More than one player selected on day three of this year's draft is bound to forge a big league career. That's because for as long as there's been a draft, players have been defying the odds by honing raw tools into skills that benefit big league clubs. In this blog post, we'll highlight low draft picks who have made good.
In the 20 drafts from 1987 to 2006, teams could make use of the draft-and-follow process to select a talented but raw high school prospect and then evaluate him for a year at junior college before making a final signing bonus determination. That's how players as diverse as Mark Buehrle (38th round, 1998 draft), Travis Hafner (31st, 1996), Orlando Hudson (43rd, 1997), Kyle Farnsworth (47th, 1994), Jason Isringhausen (44th, 1991), Kyle Lohse (29th, 1996), Marcus Thames (30th, 1996) and Jonny Venters (30th, 2003) got their starts.
Emerging young players like Tommy Hanson, Derek Holland, Mat Latos, Logan Morrison and Jordan Walden continue to make a good name for the draft-and-follow process, but all five pulled down in excess of $200,000 to sign (in the cases of Latos and Walden, more than $1 million), making them anything but draft afterthoughts. For that reason, players signed as draft-and-follows are excluded from our low draft position all-star team. We're looking for only the most unlikely success stories, which I'm defining as active big leaguers taken in the back half of the draft (26th round and later) and signed that same summer.
Tony Cruz, Cardinals (26th round, 2007, from Palm Beach (Fla.) CC)
St. Louis drafted Cruz as a third baseman but it wondered whether his bat would profile at the position. He hit .279/.316/.427 with eight homers for high Class A Palm Beach in 2008, his final season as a corner infielder. Cruz's bat suffered natural attrition as he rose through the minors, but consider the fact that he was learning to play catcher from 2009-11 and his .247/.311/.396 batting line (937 plate appearances) doesn't look so bad. Then factor in his 45 percent rate for throwing out basestealers (245 attempts) and you've got the ingredients for a big league backup. It's a role Cruz has taken to this season as Yadier Molina's understudy.
On the horizon: Brewers Double-A catcher Martin Maldonado (27th round, 2004, from Dr. Juan J. Nunez High in Naguabo, P.R.; drafted by Angels) has 70 arm strength and agility behind the plate. He has limited offensive upside and no power, so he's backup material all the way.
1B Adam LaRoche, Nationals (29th round, 2000, from Seminole (Fla.) CC; drafted by Braves)
2B Will Rhymes, Tigers (27th round, 2005, from William & Mary)
3B Matt Downs, Astros (36th round, 2006, from Alabama; drafted by Giants)
SS Mike McCoy, Blue Jays (34th round, 2002, from San Diego; drafted by Cardinals)
Teams will pay (and often overpay) for power on the amateur market, so LaRoche was not the typical 29th round, low-leverage draft pick. He signed with Atlanta for $40,000 after he won MVP honors at the 2000 Junior College World Series as a two-way standout. Some clubs preferred LaRoche as a pitcher (his father Dave spent 14 seasons in the big leagues as a lefthander.) This season, the 31-year-old LaRoche started slowly for Washington, batting .172/.288/.258 in 43 games prior to his shoulder injury, but he clubbed at least 20 homers in each of the past six seasons (115 OPS+) while suiting up for four different teams.
As of this writing, Rhymes plays for Triple-A Toledo, where he's batted .310/.374/.418 in 587 PA the past two seasons. Combine that performance with solid defensive chops, a lefty bat and a successful 54-game run with the Tigers last summer (109 OPS+) and Rhymes probably will get another shot.
Downs and McCoy are quality glove men who can play multiple positions. McCoy is a little more skilled on the middle infield, while Downs has more power and has played well for the Astros this season, batting .275/.386/.551 through 83 PA.
On the horizon: Yankees third baseman Brandon Laird (27th round, 2007, from Cypress (Calif.) JC) won MVP honors in the Eastern League last year, but he must have left his bat in Trenton. In 369 Triple-A PAs he's batting just .257/.287/.371.
LF Raul Ibanez, Phillies (36th round, 1992, from Miami-Dade CC; drafted by Mariners)
CF Nyjer Morgan, Brewers (33rd round, 2002, from Walla Walla (Wash.) CC; drafted by Pirates)
RF Rajai Davis, Blue Jays (38th round, 2001, from Connecticut-Avery Point JC; drafted by Pirates)
Ibanez spent nine years in the Mariners organization at the outset of his career but received just 518 plate appearances in parts of five seasons with the big club. His .678 OPS was a big reason for his backup status. Ibanez signed with the Royals one year before Seattle's 116-win juggernaut in 2001, but looking back he probably has no regrets about being non-tendered by the Mariners. With Kansas City, Ibanez enhanced his production and earning power, pulling down nearly $60 million from 2001 through ’10 (on contracts with the Royals, Mariners and Phillies) while batting .287/.351/.484 (118 OPS+).
Morgan and Davis spent time as Pirates teammates for Triple-A Indianapolis in 2007 when both were 26 years old. Both center fielders showed plus speed in the minors—Morgan stole 234 bases on his way up; Davis swiped 251—but their hit tools developed more slowly because of their multi-sport backgrounds, not to mention out-of-the-way geography. In the ’07 Prospect Handbook we wrote of Davis, who ranked No. 27, that "baseball was a sidelight in high school in New London, Conn., as his true love seemed to be playing point guard in basketball." In the ’08 Handbook, we wrote that Morgan, who ranked No. 15, "played four years of junior hockey in Alberta before turning his focus to baseball."
Talk about late-bloomers—Ibanez (29), Morgan (28) and Davis (28) waited until their late 20s before collecting 300 PAs in one major league season.
On the horizon: Rockies Triple-A outfielder Cole Garner (26th round, 2003, La Quinta High in Westminster, Calif.) played high school ball with Ian Stewart, and now he's zeroing in on his big league debut after joining the 40-man roster in the offseason. Garner has a lot of the tools teams like to see in reserve outfielders, including speed, range and power. The righthanded hitter may not have enough feel for hitting to play every day.
LHP Jonathan Sanchez, Giants (27th round, 2004, Ohio Dominican)
RHP Randy Wells, Cubs (38th round, 2002, Southwestern Illinois JC)
RHP Alex Sanabia, Marlins (32nd round, 2006, Castle Park High in Chula Vista, Calif.)
RHP Chad Gaudin, Nationals (34th round, 2001, Crescent City High in Metairie, La.; drafted by Rays)
Filling out a satisfactory rotation behind Sanchez is difficult, so I'm inclined to pull in domestic nondrafted free agent Brandon Beachy of the Braves. We'll call him a 51st-round pick. Calling on Gaudin is a bit of a stretch because not only has he been a full-time reliever for two years now, but Tampa Bay invested a six-figures bonus 10 years ago to buy him out of a Louisiana State scholarship. So we're left with Wells (who entered pro ball as a catcher) and Sanabia, both of whom have short track records and have missed time with forearm injuries this year. (Sanabia has yet to pitch at all.)
Against this backdrop, the Giants' selection and development of Sanchez is nothing short of amazing. The paucity of rotation candidates in this exercise suggests that by the time the late rounds roll around, big league teams have already identified and drafted all the pitchers who profile as starters—or at least the ones who will sign.
According to our ’06 Handbook, Sanchez helped pitch Ohio Dominican to the NAIA World Series each year from 2001-03. Of his No. 6 ranking in the Giants system, we wrote that Sanchez excelled "despite a delivery that left him pushing the ball. Scout Sean O'Connor recognized a player with arm strength and mechanics that could be fixed." (One year earlier, San Francisco identified Jeremy Accardo as an NDFA from Illinois State—see chart below—and he reached the big leagues in ’05.) Sanchez's control is far from perfect—no pitcher has walked more batters in the past three seasons—but he's annually one of the National League's top strikeout pitchers (9.6 per nine innings since ’09) as one of its toughest to hit (6.9 hits per nine).
The only other active pitchers worth considering are Rangers righty Scott Feldman (30th round, 2003, JC of San Mateo (Calif.)) and Angels righty Matt Palmer (31st round, 2002, Southwest Missouri State; drafted by Giants).
RHP Jason Frasor, Blue Jays (33rd round, 1999, Southern Illinois; drafted by Tigers)
RHP Luke Gregerson, Padres (28th round, 2006, St. Xavier (Ill.); drafted by Cardinals)
RHP Sergio Romo, Giants (28th round, 2005, Mesa State (Colo.))
RHP Todd Coffey, Nationals (41st round, 1998, Chase High in Forest City, N.C.; drafted by Reds)
LHP Pedro Feliciano, Yankees (31st round, 1995, Jose S. Alegria High in Dorado, P.R.; drafted by Dodgers)
LHP Craig Breslow, Athletics (26th round, 2002, Yale; drafted by Brewers)
LHP Tony Sipp, Indians (45th round, 2004, Clemson)
Feliciano, 34, pulled down an $8 million guarantee over two years from the Yankees on the free agent market, while Frasor, 33, accepted the Blue Jays' offer of arbitration and settled at $3.5 million for this season. But the other relievers here still are waiting for their pay day. Even those with fewer than 200 career appearances—Gregerson (182 games), Romo (170), Sipp (144)—already are 27 or 28 years old and at least four years from free agency. In other words, they aspire to pitch effectively long enough to be the next Feliciano or Frasor.
The common bond that links many of these relievers, aside from low draft position that keeps them off the fast track, is that they had to prove themselves in multiple organizations (Romo and Sipp excluded). Breslow has pitched for six clubs (and spent time in the independent Northeastern League), while Feliciano can count five teams on his résumé (plus SoftBank of Nippon Professional Baseball). Coffey and Frasor have been members of three organizations apiece, while Gregerson first made the big leagues only after being traded by the Cardinals to the Padres for Khalil Greene.
Most pitchers fare better against same-side batters, of course, but notable platoon advantages may have marooned some these relievers in the minors. As expressed by Baseball-Reference's total OPS+ metric, Gregerson (27 percent) and Coffey (11 percent) have fared better than average (in the big leagues) in right-on-right confrontations, as measured by OPS+. Among the lefties, Feliciano has been extreme, faring 33 percent better in terms of OPS+ than the average lefty in a left-on-left matchup. Frasor and Sipp have been fairly even-handed, bettering average OPS+ results by just five percent each. At this point, Breslow and Romo have shown no meaningful platoon advantages.
On the horizon: Almost too many to count. Among lefties, the most compelling case belongs to the Brewers' 5-foot-6 southpaw Daniel Ray Herrera (45th round, 2006, New Mexico State). The legion of righthanders is headed by the White Sox's Anthony Carter (26th round, 2005, Georgia Perimeter JC), the Rangers' Cody Eppley (43rd round, 2008, Virginia Commonwealth), the Indians' Josh Judy (34th round, 2007, Indiana Tech), the Brewers' Brandon Kintzler (40th round, 2004, Dixie (Utah) JC; drafted by Padres) and the Padres' Evan Scribner (28th round, 2007, Central Connecticut State; draft by Diamondbacks).
The Few, The Proud
With the 2011 draft in the books, teams now begin (or have begun) fleshing out their short-season rosters by signing undrafted players, mostly from the college and junior college ranks. As the chart below illustrates, though, 50 rounds isn't always enough time for clubs to capture all the big league-caliber talent out there. Twenty active big league players entered pro ball as nondrafted free agents. Here we're considering only players who were subject to the draft—residents of the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico.
An active big leaguer (defined as a player currently on a 40-man roster) represents every NDFA class from the year 1996 (Rod Barajas) through 2008 (Brandon Beachy), save for the years ’97 and ’00. The Braves have identified three of those NDFAs, more than any other club, with Beachy, Pete Orr and Matt Young.
Also of note: Ivan Rodriguez (Rangers ’88) and Matt Stairs (Expos ’89) signed as nondrafted free agents before their home countries, Puerto Rico and Canada, fell under the draft umbrella. Both play for the Nationals this season.
|DOMESTIC NONDRAFTED FREE AGENTS ON 40-MAN ROSTERS
|Jeremy Accardo, Orioles||RHP||Giants ’03||Illinois State|
|Mike Adams, Padres||RHP||Brewers ’01||Texas A&M-Kingsville|
|John Axford, Brewers||RHP||Yankees ’06||Canisius|
|Rod Barajas, Dodgers||C||D-backs ’96||Cerritos (Calif.) JC|
|Brandon Beachy, Braves||RHP||Braves ’08||Indiana Wesleyan|
|Heath Bell, Padres||RHP||Mets ’98||Rancho Santiago (Calif.) JC|
|Tim Collins, Royals||LHP||Blue Jays ’07||HS—Worcester, Mass.|
|Bobby Cramer, Athletics||LHP||Rays ’03||Long Beach State|
|Matt Daley, Rockies||RHP||Rockies ’04||Bucknell|
|*Greg Dobbs, Marlins||3B||Mariners ’01||Oklahoma|
|Ryan Hanigan, Reds||C||Reds ’02||Rollins (Fla.)|
|Frank Herrmann, Indians||RHP||Indians ’05||Harvard|
|Jamie Hoffmann, Dodgers||OF||Dodgers ’03||HS—New Ulm, Minn.|
|Elliot Johnson, Rays||SS/2B||Rays ’02||HS—Thatcher, Ariz.|
|Darren O'Day, Rangers||RHP||Angels ’06||Florida|
|Pete Orr, Phillies||2B||Braves ’99||Galveston (Texas) CC|
|Clay Rapada, Orioles||LHP||Cubs ’02||Virginia State|
|Konrad Schmidt, D-backs||C||D-backs ’07||Nevada|
|Dale Thayer, Mets||RHP||Padres ’02||Chico State (Calif.)|
|Matt Young, Braves||OF||Braves ’04||New Mexico|
* A fifth-year senior, Dobbs signed with Seattle on May 28, 2001. Any fifth-year senior whose team's season is complete, as was the case with Dobbs, may sign with any club prior to the draft. Otherwise, they must pass through the draft without being selected before they can sign a free agent deal.
Comments will be monitored prior to being added to the site. Comments that include profanity or personal attacks or other inappropriate comments or material will be rejected. Additionally, entries that are unsigned or contain "signatures" by someone other than the actual author will be removed.
We have chosen to open up commenting to everyone, so comment away! We want to hear from each and every one of you! Leave a comment.
About This Blog
Syndicate This Blog
Search This Blog