The last time a New York City high school baseball prospect was drafted in the first round, the Yankees’ Core Four dynasty was just beginning, the Knicks mattered in the spring, and the Rangers were two years removed from a Stanley Cup title.
Yes, it has been that long — 21 years.
“I am a little bit surprised it hasn’t been done since,” said Jason Marquis, the last player from the city to be taken in the first round, back in 1996, 35th overall by the Braves out of Tottenville High School on Staten Island.
It is a select club — just eight players dating back to the first draft in 1965, and just four since 1982, when Shawon Dunston of Thomas Jefferson was picked first overall by the Cubs.
There is a chance the list grows this year. McClancy center fielder Quentin Holmes is in position to join the exclusive club. The 6-foot-2, 185-pound 17-year-old Queens native, considered by many the fastest player in the draft, is rated by MLBPipeline.com as the No. 33 prospect in the draft. In two of Baseball America’s past three mock drafts, he was picked in the first round.
“Being a part of a list of great baseball players and being able to represent my city in such a way [would be] a great honor,” Holmes said.
There are reasons for the drought. Players in the Northeast don’t have the same opportunity to play year-round as others from warmer climates because of the weather.
“There’s no time for a bad game here, a bad game there,” said Marquis, who last pitched for the Reds in 2015, but hasn’t retired officially. “Come draft time, everything is under the microscope. Any little thing, they nitpick. That can cost you a few rounds, a few spots.”
It leads to a smaller body of work.
“A lot of teams possibly shy away from only seeing a guy a select number of times, opposed to being able to follow a who’s-who playing nine months [out of the year],” said Steve Karsay — a first-round pick (22nd overall) of the Blue Jays in 1990 from Christ the King High School in Queens who is now a pitching coach for the Indians’ Triple-A affiliate, the Columbus Clippers.
One local scout, speaking on condition of anonymity, thinks it comes down to teams not willing to take risks early in the draft. Northeast high school players often are not as finely tuned products because they have spent less time on the field by the end of their senior year.
“There’s more upside, but also a greater degree of risk,” the scout said.
Holmes’ stock rose this summer, after thriving in a number of showcases featuring the best prospects in the country and playing on the Under-18 U.S. National Team. An average of 15 scouts attended his games this year, according to McClancy coach Nick Melito, including Yankees vice president of domestic amateur scouting Damon Oppenheimer.
Two scouts who have seen Holmes extensively differed in their opinion on his chance to break through into the first round. One said he believes Holmes hasn’t shown enough progress with the bat to warrant such a high selection, and only possesses one elite tool: his 80-grade speed. The other, however, said Holmes displayed enough promise against top competition over the summer to believe the potential is there to be a major league leadoff hitter one day. Both agreed his mature makeup is working in his favor.
“The ideal guy if a team has an extra [first-round] pick,” the second scout said.
Marquis is rooting for Holmes. He doesn’t want to be the answer to a trivia question anymore.
“I hope it does happen. I wish him good luck,” Marquis said. “You’d like to see as many as possible. Keep building that club.”