With this season’s MLB Draft coming up on Monday, this week we will be taking a look at the progress several former Yankees’ draft picks have made in the minor leagues. The Yankees struggled with maintaining homegrown draft talent for many years in the first decade of the new millennium, with only three first-round picks playing more than one season in pinstripes (Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy, and Joba Chamberlain.) Aaron Judge is the only current Yankee that the team drafted in the first round, but seven other Yankees on the active roster (Austin Romine, Rob Refsnyder, Brett Gardner, Jonathan Holder, Jordan Montgomery, Adam Warren, and Dellin Betances) were drafted by the team.
Several former first-rounders are still looking to follow Judge’s path to the Bronx. Blake Rutherford, the 2016 first-rounder profiled in the Yankees minor league update two weeks ago, has been performing well at Class-A Charleston. James Kaprielian is currently on the disabled list and has dealt with several arm problems since the Yankees drafted him with a 2015 first-round selection. Besides Judge, Rutherford, and Kaprielian, four other first-round picks remain in the Yankees system. We’ll check in on their progress here.
Cito Culver– SS- Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (AAA)– It has been a long, winding road for Culver, who the Yankees selected in the first round all the way back in 2010. Culver is in his eighth season in the Yankees farm system after being selected out of high school, batting just .241 for AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. The shortstop has six home runs and 22 RBI to go with a .322 on-base percentage and has struck out in over 30% of his plate appearances, a career-high for the veteran minor leaguer. Culver has not stolen a base this season, despite having stolen 22 bases back in 2012, but this likely owes itself to a recognition of Culver’s former inefficiency on the base paths. Signs of improvement have appeared lately, however, as the former first-rounder has batted .310 in his last ten games. He may not have made the major leagues just yet, nor as he shown himself worthy of a call-up yet, but at just 24, Culver still has a shot at putting it all together.
Dante Bichette Jr.- 1B- Trenton (AA)– Bichette came to the Yankees as a compensatory first-round pick in 2011 and unfortunately may not last much longer in the organization. In his seventh season in the organization, Bichette has not made it higher than AA, and has been on the disabled list for over a month. Before going on the DL, the 24-year-old hit two home runs and posted a .147 batting average and a .478 OPS. He showed promise in high-A Tampa in 2014, batting .271 with a .352 OBP as a 21-year-old, but has not hit higher than .243 at any stop since. Barring a significant change in his game, it remains unlikely that he makes the major leagues.
Kyle Holder– SS- Tampa (A-Advanced)– Holder, a 2015 first-round compensation pick, has had some bad luck this season, batting just .187 at High-A Tampa with one home run. However, he has a well-below-average .220 batting average on balls in play, which indicates better days may be ahead. The 23-year-old batted .290 in 88 games last season in Charleston, indicating that the young infielder is capable of more. Holder has improved his walk rate this season and has just six errors in 47 games in the field. Scouting reports have praised his defense and this has always been his primary calling card. If he can improve the bat even just a little bit, there’s a chance he can progress through the organization as a defensive-first shortstop.
Ian Clarkin– SP- Tampa (A-Advanced)– Despite being roughed up Saturday in a start where he allowed five runs in three innings, the former 2013 first-round pick, pictured above, has pitched well for High-A Tampa this season. His ERA sits at 2.49 after the rough outing and he has 35 strikeouts in 43 innings. In three prior outings, Clarkin totaled 10 shutout innings and struck out 12 batters over that span. The 22-year-old lefty can touch 95 mph with his fastball and relies on his changeup as his top off-speed pitch, also throwing in a curveball and slider. His walk rate has ticked up this season, as he is walking more than one better per inning more than he did in 2016. However, he has still pitched well enough that if he can keep the walks in check, he could be able to earn a promotion up to one of the two higher levels of the minors before the end of this season.
Fortunately, despite the mixed track record of several past first-round picks, the Yankees have seen significant development and success from their later-round selections. This goes to show that the overall draft performance matters more than any individual selection. So, as a piece of advice to Yankees fans evaluating the team’s first-round pick Monday night, do not fret too much if you do not like the selection. There will be plenty more rounds where future stars may be picked.