I’ve read several articles over the years that discuss which organizations turn out the best players. I recall the Blue Jays, Braves and Red Sox being listed in the top tier because of their uncanny ability to draft and mold quality major league contributors. The Yankees have certainly revamped their farm system recently, but I’d like to take a look at some of the Yankee products over the past 15 years. We all know Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera have turned out to be tremendous players, but what about the ones that did not manage to stay with the Yankees? Let’s see if we can piece together a decent roster with only Yankee products.
I used a special criteria for this list. First, the player must have been drafted or signed as an amateur free agent by the Yankees and cannot be on the current roster. Secondly, they had to appear in at least 162 major league games after leaving the Yankees. I decided upon certain players based on overall numbers. And now, the roster:
Catcher – Dioner Navarro was signed as an amateur free agent in 2000. He was once a highly-touted catching prospect thanks to his strong defense and game-calling ability. He appeared in five games for the 2004 Yankees before being traded to the Dodgers in the three-team deal that brought Randy Johnson to New York. He was a part-time player until joining the Rays, where he still serves as the starting catcher. He’s posted a .251 AVG and 33 home runs in 485 games since leaving the Yankees.
First Base – Fernando Seguignol was signed in 1993 but never actually played in a game with the Yankees until 2003. He was traded to the Expos in 1995 in exchange for closer John Wetteland. Seguignol went on to have three solid seasons as a bench player and backup first baseman with Montreal, notching a .251 AVG and 17 home runs in 173 games. He later resigned with the Yankees in 2003, but was sold to the Nippon-Ham Fighters and currently holds the single-season home run record for switch-hitters. He was last seen in the Tigers’ farm system.
Second Base – Alfonso Soriano is perhaps the best overall player and biggest name on the list. Purchased from the Hiroshima Carp in 1998, Soriano posted a .281 AVG with 18 home runs and 25 stolen bases in his first minor league season. He quickly climbed through the system and earned a starting role in 2001. Soriano went on to have four strong seasons with the Yankees before getting traded to Texas for Alex Rodriguez. He was later sent to the Nationals and shifted to the outfield and currently plays left field for the Cubs. After leaving the Yankees, Soriano hit .274 with 194 home runs and 136 stolen bases for the Rangers, Nationals and Cubs. If injuries had not slowed his career, Soriano might have been future Hall of Fame candidate.
Shortstop – Christian Guzman was signed by the Yankees in 1994, but did not actually play for a minor league affiliate until 1996. The infielder posted a .278 AVG in two seasons before getting shipped to the Twins as part of a package for Chuck Knoblauch. Guzman went on to have a decent career with Minnesota, hitting .266 in six seasons. He became one of the first players to sign with the Washington Nationals and hit .282 in four seasons with the Nats.
Third Base – Mike Lowell was drafted by the Yankees in 1995 and performed very well in the minors, hitting .308 with 65 home runs in 470 games. He was later traded to the Marlins for Ed Yarnall, Tod Noel and Mark Johnson in a deal that Florida obviously won. He went on to hit .272 and 143 homers for the Marlins and eventually helped lead them to a World Series victory in 2003. He was traded to the Red Sox with Josh Beckett after the 2005 season and hit .295 in 539 games, earning another World Series ring in the process. He’s currently a bench player with the Boston Red Sox.
Left Field – Marcus Thames was drafted by the Yankees in 1996 and posted great power numbers in the minors. He is remembered amongst Yankee fans for hitting a home run in his first professional at-bat with the club. Thames was later traded to the Texas Rangers for Ruben Sierra but only appeared in a handful of games. He signed with the Tigers prior to the 2004 season and spent the next eight seasons with Detroit, hitting .255 with 99 homers in 485 games. He is currently a free agent.
Center Field – Ricky Ledee was drafted by the Yankees in 1990 as a 16 year-old. He spent eight seasons in the minors before joining the championship teams in 1998 and 1999. In three seasons with the Yankees, Ledee hit .258 with 17 home runs. He was included in the package that brought David Justice to the Yankees from Cleveland, but bounced around the majors until retiring in 2007. Ledee is one of three players to play for the Yankees, Mets, Dodgers and Giants.
Right Field – Juan Rivera was signed as an amateur free agent in 1996 and quickly climbed the organizational ladder and made his Yankee debut in 2001. After several brief promotions, he was ranked by Baseball America as the Yankees’ best prospect prior to the 2003 season. In a reserve role, Rivera hit .266 with seven homers. After the 2003 season, the outfielder was included in the deal that brought Javier Vazquez to New York. With the Expos, Rivera blossomed in to a terrific player, hitting .307 while getting regular playing time in the outfield. He was traded to the Angels the following season, where he still remains. Rivera has posted a .284 and 77 homers in 471 games with the Angels. He’ll enter 2010 as a starting outfielder for the club.
Starting Pitcher – Eric Milton was a first-round draft pick by the Yankees in 1996. He went on to post a 14-6 record and a 3.11 ERA in his first full minor league season before getting traded to the Twins in the Knoblauch trade. Milton went 57-51 with a 4.76 in six seasons with Minnesota before getting traded to the Phillies for Nick Punto and Carlos Silva. The left-handed had a decent season with Philadelphia and signed with the Reds, where he proceeded to struggle with injuries and control. He reappeared with the Dodgers in 2009 and posted a 3.80 ERA in 23.2 innings. His season was cut short after undergoing back surgery in July.
Starting Pitcher – Zach Day was drafted by the Yankees in 1996 and went 30-24 with a 2.53 ERA in his first five minor league seasons. He never managed to pitch for the big league club and was sent to the Indians in the David Justice trade, along with Ledee and Jake Westbrook. Day was later traded to the Expos and settled into the pitching staff. From 2002-2004, Day went 18-19 with a 4.01 ERA in 66 games for Montreal. Halfway through the 2005 season, the right-hander was traded to the Rockies for Preston Wilson. After that, he bounced around the minors for several seasons until ultimately retiring in 2008.
Reliever – Randy Choate was drafted by the Yankees in 1997 and displayed enough promise in the minors to receive a promotion in 2000. He posted a 4.76 ERA in 17 innings that season. He performed even better the next season, going 3-1 with a 3.35 ERA in 48 innings. After that, Choate struggled and was eventually traded to the Expos. He was flipped to the Diamondbacks and posted average numbers. He continued to struggle with consistency in the next few seasons and spent all of 2008 in the minors. He emerged with the Rays in 2009 and posted a 3.47 ERA in 36 innings. He is currently on the Rays’ 40-man roster.
So what did this list teach us? The Yankees could have drafted a lot better over the past two decades, but they were pretty smart when it came to trading their own players. Aside from the Mike Lowell and Juan Rivera/Randy Choate trades, the Yankees seemed to get the upper hand on many of their deals. We also learned that the Yankees were pretty bad at drafting center fielders, first baseman and pitchers.
I wonder what the Yankees would have looked like in 2010 if they never traded any of these players? Perhaps something like this:
- Catchers: Jorge Posada, Dioner Navarro
- Infielders: Nick Johnson, Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter, Mike Lowell, Christian Guzman, Fernando Seguignol
- Outfielders: Alfonso Soriano, Juan Rivera, Marcus Thames, Melky Cabrera, Brett Gardner
- Starting Pitchers: Andy Pettitte, Joba Chamberlain, Eric Milton, Phil Hughes, Brad Halsey, Jeff Karstens.
- Bullpen: Mariano Rivera, David Robertson, Randy Choate, Zach Day, Russ Springer, Tyler Clippard.
That would not be a terrible team, provided Mike Lowell, Alfonso Soriano and Eric Milton were healthy and performing well.