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June 7, 2006

2006 Draft Thoughts
by Fabian

Evaluating a draft one year after it has taken place is folly, as most would say you need about 5 years to decide where the chips have fallen, so evaluating it hours after it’s conclusion and prior to any confirmed signings is probably…not the smartest idea. However, I can’t contain my excitement about what the Yankees did, so I’m going to throw caution to the wind.

I went into the 2006 Rule IV Draft with a bleak outlook. Every knowledgeable draft source you could find had no qualms about letting everyone know that the 2006 Draft was likely shaping up as the worst draft since 2000; a draft where Adrian Gonzalez, who might make it as a backup 1B some day, was the number 1 overall pick. Keeping this mind, I set my sights on the Yankees grabbing Chris Marrero in the 1st Round and Dellin Betances in the Supplemental 1st Round on draft day with anything else being gravy. Well, a funny thing happened over the course of the past 36 hours. While Marrero did not fall to the Yankees, they did manage to grab Betances…in Round 8, and in the process have one of their best drafts, all things considered, in quite some time.

While I was initially perplexed with the pick of USC RHP Ian Kennedy as 21st overall, it wasn’t because of any strong feelings for or about Kennedy. Rather, at the time, I really wanted the Yankees to draft Daniel Bard (who ended up going to the Red Sox). In retrospect, Kennedy over Bard makes sense when looking at the overall draft picture for the Yankees. Despite injury concerns centered on a drop in velocity from 88-92 to 86-89 during his senior season, Ian Kennedy is a very safe pitcher. He pitched decently with his decreased velocity and aside from that the injury concern does not seem to be too serious, so hopefully the velocity comes back. Additionally, Kennedy has been on the national spotlight for quite some time, he was drafted in the 14th round out of high school by the Cardinals, and performed exceptionally well throughout his freshman and sophomore seasons of college. This is in stark contrast to the Yankees’ second pick, Joba Chamberlain.

Chamberlain worked through injury concerns in a disappointing junior year, which played a critical role in the Yankees being able to grab a once highly touted player at 41st overall. Unlike Kennedy, the track record that Joba is working on primarily consists of what he did as a sophomore. The key with him is the stuff. Joba primarily utilizes a low 90s fastball that has touched 97 and a slider. Overall, most sources say his pitching arsenal grades out only slightly worse than the top pitchers in this year’s draft. As is likely apparent, despite very good stuff, Joba is no sure thing due to his short track record and injury concerns, as well as concerns about his weight. If things work out, he might be a terrific number 2, but that’s no sure thing. That is why it was so key for the Yankees to pick up Kennedy, who might only become a middle of the rotation guy, but is a very safe choice to get there.

Another factor to consider with these first two picks is that some people are complaining that Kennedy wasn’t an exciting enough choice at 21. However, if these same people were told that the Yankees took Joba at 21 and Kennedy at 41, they would most likely change their tune. This is just to illustrate that the opinion of other teams plays a huge role in deciding when to draft a guy. It is likely that the Yankees realized that teams had Kennedy higher on their draft boards than Joba, meaning that even if the Yankees preferred Joba, they needed to get Kennedy before he was gone.

62 players were chosen between Joba and the Yankees’ next pick. Personally, I was incredibly worried that Dellin Betances would be gone by the next time the Yankees picked. Fortunately, he was not. However, the Yankees passed on Betances for another HS RHP. That pitcher was Zach McCallister. McCallister was not on my draft radar at all, after doing a quick search it turned out that he was/is a good draft prospect. In a nutshell, McCallister is a big right-hander with solid stuff, highlighted by a low 90s fastball that he still has more time to grow into, with a polished approach. Something like a poor man’s Phil Hughes, though I am not saying he is anywhere near that type of prospect at this point.

Despite the fact that I had already been worrying about Betances’ availability for some time at that point of the draft, his name would not be called until the Yankees came on the line for their 8th round draft pick and for the second year in a row (Austin Jackson last year) selected a borderline 1st round talent with that pick. Betances is incredibly raw, being a player from NY as well as having a somewhat awkward frame will do that for you, but has ace potential if he can figure it all out. Between Betances and McCallister, the Yankees were able to pick up a fringy looking OF, an overachieving, but refined college INF, and two hard throwing relievers.

Following Betances, the Yankees picked up Mark Melancon, a big time college closer that slid due to…drum roll, please…injury concerns. Melancon has pedigree to go along with legitimate closer stuff though his stuff doesn’t grade out as well as…Craig Hansen, future HOF, for instance. The Yankees then proceeded to pick up every RHP in the nation for the rest of the first day. A common trait with most of these guys was generally a fastball in the low 90s or very good strikeout rates, two things I love in draft picks. On Day Two, the Yankees did not make any eye-opening selections, instead primarily focusing on drafting older college guys with the likely goal of both filling out rosters at the lower levels of the minor leagues and softening the blow that the company wallet will take from the guys they took on Day One.

When looked at contextually, I don’t think there’s any way this draft can come out as anything less than good, and I for one am enamored with it. If, during Winter ’05/’06, you had told me that the Yankees would have drafted Melancon, Betances, Chamberlain, and Kennedy, I would have told you that I’m surprised that A.) MLB decided to allow the trading of draft picks and that B.) I’m shocked the Yankees were able to scrounge up enough to trade for 4 first round draft picks. At that point, Betances was considered by Baseball America to be the 5th best high school prospect while Melancon (14th), Chamberlain (12th), and Kennedy (5th) were very highly thought of within the college ranks. Yes, these guys slid for a reason, but at the same time none of them slipped for reasons that permanently affect their status and as such I’m encouraged by what took place from June 6th to June 7th, not to mention that in drafting every RHP ever, at least one of them should amount to something. Now, the Yankees just have to sign them and leave enough money in the bank for July 1st.