About the Off-Season: What's Baking?
By Tim Kabel
December 15, 2022
When I was a kid, Christmas time meant a lot of things. It meant family, shopping, decorating, and gifts. My fondest memories were of all the baking my mother did. In addition to baking, she would make fudge. I was often drafted to assist with this, and I would beat the fudge for what seemed like hours with a wooden spoon. When my mother baked, particularly her fruit cakes, the whole house would smell delicious. I would walk around eagerly waiting for the cakes to be done. I would peek in the oven when she wasn't looking and then look at the clock. I was full of anticipation.
Yankees’ fans right now are a lot like me when I was a kid, waiting for my mother's fruit cakes to be ready. We all know the Yankees are going to do something. We don't know what and we don't know when. The rumor is that the Yankees are very eager to sign Carlos Rodon. It hasn't happened yet. We keep peeking in the oven to see if the deal is done but, it is not yet. The thought of baking and waiting for things to happen made me ponder the Yankees and their current roster, as well as their history of player development.
There has been a lot of talk about the possible youth movement coming to the Yankees. They are developing a lot of young talent. Some people want them to trade it away for proven veterans while others want the kids to have a chance.
We are waiting with bated breath to see Oswald Peraza, Anthony Volpe, and Oswaldo Cabrera in spring training. They could all very well be headed north with the team after spring training. Farther down in the minors are Austin Wells, Trey Sweeney, and Jasson Dominguez. Some or all of these players could eventually be important figures in Yankees’ history. That leads me to think about the Yankees' development of their own minor league talent.
I decided to look at each position and see when the last time was the Yankees developed a major player at each spot. We will start with pitching. The Yankees have done a good job in this area, and we don't have to look very far back to see success. Luis Severino, Nestor Cortes, and Jordan Montgomery were all part of the starting rotation last year. I know Cortes played for both Seattle and Baltimore but, he was drafted by the Yankees and spent the bulk of his career in their system. The fact that for part of the season in 2022, 60% of the Yankees' starting rotation was homegrown is pretty impressive.
The Yankees have done even better with relief pitchers. The bullpen currently has several members who climbed through the ranks of the minor leagues with the Yankees. Greg Weissert, Clark Schmidt, Ron Marinaccio, Jonathan Loaisiga, Michael King, and Albert Abreu all worked their way through the Yankees’ system.
We will now take a look at position players beginning with catcher. Kyle Higashioka came up through the Yankees’ farm system. However, he is certainly not a star. Gary Sanchez had several good moments as a Yankee but, was inconsistent and bordered on being a defensive liability. Sanchez was an All Star in 2017 and 2019. He won the Silver Slugger award in 2017. He simply never lived up to his potential on a consistent basis. The last top-notch catcher developed by the Yankees was Jorge Posada, who played his last game in 2011.
First base is even more of a wasteland when it comes to the development of talent by the Yankees. The last regular first baseman of note who came up through the ranks as a Yankee was Don Mattingly. He played his last game in the Major Leagues in 1995. This is not to say the Yankees didn't have great first basemen. They did but they were acquired through either trades or free agency. Think about that. It has been almost 40 years since the Yankees developed a genuine Major League first baseman who played for them.
Second base is not as bad. Robinson Cano was a very good second baseman for the Yankees. For a while, he seemed destined to go to the Hall of Fame. Then, he left for the greener pastures of Seattle and was ultimately suspended for PED use. His last game with the Yankees was in 2013.
Derek Jeter retired after the 2014 season. He was clearly a Hall of Famer and probably the best shortstop to ever play for the Yankees. Although it has been almost 10 years since Jeter retired, Hall of Famers don't come along every day so they can be excused for not having an immediate superstar replacement waiting in the wings. This season, they have two potential candidates for the position in Oswald Peraza and Anthony Volpe.
Third base is even more frightening than first base. The last regular third baseman of note produced by the Yankees was Mike Pagliarulo, who played in the mid to late 80’s, leaving the Yankees in 1989. And he was certainly not a star. The previous notable third baseman to come through the ranks was Andy Carey who played his last game in pinstripes in 1960. (Thanks to Dr. Sem for this tidbit!)
We could count Brett Gardner as both a leftfielder and a centerfielder. Gardner’s career ended in 2021. He was a very recent Yankee, who was solid offensively and defensively. Counting him as a leftfielder serves another purpose because if we didn't, left field would be an absolute ghost town, going back to Roy White in the 70’s.
Counting Gardner as a left fielder leaves centerfield to Bernie Williams. Bernie stopped playing after the 2005 season. I don't know if he ever technically retired. If not, he would still be a better option than Aaron Hicks today, guitar and all.
We don't even have to talk about rightfield. That has been anchored by Aaron Judge since 2016 and will remain so for the next nine years. He will be to rightfield what Derek Jeter was to shortstop, Don Mattingly was to first base, and Bernie Williams was to center field.
Now that players move around so much through trades and free agency, it is not common to have multiple players on a team who worked their way through the system and then took over a position and kept it until their career was finished. But you do need some of them. Player development has to be and has been a major component for every winning team. The Yankees seem to be committed to player development. Hopefully, at least a few of this next crop of youngsters will become fixtures in the Yankees’ lineup for years to come. That thought, in addition to waiting for the Yankees to make more trades and signings, makes all us fans act like little kids waiting for the cookies or fruitcake to finish baking.