Draft Surprises

A lot of fun stuff happened last week in the baseball world – at least I assume so, though the Brewers did go 1-5 on their homestand – but the highlight of the week was definitely the draft and Stephen “Anchorman” Strasburg. Long seen as the cream of the crop, the Strasburg pick has generated more than the normal amount of virtual ink due to his blazing fastball and the expected demands of his agent, Scott Boras. So when the Washington Nationals drafted him as the number one overall pick last week despite the warnings of a possible $50 million signing bonus, it was big news.

Website after website and newspaper after newspaper went through the history of the draft and profiled the past pitchers who were drafted number one overall – Ben McDonald, Andy Benes, Brien Taylor, etc. – to see how they fared. Normally, that kind of thing is right up my alley but with so many others already doing the work, I wasn’t sure what more I could add.

I couldn’t just let the draft go by without some sort of comment, though. There’s just something interesting about the draft, especially years after the fact. I know that draft reviews are pretty common in other sports, especially the NBA and NFL, but the crapshoot nature of the MLB draft and its widely spread talent pools just doesn’t really lend itself to that kind of analysis. Still, looking back and seeing that Albert Pujols was drafted in the 13th round or that Mike Piazza was drafted in the 62nd, it makes you wonder who in this year’s draft could come out of nowhere to become the steal of the draft.

With that in mind, I decided to take a look at the history of the draft to find the best players to come out of the later rounds. First, though, I had to decide what is meant by “later rounds”. With 60 or so rounds in the draft, it’s tempting to use, for example, the 30th round or below. In reality, though, that is dropping the bar too low. Yes, there are a few shockingly good players drafted after that, but those are even bigger exceptions than you think.

To be fair, then, I grouped all players drafted after the 10th round into ten-round groups, or “decades”. For example, Round 13 draftee Pujols would be in the same “Round 11-20” decade as Round 20 draftee Ryne Sandberg. Others might be placed in a “Round 21-30” decade or a “Round 31-40” decade, and so on. The notable players drafted in each decade are listed below along with some notes.

Rounds 11-20
Players with 200+ Win Shares: 20
Notable Players
Player……….Rd….Career WS
Jim Thome…….13……350
Ryne Sandberg…20……346
Jeff Kent…….20……344
Andre Dawson….11……340
Nolan Ryan……12……334
Kenny Lofton….17……290
Albert Pujols…13……286
Don Mattingly…19……263
Bret Saberhagen.19……193

It only makes sense that the highest round “decade” would have the most number of star players, but the actual number is still pretty surprising. Besides the players listed above, others with 200 or more career Win Shares are Steve Finley, Dave Parker, Jack Clark, Brian Giles, and Orel Hershiser. There are also an additional 18 players with between 15o and 200 career Win Shares, including Jermain Dye and Trevor Hoffman. With five or six Hall of Famers including some in the conversation as the best ever at their position, it’s not a bad list.

Rounds 21-30
Players with 200+ Win Shares: 7
Notable Players
Player……….Rd….Career WS
Brett Butler….23……295
Mark Grace……24……294
John Smoltz…..22……288
Ken Griffey…..29……259
Jorge Posada….24……228
Roy Oswalt……23……143
Jason Bay…….22……119

Although not as impressive as the Round 11-20 group, this is still a pretty solid group. Others not listed above are Dusty Baker, Richie Sexson, Darren Daulton, and Darryl Kile. That’s one certain Hall of Famer, one likely Hall of Famers, and a couple other players with multiple All-Star appearances. I suspect any front office would be ecstatic with that kind of production from a 20th round draft pick.

Rounds 31-40
Players with 150+ Win Shares: 2
Notable Players
Player……….Rd….Career WS
Kenny Rogers….39……211
Raul Ibanez…..36……150
Mark Buehrle….38……137
Robb Nen……..32……120

As we go further and further down the list, the numbers are going to dwindle. It’s only natural. With that said, we still see 37-year-old bust-out star Raul Ibanez and Mark Buehrle in this list. If Joe Posnanski (and some others) is right and Buehrle really does go on to win 300 games, then we might be talking about this pick in the same way that we talk about the Piazza pick.

Rounds 41-50
Players with 150+ Win Shares: 3
Notable Players
Player…………..Rd….Career WS
Keith Hernandez…..42……311
Brad Ausmus………48……166
Eric Young……….43……160
Orlando Hudson……43……111
Jason Isringhausen..44……101

“I’m Keith Hernandez!”

Rounds 51-60
Players with 100+ Win Shares: 2
Notable Players
Player……….Rd….Career WS
Jeff Conine…..58……196
Marcus Giles….53……112
Gabe Kapler…..57……59

This is probably the weakest group of this study so far, with Marcus Giles and Gabe Kapler being the second and third most prominent players drafted in it. Jeff Conine, though, was a good player for a pretty long time. As a 58th round draft pick, you can’t get much better than that…

Rounds 61+
Players with 100+ Win Shares: 2
Notable Players
Player……….Rd….Career WS
Mike Piazza…..62……327
Al Cowens…….75……138

…unless, of course, you’re Tommy Lasorda and you’re drafting the nephew of a family friend of yours out of a Miami-area junior college in the 62nd round. The Mike Piazza pick is still the most astounding draft pick in professional sports history (I’d guess, at least). Turning a throw-away family favor into the greatest offensive catcher in MLB history is very impressive, and is something that’s significance I don’t think anyone will ever truly grasp. The Al Cowens pick is pretty good, too. A 75th round draft pick, Cowens won a Gold Glove as the Royals’ rightfielder in 1977 and finished second in the MVP voting that year (which is, coincidentally, as high as Piazza ever finished in MVP voting).

These are the exceptions to the rule, of course. For every Keith Hernandez or even Raul Ibanez, there are maybe 30 or 40 Travis Baptists or Chris Wakelands. What’s most remarkable about this, then, is how it shows how good clubs are at drafting talent at the beginning of the draft. In the full history of the draft, there have barely been 120 players drafted after the 10th round who have been able to put up more than 100 career Win Shares. Considering how many players are drafted after the 10th round every year (50 rounds * 30 teams in 2009 = 1500 players), that is not a great percentage. That means that the other 400+ players with 100 or more career Win Shares since the draft began were all drafted in the first 10 rounds. While that may not be a high percentage, it is still about 4 times better than the late rounds. Maybe that’s not the most earth-shattering finding out there (“Oh, great! Teams can usually notice the good players soon enough to draft them in the first 300 picks!”), I know, but it’s something worth acknowledging. It doesn’t make finding the Mike Piazzas and John Smoltzs of the draft any less exciting, though.

Larry Granillo

About Larry Granillo

Larry Granillo has been writing Wezen Ball since 2008 and has dealt with such touchy topics as Charlie Brown's baseball stats and Ferris Bueller's day off. In 2010, he got the bright idea to time every home run trot in baseball; he has been missing ever since.

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