Over the last twenty seasons, John Sickels of SB Nation's Minor League Ball has conducted his own draft for the Minnesota Twins. It began as a pet project of sorts, with Sickels making picks for the first ten rounds or so, and rolling with the international free agents signed by the real world Twins. Over the last several years, however, he has changed course, determining his own international signings and making all fifty (and now forty) Rule IV picks for his Shadow Twins. And each year he rates his own prospects and critiques his own farm system. It's an incredible undertaking, and a worthwhile read to say the least. I began my own version of this back in 2008, when I first became enamored with the draft itself. Lacking the connections, resources, and insight of Mr. Sickels, I focused entirely on rounds one through five, as my subscriptions to Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, and Scout could only take me so far. So began my own Shadow Yankees.
What follows are my picks from each of the last eight drafts. I have not changed any picks in any way, and I admittedly deferred to the Yankees a few times (generally where my own research led me to a similar conclusion). After 2008, I waited until after the signing deadline so as to avoid drafting players that had not signed.
Losing out on Cole soured me on this endeavor a bit, but I was quite happy to land Ross, Westmoreland, and Marshall - three high-ceiling prospects that slipped in the draft due to bonus demands. Ross worked out quite well, eventually developing into a solid mid-rotation starter (despite some bouts of wildness). The rest, however, leave a bit to be desired. Sample is still in Double-A, and sports a 5.33 ERA in 540 professional IP. Weiland has not pitched in over a year due to a litany of arm injuries and at least three surgeries. Marshall spent the better part of this year pitching in the independent Frontier and Atlantic Leagues, and is now with the Rockies Double-A affiliate. And Westmoreland is out of professional baseball, due to a serious brain issue - though, to be fair, his story is rather inspiring.
Seager is probably the biggest steal of this little experiment. The same is true in the real world, as well, where he was a third round pick. As much as I would like to say that I foresaw his development into a stout defender at the hot corner with the ability to hit 25 home runs ... that would be a lie. Instead, I saw him as a second baseman that could hit 15 home runs. Skaggs appeared to be turning a corner last season, capitalizing on the talent that made him a top-15 prospect in 2012 and 2013, but he underwent Tommy John Surgery in August of last season, and will not pitch until next season. Wheeler was the guy that I thought would turn into a 25-plus home run threat; instead, he's bounced between four organizations, having hit all of three homers in 225 PA at the MLB-level. And Fields, despite being only 24, has the look of a toolsy player that never quite figures it out - good defense, plenty of speed, and decent pop, and yet he is hindered by a lack of instincts for the game.
I really, really wish I had went with Noah Syndergaard here. Such is life.
Castellanos was, in many circles, a top-ten pick. He had a silky smooth swing and terrific contact skills, above-average powers, and the tools to be an average defender (at least) at third base. But as was the case with many draft picks before the draft pool system, he slipped due to a strong commitment to Miami and a high asking price. His success in the Majors has been limited so far, and his defense at third has regressed tremendously (perhaps due to bouncing between third and left to accommodate a Miguel Cabrera's short-lived move back to the hot corner) - but he's still only 23. Reed has been a solid yet unspectacular reliever, and Morris has yet to make his Major League debut due to injuries and a lack of a discernible skill besides plus raw power. Williams is well-known in these parts, and another example of me deferring to the Yankees. And Saladino was a player that I thought would be a steal, as a guy that can fake it at short and put up above-average numbers on offense. Instead, he's a utility player that has shown flashes of both brilliance and incompetence with the bat and in the field.
At this point, Norris is a fairly well-known name. He was the centerpiece of the trade that brought David Price to Toronto, and one of the most interesting personalities in the game. He still has the look of a mid-rotation starter, perhaps with the upside for more. Stilson was a high-risk, high-reward pick, who slipped due to shoulder issues despite tremendous raw stuff. And that risk resulted in labrum surgery in August of last year. Cote was released by the Yankees this Spring, after struggling mightily in A-ball in 2014 (though, I do wonder if something else was going on). As was the case with Saladino, Featherston was a shortstop prospect with a solid offensive ceiling that has petered out a bit. He was a Rule 5 pick-up this off-season, and he's little more than a utility player. And Bird was a catcher with a big-time offensive ceiling - a ceiling that we've seen flashes of this year - and I couldn't overlook that.
Prodigious raw power is my greatest weakness, and Gallo has it in spades - he may well have the most raw power in baseball, which is saying a hell of a lot. And that power has been on display at every stop, including a brief stint with the Rangers this Summer. Williams is one of those prospects that just "looks like a ballplayer," and his bat speed and athleticism are off the charts. He's climbed the organizational ladders slowly but surely, and was one of the key pieces in the Cole Hamels deal. Murphy struck me as a fairly safe pick, as a catcher with average-ish tools across the board, and some genuine upside with the bat (and he went to my alma mater, so I had some in-person insight). Up to this point, I had focused on projectability with pitchers; Pike broke that mold a bit, as a small-ish command/control type. He started this season in High-A after walking more batters than he struck out in Double-A last year, though, and has continued to issue walks at an unacceptable rate (5.0 BB/9 this year). Stripling was also a low-risk, low-reward type; someone that could hopefully slot in to the back of a rotation and give the team 180+ IP per season. And Hansen is 6'8" with an above-average fastball/slider combination, and had the feel of a light's out reliever.
I was a big fan of the Yankees draft this year, and I was ecstatic to see them take both Judge and Clarkin. Manaea was in the running to be a top-five pick before injury troubles slowed him down, and he was a consensus top-85 prospect heading into this season. The centerpiece of the Ben Zobrist deal, he has the build (6'5", 240 pounds) and stuff (plus fastball, plus change-up) of an ace - but he has to stay healthy. Jones, who was dealt for Joakim Soria in July, was a bit of a puzzle heading into the draft as an incredibly toolsy player that struggled to put it all together. He's a solid all-around shortstop prospect at this point, with intriguing upside. Lively and Wahl were both RHP with mid-rotation upside; Lively still has that look, whereas Wahl has struggled to stay healthy, and may be best-suited for the bullpen. And Nottingham is another big-bodied, big-power catcher, with mixed reviews as to whether he can stay behind the plate.
Last year, the Yankees went as safe as can be, taking Jacob Lindgren with their top pick, with visions of the seasoned college reliever contributing right away. I took what is essentially the opposite approach, picking a raw, three sport shortstop prospect that will likely spend the next few years in the minors. Forbes might have been the best athlete in the draft, with terrific bat speed and the frame to add muscle (and, ideally, power). Greiner is yet another massive catcher, standing 6'6", with above-average raw power. He's a surprisingly good defender for his size, and will likely be most limited by his iffy contact skills. Montgomery, another Yankees selection, is a big-bodied lefty that relies on command, control, and grounders. And Cease only made his pro debut this June, after undergoing Tommy John Surgery after the draft. He slipped in the draft due to a lingering elbow issue, having been a projected first-rounder due to explosive stuff and (allegedly) easy, repeatable mechanics.
On draft day, I was excited that both Burrows and James Kaprielian were on the board when the Yankees were on the clock. Kaprielian represented the safe, mid-rotation type, with perhaps a bit more upside; Burrows was the guy with a 97 MPH fastball, a filthy, hammer curve, and questionable mechanics. The Yankees took the former, and the Shadow Yankees the latter. Cameron was a top-10 talent that slipped due to bonus issues. The son of Mike Cameron, he projects as a similarly excellent defender in center (maybe not as brilliant, but certainly at a Gold Glove level), but his offensive skill-set (high-contact, moderate power) is quite the opposite. Jones has solid yet unspectacular tools across the board, and I could see him being a league-average type at either second or in center. I see Poteet as the sort of pitcher that can get more out of his average stuff due to a deceptive delivery and repeatable mechanics, despite his small and not-so-projectable frame. Davila is a polished high school project with a back of the rotation ceiling - which sounds decidedly unexciting, but I also feel that he has a fairly low beta. And Withrow is intriguing, due to his simple delivery and three fringe-average to average pitches, all of which play up when is command is right.
And there you have it - my labor of love distilled into a few dozen sentences and some fun with hindsight. I have been fairly lucky with my top picks, though I'm not sure if it reflects anything other than my selections being more in-line with the consensus than many of the picks the Yankees have made in the past several years, and the consensus serving as a better judge of talent.