The Major League Baseball First Year Player Draft is once again upon us. The annual event has been around for decades and taken various forms over the years. The main idea of the draft in baseball, as with all other sports, being competitive balance. However, the baseball draft is vastly different from its counterpart in football or basketball. A player taken in the first round of the NFL or NBA draft can generally be expected to be a starter for his team the next season, and many times a franchise-altering figure. This is the not the case in baseball. The players taken in the first round yesterday will likely not see the majors for two to three years at best (in 2010, Reds’ pitcher Mike Leake was the first player since 1989 to skip the minors entirely) and many will never sniff the Show. And the numbers are even worse for those taken in later rounds. Only about 17% of all signed draft picks will play at least one major league game.
Ten years ago, the first round of 2004 draft featured several of today’s most prominent players. Justin Verlander, Homer Bailey, Jered Weaver, Billy Butler, and Stephen Drew were all among the 41 players drafted in that first round. However, eight of those first rounders, including number one overall pick Matt Bush never played a game in the majors. Nearly half of those chosen (19) have produced a career WAR of 2.0 or less a decade later. The Yankees actually had two first round selections that year. They chose high school phenom Phil Hughes and college pitcher Jeff Marquez. Hughes had an up and down career in the Bronx that included an 18-win, All-Star season and a 14-loss disaster season before signing with Minnesota in the off-season. Marquez was included in the deal with the White Sox for Nick Swisher and has been out of baseball since 2011.
The Yankees, due to their regular season success and aggressive pursuit of the top free agents, rarely have top picks in the draft. This year their first pick was the 55th overall and they chose Jacob Lindgren, a lefty reliever out of Mississippi State. But even when they had high draft picks in the early nineties, their success was inconsistent. In 1991, the Yankees had the ignominious honor of the number one pick overall. They selected a lefty fireballer named Brien Taylor. Baseball people still consider him the best amateur pitcher ever. He signed a record $1.55 million deal and dominated at the A and AA levels before hurting his arm in a bar fight. He would never pitch in the majors.
The following year the Yankees had the sixth overall pick. After watching the likes of Phil Nevin (15.8 WAR), Paul Shuey (7.0 WAR), B.J Wallace (Never played in Majors), Jeffrey Hammonds (8.6 WAR), and Chad Mottola (-0.9 WAR) be selected, the Yankees took a Kalamozzo High School shortstop named Derek Jeter. That pick worked out.
The draft is the ultimate crap shoot. For every Derek Jeter, there are five Brien Taylors and Matt Drews (the Yankees first round pick the year after Jeter). The last first round pick of the Yankees to play in the majors was Gerrit Cole (2008). The last to make their debut with the Yankees was Andrew Brackman (2007). Since 1965, the only Yankee first round picks to record at least 10 WAR with the Yankees are two Captains, Jeter and Thurman Munson. With the vast financial resources of the Bombers, they are hurt by the draft more than most. But one thing remains certain. You never know. You might just be drafting the next Derek Jeter after all.