10 MLB Stars Who Went from Cup of Coffee to Pot of Gold

Jason LempertCorrespondent IMarch 10, 2011

10 MLB Stars Who Went from Cup of Coffee to Pot of Gold

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    Is it skill, or the luck of the Irish that makes a ballplayer a star?Doug Benc/Getty Images

    It's almost St. Patty's Day. That means it's almost time for four-leaf clovers, leprechauns and, of course, the mystical pot of gold.

    So what better time to look at some major leaguers whose careers started as cups of coffee at the end of a season and have since blossomed into sheer stardom—pieces of gold in their respective clubs' pots?

    Some players begin their careers with the dawn of a new season. Others get their first call-up midway through the season.

    However, there are some who get promoted to the big leagues towards the end of a season, when the parent team is either in the midst of a playoff hunt or has already been eliminated and is holding early auditions for the subsequent season. They get called up for a cup of coffee.

    What you are about to see is a list players whose careers started within the last 20 years and fall into the latter category. On September 1, the major league roster limits expand to 40 players, which allows clubs to begin calling up their young prospects to get a taste of the high life. Since their call-ups, these players have gone on to have All-Star, and perhaps even Hall of Fame, careers.

Adam Wainwright: St. Louis Cardinals

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    Adam Wainwright was originally drafted by the Atlanta BravesElsa/Getty Images

    What a find Adam Wainwright has been for Tony La Russa and the St. Louis Cardinals. The 29-year-old was originally drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the first round of the 2000 draft. Three years later, they dealt him to the Cards, along with Ray King and Jason Marquis, for J.D. Drew and Eli Marrero.

    While Drew (and to a lesser extent Marrero) has gone on to have a good career, Wainwright is an ace in the making. He debuted with the Cards on September 11, 2005, and initially the club had him pitching out of the bullpen.

    Wainwright opened some eyes with his relief efforts during the 2006 playoffs, when he pitched 9.2 innings of shutout ball and accumulated four saves.

    But the following season, the Cardinals converted him into a full-time starter, and he broke out in 2009. That year, he led the league with 19 wins and ended with a 2.63 ERA and 212 strikeouts. He continued his dominance in 2010 with his first 20-win season.

    The Cardinals recently found out that they will likely be missing Wainwright for all of 2011, as he required Tommy John surgery. Though they are looking for someone to fill the gap, someone like Wainwright may be irreplaceable.

Dustin Pedroia: Boston Red Sox

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    It seems like only yesterday Dustin Pedroia made his Major League debut.Harry How/Getty Images

    Dustin Pedroia has come a long way in a short amount of time, playing second base for the Boston Red Sox. Drafted in the second round of the 2004 draft, Pedroia debuted with the Sox towards the end of August in 2006.

    Since then, he was named American League Rookie of the Year and MVP in back-to-back seasons. At 5'9", 180 lbs., he doesn't give much in the way of physical statue. But what he lacks there he provides in heart and spirit. He has some pop in his bat too, as demonstrated by the 17 long balls he hit in 2008 (his MVP campaign).

    In 2010 he suffered a broken foot as a result of a foul ball in June and missed the rest of the season. He's expected to be fully recovered and ready to resume his spirited play in Beantown for the 2011 season. The 27-year-old has a lot of heart and is certainly chomping at the bit to get back on the diamond.

Troy Tulowitzi: Colorado Rockies

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    Troy Tulowitzki was 21 years old when he made his Major League debutDonald Miralle/Getty Images

    In just a short amount of time, Troy Tulowitzki has become not just one of the game's elite shortstops, but one of the game's finest players all around. He has an absolute cannon for an arm, and the amount of power in his bat is astounding, particularly for a shortstop.

    Just shy of his 22nd birthday, Tulo got his career started on August 30, 2006, going 0-for-4 against the New York Mets. He played in 25 games that year and has been with the big club ever since.

    Aside from suffering through an injury-plagued 2008 season, Tulowitzki has been everything and more the Colorado Rockies could have asked for when they drafted him seventh overall in 2005. To show their appreciation, they signed Tulo to a seven-year extension this past offseason.

    It won't be long until Troy Tulowitzki becomes the National League MVP.

Ryan Howard: Philadelphia Phillies

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    Ryan Howard has become one of the most feared hitters in the game, in short amount of timeJonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    It's hard to believe that 2011 will mark eight seasons since Ryan Howard broke into the major leagues. The former 2001 fifth-round draft pick came up with the Phillies on the first of September 2004 and smacked two long balls in 19 games that season.

    The Phillies were so high on the big first baseman that they traded away future Hall of Famer Jim Thome at the end of the 2005 season, the season in which Howard was named National League Rookie of the Year. A season later, he was crowned league MVP when he hit 58 home runs and drove in 149 runs—both league highs.

    All in all, Howard has 253 home runs in his eight-year career, or an average of 47 per year. He recently turned 31 years old. If he is able to maintain that pace over the next five to six years, he should have no problems reaching 500 home runs. Not too bad for a guy who started as a cup of coffee.

Josh Beckett: Florida Marlins

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    Josh Beckett was the second overall pick by the Florida Marlins in the 1999 draft.Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images

    It seems like Josh Beckett has been pitching for the Boston Red Sox forever. But in case you forgot, he began his career in Miami, as a Florida Marlin.

    The Marlins drafted Beckett second overall in 1999, and he made his debut in September of 2001—and what a debut it was. He threw six innings of one-hit, shutout baseball against the Chicago Cubs on his way to his first of many major league victories.

    He's battled injuries over his career, most notably an issue with blisters. But even with that, Beckett has won 20 games (in 2007) and has two World Series rings (2003 Marlins, 2008 Red Sox). He's become a leader in the Boston rotation and, at age 30, will look to rebound from a disappointing 2010 season.

Mike Piazza: Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Mike Piazza broke in with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1991.Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Over his 16-year career, Mike Piazza became one of the best hitting catchers of all time, if not one of the best hitters all-around. He amassed 427 home runs and over 1,300 RBI.

    His major league debut came at the end of the 1991 season, when he appeared in 21 games for the Los Angeles Dodgers. The following year, he clubbed 35 home runs on his way to being the 1992 NL Rookie of the Year.

    He went on to play five games as a Florida Marlin before really launching his career as a member of the New York Mets. For seven years he re-established the franchise and made them at least respectable in the league for the first time since the late 1980s.

    Injuries and age got the best of him, as he finished his career with Oakland in 2007. He will most certainly be enshrined in Cooperstown, quite possibly on the first ballot.

Roy Halladay: Toronto Blue Jays

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    Roy Halladay's career did not get off on the right footScott Halleran/Getty Images

    Roy Halladay threw not one, but two no-hitters in 2010, including a perfect game during the regular season. He's a two-time Cy Young Award winner (including this past season), and he's won at least 20 games three times during his career.

    Believe it or not, though, there was a time where Doc was considering walking away from the game.

    He was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays 17th overall in 1995. September 20, three years later, he made his major league debut as a cup of coffee against Tampa Bay. He picked up a no-decision after pitching five innings and allowing eight hits and two earned runs.

    His second start was mightily impressive. He tossed a complete game against the Detroit Tigers, allowing one hit and one run (both of which came from a Bobby Higginson pinch-hit home run) and striking out eight.

    But it took a while for Halladay to enter elite status. In 2000, his ERA finished up at 10.64, and he had been demoted to Triple-A for about a month. That was the low point of his career. But instead of walking away, he picked his head up and only got better. Three years later he won his first Cy Young Award, and he has built himself a Hall of Fame résumé.

Ryan Zimmerman: Washington Nationals

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    Ryan Zimmerman - the Washington Nationals' third baseman and franchise playerNick Laham/Getty Images

    One thing that Washington Nationals fans have been able to count on the last several years is a high draft pick. That's what happens when a team constantly finishes at the bottom of the standings.

    In 2004, the Nationals (then the Montreal Expos) had the fourth-worst record in baseball, giving them the fourth pick overall in the 2005 draft.

    With that pick, they selected a third baseman out of the University of Virginia by the name of Ryan Zimmerman. After three months and just 73 minor league games, Zimmerman was playing in the major leagues. He debuted with the Nats on September 1 of that year and in 20 games collected 23 hits.

    Those 73 games would be the only games the 26-year-old would play in the minors. He has already accumulated a .288 batting average and 450 RBI in the big leagues.

    He is the face of the Nationals franchise and should continue on his path to stardom for many more years to come.

Jim Edmonds: California Angels

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    Jim Edmonds' incredible career came to an end earlier in 2011.J.D. Cuban/Getty Images

    During his illustrious 17-year career, Jim Edmonds wore a number of uniforms. But no matter where he was playing, you could be sure to see him on highlight reel after highlight reel.

    Edmonds, drafted by the California Angels in the seventh round of the 1988 draft, made his major league debut in September of 1993. By 1995, he was the regular center fielder for the Halos and swiftly made a habit of making some of the most magnificent catches anyone will ever see.

    After the Angels, he spent time playing for the Cardinals, Padres, Cubs, Brewers and finally the Reds. Earlier in 2011, Edmonds, 40, announced his retirement from the game of baseball. After playing in 2,011 games (ironic?), Edmonds' body had had enough. Although he is only seven home runs shy of the 400 club, Edmonds decided to hang up the spikes. He won eight Gold Gloves and was a four-time All-Star.

Cliff Lee: Cleveland Indians

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    Cliff Lee is now a part of one of, if not, the best rotations in baseball history.David Maxwell/Getty Images

    It's not very often a pitcher gets dealt to a team, helps that team make it to the World Series only to lose and then ends up with another team by the beginning of the next season. Well, this has happened to Cliff Lee...twice.

    Lee, 32, was drafted by the Montreal Expos in the fourth round of the 2000 draft. Two years later, he was traded to the Cleveland Indians in the deal that also brought Brandon Phillips and Grady Sizemore to the tribe and sent Bartolo Colon to Montreal.

    Later that year, Lee made his major league debut for the Indians. He had his breakout season in '05, when he won 18 games and struck out 143 batters. The Indians proceeded to trade him to the Philadelphia Phillies midway through the '09 season. Lee and the Phils made it to the World Series that season and lost to the New York Yankees.

    During that offseason, the Phillies dealt Lee to the Seattle Mariners in the trade that brought Roy Halladay to Philly. Last July, the Mariners sent Lee to the Texas Rangers, whom he helped bring to the World Series, which was eventually won by the San Francisco Giants.

    This past offseason, Lee returned to the Phillies with a five-year, $120 million contract. He and Halladay Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels form what could end up being the most dominant pitching rotation the game has ever seen.