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SportsColumnistsAnthony Rieber

With MLB Draft beginning Monday, veteran players recall their experiences

Aaron Judge of the Yankees hits a first-inning

Aaron Judge of the Yankees hits a first-inning home run against the Royals at Yankee Stadium on April 20. Credit: Steven Ryan

In houses around the country beginning Monday, high school and college baseball players will be gathering around televisions or computers to follow the three-day, 40-round 2019 MLB Draft.

Every formerly draft-eligible major-leaguer has been through draft day. Although MLB has tried (and mostly failed) to pump up its draft to NFL or NBA standards by broadcasting the first two rounds on MLB Network, the players generally are too unfamiliar and too far away from helping the big-league club to cause much of a stir.

According to MLB, 26.4 percent of this year’s Opening Day rosters were born outside the U.S. and thus not subject to the draft. But for those born in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, draft day can be the day when it all begins.

How important is the draft to team-building? The Yankees, who have the 30th pick in the first round, generally pick later because of their decades of success. They also have been willing to forfeit high picks to sign free agents, though less so lately.

The Yankees have seven players on their roster and injured list whom they drafted and still had in the organization for their big-league debuts. That includes Aaron Judge (first round, 2013), Brett Gardner (third round, 2005) and Dellin Betances (eighth round, 2006).

The Mets, who will pick 12th in the first draft under new general manager Brodie Van Wagenen, have 11 such players on their roster and injured list. That includes first-round picks Michael Conforto (2014), Brandon Nimmo (2011) and Dominic Smith (2013), second-round picks Pete Alonso (2016) and Steven Matz (2009) and a steal of a ninth-round pick in Jacob deGrom (2010).

Gardner was selected as a senior out of the College of Charleston, so he had no other options but to sign with the Yankees.

“That’s a long time ago,” Gardner said. “It was kind of a rush after moving out of college, going to regionals, going home and then knowing I was going to get drafted and knowing I was going to sign and play. If I remember right, my roommate and I were live-streaming the draft on his computer, and that’s how I found out, and then I got a call in about 30 seconds from someone with the Yankees. Within three, four days, I was in Tampa.”

Gardner made his big-league debut three years later and is the longest-tenured Yankee.

“Especially in today’s game, it’s becoming more and more rare to stay with one organization as long as I have,” he said. “Definitely something that means a lot to me. It’s been a lot of fun.”

Betances, who was drafted out of Grand Street Campus in Brooklyn, took five years to reach the majors and didn’t make an impact until 2014 — eight years after his name was called.

“I was in my summer ball league coach’s house, just kind of waiting,” Betances said. “See who was being drafted — some of the guys you played with, some of the guys you played against. I was just patiently waiting. I got a little impatient after a little while. I remember one of my good friends that I played summer ball with, Rafael Cabreja, got picked by Boston the pick before me. I was excited for him and in the midst of the excitement, my brother’s like, ‘You just got picked by the Yankees.’ I was like, ‘You’re lying.’ I got excited, obviously, being a Yankee fan.”

Cabreja topped out at Class A in the Boston system. The Yankees’ patience paid off as Betances, who has not pitched this season because of a right shoulder injury, has been one of the most dominant relievers in baseball.

“I guess they like me,” said Betances, who is a free agent after the season. “Sometimes you get lucky to play here your whole career. Obviously, that’s what I’m hoping for.”

The rest of the Yankees’ formerly drafted players came from other organizations in trades or signed as free agents. Slugging first baseman Luke Voit was drafted twice — in the 32nd round as a high school player by the Kansas City Royals in 2009 (he didn’t sign) and in the 22nd round as a college senior in 2013 by the St. Louis Cardinals.

“The Royals came to my house like two, three times,” said Voit, who grew up in Wildwood, Missouri, and was acquired by the Yankees last July 29 from the Cardinals’ Triple-A team. “But then the money didn’t work out. I wasn’t ready. I wanted to go to college. St. Louis, I didn’t really talk to at all and they picked me.

“Now the draft is broadcast, but I was just staring at a computer. You’re seeing your buddies go, guys you played with, and 10 rounds go by, then 15. I stopped watching and I went to play video games. My mom kept watching and, all of a sudden, she screamed. It was cool.”

Cool draft

The Mets have 11 players and the Yankees have seven on their 25-man roster and injured list whom they drafted and who made their big-league debuts with the club:

Mets

Player Round Year

Pete Alonso 2nd 2016

Tyler Bashlor 11th 2013

Michael Conforto 1st 2014

Jacob deGrom 9th 2010

Robert Gsellman 13th 2011

Seth Lugo 34th 2011

Steven Matz 2nd 2009

Jeff McNeil 12th 2013

Tomas Nido 8th 2012

Brandon Nimmo 1st 2011

Dominic Smith 1st 2013

Yankees

Player Round Year

Dellin Betances 8th 2006

Greg Bird 5th 2011

Brett Gardner 3rd 2005

Jonathan Holder 6th 2014

Aaron Judge 1st 2013

Jordan Montgomery 4th 2014

Austin Romine 2nd 2007

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