• Olney On The Yankees Youngsters

    Posted by on August 29th, 2007 · Comments (9)

    Buster Olney writes about the Yankees youngsters and how they helping the team at ESPN.com:

    The response to Chamberlain reflects his talents. “He’s got physical tools that come along once in a lifetime,” says bullpen coach Joe Kerrigan, who worked with a young Randy Johnson in Montreal. But Yankee fans also love Chamberlain because of what he represents. The 21-year-old right-hander is the most gifted product of GM Brian Cashman’s 24-month organizational reconstruction, the crown jewel of the club’s attempt to turn back the clock to the days when the farm system teemed with prospects suited to the inherent pressure of being Yankees. Where once there was Bernie and Jeter and Rivera and Posada and Pettitte, there is now Phil Hughes, another 21-year-old righty whose laid-back demeanor belies his electric stuff; Melky Cabrera, the underrated, understated 23-year-old center fielder who keeps up a steady stream of sandlot chatter during games; and Joba (pronounced JOB-ba), whose shoulders are as square as the southwestern notch of his home state, Nebraska.

    A river of youth flows through the Bronx.

    Cashman quickly rededicated the scouting and player development departments to doing what they’d done so well in the early ’90s: finding and fostering high-ceiling talent, particularly pitchers. Cashman wanted the team to stop making safe draft picks; he wanted it to take chances. After all, the Yankees had the money to cover their mistakes.

    Chamberlain, for one, wasn’t always a high-ceiling talent. Three years ago, he was just a heavy kid who’d been a manager of his high school basketball team. But after a year at D2 Nebraska-Kearney, he transferred to Nebraska and learned how to throw a slider. By the winter of 2005-06, he was regarded as a rock-solid first-rounder, but in the weeks leading up to the draft his stock slipped, fueled by rumors that his diminished velocity was the result of hidden arm trouble, not fatigue. Yankees scouting director Damon Oppenheimer wasn’t one of the doubters. Then again, the team’s first pick was 41st overall.

    On draft day, the conference call began, and in the war room, Yankees officials started to pull the placards of their highest-rated players off the board as they were picked by other teams. Deep into the first round, Chamberlain’s placard was still hanging, all by itself. “There’s no way he’ll get to us,” Oppenheimer said aloud. But as the draft moved into the “sandwich picks,” between the first and second rounds, Chamberlain still hadn’t been taken. “You don’t think this could happen, do you?” Oppenheimer asked another executive. And then it did. At No. 41, an ecstatic Oppenheimer submitted the name of Joba Chamberlain.

    But now the Yankees are entering the stretch riding a 2914 second-half surge to within striking distance of the wild card, and it looks as if Cashman’s youngsters might have saved the season. Cabrera, whose range and arm complement a .293 batting average, has supplanted Johnny Damon in center. Emerging from a hellish slump, 24-year-old second baseman Robinson Cano has hit .366 since the break. Shelley Duncan, a 27-year-old rookie first baseman, was promoted on July 20 and slammed four homers in his first 21 at-bats. Hughes, recovered from a strained hamstring, has lent stability to the rotation. And Chamberlain, called up amid much fanfare in early August, struck out 14 of the 28 batters he faced in his first 15 days in the majors.

    But their biggest contribution might be the energy they bring to the clubhouse. Cano and Cabrera often begin their workdays with power lunches and afternoon workouts alongside A-Rod and end them with victorious chest-bumps. Duncan, the son of Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan, is gregarious and outgoing — the team mascot, Torre jokingly calls him — and he seems to share a running gag with everybody. Each day, for example, players fill out a ticket-request sign-up sheet, listing guests and the number of tickets they need; everyone leaves the comment line empty. That’s a vacuum Duncan has to fill, inventing new responses daily. Good friend. Went to high school together, he might write, or Met them at the museum.

    Chamberlain, meanwhile, is usually stone-faced in the bullpen. But early in one August game, TV cameras caught him trying to flip his cap onto his head and jiggling around until it settled in place. “It’s totally different than it was here five years ago, with these guys,” says one Yankee vet. “It’s fun.”

    Dan Quisenberry once said “I’ve seen the future, and it’s much like the present — only longer.” When it comes to Joba, Melky and the boys, let’s hope that Quiz was right.

    Comments on Olney On The Yankees Youngsters

    1. snowball003
      August 29th, 2007 | 2:27 pm

      I know I’m hijacking your blog, and I’m sorry, but I’ve suddenly had a friend bail on me for tonight. I don’t usually do stuff like this, but I can’t find someone to come to the game on such short notice. Would anyone be able to meet me at the Stadium (can’t email the ticket :( ) for seats in Tier Box MVP section 9 (a bit up the 1st base line, but relatively close to home plate). I think the ticket was $70. I am not looking to make money on it–I’ll look again and make sure.

      I promise I’m not a creep! ask Jen!

    2. Raf
      August 29th, 2007 | 2:37 pm

      Dang, talk about poor timing. If I weren’t housesitting for my uncle…

      Well, the house is okay, it’s the dog I’d have to worry about. As if I needed more reasons not to like dogs…

    3. snowball003
      August 29th, 2007 | 2:38 pm

      lol…is it a seeing eye dog?

    4. August 29th, 2007 | 3:18 pm

      Are you hot? Actually, are you a chick?

    5. snowball003
      August 29th, 2007 | 3:34 pm

      Hmm…I’m not sure I want anything to do with someone who has THOSE kinds of questions…

    6. Raf
      August 29th, 2007 | 4:20 pm

      lol…is it a seeing eye dog?
      =======
      nah, it poops and pees a lot, and needs to be fed every so often.

      If I go to the game, I won’t be getting in before midnight, and I’d hate to let the dog out and feed it around then. Because then I won’t go to bed till about 2 in the morning. Long story.

      All I know is dog ownership is a PITA, with more responsibility than I’m willing to put forward at this time.

    7. JeremyM
      August 29th, 2007 | 6:37 pm

      Naw, owning a dog is great, but as you say it is a lot of responsibility and it’s better to recognize that fact than get one and neglect it—or fight it….

    8. j
      August 29th, 2007 | 8:26 pm

      “Then again, the team’s first pick was 41st overall.”

      Good article by Olney, except.. wait.. his information is wrong!

      The Yankees first pick in the 2006 draft was 21st overall, and they chose RHP Ian Kennedy out of USC. I think he’s starting on Saturday, or something. But I’m guessing when this was written, Olney didn’t know that Kennedy was starting on Saturday, and thus it didn’t jive with his article, so he either didn’t bother to look it up or just flat out lied.

      I’ve asked before and I’ll ask again – how do these people keep their jobs? If I was this bad at my job, I’d be out of one.

    9. Joel
      August 29th, 2007 | 8:34 pm

      Sounds like Olney is getting the data ready for his next book: “The Sunrise of the Next Yankee Dynasty.” :)

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