The picks that got away

Greg Fiume

Which draftees decided college was a better bet, then became stars anyway?

Every team has "should of" picks in the draft -- that is, players they probably should have drafted when they could. The Reds should have drafted Derek Jeter. The Rockies should have drafted Evan Longoria. Or, in Internet-baseball lingo: "should of."

But some teams actually got their hands on those players in the draft, but couldn't offer enough money to steer them away from college. Should of offered them more money, you silly teams. Here's a team made up of players drafted by another organization before they eventually turned pro and found success.

Catcher - Buster Posey (Angels, 50th round, 2005)

Russell Martin was drafted by the Expos in 2000, but Loria's offer was probably $100 in pennies. Couldn't risk the Canadian-born Martin making baseball more popular in Canada.

But Posey went in the 50th round. He slipped that far because of a strong commitment to Florida State, not because he was 5'2" at the time or anything like that. He was also drafted as a pitcher; remember, he was a a closer/shortstop who didn't convert to catcher until he was a sophomore in college.

Alternate universe: The Angels sign him, keep him as a reliever. He rises through the minor leagues, and he pitches for eight or nine years, setting up for a few years before kicking around. That's it. That's the alternate universe. It's a boring universe.

I wonder how many current relievers would be All-Star hitters if they were converted in college or shortly after leaving high school. This guy makes me wonder the same thing.

First base - Todd Helton (Padres, 2nd round, 1992)

There were a ton of first baseman to choose from -- more than any other position. Jason Giambi was drafted by the Brewers in the 43rd round in1989, Paul Goldschmidt went to the Dodgers in 2006 (49th round), Chris Davis was drafted by the Yankees in 2004 and the Angels in 2005, and Mark Teixeira was a 9th rounder for the Red Sox in 1998.

But Helton was a second-round pick, which means the Padres really thought they had a chance to sign him. Jason Giambi went to the A's three picks later. Ouch.

Alternate universe
Because Helton is the franchise first baseman, the Padres ask for someone other than Adrian Gonzalez in the Adam Eaton trade. Because Gonzalez hits so well in Oklahoma City, the Rangers feel comfortable moving Mark Teixeira a year earlier than they would have. Instead of Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, and Matt Harrison, the Rangers get Brandon Wood and Casey Kotchman -- a much better package.

Second base - Ian Kinsler (Diamondbacks, 26th round, 2001; 29th round, 2000)

The Diamondbacks clearly liked Kinsler, taking him both in 2000 and 2001. But when 2002 came around, they didn't like him enough to take him before the Rangers did in the 17th round. If you really like someone -- enough to draft him twice in two years -- just say "screw it," and take him in the fifth round. It's not like you're going to get a starter there anyway, so you might as well get your pet prospect.

Alternate universe
Because Kinsler is ready to take over at second, Orlando Hudson is never traded for Troy Glaus, who instead goes to the Tigers in a deal for Cameron Maybin. This trade leaves the Tigers short in their offer for Miguel Cabrera, who goes to the Rangers for Brandon Wood and Casey Kotchman.

Hey, at least Glaus helps the Tigers lose the 2006 World Series 4-2 instead of 4-1.

Shortstop - Stephen Drew (Pirates, 11th round, 2001)

Drew had the bloodlines, but he wasn't the top-tier prospect he would become after his tour with Florida State. He would eventually be the #1 talent in the 2004 draft, but he was a Scott Boras client who wanted a huge deal, and he slipped to #15 that year.

Alternate universe
Drew shows up to Pirates camp, where the baseball gods put a chloroform-soaked rag over his mouth and drag him away, replacing him with Drew Stephen, a concert pianist who has never played baseball before. Stephen is released in 2009 after getting 780 at-bats with the Pirates. His piano playing turns to crap when he's with the 2000s Pirates, too.

Third base - Michael Young (Orioles, 25th round, 1994)

Young was originally drafted by the Blue Jays and traded for Esteban Loaiza, so it's not too much of a stretch to imagine him with a different organization. Though you probably have trouble imagining him in a different uniform, seeing as he played his entire career in a Rangers uni before retiring last … wait, the Phillies? You don't say. Huh.

Alternate universe
Young does okay with the Orioles, and his stats aren't as inflated by his home park. Everyone thinks of him as a perfectly pleasant and capable baseball player, nothing more or less. The Internet doesn't argue about Michael Young anymore, and needing to fill the vacuum, everyone decides to argue about Kevin Mench instead.

Left field - Juan Pierre (Mariners, 48th round, 1996)

Man, what Pierre must have looked like as a hitting prospect to be that fast and still last until the 48th round. "Plus runner, future 70. Swings like the bat is a snake and the snake is trying to bite him and he's scared of snakes. Either rolls the ball into the infield with his nose like a Labrador, or else he doesn't have much of an arm. Fast, though."

Alternate universe
Pierre in left for the 2001 Mariners instead of Al Martin? 119 wins, easy. The thought of an in-his-BABIP-prime Pierre and Ichiro! at the top of the order sounds like just about the funnest team in the history of the game. The 2001 Mariners had that title already, but Pierre would have added to the embarrassment of riches.

Center field - Jacoby Ellsbury (Rays, 23rd round, 2002)

Ellsbury would have joined an outfielder factory that included Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli, and (eventually) B.J. Upton. The Rays also drafted Mike Pelfrey and Jason Hammel in the 2002 draft.

Alternate universe
Because Ellsbury and Upton come up as prospects together, the Rays trade Crawford to the Red Sox for Michael Bowden and Lars Anderson. Crawford helps the Red Sox win the World Series in 2007! He steals a base that gives everyone in America a free taco! Everyone in Boston loves Carl Crawford! Even after he suffers some nasty injuries in the first two years of a huge extension, everyone in Boston is still smitten.

"Ca-rl! Ca-rl! Ca-rl!" they chant to this day!

Right field - Hunter Pence (Brewers, 40th round, 2002)

Oh, man, what he must have looked like coming out of high school. Just a bunch of elbows and knees spinning around like the Tasmanian Devil, with eyes making up 44 percent of his body weight. I wonder if the Brewers would have messed around with his mechanics when he was that young, trying to make normal that which is not normal. Probably. Now I wonder if it would have worked and made Pence an even better hitter.

Alternate universe
The Brewers trade Pence to the Giants for Jason Schmidt, who helps the Brewers win the '07 World Series. Pence then lays eggs in San Francisco that hatch in an alternate universe (standard for Pence young) and help lead the Giants to a World Series in 2012, and those Pence then lay eggs that hatch in an alternate 1989 and help the Cubs win the World Series, which then lay …

Look, I know it doesn't make sense to your limited and linear human brain. But there were pictures of Pence carved into sarcophagi, you know. Here, put on these robes and I'll tell you more …

Pitcher - Barry Zito (Mariners, 59th round, 1996)

Zito was John Halama with longevity, and he would have gotten along with Safeco Field famously.

Alternate universe
Now I think we're up to 120 wins for the 2001 Mariners, and they're probably close to winning the pennant in this universe, too. Also, Zito plays electric guitar in this universe, which means he gets to play the cool parts of "Fade to Black" instead of the weenie parts.

Pitcher - Tim Lincecum (Cubs, 48th round, 2003; Indians, 42nd round, 2005)

The Cubs were taking a flyer on an undersized kid, but the Indians really tried to get him away from Washington, offering him $700,000, which would have freaked out MLB, especially that late in the draft.

Alternate universe
The Indians trade the farm to get Ubaldo Jimenez in 2011, cementing what is surely going to be the world's best pitching staff in 2012. Welp.

Pitcher - Max Scherzer (Cardinals, 43rd round, 2003)

When thinking about draft picks right now, and forming opinions on the high schoolers that your team selected, think about a player like Scherzer. You know how crazy his pitches and repertoire are now, right? Back in 2003, they weren't enough to get him drafted higher than 1,291st overall. So, so much development -- physically and mentally -- had to happen for Scherzer to get drafted in the first round just three years later.

Alternate universe
The Cardinals develop Scherzer into a good pitcher.

Stupid Cardinals.

Pitcher - Cliff Lee (Orioles, 20th round, 1998; Marlins, 8th round, 1997)

Lee's career path is so bizarre, who knows what would have happened if the Orioles or Marlins got him to sign? Sometimes I just stare at this game log and wonder what happened to turn that guy into the Cy Young winner the following year. Would it have happened in another organization? I guess that goes for every successful pitcher, but Lee especially.

Alternate universe
If he's with the Orioles in the early '00s, he breaks into a million pieces. If he's with the Marlins in the early '00s, he wins a World Series and gets traded for prospects when he becomes too expensive. Sometimes these things aren't that complicated.

Pitcher - David Price (Dodgers, 19th round, 2004)

The Rays didn't have to do a whole lot to get Price to the majors; he showed up after the draft, dominated, made eight more starts in Triple-A the next season, and then stayed up for good. It wouldn't have been like that with the Dodgers, and they didn't have an impeccable track record of turning raw arms into good pitchers until Clayton Kershaw showed up.

Though I guess Chad Billingsley was really good for a couple of years before turning into Joe Blanton, so Billingsley counts as a high-school success. Maybe Price would have fit right in and been the same ace that we're used to.

Alternate universe
Clayton Kershaw and David Price in the same rotation. Goodness. Part of me thinks that would mean no Zack Greinke or Hyun-Jin Ryu. Another part of me thinks it would have been Anibal Sanchez and those two just for the hell of it.

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