As you may have already heard, making it as a major league baseball player is a pretty difficult thing to do. In case you haven't, here are some numbers. Back in 2013, Baseball America analyzed the first-year player drafts from 1987 through 2008 to determine what percentage of draft picks will actually reach the major leagues. The number they arrived at was 17.2%. And as you can imagine, the later you go in the draft, the worse your odds become.
Baseball America concluded that if a player is taken in the first round, his chances of making it to the majors is around 73%. That doesn't seem so bad, but keep in mind there are a lot more rounds to go. In rounds 6-10, the chances of making it go down to around 22%, and it gets as bad as 13% for rounds 11-20. Anything past round 20 means you should really think about your profession after baseball, as the odds are under 7%.
For this article, we'll take a look at the players who defied the odds by not only making it to the majors as a late round draft pick, but also performed at a decent level. For the list, we only considered players who were taken in rounds 20 or later, starting from the year 2000.
Lastly, the order of these rankings is based on how good or bad the player performed when they were in the big leagues, and how long they lasted. Some players on the list are still playing, so we took into consideration the potential they had moving forward.
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15 Dallas Braden: 2004, Round 24
Dallas Braden's career in the majors only spanned four seasons, but in his short time there he was able to accomplish a feat that most pitchers can only fantasize about. On Mother's Day of 2010, Braden pitched a perfect game against the Tampa Bay Rays. It was a tear-inducing story as Braden had lost his mother to cancer when he was in high school. 2010 would go on to be Braden's best and final full season. He posted an ERA of 3.50 with a record of 11 wins and 14 loses for the mediocre Oakland A's. The remainder of his career was hindered by shoulder injuries, which led to his early retirement. Braden now works for ESPN as a broadcaster.
14 Tommy Hanson: 2005, Round 22
Despite being drafted in the 22nd round, Hanson was able to excel through the minors, pitching his way to being named Baseball America's fourth best overall prospect in 2009. The Braves called him up in June that year and he continued to pitch well, finishing third in voting for the Rookie of the Year Award. Unfortunately, his career would take a dark turn in 2013 due to the death of his step-brother. He ended up taking a three-week personal leave to deal with the death. He signed minor league contracts with three different teams from 2013-14 before tragically passing away in 2015. His death was ruled an accident caused by cocaine use.
13 Brian Wilson: 2003, Round 24
Brian Wilson is another pitcher on this list whose career was shortened due to injuries. In fact, Wilson started his career coming off Tommy John surgery. The Giants used their 24th round pick on him in spite of that and he would eventually find a temporary home in the Giants bullpen. At the end of the 2007 season, he took over closing duties and held on to that role until 2012, when he needed a second Tommy John surgery. His best season came in 2010, when he saved 48 regular season games and six postseason games. He helped the Giants clinch the World Series by saving the final game against the Texas Rangers as he ended the his postseason performance without giving up an earned run.
12 Scott Feldman: 2003, Round 30
It's not uncommon for injuries or poor performance to force a starter into a bullpen role, but for Feldman, it was the exact opposite. After being drafted by the Texas Rangers in the 30th round, they decided to bring him up as a reliever in the minors. Then, when he pitched well out of the bullpen in the majors, they changed their minds. After having made a number of relief appearances from 2005-2007, the Rangers decided to convert him into a starter in 2008. In 2009, he finished with a 17-8 record, the best of his career, with a 4.08 ERA. Feldman has had a consistent career for as a back end of the rotation starter. In 2014, he signed a three year contract with the Astros, but prior to that, he had played for the Rangers, Cubs, and Orioles. His struggles this year have demoted him back to a bullpen role.
11 Rajai Davis: 2001, Round 38
Rajai Davis is primarily known as a speedster, covering plenty of ground in the outfield while also swiping his fair share of bases. He's played in the Majors for 11 season, and has compiled a career batting average of .268 with a .316 on-base percentage. He has been used as a platoon player for most of his career, but he's had successful seasons as an everyday player for Oakland, Toronto, and Detroit.
10 Sergio Romo: 2005, Round 28
Another closer for one of the San Francisco Giants World Series teams has found their way onto the list. Like Wilson did in 2010, Romo would go on to save the clinching game of the World Series in 2012. And he did it with a black beard too. Now, like his predecessor, Romo is struggling to stay healthy in what will likely be his final season with the Giants. He will hit the free agent market with a career ERA around 2.60.
9 Evan Gattis: 2010, Round 23
It's safe to say that Evan Gattis had one of the more unconventional paths to the big leagues. After hurting his knee in high school, he quit baseball and took a number of odd jobs. He struggled with depression and drugs, before returning to baseball after an old coach convinced him that he could get Gattis drafted. After one season of college ball, the Atlanta Braves selected the power-hitting catcher in the 23rd round. He could have potentially gone earlier had teams not been scared off by his drug rehab stint. Those teams probably regretted passing up on him by 2013 when Gattis was hitting moon shots for the Braves. During the 2014-15 offseason, Gattis was traded to the Houston Astros where he now plays primarily as the Designated Hitter while occasionally playing left field and catcher. He earned the nickname El Oso Blanco, or the white bear, for obvious reasons.
8 Jarrod Dyson: 2006, Round 50
If you are looking for the best value pick on this list, look no further than Jarrod Dyson. He was taken in the last round by the Royals, a round where only 1.2% of players make it to the big leagues. His career WAR, 10.5, is already the highest of any player who was drafted in that round, dating back to 1965. The craziest part about that is that he has spent most of his time with the Royals as a back up outfielder and pinch runner. His career as an everyday starter has only just started this season. Even though he will be 33-years-old by the time he hits the free agent market in 2018, he should still have a few good years left in him as a platoon outfielder/pinch runner.
7 Derek Holland: 2006, Round 25
When he's not impersonating Harry Caray or making appearances on the local news channel to give the weather forecast, Derek Holland can usually be found on the mound for the Texas Rangers. The southpaw worked his way through the Rangers farm system to being named the team's number two overall prospect in 2009. His career in the big leagues hasn't exactly lived up to the expectations, as he's been riddled with unfortunate injuries (like hurting his knee while playing with his dog) over the past two seasons. In 2013, he had his best year, pitching 213 innings with a 3.42 ERA.
6 J.D. Martinez: 2009, Round 20
Like many late round draft picks, J.D. Martinez didn't begin his Major League career with immediate success. While with the Houston Astros in 2012-13, he posted WAR totals of -1.0 and -1.2. Before the start of the 2014 season, the Astros decided to release him. That's when the Tigers scooped him up to a minor league contract, where he hit 10 home runs for their Triple-A team before being called up to the Majors in April of 2014. He would go on to hit 23 home runs that season and would follow that performance up with a 38 home run total in 2015.
5 Kevin Kiermaier: 2010, Round 31
Kevin Kiermaier has only played in two seasons for the Tampa Bay Rays, yet he's already accumulated a career WAR of 12.7. That's primarily because of his insane fielding and arm throwing abilities, which earned him a Gold Glove Award in 2015. Unfortunately, Kiermaier is currently on the Disabled List with a left hand fracture and could be out until August. The 26-year-old still finds himself in the number five spot on this list because he has a promising career ahead of him, especially if he can improve upon his hitting.
4 Adam LaRoche: 2000, Round 29
The most recent memory people have of Adam LaRoche was his strange and sudden retirement from baseball. He said he wanted to spend more time with his teenage son and that the White Sox didn't want his son in the club house. But before the drama, LaRoche was actually a quality player, surpassing 20 home runs in nine different seasons. Paul Swydan of Fangraphs realized that there haven't been many 29th round picks to have such successful careers and he compiled a list of the greatest 29th round picks. Only three other 29th round picks have compiled a career WAR greater than LaRoche's 11.2 mark.
3 Jaime Garcia: 2005, Round 22
One of the reasons why the Cardinals have remained consistently good throughout the 2000s is because of their ability to draft and develop players beyond the first round. Jaime Garcia is another example of that. In 2010, the left-hander finished third in Rookie of the Year voting with an ERA of 2.70. In 2011, he helped the Cardinals capture a Championship by pitching 10 innings in the World Series and giving up three runs while striking out 10. He could hit the free agent market as soon as this season if the Cardinals don't pick up his $12 million option for 2017.
2 Jason Bay: 2000, Round 22
During the mid-2000s, when the Pittsburgh Pirates were unwatchable, Jason Bay was one of the few bright spots on the team. He made the All-Star team in 2005 and 2006, and also hit over 30 home runs in each of those seasons. In 2005, the team signed him to a four year extension, but when his numbers started to dip, the Pirates shipped him to Boston. There, he made the All-Star team one last time in 2009, but it would be the last productive year of his career. In the 2009-10 offseason, the New York Mets signed him to a four year, $66 million contract that would prove to be one of the worst signings in team history. In 2013, at the age of 34, he tried to play one last time with Seattle, but was still unable to perform at the high level he once was. Still, out of all the guys on this list, Bay ranks second with a career WAR of 24.3.
1 Jose Bautista: 2000, Round 20
Jose Bautista easily takes the cake on this list, but his career did not get off to such a hot start. From 2004 to 2009 Bautista was a struggling role player, never amassing more than 16 home runs. He wound up playing for five different teams in 2004, making him the only player to have played for that many different ball clubs in a single season. Nobody wanted to keep him around until the Blue Jays traded for him in 2008. Towards the end of the 2009 season, hitting coach Dwayne Murphy suggested Bautista implement a leg kick to his swing. Thanks to that minor change, his career took off in 2010 as he led the league in home runs with 54. In fact, no player has more home runs since the 2010 season than Joey Bats.
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