Diamonds in the Rough: Baseball's Best Late-Round Draft Picks
Albert Pujols (1999) — 13th round, 402nd overall
The first round of the 1999 MLB Draft may have produced stars such as Josh Hamilton and Josh Beckett, but the Cardinals undoubtedly made the best pick that year by choosing Albert Pujols in the 13th round. Through 11 seasons in St. Louis, the nine-time All-Star, 2001 NL Rookie of the Year and three-time NL MVP maintained a .328 batting average, .420 on-base percentage, averaged over 40 home runs and 120 RBI per season. Though his numbers declined after he signed with the Angels in 2012, Pujols still belted 40 homers in 2015 and was named an All-Star.
Nolan Ryan (1965) — 12th round, 226nd overall
225 different names were called in the 1965 MLB Draft before the New York Mets rang Nolan Ryan's number. Ryan would go on to be arguably the greatest pitcher of the modern era, amassing a record 5,714 strikeouts and pitching seven no-hitters.
Ryne Sandberg (1978) — 20th round, 511th overall
The Phillies may have found Ryne Sandberg, but it was the Cubs who benefited from his talents. After being traded to Chicago, "Ryno" won nine Gold Gloves, seven Silver Sluggers and one NL MVP Award.
John Smoltz (1985) — 22nd round, 574th overall
When Detroit traded 20-year-old John Smoltz to the Braves for pitcher Doyle Alexander in 1987, it looked like the Tigers had gotten a good deal, as Alexander went 9-0 with a 1.53 ERA that year. Smoltz? He went on to win 210 games for the Braves and save 154 more.
Mike Piazza (1988) — 62nd round, 1,390 overall
Of the 1,433 people selected in the 1988 Draft, catcher Mike Piazza was No. 1390. Piazza, who was drafted by the Dodgers largely because then-manager Tommy Lasorda was friends with the Piazza family, went on to hit more home runs than any catcher in baseball history.
Jim Thome (1989) — 13th round, 331st overall
While Jim Thome may have spent time playing for five teams thus far in his career, it was with the team that drafted him — the Indians — that the lefty slugger made his name. Thome, who hit 337 home runs for Cleveland, ranks seventh all-time in career homers with 612.
Don Mattingly (1979) — 19th round, 493rd overall
Don Mattingly will forever be known as one of the most iconic Yankees of his generation. In his 14 years wearing pinstripes, "Donnie Baseball" played in six All-Star games, won nine Gold Gloves, and was named the 1985 AL MVP.
Keith Hernandez (1971) — 42nd round, 776th overall
Keith Hernandez surpassed the Cardinals' expectations when they drafted him in the 42nd round. Hernandez played in the majors for 16 years and won two World Series, 11 Gold Gloves, as well as the 1979 NL co-MVP Award.
Kenny Lofton (1988) — 17th round, 428th overall
Kenny Lofton, who, like Keith Hernandez, had a career that very easily could have landed him in the Hall of Fame (career .299 average and .372 OBP). Three years after taking a flyer on Lofton, the Astros traded him just 20 games into that career. Spending most of his time with the Indians, Lofton ultimately made six All-Star appearances, won four Gold Gloves, stole 622 bases and picked up 2,428 hits while playing for 11 teams that reached the postseason in his 17-year career.
Jeff Kent (1989) — 20th round, 521st overall
One of the best hitting second basemen of all time, Jeff Kent saw his career take off upon joining the Giants in 1997, eight years after being drafted in the 20th round of the 1989 Draft. He hit 175 home runs in six years with San Francisco and won the 2000 NL MVP Award.
Bret Saberhagen (1982) — 19th round, 479th overall
Just three years after Bret Saberhagen was drafted by the Royals, he won the AL Cy Young Award. And four years after that, he won another. A three-time All Star, Sabes retired in 2001 with a 167-117 record.
Mark Buehrle (1998) — 38th round, 1,139th overall
The White Sox drafted Buehrle, who went on to pitch for the team for over 10 years. In his career, Buehrle has won over 200 major league games, thrown a perfect game and a 27-batter no-hitter, made five All-Star teams, won four Gold Gloves, and remains one of the most durable pitchers in major league history.
Orel Hershiser (1979) — 17th round, 440th overall
Nine years after being selected in the 17th round of the 1979 Draft, Orel Hershiser led the Dodgers to the 1988 title. The right-hander, who won the Cy Young Award that year, had two victories in Los Angeles' 4-1 series win over Oakland.
Buddy Bell (1969) — 16th round, 373rd overall
Drafted by Cleveland, Buddy Bell was a five-time All-Star and six-time Gold Glove winner. He played 18 seasons in the majors and became a member of the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame.
Andy Pettitte (1990) — 22nd round, 594th overall
It's hard to believe that a key part of the great Yankees teams of the 1990's was found in the 22nd round of the 1990 Draft. Pettitte earned five World Series rings with New York. In 18 seasons, Pettitte compiled a 256-153 record with a 3.85 ERA and 2,448 strikeouts.
Kenny Rogers (1982) — 39th round, 814th overall
It's a miracle that Rogers was drafted at all. He didn't play baseball until his senior year of high school and was only noticed by the Rangers because they had come to his town to scout another player and were impressed enough by his arm strength at shortstop to consider drafting him as a pitcher. When selected, he was a 135-pound 17-year-old with virtually no pitching experience. Twenty-six years later, he retired with 219 major league wins, four All-Star appearances, five Gold Gloves and a perfect game to his credit.
Roy Oswalt (1996) — 23rd round, 684th overall
Oswalt, who played more than four seasons in the minor leagues, made a big splash in his rookie year with the Astros, going 14-3 with a 2.73 ERA. The Mississippi native made three All-Star appearances, had five finishes in the top-five of Cy Young voting, and was named the 2005 NLCS MVP. Oswalt retired in 2014 with a 163-102 record.
Ian Kinsler (2003) — 17th round, 496th overall
The Rangers late-round pick made four All Star appearances in his first nine seasons, during which he was good for a 40.7 WAR. Kinsler has remained a top-five second baseman through most of his career.
Jose Bautista (2000) — 20th round, 599th overall
Bautista is the definition of a late bloomer. It wasn't until 10 years after the Pirates drafted him that Joey Bats found his swing, leading the majors in home runs in both 2010 (54) and 2011 (43) with Toronto. Bautista was a six-time consecutive All Star from 2010-15.
Jake Peavy (1999) — 15th round, 472nd overall
Pitcher Jake Peavy was picked by the Padres in the 15th round out of high school in 1999. Five years later he went 15-6 with a 2.27 ERA and three seasons after that he won the NL Cy Young Award.
Mike Lowell (1995) — 20th round, 562nd overall
He may not ever be a Hall of Famer, but Mike Lowell had a far more productive career than his selection in the 20th round of the 1995 Draft might have predicted. Lowell was a four-time All Star and won the 2007 World Series MVP when he was with the Red Sox.