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It took 20 rounds for somebody to draft Jose Bautista.Orlin Wagner/Associated Press
It’s difficult for teams to find great players in the later rounds of the Major League Baseball draft, but it can and does happen.
For the sake of proving the point, we dug up some of the best late-round steals since 2000.
Exactly when it starts getting “late” in the draft is subject for debate, but we set our cutoff at the 15th round. Otherwise, we didn’t apply any specific methodology to tracking down our selections. The idea was simply to shout out as many guys who beat the odds as we could.
Let’s begin with one of the best pitching finds in recent memory.
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Brian Blanco/Associated Press
Key Stats: 405 GS, 2,616 IP, 2,234 K, 746 BB, 1.27 WHIP, 4.01 ERA, 102 ERA+
The first pick the Tampa Bay Devil Rays made in the 2000 draft was a good one, as they chose future star center fielder Rocco Baldelli sixth overall.
Yet it was in the 16th round and with the 466th pick that the Rays found their biggest prize of that draft: James Shields.
It took Shields six years to reach the majors, during which he never cracked Baseball america‘s rankings for Tampa Bay’s top 10 prospects. The right-hander made a decent impression as a rookie in 2006, however, and he promptly settled into a groove as one of baseball’s most consistent starters.
Shields posted a 3.67 ERA with an average of 221 innings per season from 2007 to 2015. He peaked as an All-Star and Cy Young Award contender in 2011, and he pitched in the World Series with the Rays in 2008 and again with the Kansas City Royals in 2014.
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Ramon LaureanoTony Gutierrez/Associated Press
James Shields is as good as it gets for 16th-rounders in the 21st century, but there are a handful of other players who prove there’s good value to be had at that point in the draft.
2001: Chris Young
Drafted by the Chicago White Sox with the 493rd pick of the 2001 draft, Chris Young became an All-Star for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2010. His career lasted all the way through 2018.
2006: Tommy Pham
After the St. Louis Cardinals chose him with the 496th pick in 2006, it took a long time for Tommy Pham to establish himself in the majors. Yet all he’s done since 2017 is rack up 13.5 WAR.
2009: Scooter Gennett
Scooter Gennett made his way to the majors as a platoon infielder after the Milwaukee Brewers selected him with the 496th pick in 2009. Yet his best moments came with the Cincinnati Reds in 2017 and 2018, the latter of which was an All-Star campaign.
2014: Ramon Laureano
The Houston Astros swung and missed when they chose Brady Aiken with the No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft. It’s too bad they didn’t hold on to Ramon Laureano after choosing him at No. 466, as he’s become a dynamic center fielder for the Oakland Athletics over the last two seasons.
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Matt Strasen/Associated Press
Key Stats: 1,888 G, 8,299 PA, .269 AVG, .337 OBP, .440 SLG, 107 OPS+, 257 HR, 243 SB
Ian Kinsler was drafted twice by the Diamondbacks, first in the 29th round in 2000 and again in the 26th round in 2001.
Instead of signing, Kinsler sought to improve his stock by playing college ball at Arizona State and Missouri. It worked, but only to the extent that he went to the Texas Rangers at No. 496 overall in the 17th round of the 2003 draft.
Per MLB.com, the book on Kinsler at the time read: “Medium, athletic frame. Sound hitting approach, good trigger, knowledge of strike zone. Glove instincts visible. Average arm. Runs well. Accomplished defensive player. Bat will improve.”
Suffice it to say that report sold Kinsler short. He joined the Rangers in 2006 and became a four-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glover in a career that lasted through 2019. He also played in three World Series, winning one with the Boston Red Sox in 2018.
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Russell MartinRob Carr/Getty Images
Though Ian Kinsler was the best of the bunch, the 17th round has recently been something of a gold mine that’s produced plenty of other notable big leaguers.
2000: Mike Napoli, Josh Willingham and Rich Harden
Josh Willingham and Rich Harden had fruitful major league careers after they were selected in the 17th round of the 2000 draft. Yet none was as good as Mike Napoli, who hit 267 home runs after he was the 500th pick by the then-Anaheim Angels.
2002: Russell Martin and Brandon McCarthy
After being selected by the Los Angeles Dodgers at No. 511 overall in 2002, Russell Martin became a four-time All-Star and Gold Glove-winning catcher in a career that technically still isn’t over. Brandon McCarthy also did well for himself after going to the Chicago White Sox with the No. 510 pick.
2004: Lorenzo Cain
Drafted by the Brewers with the No. 496 pick in 2004, Lorenzo Cain is best known as one of the core pieces of the Royals’ pennant- and World Series-winning teams of 2014 and 2015.
2006: David Robertson and Josh Reddick
The New York Yankees found a good one in the 17th round of the 2006 draft when they chose future closer David Robertson with the No. 524 pick. Though his best years came with other teams, the Red Sox also landed a good one in 2012 Gold Glover Josh Reddick with the 523rd pick.
2007: Mitch Moreland
After being picked by the Rangers at No. 530 in 2007, Mitch Moreland has enjoyed a solid career in which he’s been an All-Star, a Gold Glover and a World Series champion.
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Jeff Roberson/Associated Press
Key Stats: 790 G, 3,446 PA, .285 AVG, .363 OBP, .417 SLG, 112 OPS+, 56 HR, 81 SB
The 2010 draft famously began with the Washington Nationals’ pick of 2012 National League Rookie of the Year and 2015 MVP Bryce Harper with the No. 1 overall pick.
Some 570 picks later, the Diamondbacks plucked an outfielder out of Miami University of Ohio who became a World Series champion with the Nats: Adam Eaton.
Though Eaton began his minor league career in the shadows, he was in the majors and making an impression as a center fielder and leadoff hitter by 2012. Come 2014, he enjoyed a breakout as a member of the White Sox.
So it has gone ever since for Eaton, who’s 15th among outfielders in wins above replacement over the last six seasons. Most recently, his .320 average and two home runs in the 2019 World Series helped lead the Nationals over the Astros.
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Jamie Sabau/Getty Images
Key Stats: 151 G, 204.2 IP, 349 K, 72 BB, 0.85 WHIP, 2.42 ERA, 178 ERA+
From there, however, the left-hander’s stuff steadily improved as he bounced from the Orioles’ system to that of the Astros in 2013 and then of the Brewers in 2015. The only question was whether his future was as a starter or reliever.
The Brewers effectively answered that question when they debuted Hader out of the bullpen in 2017, and he’s given them little cause to regret it. He’s dominated as a multi-inning relief ace, earning All-Star nods in each of the last two seasons.
How has Hader done all this? Primarily with a fastball that’s arguably the best in the game.
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Rob Carr/Getty Images
Key Stats: 1,798 G, 7,244 PA, .247 AVG, .361 OBP, .475 SLG, 124 OPS+, 344 HR, 70 SB
Perhaps the Pittsburgh Pirates didn’t know what they had in Jose Bautista after drafting him with the No. 599 pick in 2000. Then again, the same can be said of the other organizations he passed through.
Bautista went to the Orioles in 2003 and then spent 2004 with the Devil Rays, Royals and New York Mets before landing back with the Pirates. He got some chances in subsequent seasons, but the Pirates gave up on him when they flipped him to to the Toronto Blue Jays for a player to be named later in 2008.
Two years later, Bautista became a superstar. In 2010, he set career highs, most notably with a .995 OPS and an MLB-leading 54 home runs.
Bautista was an All-Star that year and every year through 2015, the last of which also contained his epic home run and iconic bat flip in the American League Division Series.
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Michael Dwyer/Associated Press
Key Stats: 1,068 G, 4,424 PA, .294 AVG, .357 OBP, .537 SLG, 138 OPS+, 231 HR
It may have taken until the 20th round of the 2009 draft before the Astros chose J.D. Martinez with the No. 611 pick, but it didn’t take long for him to tease that he would be a steal.
Martinez promptly mashed with a .997 OPS in the minors in ’09, and he kept it up with a .937 OPS the following season. By July 2011, he was in the big leagues.
But then he finally hit a wall, as he struggled in 2012 and 2013 and was cut by the Astros ahead of the 2014 season. He was working with a new swing at the time of his release, which added an element of intrigue to the Detroit Tigers’ decision to take a chance on him.
In case anyone doesn’t already know the rest, Martinez has since become a three-time All-Star and 2018 World Series champion courtesy of the most productive bat this side of Mike Trout.
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George Gojkovich/Getty Images
Key Stats: 1,278 G, 5,258 PA, .266 AVG, .360 OBP, .481 SLG, 121 OPS+, 222 HR, 95 SB
Even after he was picked by the Montreal Expos at No. 645 overall in the 2000 draft, Jason Bay had to travel a long, winding road to major league stardom.
He was traded twice in 2002, first from the Expos to the Mets and then from the Mets to the San Diego Padres. He made his major league debut with the Padres in May 2003 but was soon on the move again when they dealt him to the Pirates in August in a trade centered around star outfielder Brian Giles.
Though his head might have been spinning, Bay nonetheless made an immediate impact in 2003 and won the National League Rookie of the Year Award in 2004.
From there, Bay was a three-time All-Star who averaged an .892 OPS and 31 home runs per year from 2005 to 2009.
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Nick Wass/Associated Press
Key Stats: 213 G, 172 GS, 1,100.1 IP, 890 K, 314 BB, 1.24 WHIP, 3.71 ERA, 113 ERA+
Even watching Tanner Roark now, it’s easy to see why he wasn’t a high draft pick or even a highly regarded prospect at any point during his journey to the majors.
Roark’s fastball generally doesn’t escape the low 90s, and there’s nary a swing-and-miss pitch in his arsenal. To wit, he’s struck out only 7.3 batters per nine innings throughout his career.
Roark nonetheless established himself as an effective minor leaguer after the Rangers drafted him with the 753rd pick of the 2008 draft. It was more of the same after he debuted in the majors with the Nationals in 2013, and he subsequently posted sub-3.00 ERAs in 2014 and 2016.
Though Roark hasn’t been that good in the three seasons since then, he is still one of only 20 hurlers with at least 1,100 innings and an ERA+ of at least 110 since 2013.
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Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Key Stats: 708 G, 623.0 IP, 692 K, 145 BB, 1.02 WHIP, 2.92 ERA, 134 ERA+
Before the San Francisco Giants scored future franchise cornerstones in 2006 (Tim Lincecum), 2007 (Madison Bumgarner) and 2008 (Buster Posey), they had a dud of a draft in 2005.
The Giants made 47 picks that year. Of those, only seven yielded future major leaguers. One of them, however, turned into one of the most consequential relief pitchers in the club’s history: Sergio Romo.
In light of his lanky 5’11” frame and his mid- to high-80s fastball, it’s no wonder Romo lasted until the 852nd pick in the ’05 draft. But he had a swing-and-miss pitch in his cartoonish slider, and it helped him get to the majors in 2008.
From then to 2016, Romo made an All-Star team and won three World Series with the Giants. The highlight for him was the 2012 Fall Classic. He saved three of the four games and clinched a sweep by freezing Miguel Cabrera for the final out.
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Stephen Brashear/Getty Images
Key Stats: 680 G, 2,581 PA, .249 AVG, .306 OBP, .416 SLG, 98 OPS+, 68 HR, 89 SB
Granted, part of the reason Kevin Kiermaier slipped to the 941st pick in the 2010 draft was because some teams were spooked by his commitment to play college ball at Purdue.
Kiermaier made good on that with a low-key star turn as a rookie in ’14, and he’s generally been one of the most productive outfielders in the majors over the last six seasons. To wit, only Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain have him beat in WAR.
That’s good stuff for a mere .249 hitter, which goes to show the value of being arguably the best defensive outfielder in the sport.
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Jarrod DysonAssociated Press
To round things out, HERE’s a look at quality players who lasted on the board even longer than Kevin Kiermaier, plus a few more recent late picks whose breakouts may come in the near future.
Kevin Pillar, 32nd-Rounder in 2011
Jarrod Dyson, 50th-Rounder in 2006
Jarrod Dyson was the 1,475th pick of the 2006 draft. Picks that low don’t usually amount to much, yet his speed and defensive chops were crucial elements of the Royals’ World Series runs in 2014 and 2015.
Keep an Eye on These Up-and-Comers
- C Danny Jansen, Toronto Blue Jays: 16th-rounder in 2013
- RHP Josh James, Houston Astros: 34th-rounder in 2014
- LHP Tucker Davidson, Atlanta Braves: 19th-rounder in 2016
- LHP Joey Cantillo, San Diego Padres: 16th-rounder in 2017