Hidden Draft gems lurk in middle, late rounds
Some of game's biggest stars waited to hear their names called
By the time the third round of the First-Year Player Draft concludes, as it will sometime Tuesday afternoon, more than 100 players will have been selected, what with three rounds of at least 30 selections each and compensation rounds in between.
Yet a goldmine of Major League talent awaits, lurking in the rounds to follow, there for the taking as teams keep making their selections.
Last year's streak-busting National League All-Star team, for instance, had no fewer than 14 players who had been drafted after the third round, and some of today's stars have emerged from middle to late rounds.
Only time will tell how many from this year's proceedings wind up surprising everyone who passed on them, but somebody -- or a few somebodies -- will.
Live coverage of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft resumes at noon ET Tuesday on MLB.com, where fans will receive exclusive coverage of Days 2 and 3, featuring a live pick-by-pick stream, expert commentary and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of every Draft-eligible player. You can also keep up to date at Draft Central and by following @MLBDraft on Twitter. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.
Watching the Drafts of past years, one might have seen a superstar flash by in the fifth round, or the sixth or the 13th, and not even known it.
Perhaps most celebrated of all, a 19-year-old named Albert Pujols was available until the 13th round in 1999, when the Cardinals made him the 402nd player selected overall -- and his Major League accomplishments need no introduction now. There are more extreme examples like Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista (20th round, Pirates, 2000) and White Sox left-hander Mark Buehrle (38th, 1998). But those are few and far between.
Here are a choice few players who went from being dodged in the first three rounds in the Draft to later becoming star performers in the bigs:
Cliff Lee, 2000: And, to think, 10 years later after being drafted by the Expos, he'd cause such an offseason fuss and get such a big contract. With his October pedigree and a Cy Young Award, Lee has accomplished plenty for a fourth-round pick. The same could be said for Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, Marlins ace Josh Johnson and Rays rookie Jeremy Hellickson, also fourth-rounders.
Ryan Howard, 2001: A Missouri product like Pujols, Howard lasted so long after a down final season at Missouri State. In four years, he was NL Rookie of the Year. In five, an MVP. In seven, a World Series champion. Nice fifth-round pickup for the Phillies. Rangers lefty C.J. Wilson is among the other players chosen in the fifth round now shining on the Major League stage.
Matt Kemp, 2003: Heavily recruited as a basketball player, the Dodgers center fielder was in the big leagues by 2006 and in 2011 is looking like an MVP candidate, perhaps having fully reached the potential that had been building the past few years. Others in the sixth round include Braves right-hander Tim Hudson (1997, A's), D-backs closer J.J. Putz ('99, Mariners) and the Rays' Ben Zobrist (2004, Astros).
Matt Holliday, 1998: Between Pujols and this guy, the Cardinals might have the market cornered on lower-picks-turned-stars. Holliday, drafted by the Rockies, spent parts of six seasons in the Minors before getting his Major League break, and after finishing fifth in the 2004 NL Rookie of the Year vote, has gone on to make four All-Star appearances. Marlins catcher John Buck was taken by the Astros two picks after Holliday, and Coco Crisp was a Cardinals seventh-round pick in 1999.
Kevin Youkilis, 2001: Not noted for his physical qualities or orthodox batting stance coming out of the University of Cincinnati, Youkilis lasted deep into the Draft and has become a cornerstone player for the Red Sox at both infield corners. Other eighth-rounders have included Yankees right-hander A.J. Burnett (1995, Mets) and Tigers center fielder Austin Jackson (2005, Yankees).
The steals continue down the board as the Draft continues each year, with someone like Rays right-hander James Shields (16th round, 2000) or Giants closer Brian Wilson (24th round, '03) emerging from the shadows.
But before those lightning-in-a-bottle picks in the later rounds, there is plenty of thunder to be made as the early rounds turn into the middle of the Draft.
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.