The Yankees this week drafted 41 amateur players - 34 from the college ranks - according to the Wall Street Journal. Over the last two years, 4 out of 5 Yankee picks have been college dudes - who are about 21, a few years older than the garden variety high-schooler. The Yankees' draft rate is 83 percent college - that's higher than the MLB average - and it's the team's highest percentages since the the early 2000s, when they also played this card (with mixed success, at best, by the way.)
Drafting amateur players is always a crap shoot, and the Yankees have famously flubbed a few. (Cito Culver, Dante Bichette Jr., et al). Clearly, they get a better read on the college sophomore or junior, who has played at a higher level. College guys are safer. College guys are cheaper (less leverage, since they can't go to college.) Also, at some point, Hal Steinbrenner must be flat-out pissed about the inability of his Yankee farm system to grow players up from age 18. In 20 years, they raised two first-rounders from high school: Phil Hughes and the very recent Slade Heathcott.
In that period, they have used a top draft pick 16 times on Joe College. That meant Brian Buchanan, Shea Morenz, Eric Milton, Ryan Bradley, Mark Prior (didn't sign), David Walling, David Parrish, John-Ford Griffin, John Skaggs, Jeffrey Marquez, Ian Kennedy, Joba Chamberlain, Andrew Brackman, Jeremy Bleich, Eric Jagielo, Aaron Judge - and now James Kaprielian and Kyle Holder. We traded away the two best - Kennedy and Milton.
But the Yankees seem to be running two separate farm systems, or least two entirely different acquisition plans. While they draft older, safer - and lower ceiling - college guys, they shovel mountains of money onto younger Dominican and Venezuelans - much younger, age 16. The strategy, simplified, seems to be;
Buy the Gringos ripe, and buy the Latinos green.
Last summer, around now, the Yankees once again went berserk signing Latin teens who were barely shaving. They spent more than anybody else in baseball on 16-year-old kids - several of the consensus top prospects, who are now launching pro careers. (Does it work? The answer usually seems to hinge on how Gary Sanchez, the Trenton catcher whom they spent the most money on, has done lately: He's got 8 HRs and is hitting .256, but bruised his hand last night and could be out a few weeks, so go figure.)
Soon, the newly signed 2015 college draftees will start at Charleston, Tampa or probably Low A Staten Island and Pulaski, and the Latinos crops will fill the entry levels - the Dominican Summer League and Gulf Coast League (where the Yankees have two teams.)
I'm not saying this is a bad or wrong-headed strategy. Maybe it'll work. I haven't a clue.
But it seems to me that the Yankees do run the risk of creating entirely different developmental tracks for Latinos and for U.S. college players, (who are mostly white.) At a certain point - around high A Tampa - two streams of players with widely divergent backgrounds will merging - or crash. Not only will they have come from different parts of the world, but they will have entirely different Yankee farm experiences. One raised in college, one raised in Yankee boot camp.
Hal can spend the world on talent, but he damn well better not skimp on coaches.