Ranking the 10 Greatest MLB Draft Steals of the Last 10 Years
As the baseball world prepares for the 2014 MLB First-Year Player draft, much of the attention is rightly given to each team’s first-round pick. After all, that is typically where the best players are drafted.
Unfortunately, those picks don’t always work out.
Sometimes, there are stars hidden in the later rounds that are only awaiting the chance to prove they belong in the big leagues. So let’s dig a bit deeper here and take a look the 10 greatest draft steals of the last 10 years.
To be clear, the drafts that took place between 2004 and 2013 are the topic of conversation. Also, only players who were drafted in the fourth round or later will be looked at.
See, while Mike Trout was passed up by numerous teams and could be considered a steal since he was taken with the 25th pick of the 2009 MLB draft, he was still a first-rounder. And even though Charlie Blackmon seemingly came out of nowhere, he was selected in the second round of the 2008 draft. They—and many more—were simply drafted too high to be considered steals.
Ranked based on total WAR, here are the 10 players who made the scouting department for the team that drafted them look like geniuses.
Before we go any further, there are a couple of players that deserved to be mentioned but whose numbers aren’t quite as strong as the other players on the list.
In no particular order, they are:
Desmond Jennings, CF, Tampa Bay Rays
- Drafted: 10th round (289th overall) by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 2006
- Career Stats:.249/.331/.408, 42 HR, 141 RBI, 71 2B, 19 3B, 243 R, 84 SB
Dillon Gee, SP, New York Mets
- Drafted: 21st round (663rd overall) by the New York Mets in 2007
- Career Stats: 36-27, 3.78 ERA, 4.17 FIP, 89 GS, 555.0 IP, 403 K, 177 BB, 1.277 WHIP
To be sure, there are more, but these two stand out among the throng of other players who have found limited success.
10. Joc Pederson, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
Career Stats: .307/.402/.522, 66 HR, 225 RBI, 79 2B, 10 3B, 279 R, 96 SB
A five-tool player with nearly unlimited potential, Pederson will be a star for years to come. The only reason he is not on the 25-man roster now is that the Dodgers had too many outfielders. With Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig and Carl Crawford currently jockeying for playing time, it's impossible for Pederson to reach the big leagues.
Things changed recently when Crawford went down with an ankle injury against the San Diego Padres. Now, whether or not that means Pederson will get the call is up to general manager Ned Colletti.
Don’t count on that happening, though. Smart money says Colletti won’t start the clock on the phenom’s service time, and he will stay at Triple-A for the time being.
2014 Stats: .347/.454/.642, 15 HR, 32 RBI, 43 R
9. Matt Moore, SP, Tampa Bay Rays
Career Stats: 29-17, 3.53 ERA, 3.91 FIP, 61 GS, 347.0 IP, 339 K, 165 BB, 1.329 WHIP, 4.5 WAR
When Matt Moore was drafted out of Moriarty High School in the eighth round (245th overall) by the then-Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 2007, there was no doubt he had potential. What he turned into, though, is one of the better left-handed pitchers in the game.
The bad news for Rays fans is that Moore was only able to make two starts this season before undergoing Tommy John surgery. It was a painful end to the season for him and is a large reason the Rays are currently in last place in the AL East.
He will be back, though. And given the recoveries of so many other pitchers who have undergone the same type of surgery, there is little doubt he will once again return to a level that puts him among the league’s elite pitchers.
2014 Stats: 0-2, 2.70 ERA, 4.66 FIP, 2 GS, 10.0 IP, 6 K, 5 BB, 1.500 WHIP
8. Mark Trumbo, 1B, Arizona Diamondbacks
Career Stats: .248/.297/.471, 102 HR, 303 RBI, 83 2B, 230 R, 7.4 WAR
After Mark Trumbo was selected out of Villa Park High School in the 18th round (533rd overall) by the then-Anaheim Angels in 2004, he began a methodical march through the minor leagues until his debut in 2010. Since then, he has turned into one of MLB's elite power hitters.
True, he is a strikeout machine, but he’s slugged over .450 in each season since 2011. Currently on the disabled list with a stress fracture in his left foot, Trumbo will be counted on to help resuscitate the Arizona Diamondbacks once he returns.
2014 Stats: .210/.264/.506, 7 HR, 19 RBI, 12 R, 81 AB
7. Greg Holland, CL, Kansas City Royals
Career Stats: 14-8, 2.37 ERA. 2.10 FIP, 231.1 IP, 81 SV, 318 K, 85 BB, 1.115 WHIP, 7.8 WAR
Selected out of Western Carolina University in the 10th round (306th overall) of the 2007 draft by the Kansas City Royals, Greg Holland has earned the recognition that accompanies being the best closer in the American League.
He has been to an All-Star game. He also finished ninth in Cy Young voting and 15th in MVP voting last season after posting an audacious stat line that included 47 saves and a 0.866 WHIP.
Not bad for a guy who went 10-12 with a 4.22 ERA and 19 saves in college, per stats at NCAA.org. This season has been a challenging one for the Royals, but Holland has remained as dominant as ever. Credit scout Steve Connelly for the find.
2014 Stats: 0-1, 1.93 ERA, 1.82 FIP, 14 SV, 27 K, 6 BB, 1.125 WHIP
6. Sergio Romo, P, San Francisco Giants
Career Stats: 28-18, 2.34 ERA, 2.66 FIP, 71 SV, 315.2 IP, 353 K, 64 BB, 0.912 WHIP, 7.8 WAR
Drafted in the 28th round (852nd overall) by the San Francisco Giants in 2005 out of Mesa State College, Sergio Romo has developed into one of the elite relievers in the National League. And he isn’t afraid of the spotlight.
Take, for example, his performance during the Giants’ 2012 postseason run. In 10 appearances, he posted a minuscule 0.84 ERA, collected four saves in four opportunities and struck out nine batters in 10.2 innings. And oh, he fanned the best hitter in baseball at the time, Miguel Cabrera, for the final out of the World Series.
One could almost divest himself of the breadth of his accomplishments, focusing only on those statistics, and still come away with the feeling that the Giants were the smartest ones in the room when they picked him.
2014 Stats: 3-1, 3.27 ERA, 4.74 FIP, 22.0 IP, 16 SV, 18 K, 4 BB, 0.773 WHIP
5. Matt Carpenter, 3B, St. Louis Cardinals
Career Stats: .302/.380/.448, 140 RBI, 88 2B, 13 3B, 205 R, 8.0 WAR
Last season, Matt Carpenter led MLB with 126 runs scored and 55 doubles and was tied with Adrian Beltre for the league lead in hits with 199. Quite impressive for someone who was taken by the St. Louis Cardinals out of Texas Christian University in the 13th round (399th overall) in 2009. It’s impressive for anyone, actually.
What makes him so special is his ability to hit the ball to all fields with authority. And considering that he plays 81 games at Busch Stadium, it’s a trait that comes in handy. Taken after guys like Murphy Smith and Jordan Kreke, the third baseman was a fantastic pick for the Cardinals.
Now, Carpenter is struggling this season, but like others on the list here, there is little worry that he will come out ahead by the end of the year.
2014 Stats: .280/.373/.353, HR, 16 RBI, 35 R, 207 AB
4. Kris Medlen, SP, Atlanta Braves
Career Stats: 34-20, 2.95 ERA, 3.23 FIP, 61 GS, 512.2 IP, 434 K, 121 BB, 1.155 WHIP, 9.6 WAR
When Kris Medlen was drafted in the 10th round (310th overall) by the Atlanta Braves in 2006, he had just hit .332 with 10 home runs as the starting shortstop and saved 16 games for Santa Ana College, per stats pulled from the California Community College Baseball Coaches Association.
Good thing for everyone involved, the Braves chose to convert him into a starter in 2008. Unfortunately, Medlen underwent Tommy John surgery before this season, so how the rest of his career will unfold is unknown at the moment. There is no doubt, though, that given how dominant he was when healthy, he was a steal for the Braves.
2014 Stats: Has not pitched
3. Mat Latos, SP, Cincinnati Reds
Career Stats: 55-40, 3.35 ERA, 3.38 FIP, 137 GS, 849.2 IP, 785 K, 257 BB, 1.170 WHIP, 12.8 WAR
Mat Latos was drafted in the 11th round (333rd overall) by the San Diego Padres and never made it above Double-A. Yep, he was that good. And after his promotion in 2009, he never looked back, pitching at least 184.2 innings four years in a row.
Unfortunately, Latos was on the disabled list with a knee injury when the season began and then hurt his arm during a throwing session in April. It has been bad for the big right-hander. The good news is that he is set to return to the Cincinnati Reds in the near future and began a rehab assignment at Triple-A not too long ago.
2014 Stats: Has not pitched
2. Austin Jackson, CF, Detroit Tigers
Career Stats: .277/.342/.415, 45 HR, 218 RBI, 127 2B, 40 3B, 418 R, 75 SB, 19.2 WAR
Drafted in the eighth round (259th overall) by the New York Yankees in 2005 out of Billy Ryan High School after committing to Georgia Tech to play basketball, Austin Jackson was compared to a “late-career version of Marquis Grissom,” according to his draft report over at Baseball America (subscription required). That is an accurate statement.
Never known for possessing a ton of power, Jackson is adept at finding the gaps in the cavernous Comerica Park and has been a catalyst in the recent run of dominance the Detroit Tigers have enjoyed.
He was also the centerpiece in the trade that landed the Yankees Curtis Granderson. Scout Mark Batchko gets the nod for finding Jackson.
2014 Stats: .257/.323/.407, 3 HR, 17 RBI, 12 2B, 23 R
1. Ben Zobrist, 2B, Tampa Bay Rays
Career Stats: .262/.354/.432, 107 HR, 468 RBI, 202 2B, 29 3B, 506 R, 95 SB, 32.8 WAR
Selected in the sixth round (186th overall) out of Dallas Baptist University by the Houston Astros in 2004, Ben Zobrist has arguably become the best player on the Tampa Bay Rays. Look no further than his perpetually elevated WAR for proof.
Now, Zobrist isn’t off to his best start this season, but the same can be said for the majority of his teammates. Given his past performance, however, there is no reason to think that he won’t put up solid numbers by season’s end.
And either way, sixth-round draft picks don’t often turn into two-time All-Stars and finish in the top 20 in MVP voting three times.
2014 Stats: .260/.352/.364, 3 HR, 9 RBI, 24 R, 154 AB
Unless otherwise noted, all statistics are courtesy of Baseball-Reference and are accurate as of game time on Wednesday, May 28. Transaction, draft, injury and game information are courtesy of MLB.com.