In the early part of this decade, the Yankees had one of the worst farm systems in baseball. Legitimate prospects were few and far between, and when one emerged, it was often just a matter of time before that prospect was dealt for an established (and aging) veteran. It was around 2003 when the light bulb finally went on in the executive offices at 161st and River ave, and the realization that true and lasting team building needed to begin in the minor leagues, and even earlier-in the draft.
The Yankees were no strangers to throwing money around in the free agency market, but oddly, had never done this in the draft. Brian Cashman and Damon Oppenheimer changed the organizations' focus, and as a result, had very favorable drafts in 2004 (Phil Hughes, Jeff Marquez, Chris Garcia) and 2005 (JB Cox, Austin Jackson, Alan Horne) that began the long road back to farm system respectability.
It was the 2006 draft, however, that really changed everything, and I believe, will be pointed to years from now as one of the very best drafts in Yankee (or any team for that matter) history. Consider only these pitcher selections:
1) Ian Kennedy - One of the top pitching prospects in baseball by anyone's measure. Tore through the Yankee system like a bullet-made his Big league debut in September and posted a 1.89 MLB ERA.
2) Joba Chamberlain-We all know Joba now. Like Kennedy, shot through the system as a starter, was converted to the bullpen in July in AAA, then pitched the last two months of the season as the Yankee set-up man, compiling an 0.38 ERA at the major league level
3) Zach McAllister- K'ed 75 in 71 IP in the NY Penn league in 2007. Power sinkerball. Still a ways off, but profiles as a reliever.
4) George Kontos- also still a few years away, but he's legit. Mid 90's fastball, and a slider that is ranked as 2nd or 3rd best in the entire system. K'd 101 in 94 IP in Hi A. Electric stuff.
5) Tim Norton-just coming back from TJ surgery, but another one with filthy stuff. Low to mid 90's fastball, excellent splitter. Another projected back end of the BP guy.
6) Dellin Betances-He's a project, all 6'9 of him. Averaging almost 11 K per 9 in 48 minor league innings.
7) Mark Melancon-Mo's heir apparent? NCAA closer of the year at AZ state in 2006. Mid 90s Fastball, hammer curve, and bulldog mentality. Coming off TJ surgery. Will start in the warm weather of Tampa-no issues, he's in the Bronx by the ASB.
8)Dan McCutchen- Another righty power arm. 16-4 with a 2.37 ERA in his professional career so far-which took him all the way to AA Trenton last season. Where he ends 2008 will be interesting to watch. A September call-up is definitely reasonable.
9) David Robertson-and yet another power righty arm. Plus 4 seamer, Plus 2 seamer both in the mid 90's. Plus slider in the mid-80's and an improving cut fastball. K'ed 170 in 126 NCAA innings. 8-3 with a 0.96 ERA in his professional career, which also ended at Trenton in 2007. He will be one to watch in 2008 as well.
Going forward, the New York Yankees will be a franchise built on young power pitching. The 2006 draft, I believe, will be a huge reason why.