With this year’s signing deadline in the books, each team can’t help but view its 2014 draft haul in a favorable light (with one possible exception). History tells us that the majority of draft picks do not reach their ceilings, however, and that teams face long odds of finding even one future star in any draft class, let alone more than one quality big leaguer.
Sometimes one is all it takes. A draft can be classified as a success if that one quality big leaguer is substantial enough. Do the Tigers care that the second-best player they drafted in 2004 is either Luke French or Brent Dlugach? Not a chance, because they nabbed Justin Verlander with the second overall pick that year, and he’s contributed more than 40 Wins Above Replacement, according to Baseball-Reference.com, while fronting two World Series rotations since reaching Detroit in 2005.
Other notable no-regret, one-hit-wonder drafts of the past decade include the 2004 Red Sox (Dustin Pedroia, 41 WAR), the 2005 Rockies (Troy Tulowitzki, 38 WAR), the 2006 Dodgers (Clayton Kershaw, 38 WAR), the 2005 Pirates (Andrew McCutchen, 32 WAR) and the 2006 Giants (Tim Lincecum, 24 WAR).
More often, though, teams must have multiple quality regulars pan out for a draft to be deemed a success, so for this exercise we celebrate the clubs who defied the odds during the past decade by identifying multiple big leaguers in one class.
1. 2004 Astros
Director: David Lakey (eighth draft for Astros)
Quality Regulars: 2B Ben Zobrist (sixth round, 34 WAR), RF Hunter Pence (second round, 26 WAR)
Also Reached Majors: LHP Troy Patton, 2B Drew Sutton, C J.R. Towles, RHP Chad Reineke
The Astros didn’t pick until No. 64 overall in 2004 thanks to signing Andy Pettitte in the offseason, but they hit paydirt with that pick in the form of Texas-Arlington’s Hunter Pence, who starred in Houston for five seasons and then netted Jon Singleton, Jarred Cosart, Domingo Santana and Josh Zeid from the Phillies in a 2011 trade. Zobrist appeared on a pair of Astros’ Top 30 Prospects lists but never in uniform with Houston. They traded him to the Rays in July 2006 for Aubrey Huff, and he broke out in a big way three years later, hitting .297/.405/.543 with 27 home runs for the 2009 Rays.
2. 2006 Rays
Director: R.J. Harrison (first draft for Rays)
Stars: 3B Evan Longoria (third overall, 39 WAR)
Quality Regulars: CF Desmond Jennings (10th round, 12 WAR), RHP Alex Cobb (fourth round, 6 WAR)
Also Reached Majors: RHP Ryan Reid, RHP Josh Butler
Drafting Longoria and David Price (2007) at or near the top of successive drafts set the franchise up for short- and long-term success, including a run to the World Series in 2008. Longoria won the AL Rookie of the Year award that year, while he, Price, Jennings and Cobb all contributed to Tampa Bay playoff appearances in 2011 and 2013.
3. 2009 Angels
Director: Eddie Bane (sixth draft for Angels)
Stars: CF Mike Trout (25th overall, 26 WAR)
Quality Regulars: LHP Pat Corbin (second round, 4 WAR), RHP Garrett Richards (supp first round, 3 WAR)
Also Reached Majors: RF Randal Grichuk, RHP David Carpenter, LHP Tyler Skaggs
If Corbin and Richards continue to develop, then this draft could go down as an all-timer. Even if they don’t, Trout’s career is unfolding like an all-timer, with successive BA Major League Player of the Year awards to his credit. More remarkable than the early-career production for this trio are their backstories: Trout, the New Jersey kid who rocketed to superstardom despite his cold-weather background; Corbin, the lanky lefty from central New York who required only one year at Chipola (Fla.) JC to attract scouts’ attention; and Richards, the University of Oklahoma righty who ran up a 6.57 ERA in college but always had the power repertoire and arm speed to dominate.
4. 2005 Brewers
Director: Jack Zduriencik (sixth draft for Brewers)
Stars: LF Ryan Braun (fifth overall, 37 WAR)
Quality Regulars: LF Michael Brantley (seventh round, 10 WAR)
Also Reached Majors: LHP Zach Braddock, LHP Steve Garrison, 1B Mat Gamel, 3B Taylor Green
Braun owns a Rookie of the Year and an MVP trophy, and he helped engineer Brewers playoff appearances in 2008 and 2011, the franchise’s only October play as an NL club, but his legacy is tarnished by his front-and-center involvement with Biogenesis and subsequent 65-game suspension. Brantley, with his quality play for the Indians the past three seasons, turned out to be the best player surrendered by the Brewers—and not 2007 first-rounder Matt LaPorta—when they traded for C.C. Sabathia in 2008.
5. 2005 Red Sox
Director: Jason McLeod (first draft for Red Sox)
Quality Regulars: CF Jacoby Ellsbury (23rd overall, 23 WAR), RHP Clay Buchholz (supp first round, 14 WAR), SS Jed Lowrie (supp first round, 8 WAR)
Also Reached Majors: RHP Michael Bowden, C Luis Exposito, RHP Craig Hansen
The Red Sox made the free agent losses of Orlando Cabrera and Pedro Martinez count by drafting quality regulars Ellsbury, Buchholz and Lowrie all within the top 45 picks of the 2005 draft. (That they missed on Hansen and Bowden in the same general range highlights the difficulty in batting 1.000 even with top-50 picks.) Ellsbury (two) and Buchholz (one) have World Series rings with the Red Sox, but Lowrie missed out after being traded twice and not really finding his groove (or consistently good health) until joining the Athletics in 2013.
6. 2004 Angels
Director: Eddie Bane (first draft for Angels)
Stars: RHP Jered Weaver (12th overall, 36 WAR)
Quality Regulars: 1B/LF Mark Trumbo (18th round, 7 WAR)
Also Reached Majors: C Martin Maldonado, RHP Bobby Cassevah, RHP Nick Adenhart, 3B Freddy Sandoval
We’ll never know how good Adenhart might have been because of the rookie’s tragic death in 2009, but the Angels nabbed one of the 2004 draft’s top three talents in Weaver. (Verlander and Pedroia are the other two.) Trumbo averaged 32 homers per year for Los Angeles from 2011-13, but when the Angels tired of his defensive and on-base deficiencies, they flipped him to the Diamondbacks and received lefties Tyler Skaggs and Hector Santiago in a three-team deal.
7. 2007 Braves
Director: Roy Clark (eighth draft for Braves)
Quality Regulars: RF Jason Heyward (14th overall, 22 WAR), 1B Freddie Freeman (second round, 11 WAR)
Also Reached Majors: 2B/SS Brandon Hicks, RHP Cory Gearrin
This is one of the more remarkable cases of a team hitting big on a pair of high school players in rounds one and two. The Braves made spot-on evaluations of the players’ ability and makeup, with both Heyward and Freeman establishing themselves as big league regulars by age 21. Atlanta locked up the latter through 2021, but Heyward is one of the club’s few young stars who did not agree to a long-term extension.
8. 2005 Yankees
Director: Damon Oppenheimer (first draft for Yankees)
Quality Regulars: LF Brett Gardner (third round, 22 WAR), CF Austin Jackson (eighth round, 20 WAR)
Also Reached Majors: RHP Lance Pendleton, LHP Zach Kroenke
The Yankees misfired on first-rounder C.J. Henry and second-rounder J.B. Cox before hitting with Gardner in the third round, though he didn’t begin his big league career in earnest until five years later at age 26. He’s provided steady defense and on-base value since then. New York really hit big in the eighth round with Jackson, who spurned a basketball commitment to Georgia Tech to sign for $800,000, though the Tigers reaped all the benefit after acquiring him (and Max Scherzer from the Diamondbacks) in a three-team deal after the 2009 season. Detroit sent Curtis Granderson to the Yankees in that deal.
9. 2009 Diamondbacks
Director: Tom Alison (fourth draft for D-backs)
Stars: 1B Paul Goldschmidt (eighth round, 16 WAR)
Quality Regulars: CF A.J. Pollock (17th overall, 6 WAR), SS Chris Owings (supp first round, 2 WAR)
Also Reached Majors: RHP Chase Anderson, 3B Matt Davidson, RHP Charles Brewer, LHP Mike Belfiore, 1B/LF Marc Krauss, 3B Ryan Wheeler
The Diamondbacks’ uncanny precision when it came to identifying big league-caliber talent at the top of the 2009 draft resulted in five of their first seven selections (all taken among the top 64 picks) reaching the big leagues within four years. Top pick Bobby Borchering, a prep third baseman taken 16th overall, has stalled at the Class A level, but he’s now the Astros’ problem, having joined Houston (along with Krauss) in the Chris Johnson deal in July 2012. The brightest star in the D-backs’ 2009 draft class turned out to be Texas State eighth-rounder Goldschmidt, the MVP runner-up in 2013 when he led the NL with 36 homers, 125 RBIs and a .952 OPS.
10. 2004 Rockies
Director: Bill Schmidt (fifth draft for Rockies)
Quality Regulars: C Chris Iannetta (fourth round, 13 WAR), CF Dexter Fowler (14th round, 11 WAR), LF Seth Smith (second round, 9 WAR)
Also Reached Majors: RHP Jim Miller, 1B Joe Koshansky, RHP Jarrett Grube, 3B Matt Macri, RHP Steven Register, LHP Xavier Cedeno, RHP David Patton, LHP Josh Newman, 3B Chris Nelson
An astonishing 12 players from the Rockies’ 2004 draft class have reached the majors, but ninth overall pick Nelson produced the least value, if only because his prospect pedigree earned him a longer rope. Iannetta, Fowler and Smith all played for the 2009 playoff team, but Colorado deemed none of them worthy of locking up with longer-term deals, dealing them for an assortment of young players, including Barrett Barnes, Tyler Chatwood, Jordan Lyles and Josh Outman.
11. 2006 Mariners
Director: Bob Fontaine (third draft for Mariners)
Quality Regulars: RHP Doug Fister (seventh round, 16 WAR), RHP Brandon Morrow (fifth overall, 7 WAR), RHP Chris Tillman (second round, 7 WAR)
Also Reached Majors: RHP Nate Adcock, RHP Kam Mickolio, C Adam Moore
The good news: The Mariners scouting department identified three future big league starters in the first seven rounds of the 2006 draft. The bad news: The front office traded all three before they blossomed. While Seattle has Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma fronting its rotation this season, and blue-chip righthander Taijuan Walker on the way, the rotation would be even more stout had the club not misevaluated its own talent. The Mariners traded Fister, Morrow and Tillman for a package of players including Erik Bedard, Charlie Furbush, Brandon League and Francisco Martinez, of whom only Furbush was a contributor to Seattle’s competitive first half.
12. 2004 Athletics
Director: Erik Kubota (third draft for A’s)
Quality Regulars: C Kurt Suzuki (second round, 14 WAR), RHP Huston Street (supp first round, 13 WAR)
Also Reached Majors: LHP Dallas Braden, RHP Ryan Webb, C Landon Powell, 2B Kevin Melillo, RHP Connor Robertson, CF Danny Putnam, RHP Jason Windsor, RHP Jeff Gray, 1B Tommy Everidge
The Athletics whiffed on their top three picks in 2004, taking South Carolina’s Powell, Fresno State’s Richie Robnett and Stanford’s Putnam at Nos. 24, 26 and 36, but they redeemed their draft with closer Street at No. 40 and Suzuki in the second round. Oakland received a productive season from Braden in 2010, but Webb had been traded to the Padres (for Scott Hairston) by the time he reached the majors. In all, the A’s got 11 players from this draft to the big leagues, and only the famed “Moneyball” draft of 2002 yielded more impact talent (Nick Swisher, Joe Blanton) for the franchise, among its drafts of the 2000s.
13. 2005 Padres
Director: Bill Gayton (fifth draft for Padres)
Quality Regulars: 3B Chase Headley (second round, 19 WAR), RF Will Venable (seventh round, 12 WAR)
Also Reached Majors: C Nick Hundley, LHP Cesar Ramos, RF Mike Baxter, RHP Jon Link, RHP Cesar Carrillo, RHP Josh Geer
Boxed in between drafts led off by first-round picks Tim Stauffer and Matt Bush in the past, and by Matt Antonelli and Nick Schmidt in the future, the Padres came away with two long-time regulars—if not stars—in the 2005 draft. Though they kicked things off with Carrillo at No. 18 overall, San Diego recovered to nab Headley in the second round, and while he has but one big season to his name—.286 with 31 homers and 115 RBIs in 2012—he also ranks fifth in franchise history in WAR, hits and plate appearances.
14. 2009 Cardinals
Director: Jeff Luhnow (fifth draft for Cardinals)
Quality Regulars: 2B/3B Matt Carpenter (13th round, 10 WAR), RHP Shelby Miller (19th overall, 4 WAR), 1B Matt Adams (23rd round, 4 WAR), RHP Joe Kelly (third round, 4 WAR), RHP Trevor Rosenthal (21st round, 2 WAR)
Also Reached Majors: RHP Keith Butler, SS Ryan Jackson
While Carpenter has taken a step back from a phenomenal 2013 and Miller has pitched his way to the bullpen this season, the Cardinals’ 2009 draft bore rapid fruit. St. Louis went with Miller, a consensus top talent, up top but then hit big with deep cuts like 13th-rounder Carpenter, 21st-rounder Rosenthal and 23rd-rounder Adams. All five quality regulars listed above appeared on the Cardinals’ postseason roster in 2013, four years after being drafted.
15. 2006 Rangers
Director: Ron Hopkins (fourth draft for Rangers)
Quality Regulars: CF Craig Gentry (10th round, 9 WAR), 1B Chris Davis (fifth round, 9 WAR), LHP Derek Holland (25th round D/F, 8 WAR)
Also Reached Majors: LHP Danny Ray Herrera
This draft worked out for the Rangers in the long run, but they got zero return from their top three picks: first-rounder Kasey Kiker, third-rounder Chad Tracy (the catcher/outfielder) and fourth-rounder Marcus Lemon. But while Davis slugged .455 in parts of four season with the Rangers, he didn’t blossom until being traded to the Orioles in July 2011. Where Texas’ player-development staff shined was with Arkansas’ Gentry and with Holland, a 25th-round draft-and-follow who grew up in Ohio and played junior-college ball in Alabama. Texas used Herrera as a throw-in when they acquired Josh Hamilton from the Reds.
Honorable Mention: 2010 White Sox
The White Sox found the perfect college pitchers to rush to the majors in the 2010 draft, with Sale reaching the majors for good after just 10 minor league innings and Reed requiring just 108. Sale stands with Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels as one of the top lefthanders in the game not named Clayton Kershaw, while Reed ranks seventh in baseball with 92 saves since ascending to closer in 2012. (The White Sox traded Reed to the Diamondbacks last offseason for Matt Davidson.) Among Chicago’s other 2010 picks, sixth-rounder Rangel Ravelo, a first baseman at Double-A this season, might offer the most upside with feel for the zone and gap power.