortstop from New York, 32nd overall. Culver slowly worked his way through the minor leagues, eventually reaching Triple-A in 2015. He never developed his hitting skills, however, and never made the major leagues. He currently plays in independent ball.
In 2011, the Yankees drafted Dante Bichette Jr., a high school third basement out of Florida, 51st overall. Bichette Jr. is the son of former player Dante Bichette and older brother of current Blue Jay Bo Bichette. He made it to Double A in 2016, but never advanced from there. When his contract expired in 2018, he continued the trend and joined independent leagues.
In 2012, the Yankees drafted Tyler Hensley, a high school right handed pitcher out of Oklahoma, 30th overall. Hensley advanced to Single A in 2014 but missed the 2015 and 2016 seasons due to Tommy John surgery. He was selected by the Rays in the 2017 Rule 5 draft, but like Culver never made the big leagues and currently plays in independent ball.
In 2013, the Yankees had three first round picks. At 26th overall, they drafted Eric Jagielo, a third baseman out of Notre Dame. He advanced to Double A by 2015, but after the season he was part of the trade that brought Aroldis Chapman from the Reds to the Yankees. He bounced around in the minors between the Reds and Marlins after that, never making the big leagues. He is currently a free agent.
At 32nd overall, the Yankees drafted an enormous right fielder out of Fresno State. He goes by the name Aaron Judge. It’s noteworthy that not only did Judge last until late in the first round, but even the Yankees passed on him once. It seems he has shocked even them with how well he has turned out as a player. Drafting and developing Judge has been huge to the success of the Yankees in recent years, and I actually believe Judge to be underrated in the MLB community. Since becoming a regular in 2017, he ranks 8th in the majors in fangraphs WAR despite missing a significant amount of time with injury. All he needs is to stay healthy moving forward, which is certainly no guarantee given his unprecedented size.
At 33rd overall, they drafted Ian Clarkin, a high school left hander from California. He struggled with injuries and never made it to the majors with the Yankees. He made it to Single A before he was part of the trade with the White Sox that brought Todd Frazier, Tommy Kanhle, and David Robertson. Since then, he has bounced around in the minors, failing to make the major leagues. Like a few other picks, he is currently in independent ball in Texas.
The Yankees did not have a first round pick in 2014 after the offseason spending spree that saw them bring Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, and Carlos Beltran to the team. I bet the Yankees would like to have this one back.
In 2015, the Yankees had two first round picks. At 16th overall, they drafted highly touted right hander James Kaprielian out of UCLA. Kaprielian unfortunately underwent Tommy John surgery in 2017 and was part of the trade at the deadline that year to the A’s that brought Sonny Gray to the Bronx. He finally made his big league debut in 2020 for the team and will look to compete for a roster spot for 2021.
At 30th overall, they picked Kyle Holder, a shortstop from the University of San Diego. In 2017, Holder was named the best defensive shortstop in the minor leagues, but thus far he has failed to advance above Double A. At age 26, it is difficult to see him having much of an impact for the Yankees in the foreseeable future.
In 2016, the Yankees selected Blake Rutherford at 18th overall. Rutherford was a high school outfielder from California and, like Clarkin, was part of the trade with the White Sox at the 2017 deadline that brought Todd Frazier, Tommy Kanhle, and David Robertson to the team. Rutherford has advanced as far as Double A for the Sox but has yet to make the majors.
In 2017, the Yankees had the 16th pick. They chose Clark Schmidt, a right hander out of the University of South Carolina. Schmidt did not pitch in 2017 due to injury, but has quickly moved through the system. He has become one of the top prospects on the team and made his big league debut in 2020. The future looks bright for Schmidt.
In 2018, the Yankees selected Anthony Seigler, a high school catcher from Georgia, 23rd overall. He has gotten off to a slow start, hitting .175 in over 30 games at Single A before an injury ended his season. Still just 21 years old, Seigler has time to develop, though he is not off to a great start.
In 2019, the Yankees had two first round picks. They selected Anthony Volpe, a high school shortstop from New Jersey, at 30th overall and TJ Sikkema, a left hander from the University of Missouri, at 38th overall. Both had limited playing time in 2019 and were unable to get meaningful reps in competition in 2020 due to the lack of minor league season.
In 2020, the Yankees selected Austin Wells, a catcher from the University of Arizona, at 28th overall. Like Volpe and Sikkema, he did not play in 2020.
One thing that surprised me when writing this was the number of high schoolers the Yankees drafted. High school pitchers and hitters are far riskier than college players, yet out of the 14 first rounders the Yankees had in the past decade, half were drafted straight out of high school. As for the success of these picks, it has been a mixed bag. Judge has undoubtedly been a once-in-a-generation pick, but the team has yet to receive much impact at the major league level from these picks. Impact is not the same as value, however, as the Yankees have used a few of these picks to bring in high-impact big league players in trades. Moving forward, I would expect the Yankees to improve on their drafting. Cashman and co. have a track record of being one of the best front offices in baseball, though an inability to internally develop pitching since the Core 4 era is a concern. Their recent successes in player development highlight an area that the organization has made a priority and one would hope that their skills in this regard can unearth gems from future drafts.