The curse of being the Yankees’ top pick

Since Eric Milton back in 1996, here is the list of Yankees’ top picks that have eclipsed 15 career WARP:



Wasn’t that great? Do you want me to repeat the list again?

By top pick, I’m referring to the highest draft selection of each draft year by the Yankees. 

That isn’t 15 total WARP in their time with the Yankees. That’s 15 total WARP in their entire major-league career. In the 19 years since Milton, the Yankees’ most successful top pick has been Phil Hughes, checking in with 12.2 career WARP. Now, there’s nothing wrong with drafting Hughes; he was a very successful use of a pick, especially given the high level of uncertainty among even the early portions of the amateur draft. However, when he’s your most productive top draft selection in 19 years, then you have a problem. Even with the incredible level of variance in the draft, the top picks are significantly more likely to make the bigs, and they’re also significantly more likely to be above-average or elite players, as well. A team like the San Francisco Giants has built the foundation of a multi-championship dynasty with its selections, using top picks in various years on Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner, and Buster Posey. (Granted, the latter three were all top-10 selections, a luxury the Yankees haven’t had since Derek Jeter.)

Two years after Hughes, the Yankees selected another useful player, grabbing Ian Kennedy in 2006 with the 21st overall pick. New York never got to experience the Major League contributions of Kennedy. However, they did reap the benefits of the selection, dealing him (along with Austin Jackson and Phil Coke) for Curtis Granderson, who was quite productive in pinstripes (11.3 WARP in four years with the Yankees). Since Kennedy, though, the Yankees’ top picks have been especially fruitless, and that’s putting it lightly. Here are the Yankees’ top picks each year, along with other players available at that selection. I included only alternative players that were picked within the next 30 slots, because it’s easy to nitpick a draft in hindsight and choose players from any round that could’ve been picked by any other team.

2007: Andrew Brackman (30th overall)

Other players available (31st-60th overall): Todd Frazier, Travis d’Arnaud, Brett Cecil, Sean Doolittle, Josh Donaldson, Tommy Hunter, Cory Luebke

Frazier, d’Arnaud, and Donaldson were the big ones that the Yankees missed out on. Of course, Donaldson was drafted as a catcher and traded before emerging as a Major Leaguer. Would New York have had the patience to wait for Donaldson to develop, even if they drafted him? It’s very questionable. Also, Brackman was a high-upside guy at the time, which is exactly what a team should be targeting with a pick that late in the first round.

2008: Jeremy Bleich (44th overall)

Gerrit Cole was selected 28th overall but did not sign

Other players available (45th-74th overall): Logan Forsythe, Anthony Gose, Tyson Ross, Charlie Blackmon, Bryan Shaw

Losing Gerrit Cole really stings. You could argue that this was a strike in favor of New York’s scouting and drafting departments, as their first round pick ended up turning into a number one overall pick and legitimate ace in the Majors. Or, you could chalk it up as another failure, because Cole had major signability issues that he made well-known before the draft, and the Yankees selected him anyway.

With the 44th pick, although Bleich hasn’t worked out, there weren’t a ton of alternatives that would’ve worked out either. Forsythe, Ross, and Blackmon are the big ones here, but all of them took a while to develop, and Blackmon may still be a Coors creation.

2009: Slade Heathcott (29th overall)

Other players available (30th-59th overall): Rex Brothers, James Paxton, Tyler Skaggs, Garrett Richards, Brad Boxberger, Billy Hamilton, Nolan Arenado

Unfortunately, this pick had the best crop of alternatives that the Yankees missed out on. Arenado was the prize of the bunch, but Hamilton or any of the starting pitchers would’ve been nice as well, either as big leaguers or trade currency.

There is a bright side to this, however. Heathcott was another high-upside selection here, and it’s hard to blame the Yankees for targeting that with the 29th pick. Heathcott has disappointed more because of injuries than lack of talent, and out of all of the Yankees’ picks on this list, he probably has the highest chance of still returning value.

2010: Cito Culver (32nd overall)

Other players available (33rd-62nd overall): Aaron Sanchez, Noah Syndergaard, Taijuan Walker, Nick Castellanos, Vincent Velasquez, Jedd Gyorko

This starts to be the year where the draft is too recent to really evaluate the results. However, based on what we know now and the players’ current value, there are plenty of players that would have been much better than Culver. Syndergaard looks like a gem, with Walker (career 8.21 K/9, 2.51 BB/9) not too far behind. Sanchez, Castellanos, and Velasquez are extremely promising as well.

Culver was the exact opposite of Brackman and Heathcott — a low-upside guy that was seen as a safer pick. Even he hasn’t worked out, but the larger criticism here is that Culver reaching his 50th percentile outcome would still result in a player that had less value than some of the players drafted right after him.

2011: Dante Bichette, Jr. (51st overall)

Other players available (52nd-81st overall): Blake Snell, Jace Peterson, Josh Bell, Brad Miller, Daniel Norris, James McCann, Austin Hedges

The Yankees were more hurt by not having a pick in the top 50 than by a wasted draft selection in the first round in 2011. The draft talent usually falls off pretty quickly, and so the 51st selection has a much, much lower expected outcome than a pick in the top 30.

Even still, Yankee fans may always look back on this draft with extra contempt because Blake Snell was popped with the very next pick after Bichette, Jr. Other than Snell, though, there weren’t too many guys selected immediately afterwards that look to be impact players at the major-league level.

2012: Ty Hensley (30th overall)

Other players available (31st-60th overall): Brian Johnson, Jose Berrios, Daniel Robertson, Kevin Plawecki, Stephen Piscotty, Joey Gallo, Lance McCullers, Jr., Jesse Winker

Hensley was actually widely viewed as an excellent selection at the time. He was a big, projectable high school pitcher that already possessed current plus stuff, and it’s a shame that injuries have derailed his career thus far. To rub salt in the wound, there were a ton of interesting players still available in the 31-60 range. It’s still too early to tell on many of these guys, but all of those players listed above, besides maybe Johnson, are either premium prospects or valuable Major Leaguers.


Judging any of the drafts from the previous three years would be rather futile. Unfortunately, 2013 top pick Eric Jagielo has already been dealt away, and the Yankees again didn’t have a top 50 pick in 2014.

I know these past 1139 words have made it sound all doom-and-gloom for the Bronx Bombers, but there are actually quite a few silver linings. First of all, the Yankees seem to be turning a corner with their high selections in the last three years. Six picks after Jagielo, the Yankees selected prized outfield prospect Aaron Judge. The following year, New York used its top pick, 55th overall, on right-hander Jacob Lindgren. A reliever isn’t a great outcome with a top 30 pick, but it certainly is fine with a 55th pick, especially considering that Lindgren has already reached the majors and is ready to contribute immediately. In addition, there is an outside chance that Lindgren develops as a starter, as New York will reportedly try just that in Triple-A to start the season. In the most recent draft, the Yankees finally had a pick within the top 25, and they used the 16th overall pick on right-hander James Kaprielian. Early returns indicate that was a great pick, with Kaprielian’s stuff ticking up a couple notches in the professional ranks. The biggest silver lining, though, has to do with the reason the Yankees keep picking so low in the draft — because they keep consistently winning. Yes, they have given away plenty of picks with their splashy free agent signings, but it also has made sense to do so because of their place on the win curve.

And don’t forget that this has only covered the Yankees’ top picks. New York has done much better with their later picks and international signings. The Yankees have been responsible for signing and developing, among others, Robinson Cano, Brett Gardner, Melky Cabrera, Dellin Betances, David Robertson, Francisco Cervelli, Austin Jackson, Luis Severino, Greg Bird, Ivan Nova, and Tyler Clippard. And should the Yankees’ new reluctance to surrender first rounders for free agents hold true in future offseasons, we could see this curse break itself in short order.

Lead photo: Dante Bichette Jr. (Credit: Mark J. Rebilas / USA Today Sports)

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