Terrible 2015 Draft almost sank Yankees before their window opened

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JUNE 30: Austin Riley #27 of the Atlanta Braves in action against the Philadelphia Phillies during a game at Citizens Bank Park on June 30, 2022 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - JUNE 30: Austin Riley #27 of the Atlanta Braves in action against the Philadelphia Phillies during a game at Citizens Bank Park on June 30, 2022 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images) /

Midway through the 2015 season, the New York Yankees had a glorious chance to build on their first-half momentum with a sterling MLB Draft. Though the team was off to a hot start after playoff-less seasons in 2013 and 2014 and was reliant on a roster of mostly aged-out veterans like Alex Rodriguez, Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann, there was still hope for the future.

Gary Sánchez, Luis Severino and Aaron Judge had poked their way to the top of the team’s pedigreed prospect rankings; Sevy would debut later that summer after narrowly missing being part of a trade package sent to Atlanta in exchange for Jason Heyward. Armed with two top picks — 15th overall in the first round and 30th overall at the back end — optimism reigned supreme, even as the Red Sox loomed seventh overall (and would eventually select perfect fit Andrew Benintendi).

Instead of refueling their championship pursuit, though, the Yankees crashed and burned in 2015, passing on elite talent after elite talent, failing to accrue much value, and finding next to nothing in the later rounds.

New York’s draft tracker is ghastly enough before you factor in the best players available at each of their slots — future All-Stars who also filled needs.

To start their draft journey, the Yankees selected UCLA right-hander James Kaprielian 15th overall. At the time, Kaprielian was seen as an interesting, close-to-the-majors option, but someone whose pitching motion notoriously led to elbow injuries. The right-hander dominated at first blush, but elbow trouble shut down his 2016 season swiftly, and when it maintained through 2017, he went under the knife and ultimately was used as a trade chip in the Sonny Gray deal.

You know who might’ve helped? Walker Buehler, who had Tommy John surgery directly after being selected 24th in the 2015 draft, leaving him free to contribute around 2017, right when Kaprielian went down. Devil you know, right?

Yankees passed on Walker Buehler, Austin Riley, Triston McKenzie … how much time ya got? … in 2015 MLB Draft

Yes, the Yankees could’ve ridden into the 2019 postseason with Buehler, a solid co-ace for the incoming Gerrit Cole and a decent shield for Severino’s injury struggles. But that’s not all!

At pick No. 30 in the Compensatory Round, New York selected shortstop Kyle Holder, thought of — at the time, not in hindsight — as a good-field, very-little-hit, no-power option. That’s been borne out; Holder has bounced around and might stick someday, but he’s a career .252 hitter with 20 homers since 2015.

Instead of Holder, the Yankees could’ve selected any number of infielders, like (clears throat, whew boy) Ryan Mountcastle (36th, a shortstop at the time), Ke’Bryan Hayes (32nd, Yankee blood), and Austin Riley (41st). Yes, the Yanks really could’ve selected A-Rod’s mashing heir apparent and rushed him to the bigs to sub in for Chase Headley. They opted not to.

Oh, and don’t ignore more pitching at No. 42, when Guardians starter Triston McKenzie was selected. Whenever the Yankees run into him, it’s clear there’s a spark there, too.

What else? Oh, right. Second-round left-hander Jeff Degano threw 28 career innings with a 10.61 ERA. Is that good? Feels like subpar value at that selection when right-hander Josh Staumont (64th overall) and left-hander AJ Minter (75th) were also available … or, if the Yankees had maybe passed on Holder, they could’ve checked out Brandon Lowe, taken by the Rays 87th overall (!!!).

Other “notables” include “diamond in the rough” Chance Adams, who kneecapped God knows how many trades from 2015-18 because of Brian Cashman’s unwillingness to touch him, only for every batter in MLB to do the touching up for him. Josh Rogers (11th round) was traded for Zack Britton (in part). Donny Sands (eighth round) was just lost in this season’s offseason roster shuffle, but shows power and promise behind the plate.

And … that’s it. The fantasy where the Yankees added an ace and All-Star third baseman here remains just that, and helped lead to the darkest point (2016) before the dawn (2017, which would’ve looked brighter with Riley and Buehler coming as running mates).

The Yankees are lucky to be where they are after traversing one of the biggest stumbling blocks possible: an empty draft.