Yanks system still thin on position players

Brett Gardner and Derek Jerer, right, are the only Yankees
starting position players drafted in-house.

This story is also available in Sunday’s editions of The Times of Trenton.

The contributions of homegrown players Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Bernie Williams helped the Yankees win five World Series Championships from 1996 to 2009.
This season, with Brett Gardner off to a dreadful (.150) start and Eduardo Nunez on the bench as a utility infielder, All-Star second baseman Robinson Cano is the only everyday position player developed by the Yankees’ farm system.
Gardner (3rd round, 2005) and Jeter (1st round, 6th overall, 1992) are the only Yankees starting position players actually drafted by the organization.
Years of neglect in the draft and far too many resources directed toward high-priced free agents in the waning years of George Steinbrenner’s stewardship of the franchise were to blame for the dearth of major league-ready talent in the minor-league system.
From 1997 to 2005 the Yankees drafting and player development was among the worst in baseball, with only 10 position players produced and those players combining for less than 900 major league at bats.
Cano became a full-time player in 2005, but he was an undrafted amateur free agent from San Pedro de Marcoris in the Dominican Republic.
In 2006, general manager Brian Cashman began overseeing the player development system and things began to change, albeit slowly.
“It is an area that has lagged somewhat,’’ senior vice president of baseball operations Mark Newman said of the lack of top-tier position players at the higher levels of Yankees system. “But Nunez is there now and Gardner is one of the better young outfielders in the game. The young catchers we have are some of the best in the business, and we’ve got some quality young guys lower in our system right now.’’
The Yankees boast four minor league catchers they think will one day play at the highest level in Jesus Montero at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Austin Romine with the Thunder and Class-A backstops Gary Sanchez and J.R. Murphy.
Romine is the top-rated and highest-round player (second round, 94th overall in 2007) selected by the Yankees on the Double-A Trenton roster, but with the exception of center fielder Melky Mesa (undrafted/amateur free agent) no other Thunder position players are currently on anyone’s major league radar.
Designated hitter Cody Johnson (24th overall/2006) and outfielder Brian Anderson (15th overall/2003) are former first-round draft picks, but they were selected by the Atlanta Braves and Chicago White Sox, respectively.
Newman insists help is on the way, with players such as Sanchez, Murphy and recent first-round picks Slade Heathcott (OF) and Cito Culver (SS) still very early in their development.
“There is a wave of position players behind Double-A and Triple-A, and some of those guys that we’ll run through (low Class-A) Charleston this year are pretty impressive,’’ Newman said. “It’s really hard given the draft to take pitching and position players at the same time. There is no doubt we have devoted a lot of time, scouting hours and money to pitching over the years. We’ve done the same with position players the last few years and that was not really done by design. That’s just where the talent was.’’
And talent, not necessarily draft status, is what it is all about, according to Thunder manager Tony Franklin.
“That’s it,’’ he said. “Numbers are attached to everything you do in this game but talent is the bottom line. This is not about being smart, or about a kid’s draft status, it is about being good or bad. Can you play the game? The guys that can play are the ones that are going to go to the big leagues. It’s as simple as that.’’

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