MLB Draft Gems: The Best Players Selected In Rounds 21-40
A significant part of the deal between Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association governed how the 2020 and 2021 drafts will be handled in wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
As part of the deal, the Commissioner has the right to limit the 2020 draft to as few as five rounds and the 2021 draft to as few as 20 rounds. With MLB already previously angling to reduce the draft from its present state of 40 rounds, many around the game expect a 20-round draft to be the norm moving forward after 2021.
The vast majority of major leaguers are selected in the first 20 rounds. According to a 2013 Baseball America study, less than seven percent of players drafted and signed after 20th round reach the majors. Less than two percent have any kind of extended career.
Still, there have historically been some impactful players drafted in rounds 21-40, including Hall of Famers, perennial all-stars and postseason heroes.
Here is a look at the best players drafted and signed in each round from 21-40 since the draft began in 1965, as well as three other notable selections drafted and signed in each round.
Only players who signed are listed. An asterisk (*) signifies a draft-and-follow if not otherwise noted.
Dave Dravecky, Pirates, 1978
Drafted out of Youngstown State, Dravecky logged a 3.13 ERA over eight seasons as a solid lefthander, both as a starter and reliever. He was an all-star for the Padres in 1983 and a key midseason acquisition for the Giants during their 1987 division title run. Dravecky’s career was cut short by a cancerous tumor found in his arm in 1988. He returned to make two starts in 1989, but his humerus bone snapped in his second start and he never pitched again. His left arm and shoulder were amputated in 1991 when he was 35.
John Smoltz, Tigers, 1985
The Tigers famously drafted Smoltz out of local Waverly (Mich.) HS and traded him to the Braves for veteran righthander Doyle Alexander two years later. Smoltz debuted in 1988 and went on to a 21-year, Hall of Fame career that included eight all-star appearances, the 1996 National League Cy Young Award and 3,084 strikeouts, good for 17th all-time.
Roy Oswalt, Astros, 1996
A 5-foot-11, 150-pound righthander selected as a draft-and-follow out of Holmes (Miss.) JC, Oswalt outperformed his amateur pedigree to become one of baseball’s best starters of the 2000s. He finished his 13-year career with five top-five Cy Young Award finishes, three all-star selections, an ERA title and the 2005 NLCS MVP award.
Mark Grace, Cubs, 1985
Grace hit a team-best .395 for a 1985 San Diego State team that included first-round pick Chris Gwynn, but was the last of five Aztecs drafted that year. He went on to a decorated 16-year career that included a .303 career batting average, 2,445 hits, three all-star selections, four Gold Glove awards and a World Series ring with the 2001 Diamondbacks. He had the most hits of any player in the 1990s.
Mike Hargrove, Rangers, 1972
Hargrove had a solid 12-year playing career before he became an accomplished manager. Drafted out of tiny Northwestern Oklahoma State, then an NAIA school, Hargrove was named the 1974 American League Rookie of the Year and was an AL All-Star for the Rangers in 1975. He retired with a career .290 batting average and .396 on-base percentage.
Dusty Baker, Braves, 1967
Like Hargrove, Baker had a long and successful playing career before his accomplished managerial career. Drafted out of Del Campo (Calif.) High, Baker played 19 seasons in the majors and won two Silver Slugger awards and a Gold Glove, made two all-star teams and twice finished top-10 in MVP voting. He topped 20 home runs six times and hit .300 or better three times in his career.
Mark Lemke, Braves, 1983
A skinny 5-foot-10 infielder from a Utica, N.Y. high school, Lemke defied the odds to become the Braves starting second baseman on their 1991, 1992, 1995 and 1996 World Series teams. He memorably hit a walkoff RBI single in the 12th inning to win Game 3 of the 1991 World Series and scored the winning run in the bottom of the ninth of Game 4 after hitting a one-out triple.
Woody Williams, Blue Jays, 1988
A converted shortstop, Williams led the University of Houston in innings (100.1) wins (9) and ERA (3.32) in 1988. He broke into the majors as a reliever in 1993, converted to starting full-time in 1996 and went on to a 15-year career as mostly a solid, durable starter, capped by a 2003 all-star selection with the Cardinals.
Ken Griffey Sr., Reds, 1969
Griffey Sr. was better known as a football star at Donora (Pa.) High but signed with the Reds, in part, because his then-girlfriend was pregnant with his future son, Ken Jr. Senior went on to a 19-year career that included 2,143 hits, three all-star selections and two World Series rings as the starting right fielder for the Big Red Machine. As a career capstone, he famously went back-to-back with Ken Jr. playing for the Mariners in 1990.
Darryl Kile, Astros, 1987
Picked as a draft-and-follow out after his freshman year at Chaffey (Calif.) JC, Kile filled out physically and blossomed as a sophomore, leading the Astros to give him a $100,000 signing bonus before he could re-enter the 1988 draft. (For reference, the No. 20 overall pick in 1988 received a $95,000 signing bonus). Kile made three all-star teams and pitched a no-hitter in his 12-year career, but his life and career were tragically cut short when he died of a heart attack during the 2002 season at the age of 33.
Travis Hafner, Rangers, 1996
Selected as a draft-and-follow out of Cowley County (Kan.) JC, Hafner spent nearly six seasons in the minors but blossomed into one of baseball’s most fearsome sluggers. In a 12-year career, primarily with the Indians after one of the most lopsided trades of the 2000s, "Pronk” hit 213 homers, led MLB with a 1.097 OPS in 2006 and retired with a career .874 OPS.
Robb Nen, Rangers, 1987
Drafted and developed as a starter out of Los Alamitos (Calif.) High, Nen reached the majors in 1993 and moved to the bullpen for good after his rookie year. He went on to record 314 saves, make three all-star teams and served as the closer on two teams that reached the World Series (the 1997 Marlins and 2002 Giants) in a decorated 10-year career.
Walt Terrell, Rangers, 1980
Drafted by the Mets in the 15th round in 1979 out of Morehead State, Terrell returned to college for another year and fell 18 rounds in the following draft. The Mets ended up acquiring him anyway in a 1982 trade with the Rangers and he went on to a solid 11-year career as a starter, winning at least 15 games for the Tigers in 1985, 1986 and 1987.
Dan Wheeler, Rays, 1996
Picked out of Central (Ariz.) JC as a draft-and-follow in the Rays’ first draft, Wheeler broke into the majors as a starter in 1999 before shifting to the bullpen. He posted a 3.98 ERA over a 13-year career, primarily as a setup man, and pitched in both the 2005 and 2008 World Series.
Chasen Bradford, Mets, 2011
Drafted out of Central Florida, Bradford spent seven seasons in the minors before making his major league debut in 2017. He has posted 3.89 ERA in relief the last three seasons pitching for the Mets and Mariners.
Raul Ibanez, Mariners, 1992
The Mariners drafted Ibanez out of Miami-Dade (Fla.) JC and stuck with him for nine seasons before trading him to the Royals just prior to his breakout season. Despite not becoming an everyday player until he was 30, Ibanez amassed 2,034 hits and 305 home runs in a 19-year major league career.
Bake McBride, Cardinals, 1970
McBride played baseball, basketball and ran track at then-NAIA Westminster (Mo.) and set a school record in the 200-meter dash. He used his speed to become the Cardinals starting center fielder and won the 1974 National League Rookie of the Year award. He was named an all-star in 1976, stole 25 or more bases five times and hit .299/.345/.420 in an 11-year career.
Mark Buehrle, White Sox, 1998
Selected as a draft-and-follow out of Jefferson (Mo.) JC, Buehrle reached the majors barely a year after he signed and went on to a decorated 16-year career. His accomplishments included five all-star selections, four Gold Glove awards, a World Series ring with the 2005 White Sox and two no-hitters, including a perfect game.
Kenny Rogers, Rangers, 1982
Rogers played right field and shortstop—yes, a lefthanded shortstop—for Plant City (Fla.) HS and signed for just $1,500. He went on to pitch 20 seasons in the majors and retired with a 219-156 career record, four all-star appearances, five Gold Gloves and a World Series ring with the Yankees in 1996. He also pitched a perfect game.
Brandon Kintzler, Padres, 2004
The Padres drafted Kintzler out of Division II Dixie State but released him after just two seasons. He didn’t pitch at all in 2006 and spent parts of three seasons in independent ball before signing with the Brewers. He made his major league debut in 2010 and has since a posted career 3.37 ERA in relief, highlighted by making the 2017 American League All-Star team with the Twins.
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MLB reduced the draft from 50 rounds to 40 rounds in 2012. As a bonus, here are the top players drafted and signed between rounds 41-50 from the first draft in 1965 through 2011.
41st round: Brad Peacock, Nationals, 2006*
42nd round: Keith Hernandez, Cardinals, 1971
43rd round: Orlando Hudson, Blue Jays, 1997*
44th round: Jason Isringhausen, Mets, 1991*
45th round: Chad Curtis, Angels, 1989
46th round: Darrell May, Braves, 1992
47th round: Kyle Farnsworth, Cubs, 1994*
48th round: Brad Ausmus, Yankees, 1987
49th round: None
50th round: Jarrod Dyson, Royals, 2006