Each team's best small school Draft pick

May 7th, 2020

College baseball has produced a galaxy of stars. The greatest hitter and pitcher of the last 50 years, Barry Bonds (Arizona State) and Roger Clemens (Texas), turned in memorable College World Series performances before entering pro ball. Last year's major award winners include Old Dominion's Justin Verlander (American League Cy Young), Stetson's Jacob deGrom (National League Cy Young) and Florida's Pete Alonso (NL Rookie of the Year).

Small colleges also have generated more standouts than you may realize. We highlight each team's best small college big leaguer below, considering players from four-year colleges outside the Division I level (at the time of their signing) and junior colleges. Five of them are Hall of Famers -- Andre Dawson, Mike Piazza, Kirby Puckett, Ozzie Smith, Jim Thome -- and the most famous is a sixth player who's a lock to join them in Cooperstown five years after he retires.

After coming to the United States from the Dominican Republic, Albert Pujols graduated early from Fort Osage High (Independence, Mo.) in December 1998 and enrolled at Maple Woods (Mo.) CC. He homered off Jefferson (Mo.) CC's Mark Buehrle in his first game and hit .461 with 22 homers that spring. But questions about his defensive position and his age led to him lasting 402 picks until the Cardinals took him in the 13th round.

St. Louis initially offered Pujols a $10,000 bonus, which he declined. After he hit .343 in the Jayhawk League, a college summer circuit that used wood bats, the Cardinals upped their offer to $60,000 and signed him in August. Less than two years later, he was their best player and remained so until he departed as a free agent a decade later.


Blue Jays: Orlando Hudson, 2B
Originally selected by the Blue Jays out of high school in the 33rd round of the 1996 Draft, Hudson didn’t sign with Toronto until the next year, after they took him in the 43rd round following one season at Spartanburg Methodist JC (Spartanburg, S.C.). He went on to become a 30.9 WAR player, making a pair of All-Star teams and earning four Gold Glove Awards while batting .273/.341/.412 across 11 Major League seasons.

Orioles: Doug DeCinces, 3B
DeCinces was drafted twice out of Los Angeles Pierce College, first by the Padres in the 18th round of the 1969 June Draft, then in the third round by the Orioles in the January Draft-Secondary Phase in 1970. He made his big league debut in 1973 and established himself at the hot corner by 1976. His outstanding defense and solid offensive production with the O’s and Angels resulted in over 1,500 hits, 237 homers and 41.7 WAR.

Rays: Kevin Kiermaier, OF
Selected in the 31st round of the 2010 Draft out of Parkland JC in Illinois, Kiermaier was already revered for his elite defense before blooming as a hitter during his 2014 rookie campaign. And while the 30-year-old’s production has backed up a bit in his past two campaigns, he still managed to compile at least a 2 WAR in both years and has been a 25.7 WAR player for Tampa Bay across seven seasons.

Red Sox: Curt Schilling, RHP
Part of baseball's last January Draft, Schilling went in the second round in 1986 and signed for $15,000 that May after helping Yavapai (Ariz.) JC reach the Junior College World Series. Schilling went from the Red Sox to the Orioles in a trade for Mike Boddicker and then to the Astros in a deal for Glenn Davis, but he didn't take off until he took his craft more seriously after Houston dumped him on the Phillies for Jason Grimsley in 1992. He would go on to win 216 games and three World Series, making six All-Star teams while posting the highest K/BB ratio (4.4) ever for a pitcher with 3,000 or more strikeouts.

Yankees: Andy Pettitte, LHP
Selected in the 22nd round of the 1990 Draft out of Deer Park (Texas) High, Pettitte opted to attend San Jacinto (Texas) JC, which allowed the Yankees to control his rights under the now-defunct draft-and-follow rule. Area scout Joe Robison signed him for $85,000 the following May, and Pettitte became a three-time All-Star who won 256 games in the Majors and five World Series with New York.


Indians: Jim Thome, 1B
The Indians had one of the best Drafts ever in 1989, signing 11 big leaguers, including Brian Giles (17th round), Curt Leskanic (8th) and Jerry Dipoto (3rd). The unquestioned highlight was a 13th-rounder from Illinois Central JC who would hit 612 homers and land in Cooperstown. Though most scouts thought Thome was just an awkward-looking shortstop at Illinois Central JC, the Indians' Tom Couston saw bat speed and projectable power and signed the future five-time All-Star for $15,000.

Royals: Kevin Appier, RHP
Taken with the No. 9 overall pick in the 1987 Draft out of Antelope Valley JC (Lancaster, Calif.), Appier finished third in the AL Rookie of the Year voting in 1990 and third in the AL Cy Young race three years later, when he led the league in ERA (2.56). Though he was an All-Star just once, the right-hander had eight 200-plus inning campaigns and finished his 16-year career with a 3.74 ERA in 2,595 1/3 innings, recording 169 wins as a 54.5 WAR player.

Tigers: Jason Thompson, 1B
A Cal State Northridge product whom the Tigers selected in the fourth round in 1975, Thompson made three All-Star teams -- two as a member of the Tigers (1977-78) -- during his 11-year career, accruing 25 WAR. He recorded a pair of 31-homer, 100-plus RBI seasons en route to a .261/.366/.438 career line and 208 homers.

Twins: Kirby Puckett, OF
Puckett began his college career at Bradley University but went back home to Chicago to Triton Junior College as a sophomore. The Twins’ Jim Rantz saw him play in a summer league, leading them to take him in the first round of the 1982 January Draft-Regular Phase before he went off at Triton and raised his profile. He was in the big leagues two years later en route to his Hall of Fame career.

White Sox: Mark Buehrle, LHP
Though Buehrle's fastball sat in the mid-90s during his freshman season at Jefferson (Mo.) CC, area scout John Kazanas loved his feel for pitching and persuaded the White Sox to take him as a draft-and-follow in the 38th round in 1998. He returned for his sophomore season before signing for $150,000 in May 1999 and reaching Chicago just 14 months later. Despite lasting 1,139 picks in the Draft, he won 214 games, four Gold Gloves and a World Series title, threw two no-hitters (including a perfect game) and earned five All-Star berths.


Angels: Tim Salmon, OF
Grand Canyon is now a Division I program coached by former big leaguer Andy Stankiewicz. But back when Salmon came out, as a third-rounder in 1989, it was in the NAIA. He went on to have the greatest career of any Lopes product, winning 1993 AL Rookie of the Year honors and finishing a 14-year big league career, all with the Angels, with a 40.6 WAR.

Astros: Roy Oswalt, RHP
Oswalt weighed 150 pounds and his fastball sat around 90 mph when he arrived at Holmes (Miss.) CC, but the Astros took a 23rd-round flier on him in 1996 and retained his rights when he went back for his sophomore year. His heater jumped into the upper 90s and he projected as a first-round pick in 1997, so Houston signed him that May for $475,000, the largest bonus in his draft-and-follow crop (which also included Marcus Giles, Travis Hafner and Kyle Lohse). Oswalt won a gold medal in the 2000 Olympics, then 163 games during a 13-year big league career that saw him make three All-Star teams.

A’s: Darrell Evans, 3B
Evans is best known as a power-hitting corner infielder who finished his career with more than 400 homers and a 58.8 WAR for the Braves, Giants and Tigers. Before that, though, he was drafted five times, once out of high school and four more times when he was at Pasadena City College, finally signing with the Kansas City A’s as a seventh-round pick in the 1967 June Draft-Secondary Phase. His time with the Athletics was short-lived, as the Braves took him in the 1968 Rule 5 Draft and he began his big league career with Atlanta in 1969.

Mariners: Tino Martinez, 1B
The University of Tampa is one of the best Division II programs in the country, one that had four players drafted in 2019 alone. But the best player in school history is undoubtedly Martinez, who was drafted by the Mariners in the first round of the 1988 Draft. He went on to amass a 29 WAR, play in two All-Star Games, win a Silver Slugger Award and, of course, help the Yankees win four World Series titles.

Rangers: Bill Madlock, 3B
Madlock drew more interest as a basketball and football prospect as an Illinois high schooler, but he opted instead to enroll at Southeastern (Iowa) CC to play baseball after the Cardinals selected him in the 11th round in 1969. Senators scout Ellsworth Brown spotted him playing an American Legion game that summer, leading his club to sign Madlock for $1,000 in the fifth round of the secondary phase of the 1970 January Draft. He barely played for the franchise, which had moved to Texas before sending him to the Cubs in a trade for Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins in October 1973, but Madlock went on to earn four batting titles, three All-Star nods and a World Series ring during a 15-year big league career.


Braves: Brett Butler, OF
The undersized Butler was a walk-on who made Arizona State’s junior varsity team as a freshman, but couldn’t get a scholarship. After he was noticed in a summer league, he transferred to the much, much smaller Southeastern Oklahoma State University and was twice named an All-American. The Braves took a flier on him in the 23rd round of the 1979 Draft and he was off and running, literally. Butler stole 558 bases and collected 2,375 hits (and 49.7 WAR) in a 17-year big league career.

Marlins: Josh Willingham, OF
Willingham set 14 school records in three seasons at North Alabama, where he was a two-time NCAA Division II All-American and a career .424 hitter with 30 homers and 70 steals. Signed by area scout Larry Keller for $16,000 in the 17th round in 2000, he homered 195 times in 11 seasons in the Majors and won a Silver Slugger Award in 2012.

Mets: Jody Davis, C
The Mets selected Davis out of Middle Georgia JC (Cochran, Ga.) in the 1976 January Draft-Regular Phase but traded him to the Cardinals in 1979. He was picked by the Cubs in the 1980 Rule 5 Draft and became a two-time All-Star and Gold Glove Award winner for the organization before joining the Braves in a 1988 trade. A 15.8 WAR player across 10 big league seasons, Davis ultimately batted .245/.307/.403 and threw out 35 percent of basestealers during his career.

Nationals/Expos: Andre Dawson, OF
Taken out of Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, The Hawk was the 1977 NL Rookie of the Year with Montreal and the '87 NL MVP with the Cubs, when he led the Majors with 49 homers and 137 RBIs. He would go on to play 21 seasons, hitting 438 homers and winning eight Gold Gloves during a Hall of Fame career.

Phillies: Kevin Gross, RHP
Gross was drafted, in the 32nd round of the 1979 June Draft by the Orioles, out of high school, but didn’t sign and first went to California Lutheran University, where he pitched in 1980. He moved on to Oxnard College in 1980 and the Phillies took him in the first round of the 1981 January Draft-Secondary Phase. He spent parts of 15 years in the big leagues, starting in 1983, and was a 1988 All-Star, finishing with 142 wins and a 27.7 WAR in his career.


Brewers: Lorenzo Cain, OF
A 17th-round pick (2004) who was a draft and follow player out of high school, Cain spent one year at Tallahassee Community College before beginning his pro career. Acquired by Kansas City after the 2010 season in the Zack Greinke trade, he finished third in the AL MVP voting and led Kansas City to a World Series title during a breakout 2015 campaign and finished seventh in the NL MVP race in ‘18, his first year back in Milwaukee after signing a four-year pact as a free agent. Overall, the 34-year-old outfielder has been a 36.1 WAR player in 10 seasons.

Cardinals: Albert Pujols, 1B
The 13th-rounder (1999) from Maple Woods CC (Kansas City, Mo.) kicked off his career by winning the 2001 NL Rookie of the Year. Since then, Pujols has been a three-time MVP, a 10-time All-Star, a batting champion and a two-time World Series champ while totaling 100.8 WAR across 19 seasons. The future Hall of Famer is one of four players (Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Alex Rodriguez) in baseball history to reach the 3,000-hit (3,202), 600-homer (656) plateau.

Cubs: Rick Reuschel, RHP
Reuschel succeeded his older brother Paul as the ace at Western Illinois (then an NAIA program), earning All-America honors in 1969 and going 16-4 with a still-standing school-record 1.94 ERA in two seasons. A third-round pick in 1970 who signed for $11,000, he was one of the more underrated pitchers of his generation, earning 214 victories, three All-Star berths and two Gold Gloves during 19 years in the Majors.

Pirates: Moises Alou, OF
Sure, Alou came from a famous baseball family (his father is Felipe, in case you’ve forgotten). But his baseball career began humbly, at Canada College, a two-year school in California. He was the second pick in the 1986 January Draft-Regular Phase, but only played in two games with the Pirates, in 1990, before being traded to the Expos. He went on to collect more than 2,100 hits and a 39.9 WAR, joining Harold Reynolds as Canada College’s most successful alumni.

Reds: Reggie Sanders, OF
Spartanburg Methodist College might be a junior college in South Carolina, but it’s produced some outstanding talent over the years, including Orlando Hudson and Mookie Wilson, though Wilson went on to the University of South Carolina before joining the Mets. Nobody had a better career than Sanders, who was initially drafted as a shortstop, but moved to the outfield in the Minors and finished with over 300 homers and 300 steals in a career that began as a seventh-round pick of the Reds back in 1987.


D-backs: Junior Spivey, 2B
The Cowley County CC (Arkansas City, Kan.) product turned down the Cardinals as a 28th-round pick in 1995 before signing Arizona the following year, after the D-backs had taken him in the 36th round. Though he garnered NL All-Star honors during a breakout sophomore campaign in 2002, batting .301/.389/.476 with 56 extra-base hits, the performance marked a high point for Spivey in a career that saw him slash .270/.354/.436 over five seasons.

Dodgers: Mike Piazza, C
Scouts had zero interest in Piazza as a Pennsylvania high schooler and still didn't see anything in him after he batted .364 at Miami-Dade North Community College as a sophomore in 1988. Famously drafted in the 62nd round as a favor to his godfather, then-Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda, he became the lowest pick (1,390th overall) ever enshrined in the Hall of Fame. One of the best offensive catchers ever, he signed for $15,000 and became a 12-time All-Star who set a record for home runs as a catcher (396 of his 427 overall).

Giants: George Foster, OF
Foster broke his leg playing basketball as a California high schooler and missed his senior season, but Giants bird dog Jack French spotted him in a fall league. Though he struggled offensively at El Camino (Calif.) JC, San Francisco drafted him in the third round of the 1968 January Draft -- one round after grabbing Garry Maddox -- and signed him for $2,000. Sent to the Reds in an ill-fated 1971 trade for Frank Duffy, Foster became a five-time All-Star who won an NL MVP Award, two World Series rings, a pair of home run titles and three RBI crowns.

Padres: Ozzie Smith, SS
A fourth-round pick in the 1977 Draft out of Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, Smith was a 15-time All-Star who captured 13 Gold Glove Awards during his 19-year career. The 2002 Hall of Fame inductee racked up 76.9 WAR along the way, slashing .262/.337/.328 with 580 steals and 1,257 runs scored in 2,573 games.

Rockies: Corey Dickerson, OF
The Rockies liked Dickerson after his first year at Meridian Community College in Mississippi, drafting him in the 29th round of the 2009 Draft. He went back to Meridian for another season and improved his stock by 21 rounds in 2010, signing with the Rockies as an eighth-rounder. He’s turned into a very solid big leaguer, getting to the Majors in 2013 and compiling a WAR of 13 to date, making him the second-most productive Meridian product after Cliff Lee (who went on to the University of Arkansas before becoming a pro).