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Top 10 MLB Organizations At Identifying Undrafted Free Agents

Image credit: Bobby Bonilla (left) and Barry Bonds (Focus On Sport)

With the draft limited to five rounds this year, an unprecedented number of players will be eligible to sign as nondrafted free agents.

We recently ranked the best NDFA’s since the draft began in 1965. Now, we look at which teams have historically been the best at identifying and signing impact players who went undrafted.

1. Pirates

The Pirates signed Bobby Bonilla, Kent Tekulve, Don Money, Esteban Loaiza and Al Holland as NDFA’s. That’s a remarkable 14 combined all-star appearances from undrafted players, with Bonilla, Tekulve and Money all receiving Hall of Fame votes. The Pirates also signed NDFA righthanders Jason Johnson, Rick Langford and Steve Farr, who all pitched 11 seasons in the majors, and catcher Chris Coste, who helped the Phillies win the 2008 World Series.

2. Phillies

The Phillies match the Pirates with five future all-stars signed as NDFA’s: Larry Bowa, Toby Harrah, Andre Thornton, Andy Ashby and Ricky Bottalico. The quintet also combined for 14 all-star appearances, tied with the Pirates for the most of any franchise. The Phillies can further count 12-year catcher Jim Essian and longtime infielder Rick Schu among their NDFA successes. They are responsible for two NDFA’s currently on 40-man rosters in relievers Josh Taylor and Jacob Waguespack.

3. Royals

The Royals have only two major NDFA signings, but they were huge. Frank White was one of baseball’s best second basemen for nearly two decades and Dan Quisenberry is one of the all-time great closers. Both played starring roles on the Royals’ 1980 American League championship team and their 1985 World Series-winning team.

4. Mets

The Mets are the only other team along with the Pirates and Phillies to sign five future All-Stars as NDFA’s: Kevin Mitchell, Jeff Reardon, Heath Bell, Heathcliff Slocumb and Jim Bibby. The five combined for 11 all-star appearances, and Mitchell is the only NDFA to win an MVP award. The Mets also found undrafted successes in 15-year big league reliever Greg Harris and popular former utilityman T.J Rivera.

5. Angels

No team has been better than the Angels at finding NDFA’s in recent years. Righthanders Matt Shoemaker, Darren O’Day and Miguel Gonzalez are three of the best NDFA signings since 2000 while Bengie Molina, Bryan Harvey and Jack Howell all played into the 1990s or 2000s. Julio Cruz, the franchise’s first NDFA success, played 10 seasons in the majors and was one of the American League’s most prolific basestealers.

6. Cardinals

The Cardinals’ starting second and third basemen on their 1982 World Series championship team were NDFAs: Tom Herr and Ken Oberkfell. Both were starting infielders in the majors for more than a decade and hit over .270 for their careers. Local product Bernard Gilkey was the Cardinals’ most recent impact NDFA signing. He spent 12 years in the majors as a dangerous two-way outfielder.

7. Tigers

The Tigers signed three future all-stars as NDFA’s in Ken Hill, Ron LeFlore and Joe Jimenez. They traded Hill before he blossomed, but LeFlore became a premier leadoff hitter and stolen base threat in Detroit and Jimenez remains a key part of the Tigers bullpen.

8. Cubs

The Cubs signed the only undrafted Hall of Famer in Bruce Sutter as well as two longtime starters in Jim Colborn and Bill Bonham. The franchise doesn’t have many NDFA successes since the 1970s, but they did sign reliever Clay Rapada in 2002.

9. Twins

The Twins boast an impressive NDFA group that includes two-time all-star outfielder Gary Ward and all-star reliever Bill Campbell. They followed up those two hits from the 1970s by finding impact starters as NDFAs in the following decades. They signed longtime starter Mark Portugal in the 1980s and the late Cory Lidle in the 1990s.

10. Dodgers

The Dodgers have historically specialized in finding impact relievers on the NDFA market. They signed Eric Gagne, one of only two NDFA’s to win a Cy Young award, as well as Tom Niedenfuer and Matt Herges, who each pitched at least a decade in the majors and were high-leverage standouts at their peaks. The Dodgers also signed two-time all-star outfielder Jeffrey Leonard but traded him before his best years, primarily with the rival Giants.

Honorable mention

Giants: John Montefusco, Bob Brenly, Dan Gladden, Armando Rios, Eric King

Braves: Paul Assenmacher, Terry Leach, Ron Reed, Rick Mahler

Yankees: Jim Leyritz, Mike Ford, John Axford

Reds: Dan Driessen, Ryan Hanigan, Brady Clark

Athletics: Mike Bordick, Claudell Washington

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