Everyone talks about the top 10 and first round picks, but what have been the best hidden gems in the Major League Baseball Draft’s last 45 years or so?
From Albert Pujols (13th Round) to Mike Piazza (62nd Round) to Andy Pettitte (22nd Round), many superstars have been discovered well after being part of hundreds—if not thousands—of other players.
So, who’s in my personal top 10 list of under-the-radar, hidden gems in the past 45 years of MLB Drafts?
Drafted by the New York Yankees in the 19th round of the 1979 amateur draft, Don Mattingly spent 14 seasons in the pros—every one of them as a member of the Yankees.
Making his MLB debut on September 8, 1982 and playing his final game on October 1, 1995, Mattingly boasted a career batting average of .307 with 2,153 hits.
A nine-time Gold Glove winner, along with six straight All-Star appearances and three straight Silver Slugger awards, Mattingly was absolutely a hidden gem when New York drafted the first baseman and outfielder in the 19th round.
Orel Hershiser was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 17th round of the 1979 amateur draft.
Spending 18 seasons in the pros—making his debut on Sept. 1, 1983 before playing his final game on June 26, 2000—the three-time All-Star and one-time Cy Young award winner garnered a career 3.48 ERA with 2,014 strikeouts.
In 1993, Hershiser also won a Silver Slugger award for his batting ability—boasting a .356 batting average that season (26 hits, four doubles, and six runs batted in).
Drafted by the New York Yankees in the 24th round of the 1990 amateur draft, Jorge Posada made his MLB debut on Sept. 4, 1995—and he remains an active member of the Yankees to this very day.
A five-time All-Star and five-time Sliver Slugger, Posada has absolutely proven his worth—and then some—with a career batting average of .278 through 16 seasons and counting.
Posada also has a .239 batting average in postseason play (13 seasons, 26 series) with 21 doubles and 11 home runs.
Thus far in 2010, the catcher is currently batting .305 with eight doubles and six home runs.
Andy Pettitte was drafted by the New York Yankees in the 22nd round of the 1990 amateur draft, making his pro debut on April 29, 1995—spending three seasons as a member of the Houston Astros from 2004-2006 before returning to the Yankees in 2007.
In 2010, Pettitte is playing amazing baseball at 38-years-old for the Yankees—garnering a 7-1 record with a 2.47 ERA (through 11 games).
Spanning 16 seasons and counting as a Major League pitcher, Pettitte currently has a career 3.87 ERA with 2,201 strikeouts.
Drafted by the Houston Astros in the 30th round of the 1987 amateur draft, Darryl Kile made his MLB debut on April 8, 1991 before tragically dying at 33—playing his final game on June 18, 2002.
Kile, going 19-7 in 1997 as a member of the Astros, was a 20-game winner in 2000 as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals.
Over his 12 seasons in the pros, Kile garnered a 4.12 ERA with 1,668 strikeouts. His best season (in terms of ERA) came in 1997—as Kile boasted a 2.57 ERA that season in Houston.
Roy Oswalt, drafted by the Houston Astros in the 23rd round of the 1996 amateur draft, has been pitching in the majors for 10 seasons and counting—making his MLB debut on May 6, 2001.
Although Oswalt will likely be parting ways with the Astros this season, Houston’s ace has a 3.22 ERA in 2010 (but is just 3-8 overall through 12 starts).
With a career 3.23 ERA, Oswalt is a solid starting pitcher in the majors—playing consistent baseball on the mound for over a decade.
And 1,546 strikeouts later, Oswalt’s still throwing heat to this very day.
Drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 20th round of the 1978 amateur draft, Ryne Sandberg was an absolute diamond in the ruff.
Sandberg, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2005, spent 16 seasons in the majors—15 of those with the Chicago Cubs.
Making his MLB debut on Sept. 2, 1981 and playing his final game on Sept. 28, 1997, Sandberg has a career batting average of .285 with 403 doubles and 282 home runs.
After being traded to the Cubs shortly before the 1982 season, Sandberg spent a majority of his professional career in Chicago—and he’s recognized as one of the greatest second baseman to ever play the game.
Sandberg is currently the manager of the Iowa Cubs, Chicago’s Triple-A affiliate.
Mike Piazza was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 62nd round of the 1988 amateur draft (yes, you read that right—that says 62nd round).
The All-Star catcher and first baseman broke into the majors on Sept. 1, 1992 and played his final game on Sept. 30, 2007.
And being picked extremely late in the MLB Draft, Piazza could easily rank No. 1 as far as finds are concerned—as the 12-time All-Star spent 16 seasons in the pros.
Boasting a career batting average of .308 with 427 home runs and 1,335 runs batted in, Piazza has been both a fantastic batter and a phenomenal backstop through his time in the majors.
Piazza batted .300 or better nine straight seasons (1993-2001) and his best year—in terms of batting average—came in 1997 as a member of the Dodgers, batting .362 with 40 home runs, 32 doubles, and 124 runs batted in.
As much as I may personally dislike this guy as a die-hard fan of the Houston Astros since birth, I can’t argue against his worth.
Albert Pujols is a one-of-a-kind find; and he’s a damn good leader—both on and off the field of play.
Drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 13th round of the 1999 amateur draft, Pujols has a career batting average (spanning 10 seasons and counting) of .333 with 379 home runs.
Pujols made his MLB debut on April 2, 2001—and he’s been a terror for opposing pitchers ever since.
His best season came in 2003 when Pujols batted .359 with 51 doubles and 43 homers; though he’s been a consistent .300 or better batter his entire career.
In fact, his worst year at the plate had the All-Star Cardinal ending the 2002 season with a .314 batting average—along with 40 doubles and 34 home runs.
Need I say more?
The top three names in this list were absolutely the toughest to roll out in terms of who should fall at No. 1, but I personally believe Nolan Ryan deserves that nod.
Ryan, drafted by the New York Mets in the 12th round of the 1965 amateur draft, made his MLB debut on Sept. 11, 1966.
Nicknamed the “Ryan Express,” the All-Star pitcher spent 27 seasons in the majors and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1999.
Spending time with the Houston Astros, Los Angeles Angels, Texas Rangers, and Mets, Ryan garnered a career 3.19 ERA with 5,714 strikeouts (going 324-292 during that span).
The all-time leader in no-hitters with seven to his name, Ryan was an eight-time All-Star—appearing in his final game in the majors on Sept. 22, 1993 as a member of the Rangers.
Currently the president and partial owner of the Texas Rangers, Ryan is also the principal owner of the Round Rock Express—Houston Astros’ Triple-A affiliate (he also owns the Corpus Christi Hooks, Houston’s Double-A affiliate).
Not to mention Nolan Ryan Beef (and the fact he can fight—just ask Robin Ventura).
The Ryan Express is still chugging along, and the Hall of Fame pitcher is an all-around star: not only for his love of the game, but also for what he brings to baseball, fans, and the lives of those he touches both on and off the field of play.
Denton Ramsey may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org