Ringolsby: Learning The Hard Way

Image credit: Aaron Judge (Photo by Alex Trautwig/Getty Images)

Aaron Judge’s cameo appearance with the Yankees late in the 2016 season raised a few eyebrows of concern.

Touted for his offensive explosiveness, the 24-year-old Judge was a dud in his big league debut. It’s not just that he hit .179 in 27 games. It’s how he hit .179. To go with 17 hits in 84 at-bats, he struck out 42 times.

That turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The competitive nature of Judge, and hard work of the Yankees’ development department, combined to address the areas of concern, and by the time he got through the following spring training, the foundation was in place for his emergence as one of the most feared hitters in the game.

More than that, a reaffirmation was in place for the Yankees’ increasing commitment to building a foundation from within, an idea that grew out of avoiding paying the luxury tax tied to salary thresholds.

Now, it doesn’t mean the Yankees won’t be active in the free agent market when it comes to fill major needs, but it does mean they aren’t going to turn their back on their own players acquired in the draft or signed out of Latin America.

While the Yankees were eliminated by the Red Sox in the American League Division Series this year, there was a quality nucleus to build around with the 10 homegrown players who were a part of their 25-man roster. They were one of just four postseason teams this year to have a double-figure representation of homegrown players.

Between scouting director Damon Oppenheimer and international director Donny Rowland, the Yankees have put together two departments that with the organization’s budget flexibility can have an impact in building a farm system that will produce top quality players to wear pinstripes.

It is not like the Yankees had bad drafts in the past. It’s just that they often were limited in drafts because of the top selections they lost as compensation for signing free agents.

Consider that the Yankees actually drafted and signed Judge in 2013 as a first-round pick they had received as compensation for the loss of free agent Nick Swisher to the Indians. This is a franchise that sacrificed both its first- and second-round selections in 2005, 2006 and 2009 (when the Angels used what would have been the Yankees’ pick on Mike Trout), and also lost first-round selections in 2011 (for signing Rafael Soriano) and 2014 (Jacoby Ellsbury). 

And this year, the impact of the Yankees’ homegrown focus began to take hold. On the postseason roster alone were catchers Austin Romine and Gary Sanchez; outfielders Judge and Brett Gardner; third baseman Miguel Andujar, and righthanders Dellin Betances, Jonathan Holder, David Robertson, Luis Severino and Masahiro Tanaka, a mixture of draft choices and international signings.

This is a starkly different approach compared with the Yankees of 10-15 years ago. Most notably, New York splurged to sign free agents Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett for the 2009 season, and that resulted in a World Series championship.

But for the most part, the Yankees’ free agent spending sprees have yielded mixed results, especially when the expenditures focused on pitchers, such as Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright for 2005 and Kyle Farnsworth for 2006.

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