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Yanks hope better spot yields next star

Yanks hope better spot yields next star

In 1992, the Yankees took Derek Jeter with the sixth pick in the First-Year Player Draft, selecting a player who would help lead the franchise to four World Series titles.

That was 13 years ago.

Since Jeter became a Yankee, the team hasn't had a single first-rounder make an impact on the Major League level, though a couple of them -- Mark Prior and Eric Milton -- have gone on to succeed for other organizations.

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Then again, the Yanks haven't been in the top 10 since they drafted Jeter, and they haven't picked higher than 20th since 1994.

This year, the Bombers have the 17th selection in the draft, their highest slot since they had the No. 13 pick in 1993.

Although their 101 victories were second only to the St. Louis Cardinals' 105 in 2004, the Yankees received the 17th pick from the Philadelphia Phillies for signing right-hander Jon Lieber as a free agent.

New York lost its own first-rounder, the 29th pick, to the Florida Marlins for signing right-hander Carl Pavano.

Bottom line? Instead of drafting 29th, the Yankees will pick 17th. For Damon Oppenheimer, the team's vice president of scouting, that should translate into a superior player for the Bombers.

"It's a pretty good jump," Oppenheimer said. "I think obviously we should get a better player."

Including sandwich picks, the Yankees have taken pitchers with four of their last 10 first-rounders dating back to 1997. All of them have been right-handers, as Milton, the 20th pick in 1996, is the last lefty drafted in the first round by the Yankees.

Oppenheimer and his staff aren't going into this year's draft with anything set in stone. While every team has its own ideal list of areas that need improvement in the organization, the Yankees are taking the approach that the best available player -- regardless of position -- will be the player that best fits their plans.

"I don't think in a baseball draft, unless you're picking 1 or 2, you can't address specific needs, especially at the Major League level," Oppenheimer said. "We'll try to take the best available players, whether they're college or high school, pitcher or position player. We'll size it up and pick the best available guy for us."

This year's draft class is an "average group" according to Oppenheimer, with some strong prospects at the top of the first round and a lot of question marks after that.

Oppenheimer doesn't have a strong preference for high school players vs. college players, despite the theory that college players are more polished and experienced, therefore less of a risk.

"It's just a matter of which is the right guy for your organization," Oppenheimer said. "Some high school guys aren't that risky, and there are some college guys that are. Just because they've spent three years in college doesn't take the risk away from them. A lot of these high school guys, we've scouted them for two years and in summer coverage, so we're getting a little better feel for them."

Last year, the Yankees took right-handed pitchers with six of their first seven selections. In the end, 30 of their 52 picks were hurlers, but Oppenheimer isn't going into this year's event with any firm shopping list with regard to positions.

"If you wanted to go into the draft saying you wanted to take five left-handed pitchers and they weren't there, you wouldn't be taking what's best," he said. "We're not going into it trying to put numbers on any particular positions, how many pitchers, shortstops or catchers we need to select. That's not what we're trying to do."

"We're just trying to find the best ability we can find," he added. "The best combination of tools and abilities. It's not about stocking power or speed. We'll do what the draft allows."

Thirteen years is a long time without a productive first-round pick. The Yankees have taken a lot of heat in recent years for the strength -- or perceived lack thereof -- of their farm system. Oppenheimer insists he's not feeling any more pressure to produce a quality draft class because of that.

"On my side, for what I'm doing, the pressure I put on myself to have a great draft is enough," he said. "The fact that where people rank our system, how they think we have players, I don't think that's much of a factor in my thought process. We put enough pressure on ourselves, and we'll just pick the best players."

YANKEES LAST THREE TOP PICKS

Philip Hughes, RHP, 2004, Pick #23: Hughes is pitching in his first full season at Class A Charleston of the South Atlantic League, going 4-1 with a 1.44 ERA in his first eight starts. With the third-lowest ERA in the league, he is standing out as one of the best pitchers in the league just one year out of high school. One Yankees official said that "hopes are high" that Hughes will progress through the system quickly.

Eric Duncan, 3B, 2003, Pick #27: Duncan is in his first year with Double-A Trenton, hitting .238 with four homers and 21 RBIs in the first 44 games. Duncan started out slowly this season, but he has adjusted to the pitching at Double-A and is one of the younger players in the league, just two years removed from high school.

Brandon Weeden, RHP, 2002, Pick #71: Weeden was dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers in December 2003 as part of the deal that brought Kevin Brown to New York. The right-hander is pitching for the Columbus Catfish in the South Atlantic League, going 1-3 with a 3.86 ERA in his first eight starts.

Mark Feinsand is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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