Derek Jeter made his major league debut 25 years ago today in Seattle, but his Yankees career started 3 years prior. The most significant draft pick in Yankees history happened on June 1, 1992, when they selected a high school shortstop out of Kalamazoo, Michigan.
On the most recent A Brief History podcast, I discuss how the Yankees were able to land Derek Jeter at #6 overall, Dick Groch — the scout that signed him, and the “Jeter Five” — the five players picked ahead of him.
Podcast – A Brief History: The Jeter Five
Listen to the full story of how the Yankees were able to draft Jeter 6th overall in 1992.
The Yankees were rebuilding in the early ’90s. It was because they were rebuilding that they had a 71-91 record in 1991, giving them the #6 pick in 1992. But it wasn’t just ’92 that they had a high pick.
In 1990 they picked 10th and took Carl Everett (yes, that Carl Everett). Everett was lost to the Marlins in the ‘92 Expansion Draft. Chipper Jones went #1 that year to Atlanta.
In ‘91 the Yankees had the first overall pick. They drafted Brien Taylor, who some scouts said was the best pitching prospect they ever saw. Taylor ended up being a colossal bust, but that was more due to a severe injury he suffered in a bar fight and not for lack of talent.
I mention the ‘90 and ‘91 drafts because that was when top picks started to sign big money bonuses. Chipper signed with the Braves for $1.2M and Taylor got $1.55M from the Yanks. Top players in the ‘92 draft were eyeing million-dollar bonuses as well. That, along with fear he would go to college, is why Jeter fell.
Pre-draft, Jeter and Jeffrey Hammonds, an outfielder from Stanford University, wanted the biggest bonuses.
The draft order was: Houston, Cleveland, Montreal, Baltimore, Cincinnati, and then the Yankees. Those teams — especially the Astros, Indians and Expos — were scared-off by the bonus demands of Jeter and Hammonds, which weighed heavily in their selections.
#1 – Phil Nevin
Houston drafted third baseman Phil Nevin out of Cal State Fullerton. Nevin was named the 1992 College World Series Most Outstanding Player and was close to “major league ready.” While that played a factor, the main reason the Astros took him is because he didn’t demand a signing bonus close to the previous year’s top picks — Nevin ended up signing for $700K.
Nevin was a solid player. He made an All-Star team and collected over 1,000 major league hits and 208 home runs in 12 seasons. He just didn’t do it with Houston.
They shipped him to Detroit during the ’95 season to complete a trade for 33-year old pitcher Mike Henneman. If that seems odd, that’s because it was. The Astros and Nevin had issues while he was in the minors. They tried him out in left field in order to promote him quicker, but that didn’t work. After he refused to practice with replacement players during the ’94-95 strike, he (along with other prospects who refused) were issued an ultimatum and kicked out of camp. When baseball returned, the Astros promoted him to the majors but he struggled. He was sent back to Triple-A after just 18 games, causing him to curse-out Bob Watson and manager Terry Collins.
Watson, then Astros (and future Yankees) general manager, said:
I wouldn’t say that he [Nevin] was a disappointment. His attitude left something to be desired, but we don’t question whether he has the ability to play in the big leagues. He does.
Ironically, Nevin is now the third base coach for the Yankees.
#2 – Paul Shuey
Cleveland took pitcher Paul Shuey from the University of North Carolina, who they projected as a top reliever. They were right about that.
In 361 appearances for the Indians, Shuey had a 3.60 ERA (133 ERA+) while averaging 10 K/9. He was shipped to the Dodgers in 2002 but suffered from a thumb and hip injury in 2004. After a failed return to Cleveland and short stint in Baltimore, Shuey retired.
Today, he competes in bass fishing tournaments.
#3 – B.J. Wallace
Montreal identified Hammonds as the best player in the draft but they couldn’t afford him. They took pitcher B.J. Wallace from Mississippi State instead.
Wallace never made the majors and was out of baseball by 1997. He and his wife were arrested in 2011 for cooking meth — with their children in the house, to boot!
While Wallace was trying to pull a Walter White, Jeter was collecting his 3,000th hit.
Wallace was the biggest bust among the “Jeter Five.”
#4 – Jeffrey Hammonds
Baltimore wound-up with Hammonds.
This is where things could have been a whole lot different for the Yankees and the Orioles, because Hammonds ended up with the largest signing bonus in the draft ($975K). The Orioles were willing to pony-up the cash to sign their top pick, they just identified the wrong guy.
Hammonds played the most years in the majors among the “Jeter Five.” Over 13 seasons he hit .272. He finished 6th in the Rookie of the Year voting in 1994 and made the 2000 All-Star team for Colorado (in looking at his stats that year, he got the Coors Field bump… or maybe a bump from something else).
The Orioles were constantly reminded of their mistake throughout the ‘90s as they watched Jeter turn into a star and Hammonds be a middling outfielder who they ended up trading in 1998.
Hammonds is currently a scout for the Padres and works for the Players Association as a special assistant in the player development program.
#5 – Chad Mottola
The Reds took outfielder Chad Mottola from the University of Central Florida. Mottola ended up signing for half of what Jeter got. He bounced around to 4 teams and appeared in just 59 big league games. He is now a coach for the Rays.
Five picks went by and Jeter wasn’t picked. He believed he’d go in the top-5 so he was disappointed until he got the phone call from the Yankees.
Jeter was the first high schooler taken in the draft. He was the 1992 High School Player of the Year, hit over .500 his junior and senior years, and struck out only once his senior year.
The 5 players picked ahead of Jeter played a total of 2,701 games in the major leagues. Jeter alone played 2,747.
The Astros get the most flack for not picking Jeter, however Baltimore paid the highest signing bonus in the draft but just identified the wrong guy and had to watch Jeter torment them for 20 years. That has to hurt.
Jeter is the central player in the Yankees rebuild. They turned into a perennial contender that is not satisfied with a 70-win season netting a top draft pick. “Tanking” and “rebuilding” are no longer in the Yankees vocabulary.
1992 is significant for another reason: It’s the last time the Yankees had a losing record.
Once Jeter debuted in 1995, the team went on an unprecedented modern-day playoff run. They won 5 championships and Jeter supplanted his name along with Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, Munson and other Yankees legends.
Jeter holds the franchise record for games played, at-bats, plate appearances, hits, doubles, stolen bases, and number of times reached base. He’s played the most games and racked-up the most hits, runs scored, and total bases in MLB postseason history.
If you’re a Yankees fan born in the 1980s, ‘90s or ‘00s, Jeter is probably your favorite player. We can thank Dick Groch (the Yankees scout who signed him) and the 5 teams that didn’t take the kid from Kalamazoo for that.
I also think it’s fitting that Jeter won 5 championships — one for every team that passed on him.