Jacob deGrom and Current MLB Stars Who Were Never Highly Touted Prospects
With the MLB offseason drawing to a close and the start of spring training on the horizon, a number of publications have released their latest top 100 prospects lists for the upcoming year.
Some of baseball's best and brightest were among the game's top prospects before finding MLB success, justifying the hype on their way to stardom at the next level.
However, not all MLB stars take that path.
More than a few notable players began their pro careers as under-the-radar performers rather than highly touted prospects who were household names before their MLB debut ever arrived.
Ahead we've highlighted 10 current MLB standouts who never once appeared on the vaunted Baseball America top 100 prospect list. Players are listed based on their projected WAR for the upcoming season, via the Steamer projections system at FanGraphs.
First, some honorable mentions.
Other Notable Players Who Never Made a Top 100 List
Before we dive into our top 10, here are some other notable MLB standouts who never cracked the Baseball America Top 100 list, along with their projected 2020 WAR based on the Steamer projection system:
- 3B Justin Turner, LAD—3.8 WAR
- RHP Luis Castillo, CIN—3.8 WAR
- DH J.D. Martinez, BOS—3.6 WAR
- SP Corey Kluber, TEX—3.6 WAR
- 2B Jeff McNeil, NYM—3.5 WAR
- SS Paul DeJong, STL—3.5 WAR
- 1B Paul Goldschmidt, STL—3.4 WAR
- OF Tommy Pham, SD—3.3 WAR
- IF DJ LeMahieu, NYY—3.3 WAR
- RHP Dinelson Lamet, SD—3.3 WAR
- OF Ramon Laureano, OAK—3.2 WAR
- 1B Rhys Hoskins, PHI—3.0 WAR
- LHP Matthew Boyd, DET—3.0 WAR
- RHP Frankie Montas, OAK—3.0 WAR
- DH Nelson Cruz, MIN—2.9 WAR
- 3B Eugenio Suarez, CIN—2.9 WAR
- C Christian Vazquez, BOS—2.8 WAR
- OF Lorenzo Cain, MIL—2.8 WAR
- RHP Miles Mikolas, STL—2.8 WAR
- IF Max Muncy, LAD—2.7 WAR
- RHP Kyle Hendricks, CHC—2.7 WAR
- LHP Robbie Ray, ARI—2.7 WAR
- OF Bryan Reynolds, PIT—2.6 WAR
- OF Michael Brantley, HOU—2.6 WAR
- UT Luis Arraez, MIN—2.5 WAR
- LHP Jose Quintana, CHC—2.5 WAR
- OF Mark Canha, OAK—2.4 WAR
- 3B Kyle Seager, SEA—2.4 WAR
- OF Eddie Rosario, MIN—2.4 WAR
- LHP Dallas Keuchel, CWS—2.4 WAR
- 3B Brian Anderson, MIA—2.3 WAR
- C Roberto Perez, CLE—2.3 WAR
- 3B Yandy Diaz, TB—2.3 WAR
- LHP Joey Lucchesi, SD—2.3 WAR
- RHP Anthony DeSclafani, CIN—2.3 WAR
- 3B Eduardo Escobar, ARI—2.2 WAR
- OF Kevin Kiermaier, TB—2.2 WAR
- RHP Pablo Lopez, MIA—2.2 WAR
- RHP Zac Gallen, ARI—2.2 WAR
- 2B Cavan Biggio, TOR—2.1 WAR
- 2B Whit Merrifield, KC—2.0 WAR
- 3B Matt Carpenter, STL—2.0 WAR
- 2B Cesar Hernandez, CLE—2.0 WAR
- OF David Peralta, ARI—2.0 WAR
- RHP Adrian Houser, MIL—2.0 WAR
RHP Lance Lynn, Texas Rangers
2020 Projected WAR: 4.1
Lance Lynn was the No. 39 overall pick in the 2008 draft after racking up 332 strikeouts in 298.1 innings during his three seasons at Ole Miss.
His prospect peak came a few years later on the heels of a 2009 season where he logged a 2.85 ERA and 124 strikeouts in 148.2 innings over three minor league levels, reaching Triple-A to close out the year.
That was enough to vault him to the No. 3 spot among St. Louis Cardinals prospects heading into the 2010 season. He made his MLB debut in 2011 and became a full-time member of the MLB rotation the following year.
After a solid run in St. Louis that saw him post a 3.38 ERA in 977.2 innings, he signed a one-year, $12 million contract with the Minnesota Twins for the 2018 season and wound up struggling to a 4.77 ERA in 156.2 innings.
Despite those less-than-stellar numbers, the Texas Rangers took a chance on him with a three-year, $30 million deal last offseason. He rewarded them by finishing fifth in AL Cy Young voting on the strength of a 3.67 ERA (141 ERA+) and 246 strikeouts in a career-high 208.1 innings.
The 32-year-old was worth 7.6 WAR last season and a similar performance would go a long way toward helping the Rangers contend in 2020.
IF/OF Ketel Marte, Arizona Diamondbacks
2020 Projected WAR: 4.1
Ketel Marte put together a breakout 2014 season between Double-A and Triple-A as a 20-year-old to move into the No. 3 spot among Seattle Mariners prospects. However, he never cracked the top 100 prospect list.
Pushed aggressively from the onset of his pro career, Marte hit .304/.335/.411 with 32 doubles, six triples and four home runs in 2014. That was the same year fellow prospect and presumptive shortstop of the future Chris Taylor arrived in the big leagues.
When Taylor fell flat, Marte made his debut the following year and hit .282/.351/.402 for a 112 OPS+ in 247 plate appearances to seize the starting shortstop job.
He was then traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks prior to the 2017 season along with Taijuan Walker in a five-player swap that sent Jean Segura, Mitch Haniger and Zac Curtis to Seattle.
After his first season in Arizona, the D-backs front office saw enough potential in Marte to give him a five-year, $24 million extension and that now looks like one of baseball's best bargains after he put together a monster 2019 campaign.
The 26-year-old hit .329/.389/.592 for a 149 OPS+ with 36 doubles, 32 home runs, 92 RBI and 97 runs scored to finish fourth in NL MVP voting in a 6.9 WAR season. He's now one of baseball's brightest young stars.
RHP Mike Clevinger, Cleveland Indians
2020 Projected WAR: 4.2
Mike Clevinger looked like a rising star in the Los Angeles Angels system after a strong 2012 season made him the No. 4 prospect in the organization.
However, Tommy John surgery limited him to just 5.2 innings in 2013, and he returned in 2014 with a middling 4.41 ERA and 1.37 WHIP in 100 innings.
Things went from bad to worse the following season when he logged a 5.37 ERA in 55.1 innings with the team's High-A affiliate before he was traded to the Cleveland Indians at the deadline in exchange for reliever Vinnie Pestano.
His first full season with the Cleveland organization proved to be a coming out party as he finished with a 2.73 ERA and 1.06 WHIP to go along with 145 strikeouts in 158 innings.
He made his MLB debut the following year, and by 2017 he was a standout in the MLB rotation.
Over the past three seasons, he has a 2.96 ERA (152 ERA+) and 1.15 WHIP with 10.3 K/9 in 447.2 innings of work. Following the trade of longtime ace Corey Kluber, he will be counted on to lead the Cleveland staff in 2020 alongside breakout star Shane Bieber.
RHP Charlie Morton, Tampa Bay Rays
2020 Projected WAR: 4.2
Considering he did not fully break out until his age-33 season with the Houston Astros, it's not surprising to learn that late-bloomer Charlie Morton never appeared on a top 100 prospect list.
That said, he was a third-round pick in the 2002 draft by the Atlanta Braves, and he checked in as the team's No. 18 prospect at the start of the 2005 season.
After making his MLB debut in 2008, Morton was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates the following summer along with Jeff Locke and Gorkys Hernandez in exchange for outfielder Nate McLouth. He ended up spending seven solid seasons with the Pirates, logging a 4.39 ERA in 801 innings.
That was followed by an injury-shortened season with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2016 before he joined the Houston Astros on a two-year, $14 million deal and took his career to another level.
He had a 3.36 ERA and 1.18 WHIP with 364 strikeouts in 313.2 innings during his two years in Houston, making his first All-Star appearance in 2018 and earning a two-year, $30 million contract from the Tampa Bay Rays in the process.
His age-35 season saw him post career bests in ERA (3.05), ERA+ (146), WHIP (1.08), strikeouts (240), innings pitched (194.2) and WAR (5.1) en route to a third-place finish in AL Cy Young voting.
2B Jose Altuve, Houston Astros
2020 Projected WAR: 4.3
Even before he began his pro career, Jose Altuve was consistently overlooked as a result of his diminutive stature. Richard Justice of MLB.com laid out the circumstances surrounding his eventual signing with the Houston Astros:
"Altuve stood out for reasons that had nothing to do with baseball. He made sure guys got to English classes on time, led drills on the field and organized informal extra practices.
"He also led by example as the guy who worked the hardest, pushed himself the most and revealed a burning desire to be great. The Astros had twice turned him away from their Venezuelan academy, but Altuve kept showing up and getting put into games. While every scout believed Altuve's bat speed and instincts were special, they were reluctant to sign a 5-foot-5 infielder.
"Day by day, [Astros scout Al] Pedrique became convinced the kid had a chance and talked his bosses into a $15,000 signing bonus."
The only appearance he made on any top prospect list was as the No. 28 prospect in the Houston system following a 2010 season where he hit .301/.357/.448 with 40 extra-base hits and 42 steals in 125 games between Single-A and High-A.
He made his MLB debut the following year and was the team's everyday second baseman and an AL All-Star by 2012.
His reputation has taken a hit following the team's sign-stealing scandal, but it's hard to ignore his .315 career average, three AL batting titles and 2017 AL MVP win.
LHP Patrick Corbin, Washington Nationals
2020 Projected WAR: 4.4
Overshadowed by fellow Arizona Diamondbacks pitching prospects Tyler Skaggs and Wade Miley during his climb through the minor league ranks, Patrick Corbin never checked in higher than the No. 9 spot on the organization's top 30 list.
The left-hander actually began his career with the Los Angeles Angels, who selected him in the second round of the 2009 draft out of JUCO powerhouse Chipola College.
Despite middling numbers throughout his time in the minors, Corbin turned in a strong MLB debut in 2012 before earning a spot on the NL All-Star team the following year when he posted a 3.41 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in a career-high 208.1 innings.
He missed the entire 2014 season and a good chunk of 2015 recovering from Tommy John surgery and struggled to a 5.15 ERA in 155.2 innings in 2016 before re-emerging as one of the game's better southpaw starters.
A huge uptick in his strikeout rate from 8.4 to 11.1 K/9 to go along with a 3.25 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in 200 innings in 2018 came at the perfect time. He turned his fifth-place finish in NL Cy Young voting into a massive six-year, $140 million contract with the Washington Nationals and helped lead them to a World Series title last year.
RHP Shane Bieber, Cleveland Indians
2020 Projected WAR: 4.6
A fourth-round pick out of UC Santa Barbara in 2016, Shane Bieber turned heads after signing and then rocketed through the minors to reach Double-A in his first full professional season.
He wrapped up 2017 with a 2.86 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and 162 strikeouts in 173.1 innings over three minor league levels, climbing from No. 21 to No. 5 on the Cleveland Indians' top 30 prospect list in the process.
A brilliant start in the upper levels of the minors the following year included a 1.47 ERA and 0.79 WHIP with a 77-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 79.2 innings, and he made his MLB debut on May 31, 2018.
Below the surface of a forgettable 4.55 ERA in 114.2 innings during his first taste of MLB action, he posted a promising 3.23 FIP and 9.3 K/9 against 1.8 BB/9, foreshadowing bigger things to come.
Last year, he finished with a 3.28 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 259 strikeouts in 214.1 innings, recording three complete games and two shutouts on his way to finishing fourth in AL Cy Young balloting.
The 24-year-old may have never been viewed as an elite-level prospect during his rapid ascent through the Cleveland system, but he has quickly established himself as one of the game's most exciting young pitchers and the new ace of the staff.
3B Jose Ramirez, Cleveland Indians
2020 Projected WAR: 5.1
Jose Ramirez is the third Cleveland Indians player on this list. That says something about the organization's ability to identify and develop under-the-radar talent.
Despite hitting .304/.355/.411 over five minor league seasons, Ramirez never climbed higher than the No. 9 spot among Indians prospects, due in part to his limited defensive profile and lack of power production.
He made his MLB debut on Sept. 1, 2013, and it looked like he would settle in as a light-hitting utility player after posting an uninspired .239/.298/.346 line and 76 OPS+ in 635 plate appearances over his first three seasons in the big leagues.
Instead, he came out of nowhere to hit .312/.363/.462 with 60 extra-base hits in a 4.1 WAR season in 2016, and then followed that up with back-to-back third-place finishes in AL MVP voting.
It was a tale of two halves for the 27-year-old in 2019:
- Pre-AS Break: 364 PA, .218 BA, .652 OPS, 24 XBH
- Post-AS Break: 178 PA, .327 BA, 1.105 OPS, 35 XBH
That strong bounce-back performance at the plate after the All-Star break has him poised for another big season in 2020.
3B Josh Donaldson, Minnesota Twins
2020 Projected WAR: 5.3
The No. 48 overall pick in the 2007 draft by the Chicago Cubs, Josh Donaldson was traded to the Oakland Athletics the following summer in a six-team deal that sent Rich Harden to the Cubs.
His prospect peak came during his brief time with the Cubs when he opened the 2008 season as the No. 7 prospect in a thin system, and he failed to crack Oakland's top 10 prospect list despite a lengthy stay in the minor leagues.
He finally carved out a regular MLB role in 2012 at the age of 26, hitting .241/.289/.398 with 16 doubles and nine home runs in 294 plate appearances.
That was followed by a breakout performance as the team's everyday third baseman the following year when he hit .301/.384/.499 with 37 doubles, 24 home runs and 93 RBI in a 7.7 WAR season to finish fourth in AL MVP voting.
Since the start of his breakout 2013 season, his 43.6 WAR trails only Mike Trout (61.5) and Max Scherzer (47.0) among all players, and a healthy 2019 campaign earned him a four-year, $92 million contract from the Minnesota Twins this winter.
RHP Jacob deGrom, New York Mets
2020 Projected WAR: 6.1
Jacob deGrom never ranked higher than the No. 10 prospect in the New York Mets system, and he showed very few signs of the pitcher he would become during his time in the minors.
During his final minor league season in 2013, he posted a lackluster 4.51 ERA and 1.45 WHIP with just 120 strikeouts in 147.2 innings.
Not what one might expect from a future back-to-back NL Cy Young winner.
A strong start at Triple-A the following year earned him an early call-up, and he went on to win NL Rookie of the Year honors as a 26-year-old with a 2.69 ERA and 144 strikeouts in 140.1 innings.
He has not missed a beat in the years since, posting a 2.62 ERA and 1.05 WHIP with 1,255 strikeouts in 1,101.2 innings over his six MLB seasons.
Aside from the impressive counting numbers, he's been worth 32.7 WAR, which is good for 14th among all active pitchers despite his relatively small sample size.
As far as out-of-nowhere prospects emerging as MLB stars, deGrom is the cream of the crop in today's game.