What did the fifth-best farm system in baseball net the Yankees?

Joba never lived up to the hype.
Joba never lived up to the hype.

Six seasons have passed since Baseball America ranked the Yankees’ farm system fifth-best in baseball in 2008. It was the second straight year the publication pegged the Yankees as such, displaying confidence in the system despite a key graduate in Phil Hughes. The Yankees clearly have struggled to select and develop amateur talent since then, but what did they harvest when the system was at its peak?

Partially based on Sam Miller’s piece on the Angels over at Baseball Prospectus, I tracked the performance of the Baseball America’s 2008 top 30 Yankees prospects through 2013. Each season, I took a look at how many prospects remained in the organization at year’s end, and how much WAR accumulated.

First, a look at the top 30 list:

2008 Top 30 Yankees Prospects

Not many of these guys look like anything special today, but at the time, the system was pretty deep. In the top ten, Joba Chamberlain and Andrew Brackman both had ace ceilings. Austin Jackson, Jose Tabata, and Brett Gardner all were projected to be above-average regulars. Sinkerballers Jeff Marquez and Ross Ohlendorf had back-end rotation expectations, while the other pitcher in the top 10, Alan Horne, was more of an X-factor with his extensive health issues. Last but not least in the upper third was Jesus Montero, whose top prospect status was just budding at the time. It was a very projectable top 10, with a variety of other good prospects rounding out following 20. What happened?

08 Top 30 Attrition
Players remaining in organization at end of each year.

Rather than deriving value directly from the prospects in this group, Brian Cashman exchanged many of these players for established Major Leaguers. In nine trades, the Yankees unloaded 12 of the top 30.

  1. July 26, 2008: #3 Jose Tabata, #9 Ross Ohlendorf, and #14 Daniel McCutchen to the Pirates for Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte.
  2. November 13, 2008: #7 Jeff Marquez, Wilson Betemit, and Jhonny Nunez to the White Sox for Nick Swisher Kanekoa Texeira
  3. December 8, 2009: As part of a three-way trade with the Tigers and Diamondbacks, the Yankees traded #2 Austin Jackson and Phil Coke to the Tigers, and #4 Ian Kennedy to the Diamondbacks. The Yankees acquired Curtis Granderson from Detroit.
  4. December 22, 2009: Melky Cabrera, #25 Mike Dunn, and Arodys Vizcaino to the Braves for Javier Vazquez and Boone Logan.
  5. July 31, 2010: #11 Mark Melancon and Jimmy Paredes to the Astros for Lance Berkman.
  6. August 20, 2010: #30 Zach McAllister was the player to be named later in a trade consummated July 20 with the Indians for Austin Kearns.
  7. November 18, 2010: #21 Juan Miranda to the Diamondbacks for Scott Allen.
  8. January 3, 2012: #6 Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi to the Mariners for Michael Pineda and Jose Campos.
  9. April 4, 2012: #17 George Kontos to the Giants for Chris Stewart.

It’s striking that the front office shipped out 40% of this prospect group, fitting the narrative that the Yankees don’t give players on the farm a fair shake, preferring a club composed of veterans. In a vacuum, the Yankees may wish to have retained a few of these guys, particularly Jackson and Melancon. Getting Granderson while already having Brett Gardner in the system made it a bit easier to part with Jackson, but the Melancon move may be one the front office would like to have back. Hindsight is 20/20, but looking at the bullpen today, the Yankees probably wished they’d had kept Melancon over a half-year of Berkman. Of all these trades, only one was a definite victory for the Yankees: the Swisher move. Some of these moves haven’t had much impact either way (trades 1, 4, and 8 in particular).

Trades weren’t the only way this list was turned over:

  • #4 Alan Horne: Health was always the issue with Horne, who threw only 100 innings with the organization after being ranked on this list. He was out of the system and baseball after 2011.
  • #10 Andrew Brackman: The writing was on the wall before his September call-up in 2011. Perhaps the most expensive bust of this list got an opportunity with the Reds organization a season later but now is pursuing basketball overseas.
  • #12 Humberto Sanchez: Acquired when the Yankees dealt Gary Sheffield to Detroit, this chunky right-hander threw two innings with the Yankees in 2008 and was out of the organization after 2009. He last surfaced in the Mexican League in 2011.
  • #15 Kevin Whelan: Obtained with Sanchez, Whelan actually performed decently in Triple-A and had a very brief stint in the Bronx, but signed a minor league deal with the Reds for the 2012 season.
  • #19 Colin Curtis: Shoulder surgery cost him all of 2011, and he struggled mightily upon his return to Triple-A in 2012. He’s now with the Independent Somerset Patriots.
  • #26 JB Cox: Pegged as a future late-inning reliever, Cox flamed out pretty badly. Out of baseball after 2010, and it wasn’t strictly because of performance.
  • #27 Mitch Hilligoss: The infielder was in the Rangers organization by 2010, after being unable to hit after reaching High-A.
  • #28 Scott Patterson: Peculiarly ranked in retrospect (turned 29 in 2008), Patterson was waived mid-2008. He’s bounced around four organizations since, but hasn’t been in affiliated ball since 2012.
  • #29 Edwar Ramirez: After 0.4 WAR and a 3.90 ERA in just over 55 innings in 2008, the league figured out the changeup specialist. He was let go in 2010 and appears to have last pitched in the Mexican League in 2011.

Amazingly, there are still a couple guys on this list ascending the minor league rungs with the Yankees:

  • #16 Carmen Angelini: The now 25 year-old shortstop played poorly in 2008 and 2009, and then appeared in only nine games from 2010 to 2012 due to a torn labrum in his hip, a shattered ankle, and a broken wrist. Ouch. In his return last season, he posted a strong 133 wRC+ with Hi-A Tampa in 32 games, earning a promotion to Double-A Trenton where he struggled offensively in 66 games.
  • #20 Jairo Heredia: Like Angelini, the 24 year-old had an array of health issues that have kept him from advancing in the minors since this prospect list was released. After missing all of 2012, he pitched mostly for Staten Island and Tampa last season, before having a cameo appearance with Triple-A Scranton.

Now that we know about the guys who didn’t make it with the Yankees, let’s examine what’s happened to those who have reached the majors:

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An astute reader may note that these percentages add up to more than 100%, so I must note that players who have negative WAR, such as Jesus Montero, factor into the total.

Gardner and Jackson have clearly been the most valuable of the crop, but no star players were born out of this group. It yielded a bunch of useful players at the Major-League level, with David Robertson really being the only elite player of the group when taking position into account. The jury is still out for some, such as Ivan Nova and Mark Melancon who theoretically can still improve. Most are known commodities at this point, though.

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Compared to other clubs, the Yankees have been the benefactor of most of the group’s production in the big leagues. It’s pretty close though, with two of the top three performers being dealt away via trade (Jackson and Kennedy). Obviously, the difference would be larger if we take into account players the Yankees acquired in return for prospects, such as Swisher and Granderson. For a look at the Major-League statistics of the Top 30 through 2013, click here for hitters and here for pitchers.

Although the Yankees received a good amount of value from the prospects in this group via production and trade, it’s hard not to reflect upon this group as an overall disappointment. Most of that sentiment stems from the underwhelming turnout for Joba, who was supposed to be an ace and a workhorse for years to come. He’s not alone, however, as other big name prospects like Montero and Brackman flopped. It’s reasonable to guess that the Yankees and the rest of the baseball world were expecting a bit more from what Baseball America labeled the fifth-best system in the league.

Photo by jimmyack205 on Flickr (Originally posted to Flickr as “Joba”) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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