Straight To The Majors: The Players Who Skipped The Minors On Their Way to Pro Careers, Part I

Since the June amateur draft was instituted in 1965, twenty-one players have gone directly from the draft to the majors. We have their stories.

Baseball's amateur draft began in 1965. Since then, twenty-one players have taken an unusual path to their first major league game: bypassing the minor leagues altogether.

Just over half of the fast-trackers were pitchers. Eight played in the majors for seven seasons or less. Two played for more than twenty years. Only one is in the Hall of Fame. Two are still active.

In Part I, we'll tell the stories of the ten players who were drafted and debuted in the majors between 1967 and 1973.

In Part II, later this week, we'll cover the remaining eleven players who saw their first big-league action between 1978 and 2010.

Part I

Mike Adamson
The Orioles drafted Adamson, a right-handed pitcher, on June 6, 1967, out of the University of Southern California. He signed a contract on June 27 and pitched in his first major league game just four days later, in relief. Adamson threw two innings, giving up two hits and two runs. He was 19. By 21, he was retired from professional baseball with a career record of 0-4 and a 7.46 ERA in eleven major league games. Adamson was the first player to go directly from the amateur draft to the a major league team without playing any games in the minors.

Steve Dunning
Dunning, another right-handed pitcher, was drafted by the Indians in early June, 1970 out of Stanford University. He debuted on June 14, and was the winning pitcher in a game between the Indians and the Brewers. Dunning threw five innings, giving up five hits and two runs. He started sixteen more games for the Indians in 1970, racking up a 4-9 record and a 4.96 ERA. Dunning pitched seven seasons in the majors, plying his trade for Rangers, Angels, Expos and Athletics, in addition to the Indians. He compiled a career win-loss record of 23-41, with a 4.56 ERA.

But Dunning's claim to fame came as a batter. On May 11, 1971, he hit a grand slam for the Indians in a game against the Athletics, just before the Designated Hitter rule was adopted by the American League. He was the last American League pitcher to hit a bases-loaded home run until Seattle's Felix Hernandez did it an interleague game against the Mets on June 23, 2008.

Burt Hooton
The Cubs selected twenty-one year old right-hander Burt Hooton out of the University of Texas in the 1971 draft. On June 17, he pitched his first major league game, starting for the Cubs against Steve Carlton and the Phillies. Hooton lasted three-and-a-third innings, giving up three runs on three hits, and taking a no-decision. Hooton started only two other games in 1971. In only his fourth major league start, on April 16, 1972, Hooton threw a no-hitter for the Cubs against the Phillies at Wrigley Field. In his four-plus seasons with the Cubs, Hooton amassed a losing (34-44) record, but with a respectable 3.71 ERA.

The Cubs traded Hooton to the Dodgers during the 1975 season. He took the mound in Dodger Blue for the next ten seasons, compiling a record of 112-84, with a 3.14 ERA while throwing his trademark knuckle-curve. Hooton's best season was 1978, when he won 19 games, posted a 2.71 ERA and finished second in Cy Young voting to Gaylord Perry. Hooton also played a key role in the Dodgers' playoff runs in 1977 and 1978. He was named the NLCS MVP in 1978, winning Games 1 and 5, and giving up no earned runs. The Dodgers won the World Series in 1981 over the Yankees with Hooton pitching the Series-clinching Game 6.

After ten seasons with the Dodgers, Hooton finished his playing career with the Texas Rangers in 1985. He served as Astros pitching coach from 2000 through 2004.

Rob Ellis
Ellis was the first position player to go directly from the draft to a major league roster. Perhaps not the wisest choice. The Brewers drafted Ellis in the 1971 draft, out of Michigan State University. He debuted with Milwaukee on June 18, 1971 and got a pinch-hit single in his first major league at-bat, but it was all downhill from there. After another 128 plate appearances, Ellis sported a .198 batting average and was sent to the minors for a few years. Ellis was back with the Brewers for 28 games in 1974 and 1975, batting .289 in that span. He ended his career with zero home runs.

Pete Broberg
Broberg, another right-handed pitcher, debuted just two days after Ellis, starting for the Washington Senators against the Red Sox, on June 20, 1971. The Senators drafted Broberg out of Dartmouth College. He gave up three hits and two earned runs in six-and-a-third innings, but took a no decision when teammate Paul Lindblad couldn't hold the lead in the seventh.

Broberg bounced around the majors, pitching for the Rangers, Brewers, Cubs and Athletics, in addition to the Senators. His less-than-noteworthy career ended in 1978 with a 41-71 record and a 4.56 ERA.

Dave Roberts
There are four major leaguers named Dave Roberts. The one who was drafted in 1972, signed a contract with the Padres and debuted within 24 hours is Dave Wayne Roberts out of the University of Oregon. Roberts played shortstop in college, but bounced around the diamond as a pro, playing primarily third, but also catcher and second. His fielding flexibility may have been what kept him around, as he posted a career .239/.286/.357 slash over the course of ten seasons for the Padres, Rangers, Astros and Phillies.

Dick Ruthven
Ruthven was the first of four players drafted in June 1973 who made their direct-to-the-majors debut that season. Ruthven, yet another right-handed pitcher, was drafted by the Phillies out of California State University at Fresno. His first major league start on April 17, 1973 was inauspicious. Ruthven threw only an inning-and-two thirds, giving up four runs on five hits, before getting the hook.

But Ruthven had staying power, going on to a fourteen-year career with the Phillies, Braves and Cubs. His two best seasons were 1978 and 1980 with the Phillies, when Philadelphia made the playoffs, winning it all in 1980. His final line: 123-127, 4.14 ERA, and 1,145 strikeouts.

Dave Winfield
The Padres drafted Winfield fourth overall in the 1973 draft out of the University of Minnesota, where he was an All-American and MVP of the College World Series. As a pitcher. But Winfield was drafted as an outfielder, making him only the second position player to go directly to the majors from the draft. He debuted on June 19, playing left field and going 1-for-4 with a single and a run. It was the start of a Hall of Fame career.

Winfield played 22 seasons, the first eight with the Padres, the next eight-plus with the Yankees, and the final six with the Angels, Blue Jays, Twins and Indians. When he signed a free-agent contract with the Yankees after the 1980 season, it was for 10 years and $23 million, making Winfield the highest-paid player at the time. Despite all those years with the Yankees, Winfield didn't win a World Series until his 1992 season with the Blue Jays -- much to George Steinbrenner's chagrin.

Winfield ended his career with a slash of .283/.353/.475, a 130 OPS+, 540 doubles and 465 home runs. He played on twelve All-Star teams, won seven Gold Gloves and six Silver Slugger Awards. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2001.

David Clyde
Clyde was the first left-handed pitcher to go from the draft to the majors without stopping in the minors. And he did it out of high school. At the tender age of eighteen.

The Rangers drafted Clyde out of Westchester High School in Houston and he debuted on June 27, 1973 for Texas against the Twins and Jim Kaat. Clyde threw five innings, giving up only one hit and two runs for the win. But that may have been the height of Clyde's career, as he pitched on-and-off over the next six years for the Rangers and Indians, for an 18-33 record and a 4.63 ERA.

Many people, including major league manager Mike Hargrove, believe the Rangers rushed Clyde to the majors in order to attract attendance in the team's first year in Arlington. He was then overworked by the notoriously hard-driving Rangers manager Billy Martin. Within two years, Clyde had thrown his arm out and he never reached anything like his supposed potential.

Eddie Bane
The last of our 1973 draftees was Bane, also a left-handed pitcher. The Twins picked Bane 11th in the draft from Arizona State University and started him in a game on July 4 against the Royals. Bane did not disappoint, going seven innings, giving up one run on three hits, three walks and three strikeouts. It was his best chance for a win all season but he took a no-decision. Bane started five more games for the Twins in 1973 and appeared in seventeen other games in relief. He ended the season 0-5 with a 4.92 ERA.

Bane spent most of 1974 and 1975, and much of 1976, with the Twins' AAA squad in Tacoma, Washington, seeing limited action in the majors in 1975 and 1976. He last pitched in the majors in September 1976, ending his career with a 7-13 record and a 4.66 ERA.

With his playing days behind him, Bane turned to scouting. He's worked with the Rays, the Angels and is currently a scout for the Tigers. Bane's brother Dan is Chairman and CEO of Trader Joe's.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Ten players, rushed to the majors with no time for seasoning in the minors. One exceptionally successful career (Winfield), one successful career (Hooton), and one moderately successful career (Ruthven). The rest never blossomed beyond the promise they held in the amateur draft.

Look for Part II later this week.

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