Yankees aim at moving targets
As draft progresses, won't pass up most talented players
In other sports, first-round draft picks are expected to contribute to their teams virtually upon arrival. Baseball's First-Year Player Draft, on the other hand, is an opportunity for a Major League franchise to stock up on young talent within its organization.
With that in mind, it's difficult to judge the success of a baseball draft for three, four, even five years, making it nearly impossible for a team to truly evaluate itself.
The Yankees enter this year's draft with the 21st selection in the first round, as well as the 41st pick in the sandwich round, both courtesy of the Phillies' signing of reliever Tom Gordon. New York's own pick, No. 28, went to the Red Sox after the Yankees signed Johnny Damon.
Mock drafts can be found all over the place leading up to the event, but for Damon Oppenheimer, the Yankees' vice president of scouting, the journey to the 21st pick is little more than a waiting game.
"You really have to wait to see how it plays out," Oppenheimer said. "You have some ideas that there are people who might get down to you, but you have to wait. When you target someone and someone else falls to you, you don't want to pass on that person."
Oppenheimer, who is running his second consecutive draft for the Yankees, doesn't have a preference between high school and college players. That was clear after last year's draft, in which the Yankees chose high school shortstop C.J. Henry in the first round before selecting six consecutive college players.
New York also chose high schooler Austin Jackson, a two-sport star who chose baseball over the Kansas basketball team. In the end, 40 of the 50 players selected by the Yankees were college athletes.
"There isn't one way or the other that I prefer; whichever player is better is the one that I want," Oppenheimer said. "We took a lot of college players last year, but we also took two high-end high school guys."
When the 2005 draft was complete, the Yankees had chosen 26 pitchers and 24 position players, but Oppenheimer says that he isn't entering this year's event with any hard numbers in mind.
"If you start trying to target positions, you can make bad moves," he said. "Let's say you want to draft left-handed pitching because you don't have as much in the system; you start pushing guys up the draft board who may not belong there.
"We'll address some needs, but last year, even though we had a shortstop at the Major League level, it didn't mean we were going to pass on Henry," Oppenheimer added. "You can't pass up on guys that are that talented."
The Yankees do not possess a second-round pick, having lost theirs to the Braves after signing Kyle Farnsworth. Oppenheimer views their sandwich pick, No. 41, as their second-rounder. Beginning in the third round, the Yankees select 28th in every round for the remainder of the draft.
Since Derek Jeter was drafted in 1992, the Yankees haven't produced a single impact player for the team in the first round. Two of the club's first-rounders -- Mark Prior and Eric Milton -- have gone on to succeed for other organizations.
Of course, that can come with the territory when you don't draft in the top 10, which the Yankees haven't done since they selected Jeter.
Including sandwich picks, the Yankees have taken pitchers with five of their last 10 first-rounders dating back to 1998. All of them have been right-handers, as Milton, the 20th pick in 1996, is the last lefty drafted in the first round by the Yankees.
With the emergence of homegrown players such as Robinson Cano, Chien-Ming Wang and Melky Cabrera, the Yankees are looking more and more to the farm system to fill holes at the Major League level. With players such as Eric Duncan, Philip Hughes and J.B. Cox on the fast track to the Bronx, Oppenheimer now has a chance to inject more young talent into the system with this year's draft.
"We can't control who ultimately ends up in New York, but we can try to give the system enough guys who can have the opportunity to play in New York and let the chips fall where they may," Oppenheimer said. "Some guys may get traded, some guys may come up at the right time where their position is available. We can definitely help supply New York with some Yankees, that's for sure."
Here's an update on the Yankees' last three first-round draft picks:
C.J. Henry, SS, 2005, Pick No. 17:
Henry, who is still just 19 years old, is playing for Class A Charleston in the South Atlantic League. Henry is playing shortstop every day, and despite the speculation that the Yankees would move him to the outfield, Oppenheimer said that there are no such plans in the works. "He's doing well," Oppenheimer said. "He's swinging a good bat and showing some power. We're pleased."
Philip Hughes, RHP, 2004, Pick No. 23:
Hughes is pitching in his second full season in the Minors, having been promoted from Class A Tampa to Double-A Trenton on April 30. In his five starts for Tampa, Hughes went 2-3 despite posting a miniscule 1.80 ERA. The right-hander, who has been compared to a young Roger Clemens, was 2-1 with a 3.99 ERA in his first five starts for Trenton. Hughes, who turns 20 on June 24, spent Spring Training in the Yankees' big-league camp, and catcher Jorge Posada said he had the best arm of anybody in camp, including Mariano Rivera, Randy Johnson and Mike Mussina.
Eric Duncan, 3B, 2003, Pick No. 27:
Duncan, who won't turn 22 until December, is playing his third full season in the Minors, having started the season with Triple-A Columbus. Duncan hit just .235 with 19 homers and 61 RBIs at Double-A in 2005, but he followed the season with a stellar season in the Arizona Fall League, capturing league MVP honors. Duncan won top rookie honors in his first spring in big-league camp this season, but he has struggled at Triple-A this season, making his ascension to the Majors unlikely until 2007 or 2008.
Mark Feinsand is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.