Perhaps it isn’t apparent as while it’s unfolding, but one event can transform the future course of action for an entire franchise.
Few realized at the time that the 2013 MLB Draft would have that impact on the Yankees after years of unfulfilled picks and missed opportunities, but it served as a stepping stone for an organization yearning for young talent and to replenish a struggling farm system.
Entering the 2013 season, the Yankees’ organization found themselves in a state of transition. Although they reached the ALCS for the fourth consecutive season, their big league roster was rapidly aging and few reinforcements were on the horizon.
Their top two prospects, outfielders Mason Williams and Slade Heathcott showed flashes of promise but injuries and middling performances curtailed their potential, while prized pitching prospect Manny Banuelos tore his UCL and required Tommy John Surgery.
Recognizing the need to restock the pipeline, general manager Brian Cashman chose to let veterans Nick Swisher and Rafael Soriano elect free agency and claim the compensation picks. Additionally, the Yankees avoided signing a qualifying free agent and held on to their original draft pick, giving them three in the first round of the upcoming June draft.
“I remember having internal discussions with ownership about the willingness to offer the qualifying offer to Nick Swisher. They were afraid he was going to take it,” Cashman said at Talkin’ Baseball: An Evening with Brian Cashman at the St. George Theatre. “I didn’t think he would but we needed to do this and thankfully, they allowed us to make the offer and thankfully, Nick declined and signed a multi-year deal with the Indians and produced Aaron Judge.”
Unlike many of their recent drafts, the Yankees elected to go the college route with their early picks in the 2013 MLB Draft and settled upon Notre Dame third baseman Eric Jagielo with the 26th overall selection. Jagielo, the first collegiate position player taken the Yankees in the first round in over a decade, reached Double-A Trenton within two seasons and was the key prospect sent to the Cincinnati Reds in the Aroldis Chapman trade. When the Yankees traded Chapman to the Chicago Cubs prior the 2016 trade deadline, they acquired prized prospects Gleyber Torres and Billy McKinney and continued fortifying their farm system.
With Swisher and Soriano declining their respective qualifying offers, the Yankees had consecutive compensation picks, beginning at 32nd overall. The Yankees were in the hunt for an outfielder and strongly considered Samford product Phillip Ervin, but opted to select Jagielo one pick prior. The next outfielder on the board was Fresno State’s Aaron Judge.
Impressed by his unique blend size and power, the Yankees took a chance on Judge, despite the short list of successful major league players who stood taller than 6’6″. Judge developed quicker than expected and reached the Bronx by the end of the 2016 season. Thanks to a refined swing and quick adjustments, Judge is a potential candidate for AL Rookie of the Year and is one of the Yankees’ greatest success stories out of the draft in recent memory.
“You don’t see guys like Aaron Judge at that size, 6’7″ and above that get an extended period of time in the big leagues,” Cashman said. “He’s worked hard. He’s very athletic. He played CF at times at Fresno State and is a gifted athlete who’s made a lot of adjustments. He’s come quicker than we would have expected. We thought we had an above-average future major league player, but we would have to live with some growing pains. I’m thankful we held onto him because he looks great for us right now.”
The Yankees followed the Judge selection by taking Ian Clarkin, a promising high school southpaw out of James Madison High School in California. To take Clarkin, the organization bypassed Michael Lorenzen, a two-way player out of Cal State Fullerton, who went five picks later to the Cincinnati Reds. The reason was due to Lorenzen’s insistence on being a position player instead of a pitcher and was a Scott Boras client.
“In the Judge draft, when we took Clarkin and Jagielo, we had internal discussions in the draft room about Michael Lorenzen,” Cashman said. “He was represented by Scott Boras. He was a two-way player, but we looked at him as a pitcher even though he wanted to be a position player. Ultimately we passed on him because we felt the bat was in question and we felt his upside was as a pitcher.”
The 2013 Draft was a watershed moment for a Yankees’ organization that struggled mightily in player development for much of their dynasty years. Although players such as Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird, and Dellin Betances were in the pipeline, their eventual impacts were not apparent at the time.
The selections in 2013 also represented a shift towards taking quick rising prospects, rather than high-risk commodities. The philosophical change enabled the Yankees to have a big league roster comprised of primarily of homegrown players and places them in position for another potential run of dominance in the years to come.