The Biggest Draft Long Shots in the 2021 MLB All-Star GameJuly 13, 2021
The Biggest Draft Long Shots in the 2021 MLB All-Star Game
For the first time ever, Major League Baseball included the draft in the league's annual All-Star festivities in 2021. It shouldn't be long before some of this year's top prospects are playing in the Midsummer Classic.
Though, in fairness, some of this draft's lesser-known talents could also be All-Stars in the long run.
To illustrate this point, we've shone a light on 2021 All-Stars who began their professional careers as late-round picks and thus as long shots to ever achieve stardom. They're definitely the exceptions to the rule, yet they're nonetheless living proof that anyone can make it in baseball if they stay determined and work hard.
We'll start with some honorable mentions and then recount the stories of five players who were picked between the 13th and 39th rounds of previous drafts.
- LF Michael Brantley, Houston Astros: No. 205, 2005
- 3B Justin Turner, Los Angeles Dodgers: No. 204, 2006
- 2B Jake Cronenworth, San Diego Padres: No. 208, 2015
- RHP Mark Melancon, San Diego Padres: No. 284, 2006
- 2B Whit Merrifield, Kansas City Royals: No. 269, 2010
- RHP Jacob deGrom, New York Mets: No. 272, 2010
- RHP Ryan Pressly, Houston Astros: No. 354, 2007
- RHP Nathan Eovaldi, Boston Red Sox: No. 337, 2008
- RHP Brandon Woodruff, Milwaukee Brewers: No. 326, 2014
13th-Rounder: CF Cedric Mullins, Baltimore Orioles
2021 Stats: 88 G, 380 PA, 16 HR, 16 SB, .314 AVG, .380 OBP, .541 SLG, 151 OPS+, 3.8 rWAR
Though Cedric Mullins was hardly the first player to get drafted out of Campbell University, his selection at No. 403 overall in 2015 was the highest that a Fighting Camel had been selected since 2002.
All the same, Mullins had raised his stock by hitting .340 at Campbell in 2015. He continued to hit well in the low minors down the stretch of '15 and throughout 2016, after which he appeared as one of the Baltimore Orioles' top 30 prospects at Baseball America for the first time.
Yet even as Mullins elevated himself to the No. 8 spot among the organization's top prospects, he was still only seen as a fourth outfielder. He didn't do a whole lot to push back on that as he hit a modest .225/.290/.342 through his first 115 games with Baltimore between 2018 and 2020.
But after hitting .305 from the left side in 2020, Mullins had an idea: Why not just ditch switch-hitting?
It now seems obvious that he should have done so sooner, as his excellent offensive results are backed by generally above-average metrics. Considering that he's also performing as one of MLB's best defensive outfielders, he's as deserving an All-Star as anyone on the American League roster.
16th-Rounder: RHP Chris Bassitt, Oakland Athletics
2021 Stats: 19 G, 19 GS, 118.0 IP, 95 H (11 HR), 118 K, 29 BB, 3.28 ERA, 123 ERA+, 2.6 rWAR
Way back in 2011, Chris Bassitt was closing games for Akron when he caught the eye of the Chicago White Sox, who drafted him 501st overall and set about turning him into a starter.
Come 2013, Bassitt turned a corner when he put up a 3.08 ERA at High-A and Double-A. He began the following season as the White Sox's No. 15 prospect for Baseball America and eventually made his major league debut in August.
Then came a trade to the Oakland Athletics in December 2014, which initially begat a string of difficulties. To wit, Bassitt had Tommy John surgery in 2016 and returned to go back and forth between the minors and majors in 2018.
Then in 2019, Bassitt experienced a velocity spike that helped turn his sinker into perhaps the game's best. It's still a good pitch for him two years later, yet also one of just six pitches that he throws with regularity.
Thus does Bassitt show hitters many different speeds and movements, and he's no slouch when it comes to command within the strike zone. So after forcing his way into the AL Cy Young Award race in 2020, it was perhaps inevitable that he would be an All-Star in 2021.
19th-Rounder: LHP Josh Hader, Milwaukee Brewers
2021 Stats: 37 G, 24 GF, 36.1 IP, 16 H (2 HR), 63 K, 13 BB, 1.49 ERA, 281 ERA+, 2.2 rWAR
As a local boy who grew up an Orioles fan, Josh Hader's dreams came true when Baltimore drafted him with the 582nd overall pick in 2012.
Almost immediately after, Hader got a chance to strut his stuff at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in the Brooks Robinson All-Star Game, in which he whiffed three batters in two innings to put an exclamation mark on a season for Old Mill High School in which he starred with a 0.39 ERA.
The catch then was that Hader's fastball only sat in the 80s, but that quickly changed as he got into Baltimore's system and started getting into the 90s as he struck out 48 batters through his first 28.2 professional innings.
Hader was rising fast by the time the Orioles dealt him to the Houston Astros in July 2013, and he was still pitching well when Houston subsequently flipped him to the Milwaukee Brewers two years later.
Yet after he had posted a 5.37 ERA in 12 starts at Triple-A, the Brewers had the idea to call Hader up as a reliever in June 2017. That did the trick, as the southpaw has since ridden his overpowering fastball-slider combination to three All-Star selections and the most WAR of any reliever over the last five seasons.
20th-Rounder: DH J.D. Martinez, Boston Red Sox
2021 Stats: 84 G, 367 PA, 18 HR, 0 SB, .299 AVG, .371 OBP, .556 SLG, 147 OPS+, 2.7 rWAR
Though Nova Southeastern University isn't much of a baseball powerhouse right now, it had a moment in 2009 when it had four players get drafted.
One of those was J.D. Martinez, who immediately took on the look of a steal as he hit .348 in the low minors after Houston chose him 611th overall. Further excellence followed as he hit .341 at Single-A and High-A in 2010, which caught the attention of Baseball America.
Martinez was in the big leagues with the Astros the following July, and he acquitted himself well with a .274/.319/.423 line in 53 games. But then he had issues with his approach in 2012 and 2013, drawing 128 more strikeouts than walks in 199 games.
Apparently sensing that they had little to lose as Martinez continued struggling the following spring, the Astros released him in March 2014. Yet he was already developing a new and improved swing at that point, so there was some upside there when the Detroit Tigers subsequently scooped him up.
Seven years later, Martinez's swing has wrought all sorts of damage as he's hit .300/.368/.567 with 232 home runs since 2014. This year marks his fourth All-Star selection and may also ultimately bring his fourth Silver Slugger.
39th-Rounder: RF Jared Walsh, Los Angeles Angels
2021 Stats: 87 G, 354 PA, 22 HR, 2 SB, .278 AVG, .336 OBP, .556 SLG, 136 OPS+, 2.0 rWAR
Jared Walsh was a regular Shohei Ohtani for the Georgia Bulldogs back in 2015, putting up a 2.60 ERA in 14 pitching appearances while also hitting .306 as a regular in their lineup.
According to Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic, the then-college senior went into the 2015 draft under the impression that he would go between the seventh and 12 rounds as a pitcher. But it wasn't until the last pick of the 39th round (No. 1,185, to be exact) that the Angels came calling.
For the Angels, the idea was to have Walsh focus on hitting. But that would require retooling his swing so that, after he had hit only seven home runs in college, he would start hitting for more power.
Eventually, Walsh did just that as he cranked out 29 home runs across three minor league levels in 2018. He busted out even more power in 2019 as he hit 36 home runs in only 98 games at Triple-A.
Cut to now, and Walsh is one of only five players with as many as 31 home runs in the majors since last September. He thus may be on his way to being the best player ever drafted in a round that no longer exists.
Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Savant.