Nice Guys Drafted Last: 20 years of last-round draft picks

Yet again, I’ve been passed over for the MLB draft, and I’m starting to think that at 25, three years out of college, and having never played baseball, my golden chance is diminishing. To assuage my disappointment, I went through the last 20 years of White Sox last-round picks to see how they ended up.

As nobody could have foreseen, most last-round draft picks don’t make the majors! Most of them don’t even sign. According to this Baseball America article, fewer than 7% of draft picks from the 21st round and later make the majors, and about 60% of them do not sign. Some of those in the last round are novelty picks, some are high schoolers who want to increase their odds of a higher-round placement in coming years, and some just have other plans.

So, the total is zero players drafted in the last round by the White Sox who a) signed with them and b) reached the majors. In fact, in the last 20 years, there have been two players drafted by the Sox to make the majors: Zach Jackson, who was in the 50th round in 2001, did not sign in favor of going to college, then was drafted by the Blue Jays 32nd overall in 2004; and Kevin Chapman, who was selected in 2009, elected to return to college, then signed with the Royals after being drafted in the 4th round in 2010.

That’s 2/20 to make it to the big leagues over the last two decades, which honestly is pretty good for such late rounds; definitely higher than 7%, at least by a little. But what about the other 18 prospects?

It’s common for a high school player to be drafted in a later round and turn down a deal in favor of college ball and a higher draft spot in a later year. This has happened a handful of times to Sox last-round picks. The aforementioned Zack Jackson and Kevin Chapman were two, and 2011’s Jack Graham was the third. Graham later signed with the Orioles after being drafted in the 38th round of the 2015 draft. He played two years in the minors.

Since 1997, only four players have actually signed out of the last round with the Sox. In 1997, 52nd-round pick Elio Borges signed and played two years, not making it past low-A (Borges was also drafted by the Sox in 1996 in the 53rd round, which was not the last round because at the time, the draft didn’t end until teams stopped picking, which in 1996 wasn’t until literally the 100th round). In 2002, college senior Matt Payne signed and also had a two-year career, both seasons at the rookie level. 2006 pick Brendon O’Donnell made it to three years between minor league and independent ball. Finally, 2007’s Ronnie Morales lasted just two years on Sox rookie league teams, but pitched independently until 2012.

For those keeping track, that’s 0/20 to make the majors with the Sox, 2/20 to make the majors with another team, 3/20 (including both who made the majors) to turn down a deal with the Sox and get drafted in a later year, and 4/20 to sign with the Sox in the first place.

Which leads us to the largest, saddest, and most inevitable category: players — mostly high schoolers — who did not sign with the Sox and never ended up playing pro ball. This is true of the last draft picks in 1998, 1999, 2000, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016, although 2015’s Joseph Reinsdorf (yes, his grandson) and 2016’s Drew Puglielli are still in college. Other interesting names in this group are Justin Hairston (1998, yes, his son/brother/nephew/grandson) and Freddie Mitchell (2000, who played for the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles for four seasons).

That leaves us with a final count  of 0/20 to reach the majors with the Sox, 3/20 to get re-drafted (including the 2/20 to reach the majors with any team), 4/20 to sign with the Sox, and 13/20 to not sign with the Sox or any other team. 2017’s last round Sox pick, Angelo Smith, is a high schooler with a college commitment to Michigan, so his ultimate draft fate will most likely be in the air for the next four years. He also represents the annual pick the Sox make from their wonderful ACE development program, and those players never sign out of high school (at least so far).

None of this is especially surprising. The odds are stacked against anyone trying to make the majors, and anyone drafted that late doesn’t generally have the kind of standout talent that draws the eyes of teams in earlier rounds. However, baseball is hilariously unpredictable (Mark Buehrle, 38th round draft pick), and weird stuff happens in those late rounds, so it’s worth keeping an eye on.

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Filed under: The Silo

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