Five Greatest Bargains in Major League Baseball Draft History
With a little more than a third of the 2014 baseball season in the books, the Major League standings board is awash in mind-numbing parody, utterly lacking in standout team performances. While this flat competitive landscape gives fans hope that their team might still finagle a playoff berth come October, it also leaves me to ponder the future and which young players might play a part for the Reds. More than in any other sport, though, projecting the fortunes of young baseball prospects is a crapshoot, especially for those with relatively little hype. Since its first rendition in 1965, baseball’s annual amateur draft, held each June, has delivered surprising value in its far reaches. Here are the five biggest bargains in Major League draft history.
Nolan Ryan - First Draft Bargain
Nolan Ryan - New York Mets, 12th round of 1965 draft
The draft didn’t waste any time in delivering its first bargain, though Nolan Ryan did take awhile to take hold in the big leagues. He was just a bit player in the Mets’ 1969 World Series run, but three years later he recorded his first 300-strikeout campaign for the California Angels and never looked back. The big Texan mowed batters down for 27 years before retiring as a 12th-round legend.
Rickey Henderson - Oakland A’s, 4th round of 1976 draft
Granted, Rickey Henderson’s fourth-round slot is nowhere near the depths of some players on this list, but Henderson may have had the most athletic talent of any MLB player ever. Had he been two inches taller or a smidge less of a hot dog, Henderson might have dominated like no one else. As it is, he is the all-time leader in stolen bases, runs scored, and third-person quotes. And at just 55 years old, you never know when Henderson might decide it’s time to lace up the spikes one more time.
Don Mattingly - New York Yankees, 19th round of 1979 draft
In the late 1970s, the New York Yankees were pouring themselves into free agency in their typical win-now machinations, so finding bargains was probably low on their list of priorities. The stumbled into a steal when they drafted Mattingly, a sweet-swinging lefty who would become the face of the Bombers during the playoff drought of the 1980s. Had his back not derailed his career, Donnie Baseball would likely already be in the Hall of Fame. Heck, his mustache alone was worthy of better than a 19th-round pick.
Mike Piazza - Los Angeles Dodgers, 62nd round of 1988 draft
Mike Piazza was the greatest offensive catcher of his era, and for a period of time in the 1990s, he may have been the best all-around hitter in the game. His hitting stats look all the more impressive when you consider that he spent nearly all of his career in the home run-eating expanses of Dodger Stadium and Shea Stadium. Piazza's defense behind the plate wasn’t much to look at -- or rely on -- but his Hollywood looks and interesting personal life brought fans to the stadium. All in all, Piazza ranks as probably the greatest draft steal in Major League history.
Albert Pujols - St. Louis Cardinals, 13th round of 1999 draft
Even if Albert Pujols were not enjoying a resurgence with the Anaheim Angels in 2014, he was already a lock for the Hall of Fame five years after he retires. The dominant player of the late 2000s, Pujols started his career with a stretch of ten gaudy and consistent seasons that solidified his legend in St. Louis and in the hearts of baseball fans everywhere. Not bad for a guy drafted, by his own Cardinals, behind Coco Crisp and Brent Spooner.
Hot Dog! Rickey Rocks!
Help Is Just a Draft Pick Away
No matter how dark the current seems for you team, there is always hope for future years, thanks to baseball’s June draft. As these five steals prove, sometimes that next franchise player is just waiting for his call up from the bottom of the bargain bin.
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