The Draft, Day 3: Digging for gems
From Piazza to Ibanez to Hafner, late rounds have proven rich
NEW YORK -- The First-Year Player Draft will wind into its final day Wednesday, giving 30 teams a chance to find some prospects in the rough. Thirty-two players who were drafted after the 30th round made it onto Opening Day rosters this season, providing proof that late-round bargains can be found. In fact, two prominent former All-Stars -- Mike Piazza and Keith Hernandez -- were drafted well after that point.
Hernandez, a five-time All-Star, was drafted in the 42nd round by the Cardinals in 1971 and went on to win 11 Gold Gloves. Piazza was famously drafted by the Dodgers in the 62nd round as a favor to family friend Tommy Lasorda, and he wound up hitting 427 home runs in a 16-year big league career. And while there was certainly some luck involved in their emergence, you also have to credit the teams that found them at that point.
Damien Oppenheimer, the Yankees' vice president of amateur scouting, said there is no substitute for vigilance late in the draft.
"I think there's a combination of having a really good scouting staff that does their homework, and a little bit of luck, too," said Oppenheimer. "We got Evan DeLuca from New Jersey last year late in the Draft and he's been pitching down here [in Tampa]. You're talking about a high school left-hander that we got late that's throwing 93-to-95 [mph] down here with a good curveball and a changeup who should move through the system pretty quick. That's a credit to the scouting staff and a credit to Evan for what he did to work."
Two prominent veterans -- Raul Ibanez and Travis Hafner -- know what DeLuca might be going through. Ibanez was a 36th-round draftee by the Mariners in 1992 and methodically worked his way through the lower levels of the organization. Ibanez didn't carve out a full-time starting job until he was 30 years old, but he's managed to post more than 1,500 hits and 200 home runs in the Major Leagues.
Diamonds in the rough
Shields, in fact, was drafted so late that he didn't even hear about it until the next day.
"I found out in the mail the next day," he said. "My doorbell rang at about 9 a.m. and it was UPS or FedEx. It said Anaheim Angels on it, and I could barely open it. I called my parents and told them I'd been drafted. [Angels scout] Tom Kotchman called. A week before I drove up to Tampa and threw a bullpen for him and didn't think it went that well. I figured that was it.
"I drove to my dad's work and signed with my mom there, for $2,000. I was kind of pumped. I went to Boise and got started pitching for Kotchman."
Riske was taken in the 56th round in 1996, and Kapler was selected in the 57th round the year before. Now, the Draft only goes to 50 rounds, and some teams don't even make it that far.
Veteran infielders Julio Lugo and Orlando Hudson -- who have both carved out long and interesting careers for themselves -- were both taken in the 43rd round, an extremely deep position in the Draft.
And they're not alone. Kyle Blanks, who already has reached the Majors, has overcome the odds associated with being a 42nd-round draftee, and he's progressed to the point that the Padres consider him an important part of their future. Jake Wilson, a former scout with the Padres who was instrumental in drafting and signing Blanks, spoke about his development this spring.
"If I said I knew what Kyle would become, I would be lying," said Wilson, who now works in a scouting capacity for Tampa Bay. "I think that we were fortunate enough to get him. It was a real team effort on our part. Not just me, but all of the scouts who saw him."
And that doesn't just apply to Blanks, but to a host of players who have outperformed their modest Draft status. Brothers Adam and Andy LaRoche -- drafted in the 29th and 39th rounds, respectively -- have both made their late positions work out for them. Former big leaguer Marcus Giles was drafted in the 53rd round in 1996, and he still worked his way into a successful seven-year career.
For some reason, the 38th round has been extremely fertile over the years. Shields came out of that round in 1997, and the next year, the White Sox found four-time All-Star Mark Buehrle, who has thrown a perfect game and a no-hitter. Big leaguers Rajai Davis, Randy Wells and Mike Jacobs each came out of the 38th round in the last 15 years, giving that slot a strange claim to fame.
So, who will be next to join the big league fraternity of the underdrafted and overachieving ballplayer? Much of the first two days proceeded according to plan, making it hard to pinpoint a potential sleeper. And that's exactly the point: Teams spend an entire year scouting and preparing for the Draft, and after 30 rounds, most of the prominent names have already come off the board. The answer won't come tomorrow, next week or even next year. Players will sort themselves out according to ability to adapt and improve against the world's greatest ballplayers. And for fans of any or all of the league's respective teams, the intrigue comes in watching it all develop.
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.