From The Playgrounds To The Pros In Three Months Or Less

Major League Baseball’s 2009 season is set to begin in less than a week, yet one of the biggest stories of the spring has been the future of San Diego State righthander Stephen Strasburg, widely considered one of the greatest pitching prospects in major league history. Were there no draft system in place (a possibility that undoubtedly fills the dreams of his agent, Scott Boras, every night), his courtship would likely resemble that of former Indians phenom Herb Score, who was pursued by almost every major league team out of high school before signing with Cleveland.

In Strasburg’s case, it is a foregone conclusion that he will be selected in the first round of the June draft; if he falls, it will only be because teams are unwilling to engage Boras in contract negotiations that are sure to extend above and beyond anything we’ve ever seen regarding an amateur player (with that said, there is no way Strasburg falls farther than third. Even if Washington and Seattle get silly and convince themselves that he’s not worth the hassle and huge money, the hometown Padres won’t let him slip away).

Regardless of where he ends up, Strasburg appears likely to at least make a cameo appearance in the majors before the end of the season. (He could end up with a clause in his contract guaranteeing a September call-up, as Andrew Miller did in 2006.) If he does, he will become the 38th first-round selection since the advent of the draft in 1965 to play in the major leagues in the same year he is drafted. This happened most often in the 1970s (17 times), fell largely out of practice in the 1980s and 1990s (11 times total), and has made a slight comeback in the 2000s (8 times). Ironically, the team with the first pick in this draft, Washington, is responsible for three of the most recent examples: Chad Cordero (when the franchise was still located in Montreal), Ryan Zimmerman, and Ross Detwiler.

No team, however, has ever pushed it’s first round draft picks into the limelight like the San Diego Padres of the 1970s. Starting with Jay Franklin in 1971, six of the team’s seven first-round selections appeared in the majors the same year in which they were drafted. It worked out exactly once, in 1973, when a big kid from the University of Minnesota named Dave Winfield had the first 141 at-bats of a Hall of Fame career. None of the other five distinguished themselves, though. Dave Roberts is best-known for not being THAT Dave Roberts, Bill Almon was the last player drafted out of Brown University, and Bob Owchinko has a cool name. And Brian Greer and Jay Franklin drank their proverbial cups of coffee before sliding from the limelight.

Only six of the 37 players (see the full list below) were drafted out of high school: Joe Coleman, Jay Franklin, David Clyde, Brian Greer, Tim Conroy, and Mike Morgan. Three of those – Clyde, Conroy, and Morgan – made their debuts in June, almost literally walking off the high school field and onto the major league diamond. And they were impressive at times. Morgan threw a complete game in his first outing; Clyde struck out eight, walked seven, and allowed just one hit in his debut.

It’ll be fun to look back in a few years, the more the better, and see where Strasburg falls in relation to these names. Will he be Kevin Brown, and 200-game winner who with a few more breaks and a few less injuries could have been a Hall of Famer? Or will he be Jim Gideon, the 21-year-old righthander from Taylor, Texas who started a game for the Rangers on September 14, 1975, pitched 5 2/3 innings, and never appeared in the majors again? Or will the team that drafts him keep him safely in the minors until 2010 or 2011 in a quest to protect that golden right arm? Only time will tell.

Conor Gillaspie, San Francisco Giants

Drafted: 2008, 37th, Wichita State
2008: 8 G, 5 AB, .200/.429/.200
Career: 8 G, 5 AB, .200/.429/.200

Ross Detwiler, Washington Nationals

Drafted: 2007, 6th, Missouri State
2007: 1 G, 1 IP, 1 SO, 0.00 ERA
Career: 1 G, 1 IP, 1 SO, 0.00 ERA

Andrew Miller, Detroit Tigers

Drafted: 2006, 6th, University of North Carolina
2006: 0-1, 8 G, 10.3 IP, 6 SO, 10 BB, 6.10 ERA
Career: 11-16, 50 G, 33 GS, 181.7 IP, 151 SO, 105 BB, 5.80 ERA

Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals
Drafted: 2005, 4th, University of Virginia
2005: 20 G, 0 HR, 6 RBI, .397/.419/.569
Career: 445 G, 58 HR, 258 RBI, .282/.341/.462

Craig Hansen, Boston Red Sox
Drafted: 2005, 26th, St. John’s
2005: 4 G, 3 IP, 3 SO, 6.00 ERA
Career: 4-9, 90 G, 87.3 IP, 6.39 ERA

Joey Devine, Atlanta Braves
Drafted: 2005, 27th, North Carolina State
2005: 0-1, 5 G, 5 IP, 12.60 ERA
Career: 7-2, 67 G, 65.3 IP, 2.48 ERA

Rickie Weeks, Milwaukee Brewers
Drafted: 2003, 2nd, Southern University and A&M College
2003: 7 G, 0 HR, 0 RBI, .167/.286/.250
Career: 445 G, 51 HR, 158 RBI, .245/.352/.406

Ryan Wagner, Cincinnati Reds
Drafted: 2003, 14th, University of Houston
2003: 2-0, 17 G, 21.7 IP, 1.66 ERA
Career: 11-9, 148 G, 165.3 IP, 4.79 ERA

Chad Cordero, Montreal Expos
Drafted: 2003, 20th, Cal State-Fullerton
2003: 1-0, 1 SV, 12 G, 11 IP, 1.64 ERA
Career: 20-14, 128 SV, 305 G, 320.7 IP, 2.78 ERA

J.D. Drew, St. Louis Cardinals
Drafted: 1998, 5th, Florida State
1998: 14 G, 5 HR, 13 RBI, .417/.463/.972
Career: 1209 G, 192 HR, 637 RBI, .284/.392/.502

Ariel Prieto, Oakland Athletics
Drafted: 1995, 5th, Cuba
1995: 2-6, 14 G, 9 GS, 58 IP, 4.97 ERA
Career: 15-24, 70 G, 60 GS, 352.3 IP, 4.85 ERA

Brian Anderson, California Angels
Drafted: 1993, 3rd, Wright State
1993: 4 G, 1 GS, 11.3 IP, 3.97 ERA
Career: 82-83, 291 G, 245 GS, 1547 IP, 4.74 ERA

Jeff Granger, Kansas City Royals
Drafted: 1993, 5th, Texas A&M
1993: 1 G, 1 IP, 27.00 ERA
Career: 0-1, 27 G, 2 GS, 31.7 IP, 9.09 ERA

Alex Fernandez, Chicago White Sox
Drafted: 1990, 4th, University of Miami
1990: 5-5, 13 GS, 87.7 IP, 3.80 ERA
Career: 107-87, 263 G, 261 GS, 1760.3 IP, 3.74 ERA

Lance Dickson, Chicago Cubs

Drafted: 1990, 23rd, University of Arizona
1990: 0-3, 3 GS, 13.7 IP, 7.24 ERA
Career: 0-3, 3 GS, 13.7 IP, 7.24 ERA

Ben McDonald, Baltimore Orioles
Drafted: 1989, 1st, Louisiana State University
1989: 1-0, 6 G, 7.3 IP, 8.59 ERA
Career: 78-70, 211 G, 198 GS, 1291.3 IP, 3.91 ERA

Gregg Olson, Baltimore Orioles

Drafted: 1988, 4th, Auburn University
1988: 1-1, 10 G, 11 IP, 3.27 ERA
Career: 40-39, 217 SV, 622 G, 672 IP, 3.46 ERA

Jack McDowell, Chicago White Sox

Drafted: 1987, 5th, Stanford University
1987: 3-0, 4 GS, 28 IP, 1.93 ERA
Career: 127-87, 277 G, 275 GS, 1889 IP, 3.85 ERA

Greg Swindell, Cleveland Indians
Drafted: 1986: 2nd, University of Texas
1986: 5-2, 9 GS, 61.7 IP, 4.23 ERA
Career: 123-122, 664 G, 269 GS, 2233.3 IP, 3.86 ERA

Kevin Brown, Texas Rangers

Drafted: 1986: 4th, Georgia Tech
1986: 1-0, 1 GS, 5 IP, 3.60 ERA
Career: 211-144, 486 G, 476 GS, 3256.3 IP, 3.28 ERA

Jerry Don Gleaton, Texas Rangers

Drafted: 1979, 17th, University of Texas
1979: 0-1, 5 G, 2 GS, 9.7 IP, 6.52 ERA
Career: 15-23, 307 G, 16 GS, 447.3 IP, 4.25 ERA

Bob Horner, Atlanta Braves

Drafted: 1978, 1st, Arizona State
1978: 89 G, 23 HR, 63 RBI, .266/.313/.539, NL Rookie of the Year
Career: 1020 G, 218 HR, 685 RBI, .277/.340/.499

Mike Morgan, Oakland Athletics
Drafted: 1978, 4th, Valley HS (Las Vegas, NV)
1978: 0-3, 3 GS, 12.3 IP, 7.30 ERA
Career: 141-186, 597 G, 411 GS, 2772.3 IP, 4.23 ERA

Tim Conroy, Oakland Athletics

Drafted: 1978, 20th, Gateway Senior HS (Monroeville, PA)
1978: 2 GS, 4.7 IP, 7.71 ERA
Career: 18-32, 135 G, 71 GS, 466.7 IP, 4.71 ERA

Brian Greer, San Diego Padres

Drafted: 1977, 8th, Sonora HS (Brea, CA)
1977: 1 G, 1 AB, 1 SO
Career: 5 G, 4 AB, 2 SO

Bob Owchinko, San Diego Padres
Drafted: 1976, 5th, Eastern Michigan University
1976: 0-2, 2 GS, 4.3 IP, 16.62 ERA
Career: 37-60, 275 G, 104 GS, 890.7 IP, 4.28 ERA

Danny Goodwin, California Angels

Drafted: 1975, 1st, Southern University and A&M College
1975: 4 G, 10 AB, .100/.100/.100
Career: 252 G, 13 HR, 81 RBI, .236/.301/.373

Rick Cerone, Cleveland Indians

Drafted: 1975, 7th, Seton Hall
1975: 7 G, 12 AB, .250/.308/.333
Career: 1329 G, 59 HR, 436 RBI, .245/.301/.343

Chris Knapp, Chicago White Sox

Drafted: 1975, 11th, Central Michigan University
1975: 2 G, 2 IP, 4.50 ERA
Career: 36-32, 122 G, 99 GS, 604.3 IP, 4.99 ERA

Jim Gideon, Texas Rangers

Drafted: 1975, 17th, University of Texas
1975: 1 GS, 5.7 IP, 7.94 ERA
Career: 1 GS, 5.7 IP, 7.94 ERA

Bill Almon, San Diego Padres

Drafted: 1974, 1st, Brown University
1974: 16 G, 38 AB, 3 RBI, .316/.350/.342
Career: 1236 G, 36 HR, 296 RBI, .254/.305/.343

David Clyde, Texas Rangers

Drafted: 1973, 1st, Westchester HS (Houston, TX)
1973: 4-8, 18 GS, 93.3 IP, 5.01 ERA
Career: 18-33, 84 G, 73 GS, 416.3 IP, 4.63 ERA

Dave Winfield, San Diego Padres

Drafted: 1973, 4th, University of Minnesota
1973: 56 G, 3 HR, 12 RBI, .277/.331/.383
Career: 2973 G, 3110 H, 465 HR, 1833 RBI, .283/.353/.475

Eddie Bane, Minnesota Twins

Drafted: 1973, 11th, Arizona State
1973: 0-5, 23 G, 6 GS, 60.3 IP, 4.92 ERA
Career: 7-13, 44 G, 25 GS, 168 IP, 4.66 ERA

Dave Roberts, San Diego Padres

Drafted: 1972, 1st, University of Oregon
1972: 100 G, 5 HR, 33 RBI, .244/.275/.321
Career: 709 G, 49 HR, 208 RBI, .239/.286/.357

Jay Franklin, San Diego Padres

Drafted: 1971, 2nd, James Madison HS (Vienna, VA)
1971: 0-1, 3 G, 1 GS, 5.7 IP, 6.35 ERA
Career: 0-1, 3 G, 1 GS, 5.7 IP, 6.35 ERA

Steve Dunning, Cleveland Indians

Drafted: 1970, 2nd, Stanford
1970: 4-9, 19 G, 17 GS, 94.3 IP, 4.96 ERA
Career: 23-41, 136 G, 84 GS, 613.7 IP, 4.56 ERA

Joe Coleman, Washington Senators

Drafted: 1965, 3rd, Natick HS (Braintree, MA)
1965: 2-0, 2 GS, 18 IP, 1.50 ERA
Career: 142-135, 484 G, 340 GS, 2569.3 IP, 3.70 ERA

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7 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Jay Babbitt on March 30, 2009 at 6:04 pm

    He wasn’t a first-rounder, but John Olerud (3rd Round – Blue Jays) went straight to the pros out of Washington State University in 1989 and stuck for good. He was a pretty good player for a long time.

    Reply

  2. Good call on Olerud, Jay. I wish I could’ve done later rounds as well, because I’m sure there are a few good ones (Xavier Nady would also fit the list), but it took me long enough to do the first rounders.

    Also, I should mention that the Baseball-Reference.com draft history was the source for all of this. What an amazing tool.

    Reply

  3. Posted by Emmett on March 30, 2009 at 10:22 pm

    Conor Gillaspie in 2008.

    Reply

  4. Right you are, Emmett. I’ve updated the post to include Gillaspie – although now that I think about it, I didn’t edit all the mentions of “37 players” and “Strasburg would be the 38th.” Oh, bother.

    Reply

  5. It’s funny the whole time I’m thinking Huston Street, but he was making the jump a year after he got drafted. Of course I used Baseball Reference to look it up 🙂

    Reply

  6. While not technically a first round pick, Olerud would have been a 1st round pick (maybe even #1) but he had every intention of finishing out his last year of college due to the aneurysm he suffered prior to his junior season. He didn’t think he was ready for professional leagues yet and he blatently told teams who were interested not to draft him as the chances of him signing were extremely small. The Blue Jays took a risk drafting him in the third round. The Jays top brass met with him several times and also dedicated a trusted scout to follow him during summer ball and when the scout gave his assessment he told the Jays he was major league ready and so the Jays convinced Olerud to sign by offering him first round money and gaving him a ticket to the Big Leagues. I beleive he was the first player in his draft class to make the bigs.

    Reply

  7. […] In the spring of 2009, I made a list of all the first round draft picks who reached the majors the same year they were drafted. There were 38 of them, the last being San Francisco’s Conor Gillaspie in 2008. […]

    Reply

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