Fans and media have criticized the Yankees farm system for a lack of production throughout the years. While they’ve been successful in developing bullpen and backend starters, they’ve fallen short in producing impact starting pitching and position players. There are many pieces to the puzzle that have lead to the turnaround of the system. Ownership and the front office have made big changes in player development, amateur draft philosophy and have shown a reluctance to deal top prospects. The fruits of these moves have started to pay dividends for the Bronx Bombers in 2015, but it was a long road to get there.
Changes in player development
Major development changes have taken place for the Yankees over the past few years. The most notable changes began in 2012, when the team reassigned Nardi Contreras, and hired pitching guru Gil Patterson, as minor-league pitching coordinator. While the team has been successful in developing bullpen arms, their recent track record in starting pitchers had been woeful.
More changes came during the 2013 offseason, as manager Joe Girardi voiced his concern, that called up players were lacking basic fundamentals. In light of these concerns, ownership and the front office continued to address these shortcomings by hiring Mike Quade and Jody Reed as roving instructors. The moves didn’t stop there though, as they brought James Rowson back to the organization to serve as the minor-league hitting instructor. Those additions have helped better prepare the young talent for future roles in MLB.
The biggest changes took place during the 2014 offseason, when the top of the player development chain was shaken up. Long-time Vice President of Baseball Operations, Mark Newman retired once his contract expired at the end of the season. Newman’s assistant Billy Hart and Pat Roessler, who had served as the team’s Director of Player Development, were both relieved of their duties. Replacing Newman was Gary Denbo, while Eric Schmitt was named Director of Minor League Operations.
An end to Newman’s tenure meant the beginning of a new era in player development. Hiring Denbo meant bringing in a fresh set of evaluating eyes and development perspective to the organization, something that was sorely needed.
With strong roving instructors and coordinators in place, Denbo placed a new emphasis on having strong, experienced staff in the lower levels of the farm system. The biggest example of this new philosophy was moving highly accomplished manager Tony Franklin, to lead and guide the younger players for the new Appalachian League affiliate, the Pulaski Yankees. Many other changes have taken place and even more changes will happen while his plan evolves in the future.
A change in draft philosophy
A change has taken place the past few years, as the Yankees have chosen to avoid the high-risk, high reward players early in the draft. Instead they’ve chosen the safer more efficient route to produce major league talent, by drafting college players in the first few rounds and riskier high school players in the later rounds. This strategy has already paid dividends, as former college players Aaron Judge and Robert Refsnyder, are already in the upper levels of the system.
With solid position players being added through the draft and international market, the need for polished pitching was evident. Those needs continue to be filled with the drafting of players such as James Kaprielian and Jacob Lindgren, guys that have and should move quickly through the system. Clearly, Damon Oppenheimer and the scouting team have done a much better job the past few drafts.
Front office holding onto top prospects
When you’re the Yankees, the pressure to make the playoffs and win the World Series always exists. While there have been flaws on the team the past few seasons, Cashman has been reluctant to deal the team’s top prospects. Those decisions have helped restock the farm and build the youth movement that the team has needed.
There’s a lot to be excited about in the Yankees farm system. For the first time in many years, there’s impact talent on the cusp of making a difference in the Bronx and exciting talent in the lower levels. Time will tell if the talent will translate into major league results.