Ranking the best MLB Draft late-round picks as cutback looms

Some members of MLB management pushed to kill a draft in 2020. They wanted to allocate bonuses that would have been distributed to amateur players instead to current players and team employees to better weather the financial plight caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Ultimately, the Players Association and enough members of management thought eliminating an influx of players — even for one year — would be detrimental to the sport. The compromise between MLB and the union was that commissioner Rob Manfred can reduce the draft from 40 rounds to as few as five, the signing bonus value associated with each selection would remain frozen at 2019 levels, most of those bonuses will be paid after July 1, 2021, and no player eligible for the process who goes undrafted can receive more than a $20,000 bonus.

The ulterior motive, many in the game believe, is MLB wants to remove about 40 affiliates to redo the minors for better efficiency and economics, and can make that easier to accomplish by reducing the number of players entering pro ball.

The union/MLB agreement has no set date by which Manfred must announce the date of this year’s draft or the number of rounds, but the expectation is he will give at least a month’s notice (the draft was supposed to be June 12-14). Will Manfred go to as few as five rounds? How many draft-eligible players who are not picked will sign for as little as $20,000? What is lost?

No one draft stocks the major leagues, but just to understand where MLB gets volume from: There were a record 1,410 players used in the majors last year, and 482 (34.3 percent) were drafted after the fifth round. Of the 1,410 players, 1,045 came from the draft, thus 46.1 percent of drafted players came from the sixth round or later.

Four of the past nine World Series MVPs (David Freese, Ben Zobrist, Steve Pearce and Howie Kendrick) were picked after the sixth round. Half the Core Four came from the Yankees taking Andy Pettitte in the 22nd round and Jorge Posada in the 24th, amazingly in the same 1990 draft.

So as a project, Hardball decided to determine a best career by a player from each round from the sixth to the 20th (the draft is longer than that, though as part of the deal with the union, Manfred can limit the 2021 draft to 20 rounds). This exercise is just for players who signed after being drafted — for example, Mark McGwire was an eighth-round pick out of high school who didn’t sign, then signed after being a first-round pick out of USC. Also, the addition of teams and compensatory picks means all rounds are not created equal — for example, overall pick No. 141 was the first pick of the eighth round in the first June draft in 1965. It was the fourth pick of the fifth round last year.

Still, this is an exercise just to see the later-round talent and to have fun and debate:

Wade Boggs; Goose Gossage; Nolan Ryan
Wade Boggs, Goose Gossage and Nolan Ryan were some of the best late-round MLB Draft picks.Getty (3)

Sixth Round

BEST CAREER ACTIVE (through last year, in alphabetical order):

A) Matt Kemp B) Anthony Rizzo C) Marcus Semien D) Ben Zobrist

BEST CAREER ALL-TIME (not active last year, in alphabetical order):

A) Sal Bando B) Tim Hudson C) Jamie Moyer D) Devon White

HONORABLE MENTION: Mike Boddicker, Bob Boone, Cecil Cooper, Tom Gordon, Mike Hampton, Lance Johnson, Eric Karros, Hal McRae, Joe Nathan, Jose Vidro

HARDBALL’S ALL-TIME PICK: Tim Hudson. A tough call between Hudson and another A’s pick, third baseman Sal Bando, who was part of that initial 1965 class. Anthony Rizzo has a chance to get into the conversation — maybe Marcus Semien, too.


Seventh Round

BEST CAREER ACTIVE (through last year):

A) Michael Brantley B) Ken Giles C) Dallas Keuchel D) Justin Turner.

BEST CAREER ALL-TIME (not active last year):

A) Wade Boggs B) Matt Holliday C) Terry Pendleton D) Willie Randolph

HONORABLE MENTION: Mike Flanagan, LaTroy Hawkins, Von Hayes, Reggie Sanders

HARDBALL’S ALL-TIME PICK: Wade Boggs. A Hall of Famer wins over strong candidates such as Matt Holliday and Willie Randolph.


Eighth Round

BEST CAREER ACTIVE (through last year):

A) Dellin Betances B) Brian Dozier C) Paul Goldschmidt D) Kyle Hendricks

BEST CAREER ALL-TIME (not active last year):

A) Eric Davis B) Derek Lowe C) Brad Radke D) Tim Wakefield

HONORABLE MENTION: A.J. Burnett, Charlie Hough, Brandon Webb, Dontrelle Willis, Kevin Youkilis

HARDBALL’S ALL-TIME PICK: Eric Davis. Quirk alert: Two of the best knuckleballers ever, Charlie Hough and Tim Wakefield, were both eighth-rounders. So is Dellin Betances, who was part of the best-ever late-round relief draft class, the 2006 Yankees, who also took Mark Melancon in the ninth and David Robertson in the 17th.


Ninth Round

BEST CAREER ACTIVE (through last year):

A) Jacob deGrom B) Edwin Encarnacion C) David Freese D) Mark Melancon

BEST CAREER ALL-TIME (not active last year):

A) Doyle Alexander B) Goose Gossage C) Fred McGriff D) Bill Russell

HONORABLE MENTION: Jesse Barfield, Tom Browning, Keith Foulke, Charlie Leibrandt, Ryan Madson, Jeff Montgomery, Steve Sax, Terry Steinbach

HARDBALL’S ALL-TIME PICK: Goose Gossage. But this was no easy call over Fred McGriff. And keep an eye on this one, because the answer some time soon might be — drum roll — Jacob deGrom.

Jacob deGrom
Jacob deGromAnthony J Causi

10th Round

BEST CAREER ACTIVE (through last year):

A) Yan Gomes B) Greg Holland C) Howie Kendrick D) Emilio Pagan

BEST CAREER ALL-TIME (not active last year):

A) Brady Anderson B) Vince Coleman C) Mark Fidrych D) Ray Knight

HONORABLE MENTION: Marlon Byrd, Marty Cordova, Rusty Greer, Mike Sweeney

HARDBALL’S ALL-TIME PICK: Mark Fidrych. Sure, it could have been Brady Anderson or Vince Coleman, but just for sheer memorable career, I will take The Bird.


11th Round

BEST CAREER ACTIVE (through last year):

A) Nate Eovaldi B) Chad Green C) Joc Pederson D) Ryan Pressly

BEST CAREER ALL-TIME (not active last year):

A) Andre Dawson B) Chili Davis C) Doug Drabek D) Trevor Hoffman.

HONORABLE MENTION: Al Bumbry, Craig Counsell, Mark Grudzielanek, Ben Oglivie, Freddy Sanchez, Kevin Seitzer, Dan Uggla

HARDBALL’S ALL-TIME PICK: Andre Dawson. Want to go with Trevor Hoffman, sure, fine, got it. A hat tip to Chili Davis and Doug Drabek.


12th Round

BEST CAREER ACTIVE (through last year):

A) Matt Joyce B) Keone Kela C) Jeff McNeil D) Robbie Ray

BEST CAREER ALL-TIME (not active last year):

A) Jim Gantner B) Bobby Higginson C) Nolan Ryan D) John Smiley

HONORABLE MENTION: Mike Caldwell, Bill North, Joel Piniero, Johnny Ray

HARDBALL’S ALL-TIME PICK: Nolan Ryan. Perhaps the easiest choice of all, with the next best being Jim Gantner or John Smiley.


13th Round

BEST CAREER ACTIVE (through last year):

A) Matt Carpenter B) Shawn Kelley C) Daniel Murphy D) Albert Pujols

BEST CAREER ALL-TIME (not active last year):

A) Jack Clark B) Lenny Dykstra C) Steve Finley D) Jim Thome

HONORABLE MENTION: Jason Bartlett, Rod Beck, Carl Pavano, Juan Pierre, Mike Stanton.

HARDBALL’S ALL-TIME PICK: Albert Pujols. Sorry to Jim Thome, but Pujols is on the short list for the greatest hitters ever. Here is a question for this round, who would you pick third among Jack Clark, Lenny Dykstra and Steve Finley?


14th Round

BEST CAREER ACTIVE (through last year):

A) Cody Anderson B) Dexter Fowler C) David Phelps D) Mike Yastrzemski

BEST CAREER ALL-TIME (not active last year):

A) Mike Easler B) Bruce Kison C) John Milner D) Dave Parker

HONORABLE MENTION: John Jaha

HARDBALL’S ALL-TIME PICK: Dave Parker. Aside from The Cobra, not an historically great round.


15th Round

BEST CAREER ACTIVE (through last year):

A) Jerad Eickhoff B) Shane Greene C) Scott Oberg D) Carlos Torres

BEST CAREER ALL-TIME (not active last year):

A) Jose Canseco B) Bill Mueller C) Dwayne Murphy D) Jake Peavy

HONORABLE MENTION: Rick Dempsey, Pete O’Brien, Gary Redus, Ted Sizmore, Jim Slaton

HARDBALL’S ALL-TIME PICK: Jake Peavy. Do you go with a guy with a Cy Young, or an MVP winner with a tainted history in Jose Canseco? I will take Peavy and close my eyes that in nine postseason starts he was 1-5 with a 7.98 ERA.


16th Round

BEST CAREER ACTIVE (through last year):

A) Scooter Gennett B) David Hernandez C) Tommy Pham D) Mark Reynolds

BEST CAREER ALL-TIME (not active last year):

A) Buddy Bell B) Oil Can Boyd C) James Shields D) Dave Stewart.

HONORABLE MENTION: Jim Eisenreich, Oscar Gamble, Mike Stanley

HARDBALL’S ALL-TIME PICK: Dave Stewart. Third basemen are under-represented in the Hall of Fame, and go check out Buddy Bell’s terrific career. But if a game for all your money broke out and you learned Stewart was your starter, you would be OK with it.


17th Round

BEST CAREER ACTIVE (through last year):

A) Lorenzo Cain B) Ian Kinsler C) Russell Martin D) David Robertson

BEST CAREER ALL-TIME (not active last year):

A) Jermaine Dye B) Kent Hrbek C) Orel Hershiser D) Kenny Lofton

HONORABLE MENTION: Dante Bichette, Bud Black, Brian Giles, Rich Harden, Rick Honeycutt, Mike Napoli, B.J. Ryan, Josh Willingham.

HARDBALL’S ALL-TIME PICK: Orel Hershiser. The most fascinating round — Hershiser, Jeremaine Dye, Kent Hrbek and Kenny Lofton. I think just because of the historic importance of 1988, I lean Hershiser over Lofton. Among those who were active last year, there is Lorenzo Cain, Ian Kinsler, Russell Martin, Mitch Moreland, Josh Reddick and David Robertson. There was more 17th-round talent in 2019 than in any round from 10-16.


18th Round

BEST CAREER ACTIVE (through last year):

A) Matt Duffy B) Collin McHugh C) Mark Trumbo D) Nick Vincent

BEST CAREER ALL-TIME (not active last year):

A) Mike Cameron B) Ken Forsch C) John Rocker D) Eric Show

HONORABLE MENTION: Dennis Cook, Ron Hassey, Lyle Overbay, Kirk Rueter, David Segui

HARDBALL’S ALL-TIME PICK: Mike Cameron. There is a group of center fielders that includes Cameron, Finley and Lofton (also Carlos Beltran, Johnny Damon, Jim Edmonds, Torii Hunter, Andruw Jones and Bernie Williams) whose reputations are dimmed somewhat (I believe) by being contemporaries of Ken Griffey Jr.


19th Round

BEST CAREER ACTIVE (through last year):

A) Aaron Bummer B) Adam Eaton C) Josh Hader D) Josh Tomlin.

BEST CAREER ALL-TIME (not active last year):

B) David Eckstein B) Don Mattingly C) Placido Polanco D) Bret Saberhagen.

HONORABLE MENTION: Chris Hoiles, Jason Motte, Bob Tewksbury, Randy Velarde, Pat Zachary

HARDBALL’S ALL-TIME PICK: Bret Saberhagen. Talk about close calls: Would you rather have Saberhagen’s career or Don Mattingly’s? I would go with Saberhagen because of his genius in bringing the Royals their first title.


20th Round

BEST CAREER ACTIVE (through last year):

A) Zach Duke B) Terrance Gore C) J.D. Martinez D) Daniel Winkler.

Best career among 20th-round picks all-time (not active last year):

A) Jose Bautista B) Jeff Kent C) Mike Lowell D) Ryne Sandberg

HONORABLE MENTION: Scott Brosius, Gene Garber, Glenn Hubbard, Wade Miller, Gene Tenace, Brad Ziegler

HARDBALL’S ALL-TIME PICK: Ryne Sandberg. I am honoring the Hall of Fame pedigree here, but Jeff Kent’s Cooperstown argument should start with whether he was a better player than Sandberg. Also from this round: Jose Bautista and Mike Lowell. And I would even ask this: Would you rather have Sandberg’s title-less career or that of Scott Brosius, whose final four seasons brought four trips to the World Series, three titles and one World Series MVP. And in a final quirk, Brian Cashman might have made the worst trade of his career after his first season as Yankees GM when he traded Lowell to the Marlins for three never-made-it-pitchers, feeling he had to move Lowell because he had committed to a winning third baseman: Brosius.