2012 MLB Draft: Power Ranking 50 Biggest Draft Steals of All Time
Of the three major sports, the MLB draft is the biggest crapshoot. Many first-round picks never make the major leagues, and great players can be found late in the draft. Signing young players elsewhere in free agency is just as big as the draft, if not bigger.
Nonetheless, if teams know where to look, they can find gems in the draft. Great players were drafted late, and even Hall of Famers were taken far later than they should have been.
Of the top 50 draft steals ever, none are in the first two rounds, and no one in the first three is in the top 15; they are ranked by a mix of when they were drafted and the quality of their career.
50. Ken Griffey, Sr.
Ken Griffey, Jr., was the quintessential player you were supposed to draft first. He was a first overall pick, and went on to play like one. His father, however, was a major draft steal.
Ken Griffey, Sr., was selected by the Cincinnati Reds in the 29th round of the 1969 draft. He went on to a 19-year career primarily with the Reds. He had a .296 average and over 2,000 hits and was a big part of the Big Red Machine in the 1970s.
49. Doyle Alexander
Doyle Alexander is a name remembered in baseball lore for two reasons. He was part of an extremely lopsided trade, but he was also a draft steal as well.
He was picked up by the Dodgers in the ninth round in 1968, and while he won with many teams, he continued to bounce around. He nearly won two Cy Young Awards late in his career, including one in 1987 when he was traded from the Braves to the Tigers.
With the Tigers, he went 9-0 in 11 starts. The guy they shipped off to get him, however, shows up much further in this slideshow.
48. Mike Hargrove
Before he was the manager of the Indians and Mariners, and before he was the human rain delay, Mike Hargrove was a great draft steal.
Hargrove was drafted by the Rangers in the 25th round in 1972 and quickly won Rookie of the Year in 1974. In a 12-year career, he became renowned for some of the best plate discipline in baseball, even if his surface numbers don't look all that impressive.
47. Cecil Cooper
Between Cecil Cooper's time as manager and his slow start with Boston, he was a feared first baseman with the Milwaukee Brewers, yet he was also a steal.
Cooper was selected by the Red Sox in the sixth round in 1968 and spent six quiet years in Boston before joining Milwaukee. There, he made many All-Star teams, led the league in RBIs twice and was a nearly .300 career hitter with 241 home runs.
46. Kent Hrbek
Most know Kent Hrbek due to a lack of consonants in his last name, but for 14 seasons he was quietly a very productive part of the Minnesota Twins.
Hrbek was drafted by the Twins in the 17th round in 1978 and was a full-time starter by 1982. He nearly won the MVP in 1984, made an All-Star team in 1982 and had 293 home runs and nearly 1,750 hits during his career.
45. Dave Stieb
Dave Stieb was a mainstay of the Blue Jays franchise for most of their early history, and he always seemed to be in Cy Young discussion. He was also the Blue Jays' first major draft steal.
A fifth-round pick in 1978, Stieb was already on the team a year later, and he amassed seven All-Star appearances and 176 wins throughout his career. He also led the league in ERA and innings pitched twice.
44. Matt Kemp
In historical lists like these, I generally don't like adding in players who are still rather early on in their careers. That being said, Matt Kemp's earned the lone exception to this rule, though I can't put him too high.
Kemp was drafted by the Dodgers in the sixth round in 2003, and he joined the team in 2006. Since then, he's gotten better each year. He should have won MVP last year, and with the blistering pace he's on so far, he could easily do it this year.
43. Cecil Fielder
Cecil Fielder is another example of one of those guys with a great peak who didn't do much before or after. Nonetheless, his peak made him look like a draft steal.
Fielder was drafted in the fourth round in 1982 by, believe it or not, the Royals. They quickly shipped him off to Toronto, and they let him go. Once he arrived in Detroit, he became a monster hitter, nearly winning MVP twice and finishing his career with 319 home runs.
42. Bob Boone
Bob Boone had a lengthy career where he was one of the best defensive catchers of the '70s and '80s, and he was a part of a big family dynasty as well.
Boone was drafted in the sixth round in 1969 by the Phillies, where he played throughout the 1970s before joining the California Angels. He amassed nearly 2,000 hits and was a seven-time Gold Glove winner during his career.
41. Brady Anderson
Brady Anderson's 1996 season was one of the most unlikely in baseball history, and that sentiment counts double given where he started out.
Anderson was drafted by the Red Sox in 1985 in the 10th round of the draft, and was traded a few years later. Anderson was a solid piece in Baltimore for over a decade, but 50 home runs in 1996 is what we remember, though he actually finished with more stolen bases in his career than home runs (315 to 210).
40. Derek Lowe
Before he was the hero of the Red Sox in 2004, Derek Lowe was a reliever in Seattle. Before that, he was a later-round selection that ended up being a draft steal.
Lowe was selected in the eighth round by the Mariners in 1991 and spent most of the first half of his career with Boston. He then became a workhorse for the Dodgers, and so far in his career he has 172 wins and over 2,500 innings of work. At 39, he's having a career year so far.
39. Ryan Howard
Ryan Howard has been one of the most feared sluggers in the NL the past few seasons, regularly leading the league in home runs and RBIs. It wasn't an easy journey for the frequent MVP candidate, however.
Howard was drafted by the Phillies in the fifth round in 2001. He won Rookie of the Year in 2005 despite only appearing in 88 games and followed that up with an MVP win.
He's 32, yet already has 286 home runs in eight seasons.
38. Mark Grace
Mark Grace has been one of the most underrated players in recent memory, and Cubs fans would certainly agree with that, but it isn't something he's not used to.
Grace was drafted by the Cubs in the 24th round in 1985 and was a starter by 1988. In 16 years, he hit .303 for his career and had nearly 2,500 hits to go with a few All-Star appearances and Gold Gloves.
37. Ron Guidry
Ron Guidry had a few seasons with the Yankees that were just incredible, and while he didn't have a huge number of wins, he only had 91 losses in 14 seasons.
Guidry was picked in the third round by the Yankees in 1971 and was used sparingly until 1977, when he had a great year. He followed that with a 25-3, 1.74 ERA performance that naturally earned him a Cy Young Award.
He finished with a 170-91 record, 1,778 strikeouts and a place in Yankee lore given the year that he pulled that off.
36. Graig Nettles
From one member of the late-1970s Yankee squads to another, Graig Nettles was an all-around great third baseman for the Yankees and the other teams he played for.
Nettles was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the fourth round in 1965. After three short years, they sent him to Cleveland, where he improved. It wasn't until he joined the Yankees that we saw the perennial All-Star and MVP candidate.
He finished his career with two Gold Gloves, a number that should have been higher, but he played alongside Brooks Robinson. He also had 390 home runs and over 2,200 hits.
35. Tim Hudson
Tim Hudson's career has been a lot like Guidry's, as he has very few losses and is always able to help his team get the win. It only makes sense that he's a couple spots higher, as he was a much later draft choice.
Hudson was drafted in the sixth round by the Athletics in 1997. He joined the team two years later and immediately went to work. He has been a Cy Young candidate many years as well as an All-Star, and he has a 184-98 record after 14 seasons—efficiency that's almost unheard of these days.
34. Devon White
Devon White was a solid all-around player, and given that he played at the start of the steroid era, he has been mostly overlooked. It's hard to do that with a guy who has three All-Star appearances and seven Gold Gloves.
White was drafted by the Angels in 1981 in the sixth round. He showed that he could hit for power while fielding well, and he was sent to Toronto, where he showed his top talent in helping bring two World Series titles to the team.
He had 346 stolen bases and 208 home runs in his career, as well as nearly 2,000 hits.
33. Jack Morris
The question of whether or not Jack Morris should be in the Hall of Fame will be answered soon given his recent rise. One thing we can agree on, however, is that he was a steal for the Tigers.
Drafted in the fifth round in 1976, Morris was in the bigs a year later and was the ace of the team throughout the 1980s, perennially in Cy Young discussions. He is best known for his postseason prowess—being on Minnesota in 1991 helped there.
He has a 254-186 record and a 3.90 ERA for his career, as well as nearly 2,500 strikeouts.
32. Kenny Lofton
Kenny Lofton, more than anyone else, was the heart and soul of the Cleveland Indians teams of the 1990s. He didn't start that way though; he became an Indian by being a draft steal for another team.
Lofton was selected by the Astros in the 17th round in 1988, and they shipped him to the Indians in 1991. He won multiple stolen base titles and was a perennial All-Star in the 1990s before becoming one of baseball's greatest journeymen, amassing a .299 average and nearly 2,500 hits in his career.
31. Bret Saberhagen
Bret Saberhagen was a guy who was either really dominant or just alright as a pitcher. He won two Cy Youngs, yet didn't get much Hall of Fame consideration.
Saberhagen was drafted by the Royals in 1982 in the 19th round. By 1984, he was already in the majors, and he won both Cy Young Awards with the Royals. He had 167 wins for his career and a 3.34 ERA in 16 total seasons.
30. Lou Whitaker
Lou Whitaker had a great 19-year career with the Detroit Tigers, and he and Alan Trammell were perhaps one of the most underrated duos in baseball.
Whitaker was picked up by the Tigers in the fifth round of the 1975 draft. He was a full-time starter by 1978, winning Rookie of the Year, and he was a perennial All-Star throughout the mid-1980s. He finished his career with almost 2,500 hits and over 1,000 runs batted in.
29. Roy Oswalt
Roy Oswalt has always been one of the most efficient pitchers in the game, and his numbers are a lot better than they may look at first glance.
Oswalt was selected by the Astros in the 23rd round of the 1996 draft, and once he joined the team in 2001, the results were immediate. He became a perennial Cy Young contender, and he has 159 wins and only 500 walks in over 2,000 innings to his credit.
28. Matt Holliday
Matt Holliday has been one of the best hitters—and perhaps one of the most unheralded—of the past decade. He was dominant in Colorado and has been great in St. Louis as well.
Holliday was drafted by the Rockies in the seventh round in 1998 and didn't make his debut until 2004. Once he did though, his numbers lit up. He's hitting well over .300 for his career, and he shouldn't have too much trouble reaching 2,000 hits by the time he's done.
27. Mark Buehrle
Mark Buehrle has been a consistently solid pitcher since joining the majors. With 165 wins and counting, he's been reliable for well over a decade.
So, how did he fall all the way to the 38th round? That's where the White Sox got him in 1998. By 2001, he was in the starting rotation, and he has been one of the best workhorses in the bigs ever since.
26. Tim Raines
With the exception of Rickey Henderson, Tim Raines was the best leadoff hitter of the 1980s, and he remains one of the best all-time with his speed and hitting.
Raines was drafted by the Expos in the fifth round in 1977. It took him until 1981 to become a full-time starter, and once he did, he became a perennial All-Star and set top stolen base marks year after year.
Raines retired with 808 stolen bases, a .294 average and over 2,600 hits, and he should be in the Hall of Fame.
25. Gary Carter
Gary Carter was one of the best players to watch play the game in the 1980s. His hitting prowess made his draft selection a surprise.
Carter was the third-round pick of the Expos in 1972, and after debuting in 1974, he burst onto the scene the following year. In 19 seasons, he was a perennial All-Star, was instrumental in the Mets winning the World Series in 1986 and was eventually voted into the Hall of Fame.
24. Dennis Eckersley
Dominant relievers in the majors are tough enough to find, but a dominant starter and closer is a rarity. Somehow, both examples make it on this list, with Dennis Eckersley being the first.
Eck was drafted by the Indians in the third round in 1972, and after three years he went to the Red Sox and Cubs, where he continued to be a great starter.
His time as the Athletics closer, however, is what he is best known for. He was dominant enough to win a Cy Young, and he was instrumental in their late '80s and early '90s success.
23. Fred McGriff
At this point, there are a slew of late Yankees draft picks that ended up turning into big-time stars. The first of that batch is Fred McGriff.
McGriff was selected in the ninth round of the 1981 draft by the Yankees and was shipped off quickly to the Blue Jays. He turned into a big-time power hitter with many different teams, and he finished his career with 493 home runs and nearly 2,500 hits.
22. Don Mattingly
"Donnie Baseball" is the quintessential Yankee, and of all players, you would think he would have been a top pick with his passion for the game.
That was not the case. Mattingly was a 19th-round pick by the Yankees in 1979. After making his debut in 1982, he really broke out in 1984. What followed was an MVP win, multiple All-Star performances and a great peak that dropped off quickly due to injury.
He's a guy who would certainly have been in the Hall had he not had to hobble through the end of his career.
21. Rich Gossage
I was a little reluctant about putting a reliever, other than Trevor Hoffman, in the top 20 on this list. However, Rich "Goose" Gossage passes both the late draft pick requirement as well as the dominance requirement, so he comes as close as anyone.
Gossage was picked up by the White Sox in the ninth round in 1970, and after attempting to make him a starter, they sent him to the Pittsburgh Pirates, where he became a free agent a year later.
His tenure with the Yankees was his most dominant time, and his consistently great performances eventually gave him a Hall of Fame nod.
20. Andy Pettitte
As much as the Yankees get flak for just buying talent, they have found a lot of gems late in the draft, as we've seen so far. Andy Pettitte is one of the biggest.
Pettitte was drafted by the Yankees in the 22nd round in 1990 and made his debut in 1995. He was a perennially great pitcher and continued to be after joining Houston. Once he returned to New York in 2007, he picked up right where he left off.
He's now in possibly his final season and could definitely top 250 career wins with the way he's pitching.
19. Jorge Posada
When you think of the core four Yankees during their run in the late 1990s, you would imagine that they would have been first-round picks. Derek Jeter of course was, and we already saw Andy Pettitte on here.
Like Pettitte, Posada was a steal in the 24th round in 1990 (two rounds after Pettitte, which is why he's ahead of him). He finally cracked the starting lineup in 1998, and for the next decade he was one of the top hitting catchers in the bigs.
18. Eddie Murray
Perhaps one of the all-time best hitters never to win an MVP award, Eddie Murray was a feared hitter with the Baltimore Orioles and everywhere else he landed.
The Orioles selected him in the third round of the 1973 draft (Mike Flanagan, chosen later in the same draft, gets an honorable mention). After three years in the minors, he made his debut to start the 1977 season and never looked back.
After winning Rookie of the Year, he amassed 3,255 hits and 504 home runs, one of the few to hit both major milestones of 3,000 and 500.
17. Bert Blyleven
Bert Blyleven was a longtime veteran who finally made his way into the Hall of Fame recently. For a guy who had 287 wins in 22 years, you would think he would have been a first-round pick.
Instead, Blyleven was a third-round pick in 1969 by the Twins. He made his debut under a year later and went on to throw 3,701 strikeouts, mostly for the Twins, as well as pitching nearly 5,000 innings.
16. Tony Gwynn
Tony Gwynn emerged as the best pure hitter in the 1980s and 1990s. His .338 average and 3,141 hits are great numbers for the career Padre, and as a result, he was a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
He was drafted in the third round by the Padres in 1981, and while Kevin McReynolds had a nice career as well, he was no Gwynn, who was a steal even in the third round after hitting .289 his rookie year, the only year he ever hit under .300.
15. Keith Hernandez
Keith Hernandez is perhaps one of the best hitters to not be in the Hall of Fame, but he lives on as easily one of the biggest draft steals.
Hernandez was picked up by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 42nd round of the 1971 draft. He went on to have a 17-year career, many All-Star appearances, a career .296 average and more walks than strikeouts, a rarity in this day and age.
14. Orel Hershiser
On the pitching side, the key to the Dodgers' 1988 World Series title was Orel Hershiser. The 18-year veteran was a big part of many playoff teams, yet hung on the draft boards for a long time.
Hershiser was drafted by the Dodgers in the 17th round of the 1979 draft, perhaps since Bowling Green wasn't a huge baseball school. They used both first-round picks on pitchers (the first being Steve Howe), so Hershiser was not a top priority.
He ended up winning 204 games, a Cy Young Award, and led the league in innings pitched three straight years.
13. Jose Canseco
Jose Canseco was one of the most feared sluggers in the late 1980s and early 1990s for the Oakland Athletics. Going along with that, he was also a huge draft steal.
Canseco was drafted in the 15th round by the A's in 1982, and after making the major leagues, he quickly won a Rookie of the Year Award and was named MVP. He finished his 17-year career with 462 home runs, 200 stolen bases and nearly 1,900 hits.
12. Jeff Kent
Despite having to play alongside Barry Bonds, Jeff Kent was a big-time power hitter in the early 2000s and was able to win an MVP while on the San Francisco Giants.
In 1989, Kent was drafted in the 20th round by the Toronto Blue Jays. He was shipped off to the Mets, then the Indians. Once he joined the Giants in 1997, he took off.
One prominent decade later, he finished his career with a .290 average, nearly 2,500 hits and 377 home runs. It remains to be seen if he'll make the Hall of Fame, but he certainly was a major steal.
11. Trevor Hoffman
Trevor Hoffman, in an 18-year career, became the greatest closer of all time not named Mariano Rivera. Yet, at the start of his career, that did not look like the case at all.
He was drafted in the 11th round of the 1989 draft by, surprisingly, the Cincinnati Reds. The Marlins picked him up in their expansion draft, then shipped him off to San Diego. Since he was acquired for Gary Sheffield, he arrived in San Diego to boos.
Nearly two decades later, he had amassed 602 saves and gave the Padres security in the bullpen for a long time.
10. Ozzie Smith
The Wizard of Oz established himself in the 1980s and 1990s as one of the best, if not the best defensive shortstop to play the game, and his play was a thing of beauty.
The Padres picked him in the fourth round in the 1977 draft, and was actually the second shortstop drafted that year by them. He made his major-league debut almost immediately after playing 68 minor-league games.
After being traded to the Cardinals, he turned into the perennial All-Star and Gold Glove winner we know him as. According to Baseball-Reference as of right now, he's currently first in defensive WAR all-time, and I would buy that with how he played.
9. Rickey Henderson
Rickey Henderson is the greatest leadoff hitter and base stealer of all time. His speed is such that he would have to have been a top pick in the draft, right?
Surprisingly, he was not. He was drafted by the Athletics in the fourth round of the 1976 draft, and he was the only player in the first 10 rounds drafted by the A's to play in the majors.
He tore up the minors, made his debut in 1979 and never looked back, earning the runs scored and stolen bases records, while becoming a no-brainer for the Hall of Fame.
8. Andre Dawson
One of the top hitters in the 1980s for both the Montreal Expos and Chicago Cubs, Andre Dawson took a lot longer to make it in the Hall of Fame than he should have. Then again, he's used to being overlooked.
Dawson was the 11th-round pick by the Expos in the 1975 draft. Their first seven picks, I might add, never played a game in the majors, though eighth-round pick Mike Boddicker almost made the list.
Dawson put up 438 home runs and nearly 3,00 hits in his career to go along with an MVP, and he was easily among the best hitters at his peak.
7. Jim Thome
In the midst of so many hitters gaining power through PEDs, Jim Thome had evaded that cloud while hitting 600 home runs in his career.
In 1989, the Cleveland Indians drafted Thome in the 13th round, and while he quickly made his way to the majors, he didn't make his mark until 1995, when he hit .314. He didn't slow down from there.
He's now on the tail end of his career with the Phillies, and while he hit many home runs in his career, leading the league in walks three times can't be overlooked either.
6. John Smoltz
John Smoltz was one of the big three pitchers for the Atlanta Braves in the 1990s. Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine were second-round picks in 1984, and the fourth member before flaming out, Steve Avery, was the third overall pick in 1988.
As for Smoltz, somehow he fell to the 22nd round in 1985, where he was picked up by the Detroit Tigers. Unlike the next guy on the list, Smoltz became a highly-touted prospect and was traded to the Braves for Doyle Alexander during the Tigers' 1987 playoff run.
The rest is history, as Smoltz won 213 games and had 154 saves. Combine that with 3,000 strikeouts and a Cy Young Award and you have someone who should have little difficulty being in the Hall of Fame.
5. Ryne Sandberg
Ryne Sandberg ended up making the Phillies look smart and stupid at the same time during his career, which was spent almost entirely with the Chicago Cubs.
Sandberg was selected in the 20th round by the Phillies in 1978, and he was in the majors by 1981. He was traded to the Cubs as a throw-in and went on to win Rookie of the Year in 1982.
The perennial All-Star could make a claim to being a top-10 second baseman in MLB history, and his all-around great play led him to a Hall of Fame career.
4. Wade Boggs
Wade Boggs, throughout the 1980s and 1990s, managed to become not only one of the best-hitting third basemen of his era, but one of the most underrated defensive players as well.
How does a guy who amasses 3,000 hits in a career fall to the seventh round? That's where the Red Sox drafted him in 1976, after a slew of people who never played in the majors. It took him six years to make his debut, since he was drafted out of high school.
Once he did, there was no turning back, as he won five batting titles during his career and became a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
3. Albert Pujols
This past decade, Albert Pujols was the most feared hitter in the league. He was a perennial All-Star and MVP candidate, and he seems to have Hall of Fame numbers already.
How did so many teams pass on him then? He was drafted by the Cardinals in the 13th round of the 1999 draft and made it to the majors very shortly thereafter. He's known, aside from his hitting prowess, as the go-to guy when draft steals are ever discussed in baseball.
2. Mike Piazza
Mike Piazza, of all the players on this list, easily had the furthest to climb, and his draft story is in and of itself incredible. It's a miracle he was drafted at all, despite becoming perhaps the best-hitting catcher ever.
Piazza was drafted in the 62nd round of the 1988 draft. Yes, that's 62nd, and it's easy to forget the draft even goes that far down. He was drafted as a favor by Tommy Lasorda after his father requested it, as the two were childhood friends.
A .308 average and 427 home runs later, it's safe to say that he'll make his way into the Hall of Fame shortly.
1. Nolan Ryan
The very first MLB draft occurred in 1965, and teams were still getting their feet wet in scouting in this format. The fourth overall pick never played a game in the majors, and two first-round picks opted to not even sign.
Somehow, two players slipped by everyone. Johnny Bench almost made it on here as a second-round pick, but even that was blown away by Nolan Ryan, who was selected by the New York Mets in the 12th round of the draft.
324 wins and 5,714 strikeouts later, one has to wonder how a guy with that kind of arm slipped so far down the draft. Perhaps it was because he was coming out of high school and needed a bit of refining, but even so, you don't pass on a 5,000-strikeout guy.