These two questions are asked most about Yankees – or for that matter any team’s – prospects more than any other:
When will they move so-and-so from Tampa to Trenton or Trenton to Scranton?
What must a prospect do to the move up?
“We’ll move someone up after they dominate the level they are in,” said Yankees Vice President and Senior Adviser Gene Michael. “That’s what we want to see.”
Michael answered both questions. At times it’s not easy to measure domination in a player’s game, but, if anyone wants to know what a prospect must do to quickly move through the Yankees system, take a look at Derek Jeter’s 1994 season. The man, playing at age 19 and 20 (his birthday is June 26) provides a perfect road map, one few prospects have followed since.
Jeter, who was selected sixth overall by the Yankees in the 1992 draft out of high school in Kalamazoo, Mich., was coming off a 1993 season at Class-A Greensboro in which, starting as an 18-year-old, hit .295 (152-for-515) with 11 triples and 71 RBIs. That had the Yankees ecstatic, as those offensive numbers for an 18-19-year-old were impressive.
What wasn’t so good was his 56 errors at shortstop. The feeling was he is young and his fielding would improve. The organization noted the young player was determined to play shortstop for the Yankees and was willing to work harder than anyone to achieve that goal.
After spring training in 1994, Jeter was assigned to Class-A Tampa. He was told what to work on and the Yankees were happy with his development curve so far.
While at Tampa, Jeter improved in every facet. In 69 games, he batted .329 (96-for-292). Defensively, his fielding improved. In fact, for the whole 1994 season – 138 games with Tampa, Double-A Albany-Colonie and Class-AAA Columbus, his errors were chopped from 56-25.
Scouts, after the conclusion of the 1994 season, would remark about Jeter’s “”tremendous defensive skills.”
Just before Jeter turned 20, he was promoted to Albany-Colonie. He hit an astounding .377 (46-for-122) in 34 games. He hit what is still one of the longest home runs in Trenton’s Arm&Hammer Park in it’s first year, a blast high over the then-three levels of billboards in left field. By the way, Trenton, then a Detroit farm team, had a kid who almost put a ball into the Delaware River past the right-field fence the same day in what was a day-night doubleheader. That kid was Tony Clark, who had a strong career, was a Yankees teammate of Jeter for a bit and is now head of the MLBPA.
What impressed scouts – and the Yankees brass – about Jeter was the promotion from Class A to the tougher Double-A Eastern League did not affect his production and defense. All got better with the promotion.
As the season wound into late July, the Yankees pushed Jeter to Columbus, where he hit .349 (44-for-126). Again the promotion to a higher level did nothing but see Jeter improve in all phases of the game.
In addition to improving both offense and defense, Jeter stole a combined 50 bases at three levels in 1994.
He dominated at every level, pushing the Yankees to promote him twice that season. Each step up did not affect his performance. He kept getting better.
In 1995, after Jeter hit .317 (154-for-486) in 123 games at Columbus, he got a 15-game “sup of coffee” with the Yankees, then became the starting Yankees shortstop in 1996 and the rest his history.
Some scouts back then were not sure if Jeter would develop power, as he hit just 16 home runs in 447 minor-league games (not counting rehab appearances. He’s hit 260 homers in the majors, so that answered that doubt.
If one wonders what it takes for a prospect to move quickly, just look at Jeter’s 1994 season. He established a road map that provides perfect directions.