It didn’t take long for the Minnesota Twins to sign no. 1 overall pick Royce Lewis, inking him to a lucrative $6.725 million signing bonus just five days after the June 12 draft.
In all, there were 1,215 players selected in the modern day-mandated 40 rounds of the draft. The last player, Mr. Irrelevant, selected was pitcher Jeffrey Passantino by the Chicago Cubs.
Every MLB draft is a marathon affair that typically leaves more questions, than answers, as teams scramble to sign their prized picks and then slot them into roles later.
Over the years, the draft has produced many good to great players in the latter rounds, doubtless due to players maturing at different rates and the ability of team’s to develop young arms and bats.
The most famous late round steal, by far, was Hall of Famer Mike Piazza in the 62nd round of the 1988 draft.
However, as the modern game mandates 40 rounds under the current collective bargaining agreement, we give you 20 great players taken before the end of the 40th round in their draft year (in chronological order by round).
20. Kenny Rogers – 39th round, 1982
Kenny Rogers was just a 17-year-old high school pitcher in Plant City, FLA, when the Texas Rangers picked him 814th overall in the 1982 draft. They promptly signed him for $1,000 and sent him to rookie ball in the Gulf Coast League. The southpaw took his licks in the low minor leagues for seven seasons before getting the nod from the Rangers in 1989. Thus started a 20-season odyssey that saw Rogers pitch in 762 games (474 as a starter) with six teams. It was with the Rangers that Rogers enjoyed his most success, earning three of his four all-star nominations and four of his five Gold Glove awards. He finished his outstanding career at the age of 43 with a record of 219-156 and 1,968 strikeouts in 3,302.2 innings pitched, as well as an elusive perfect game in 1994.
19. Mark Buehrle – 38th round, 1998
How’s this for a record? Mark Buehrle tied Hall of Fame greats Greg Maddux, Phil Niekro and Christy Mathewson for most consecutive seasons pitching 200 or more innings with 14. Not bad for a guy who was ignored for 37 rounds of the 1998 draft. The durable Missouri native also had 15 straight seasons with 10 or more wins and tossed one of just 23 perfect games in the modern era, throwing 116 pitches and striking out six while pitching for the Chicago White Sox in a 5-0 win over Tampa Bay on July 23, 2009. Never the flashiest nor the hardest thrower, Buehrle was good enough to cop five all-star honors as well as four Gold Gloves in his 16-year career.
18. Bake McBride – 37th round, 1970
Arnold Ray McBride was so quick and shifty, he got the nickname “Shake ‘n Bake”, later shortened to just Bake, which stuck for his 11-year baseball career. If not for injuries, the late-round pick of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1970 would have been a much more productive player. McBride was NL Rookie of the Year in 1974, his second most complete season. He appeared in 150 games that year, hit .309, stole 30 bases and drove in 56 runs. In total, McBride would play in 1,071 game over 11 seasons with the Cardinals, Philadelphia Phillies (who he won a World Series with in 1980) and Cleveland. McBride was a lifetime .299 hitter, along with 183 stolen bases and 55 triples.
17. Dusty Baker – 26th round, 1967
It’s a good thing Dusty Baker wasn’t known by his given name of Johnnie B. Baker Jr. The ‘Dusty’ moniker just adds a little panache to a man who has seen and done it all at the major league level. In just the third draft in MLB history in 1967, the Riverside, CA native wasn’t taken until the 11th pick in the 26th round by the Atlanta Braves. He did make his major league debut the very next year, appearing in six games and getting two hits in five at-bats. His career didn’t really take off until 1972, when he hit .321 in 127 games, along with 17 homers and 76 RBI. He would win a World Series with the Dodgers in 1981 and finished his playing career with 1,981 hits and 242 homers. Since then, he has managed four teams in the NL over 22 seasons, lately with the Washington Nationals.
16. John Smoltz – 22nd round, 1985
Not many players drafted in the 22nd round of a MLB draft make it to the major leagues, much less the Hall of Fame. Chalk one up for John Smoltz, then, as he parlayed being taken by Detroit with the 26th and last pick of the 22nd round in 1985 into an illustrious 21-season career. It was punctuated with 14 trips to the playoffs, a World Series win in 1995, eight all-star nominations and a Cy Young award for a superb 24-8 season in 1996. He finished his career, mostly with the Braves, with a record of 213-155, 3,084 strikeouts and a 3.33 ERA. The Detroit native was no slouch in the playoffs, appearing in 41 games (27 starts) and fashioning a 15-4 record, 2.67 ERA and 199 K’s in 209 innings.
15. Ryne Sandberg – 20th round, 1978
As a high schooler, it looked like Ryne Sandberg would actually be a better at football than baseball, as he was recruited by NCAA Division I schools to player quarterback. He actually shunned Washington State University (his home state) after signing a letter of intent when he was drafted by Philadelpia in the 20th round of the 1978 draft. Just three short years later, Sandberg had a cup of coffee with the Phillies, before being jettisoned with Larry Bowa to the Cubs in one of the most lopsided trades in modern MLB history. Sandberg, who was originally a shortstop, smoothly transitioned to second base and was a hard hitting perennial all-star for the Cubs to the end of his Hall of Fame career in 1997. Sandberg was the 1984 NL MVP and won nine Gold Gloves and seven Silver Sluggers.
14. Don Mattingly – 19th round, 1979
Don Mattingly defied his father’s wishes and the New York Yankees were a direct beneficiary. In 1978, Mattingly’s father Bill told any baseball team that would listen that his son Don was going to honor a scholarship to Indiana State to play baseball. The Yanks, nonplussed, waited until the 19th round of the draft to take him and then signed Mattingly — who didn’t want to go to college — to a $23,000 signing bonus. The “Hit Man” blazed through three levels of minor league ball and debuted with the Bronx Bombers in 1982. Two years later he was batting champion with a .343 average and then in 1985 he was AL MVP, hitting .324 with a league high 145 RBI. He ended his big league career with six all-star nods, nine Gold Gloves and three Silver Slugger awards.
13. Bret Saberhagen – 19th round, 1982
Even before he found major league glory, Bret Saberhagen was a skinny high school senior who spun a no-hitter and was the winning pitcher in the Los Angeles City championship game played at Dodger Stadium. Despite his heroics, Saberhagen wasn’t taken until the 19th round of the 1982 draft by Kansas City. He would spend just one season in the minors before breaking in during the 1984 season. In 1985, the 21-year-old won the AL Cy Young award with a 20-6 record and 2.87 ERA. Saberhagen would also help pitch the Royals to a championship, copping MVP honors with a 2-0 record in the World Series against state rival St. Louis. His list of major league accomplishments also include a no-hitter in 1991, three all-star nominations, another Cy Young in 1989 and a Gold Glove the same year.
12. Kenny Lofton – 17th round, 1988
From the time he was born to his debut in the major leagues, Kenny Lofton defied the odds. Barely weighing three pounds at birth to a high schooler, Lofton was raised by his widowed grandmother in rough-and-tumble East Chicago, Indiana. In high school, Lofton was so good at basketball that he earned a scholarship to play at Arizona and was a back-up point guard to current Golden State coach Steve Kerr. On a whim, he tried out for the Wildcats baseball team in his junior year, made it and was subsequently drafted in the 17th round of the 1988 draft by Houston. One of only two players ever to play in a College World Series and basketball Final Four, Lofton was a big league speedster, leading the American League in steals for five consecutive seasons with the Cleveland Indians in the mid-1990s. The six-time all-star and four-time Gold Glove winning centerfielder finished 15th all-time in stolen bases at 622.
11. Jose Canseco – 15th round, 1982
Just prior to Kansas City taking a flyer on Bret Saberhagen in the 19th round of the ’82 draft, the rival Oakland A’s took future home run champ Jose Canseco. The slugger actually didn’t make his Miami high school varsity team until his senior year, which accounts for his late draft status. He quickly became an icon in the A’s minor league system, earning the nickname “Parkway Jose” in Huntsville, AL for smashing homers onto the Memorial Parkway in that Alabama City in 1985. He was called up to the big club later that year and smoked five homers in 29 games. In 1986, he was AL Rookie of the Year after ripping 33 homers and driving in 117 runs. As part of the “Bash Brothers” with Mark McGwire, Canseco would lead the AL in homers in 1988 and 1991. He was MVP in ’88 and would win a title with McGwire and the A’s in 1989 and another in 2000 with the Yankees.
10. Dave Parker – 14th round, 1970
Another piece of that 1989 championship team in Oakland with Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco was drafted in the 14th round of the 1970 draft. Dave “the Cobra” Parker became an integral part of a great Pittsburgh Pirates team in the late 1970s. He won back-to-back batting titles in 1977 and 1978 and was MVP in ’78 as well. In 1979 he won a World Series with the Pirates before moving on to Cincinnati and the later Oakland. During his 19-year major league career, Parker amassed 2,712 base hits, 339 HR, 1,493 RBI , 154 stolen bases and a .290 average. Parker was a seven-time all-star, three-time Gold Glove winner and three-time Silver Slugger honoree.
9. Jim Thome – 13th round, 1989
Hard to believe at one time the robust Jim Thome was considered too skinny to be a prospect at the major league level. He was just 175 lbs. in high school, which was spread over his 6’2″ frame, which was thin compared to the average major leaguer. He wasn’t drafted during his senior year and was picked as an afterthought by Cleveland in 1989 after one year playing college. To his credit, Thome would fill out and by 1994 he was a full-time major leaguer. From 1996 to 2004, Thome would hit 30 or more homers, including a career high 52 with Cleveland in 2002 and a NL high 47 with Philadelphia in 2003. Thome ended his big league career in 2012 with 612 dingers, which is seventh all-time and should get him into the Hall of Fame.
8. Albert Pujols – 13th round, 1999
There are great stories of players early baseball careers and then there’s Albert Pujols’ story. Raised with 10 of his uncles and aunts mostly by his grandmother in Santo Domingo, D.R., Pujols often had to get his father, an alcoholic, home after softball games. Pujols learned how to play baseball using limes for balls and a milk carton as a glove. A move to America in 1996 allowed him to play baseball in Missouri, but his age was often called into question and led to Pujols not being selected until 402nd overall in the 1999 draft by St. Louis. It didn’t take long for the big Dominican to dominate at the major league level. Pujols ripped 37 homers and drove 130 during his rookie season in 2001, winning NL RoY honors. Since then, he won the NL MVP award three times and was runner-up four times. To date, he has 602 career home runs and is still just 37.
7. Nolan Ryan – 12th round, 1965
In the first ever major league draft, that classes greatest player (and one of the best ever, period) wasn’t taken until the 226th pick in the 12th round by the New York Mets. The future great didn’t have an easy time of it early in his career, battling injuries and illness. A move to the California Angels in 1972 proved fortuitous, as Ryan recorded his first 300-plus strikeout season (329) and went 19-16 to finish eighth in Cy Young voting. The Ryan Express would lead the AL in strikeouts nine times (including 1990 with Texas when he was 43 years old) and the NL twice. Despite the fact he ended his Hall of Fame career as the all-time strikeout leader with 5,714 Ks and won 324 games (including a record seven no-hitters), he was never a Cy Young recipient.
6. Andre Dawson – 11th round, 1975
From the moment he stepped on a major league field with Montreal in 1976, everyone saw something special in “The Hawk.” Dawson, who wasn’t drafted until the 10th pick of the 11th round by the Expos, debuted in 1976, appearing in 24 games. In 1977, his first full year, Dawson hit .282 with 19 home runs and 65 RBI to win the NL Rookie of the Year. A true five-tool player, Dawson could hit (2,774 career hits; .279 average), run (314 stolen bases), hit for power (438 homers) and field very well (eight Gold Gloves, career .983 fielding percentage). Dawson, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2010, was the 1987 NL MVP with the Chicago Cubs, on the strength of his league leading 49 homers and 137 RBI.
5. Goose Gossage – 9th round, 1970
Rich Gossage had a friend in his early years in baseball who didn’t like his original nickname, “Goss.” Noting that the future Hall of Famer resembled a goose extending its neck when he looked to the catcher for a sign, he tabbed Gossage with the nickname “Goose” that would stick with him for all time. A native of Colorado Springs, Gossage wasn’t drafted until the ninth round of the 1970 event by the Chicago White Sox. He played Rookie Class and A ball for two seasons, mostly as a starter and was called up to the White Sox in 1972. In 1975, he led the AL in saves with 26 and had a 1.84 ERA, but the Sox inexplicably made him a starter in 1976 and he flopped, going 9-17 with a 3.94 ERA. Gossage played one year with Pittsburgh before signing as a free agent with the Yankees in 1978. He would lead the AL in saves again in 1978 and 1980 and win a championship with New York in ’78.
4. Fred McGriff – 9th round, 1981
While the Yankees reaped the benefits of ninth round pick Gossage in the 1970s, they made one of the worst trades in franchise (and league) history in the 1980s by trading away ninth-round selection Fred McGriff. In that ill-fated trade, the Yankees traded McGriff, Dave Collins and Mike Morgan to Toronto in 1982 for Dale Murray and Tom Dodd. McGriff would blossom in Toronto, hitting 125 homers and driving in 305 runs in four seasons, including an AL leading 36 in 1989. While he didn’t win a title in Toronto (they lost to Oakland in 1989), he was dealt to San Diego for two players who would help the Blue Jays to back-to-back titles, Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter. McGriff remained potent in the NL, leading the league in homers for the Padres in 1992 and then helping Atlanta with his bat in 1995 as the Braves won the World Series.
3. Wade Boggs – 7th round, 1976
If there was a more superstitious player than Wade Boggs in the history of baseball, they would be off the chart. The five-time AL batting champion was so fastidious, he ate chicken before every game. Red Sox teammate Jim Rice called him “Chicken Man.” In addition to the fowl meals, Boggs woke up every day at the same time, fielded exactly 117 ground balls in practice, took BP at 5:17 and ran sprints at 7:17 to increase his chances of “going 7-for-7.” It’s surprising that the multi-sport Tampa native wasn’t drafted higher, but the Sox did well getting him in the seventh round of the ’76 draft. For his career, which included a championship with the Yankees in 1996, Boggs hit .328, including 3,010 hits (578 of which were doubles). He was inducted into Cooperstown in 2005.
2. Jack Morris – 5th round, 1976
As fierce a competitor as there has ever been, Morris needed that moxie after being drafted in the fifth round of the 1976 draft out of Brigham Young University by Detroit. He also needed that tenacity and drive to keep “Captain Hook”, Sparky Anderson, from pulling him prematurely from games he started. As it was, Morris made his AL debut in 1977 and by 1979 was the staff “ace.” He was a workhorse, throwing for over 200 innings 11 times and completing 175 of his 527 career starts. Morris was an integral part of three championship teams, winning it all with Detroit (1984), Minnesota (1991; he was MVP of the World Series) and Toronto (1992). Morris never won a Cy Young in his long career, however, he did throw a no-hitter for Detroit in 1984.
1. Tim Raines – 5th round, 1977
One of the fastest men ever to play in the major leagues finally gets his Cooperstown due this year. Tim Raines, drafted with the second pick in the fifth round by the Montreal Expos, will be inducted in July after a long wait. In his 23-year career, Raines stole 808 bases, good for fifth all-time. He topped the National League in that department four years in a row between 1981 and 1984, with a personal best 90 thefts in 1983. Raines stole over 70 bases six times and was an all-star seven years in a row for the Expos. He finally won a World Series with the New York Yankees in 1996 after 18 years in baseball and then retired after 98 games with Florida in 1992. Raines goes into the Hall of Fame with Ivan Rodriguez and Jeff Bagwell.