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redsmetz
06-09-2009, 06:24 AM
From the NY Times

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/09/sports/baseball/09kepner.html?ref=sports


Yankees Have Few Chances to Plug Holes From Amateur Draft
By TYLER KEPNER

The Yankees get a do-over Tuesday, and not just because they will be back at Fenway Park, where the Red Sox swept them in April. The amateur draft starts at 6 p.m., and the Yankees will try to recover from the sting of last summer.

Their top pick last June, pitcher Gerrit Cole, chose college without hearing an offer from the Yankees. They lost interest in their second-rounder, pitcher Scott Bittle, who failed his physical. If not for Luis Vizcaino, the draft might have been a total disaster.

The free-agent loss of Vizcaino, a middle reliever, gave the Yankees a supplemental first-round pick, which they used on Jeremy Bleich, a left-hander from Stanford. General Manager Brian Cashman said that Bleich, who is pitching well for Class A Tampa, reminded him of Jimmy Key.

If Bleich makes four All-Star teams the way Key did, he could save his depleted draft class. For now, though, it looks like a missed opportunity, and the Yankees have few early chances to correct it this time.

For failing to sign Cole, who had a strong freshman season at U.C.L.A., the Yankees have the 29th overall pick. For losing Bittle, a reliever for Ole Miss who hurt his shoulder again last month, the Yankees have the 76th pick.

“Basically, we’ve had to wait a year for those two picks,” Cashman said by telephone Monday, taking a break from draft preparations. “I’m pleased we’re in the draft room having discussions about players we have a chance to go get. The alternative is having to wait until the fourth round.”

That is because the Yankees forfeited three early picks for signing Mark Teixeira, C. C. Sabathia and A. J. Burnett as free agents last winter. For losing Teixeira, the Angels will choose in the Yankees’ first-round spot. The Brewers get their second-round choice for Sabathia, and the Blue Jays their third-round pick for Burnett. Each team also received a supplemental first-rounder.

Those picks often turn into impact players. The Yankees drafted Joba Chamberlain in 2006 with a pick they received for losing reliever Tom Gordon to the Phillies.

The Red Sox have made an even bigger splash. For losing Orlando Cabrera, they drafted center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury. Losing Pedro Martinez brought Clay Buchholz, now pitching in Class AAA. Losing Johnny Damon brought reliever Daniel Bard, who has allowed one earned run in his first 10 innings for Boston.

“The Red Sox have picked right around us, and they have made great choices in their drafts from 2003 on,” Cashman said. “The bottom line is, this is the foundation of your future.”

In 2004, when the Red Sox lost their first-round pick to Oakland for signing closer Keith Foulke, they recovered by taking Dustin Pedroia in the second round. The Yankees passed on Pedroia four times, for Phil Hughes in the first round and three forgettable choices. Cashman was not involved in the Yankees’ draft before 2006.

“I was actually told to stay out of it,” he said. “That was when New York’s charge was to run the major league side and the minor leaguers. The amateur side was run separately and completely apart from the major league office.”

Damon Oppenheimer, the vice president for amateur scouting, has authority over the Yankees’ selections. With backing from ownership, Cashman has empowered Oppenheimer to take risks and seek players other teams may avoid because of injury or financial concerns.

The strategy has brought the Yankees several of their best prospects, including pitchers Andrew Brackman and Mark Melancon, who had existing elbow troubles; Austin Romine, a high school catcher who signed for $500,000; and Austin Jackson, a high school outfielder who signed for $800,000.

Reliever Dave Robertson, who has a 2.08 earned run average in 11 games this season, told teams not to bother drafting him in 2006 unless they took him in the first three rounds. He had two years of eligibility remaining at the University of Alabama, and he expected to improve his draft status as a junior.

Teams complied with Robertson’s request until the 17th round, when the Yankees picked him. They offered $200,000, and Robertson knew it was a good deal. Two years earlier, when the Oakland Athletics had drafted his brother, Connor, in the 31st round, they gave him $1,500. “And he probably would have taken $15,” Robertson said.

Robertson took the $200,000 — considered an outrageous sum for a 17th-round pick — and advanced quickly in the Yankees’ farm system. The team will look for similar gambles this year.

“Because of where we pick, we have to take risks to find some gems,” Cashman said. “It forces you to take chances.”

But creativity has limits. The Yankees never had a chance to draft many of the top players in their division, including Roy Halladay of Toronto, Nick Markakis of Baltimore or Evan Longoria of Tampa Bay.

And they almost certainly will have no shot at catcher Bryce Harper, a high school sophomore who is not yet eligible for the draft. He landed on the cover of Sports Illustrated last week and said he would love to be a Yankee. But if Harper is as good as advertised, he will never fall to them.

“The only way to play your cards right then is to lose 100 games,” Cashman said, laughing. “I don’t want to do that.”