Ranking the 10 lowest Draft picks to win MVP

July 10th, 2023

When 35-year-old  finally brought home the NL MVP trophy in 2022 after two runner-up finishes in 2013 and 2015 (not to mention three other top-six finishes between 2017-21), he made history in multiple ways. Not only was he the first St. Louis player to win the award since  went back-to-back in 2008-09. Not only was he the oldest MVP winner since 40-year-old won his seventh and final award in 2004. But Goldschmidt, the 246th overall pick by Arizona in the 2009 MLB Draft, also joined an elite fraternity: late-round picks to win an MVP award.

As this year’s MLB Draft moves into its final two days, it's worth remembering that stars don't always come from the highest selections. Here we spotlight the 10 players whose professional careers began in the Draft era (since 1965) to win MVP after either being taken outside the top 200 picks, or not being picked at all in a year in which they were draft-eligible.

(Note: This list only refers to the final time each player was drafted. For example, was drafted in the 50th round out of high school in 2005, but chose to go to college at Florida State, and was then drafted fifth overall in 2008. In a case like this, only his 2008 selection is considered.)

1. Kevin Mitchell, LF
Undrafted, 1980
1989 NL MVP

Mitchell is the only known MVP to go undrafted despite being eligible (as players from outside the U.S., its territories or Canada are not Draft-eligible). And his story is almost impossible to believe.

For one thing, Mitchell didn’t even play high school baseball, due in part to academic issues that led to him attending three schools. But according to the L.A. Times, Mitchell was miraculously discovered at an open tryout held by the Mets at Grossmont College in the fall of 1980, and he wowed the organization enough to be signed. From there, one of the most improbable career ascents in MLB history was on.

Mitchell’s first full-time MLB season was 1986, and he was a key contributor to what still stands as the Mets’ most recent World Series-winning team. He earned a unique spot in history by scoring the game-tying run on a wild pitch in the 10th inning of a legendary Game 6 against Boston, which came one pitch before the Bill Buckner error re-wrote MLB lore as we knew it.

Mitchell saw his most team success in 1986 (at least at the MLB level -- it’s hard to compare that run to his legendary slow-pitch softball exploits). But from an individual standpoint, his best season came in 1989, when he led MLB with 47 home runs and 125 RBIs with the Giants. That season also included Mitchell making one of the most legendary catches in MLB history, a bare-handed snag of an  foul ball in April.

Mitchell had another All-Star season in 1990, but he struggled with injuries after that, never playing 100-plus games in a season after his 30th birthday in January 1992.

2. , 1B
42nd round (776th overall), Cardinals, 1971
1979 NL co-MVP ()

Hernandez slid in the 1971 MLB Draft due to potential character concerns (according to the Society of American Baseball Research, he sat out his entire high school senior season after a disagreement with his coach over playing time). But he quickly proved his doubters wrong, becoming a full-time starter for the Cardinals by 1976.

His 1979 MVP season was Hernandez’s peak, but he finished his 17-season career as a five-time All-Star and two-time Silver Slugger Award winner. Defense was his specialty, as he won 11 consecutive Gold Glove Awards from 1978-88 -- that’s more total Gold Gloves than any other first baseman has in MLB history. Hernandez also was part of two World Series champion teams, doing so with St. Louis in 1982, and then alongside Mitchell with the 1986 Mets.

The Mets retired his No. 17 jersey in 2022. Younger MLB fans might recognize Hernandez more from his broadcasting career, as he is approaching two decades of calling Mets games for SNY.

3. , 2B
20th round (523rd overall), Blue Jays, 1989
2000 NL MVP

As it pertains to Kent, the most surprising aspect of his MVP award isn’t his draft status; it’s the fact that someone on Barry Bonds’ team who wasn’t named Barry Bonds managed to win the award.

Kent was similar to Hernandez in that he was also kicked off his high school baseball team, as a result of him pushing back against his coach attempting to switch him from shortstop to second base. Concerns regarding that incident, combined with a season-ending wrist injury during Kent’s junior year at Cal, led to his slide in that summer’s MLB Draft.

In the professional ranks, Kent did in fact move to second base -- and was damn good at it. Kent finished his career with 377 home runs, the most all-time by any second baseman.

20th round (511th overall), Phillies, 1978
1984 NL MVP

Sandberg excelled in football, basketball and baseball at North Central (Wash.) High School, and his stardom as a quarterback led to him signing a letter of intent to play “baseball and/or football” at Washington State. With baseball scouts believing that he was leaning toward football, his Draft stock declined, but the Phillies took a chance on him and were able to sign him with what was described by The Spokane Daily Chronicle as “a substantial bonus.”

After being traded to the Cubs following a 13-game debut with the Phillies in 1981, Sandberg made 10 consecutive NL All-Star teams from 1984-93, and his nine consecutive Gold Glove Awards from 1983-91 represents the all-time longest such streak from a second baseman. Sandberg also finished his career with seven Silver Slugger Awards, another all-time record for second basemen. Sandberg is the lowest-drafted player to both win an MVP and be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

5. , 1B
19th round (493rd overall), Yankees, 1979
1985 AL MVP

Mattingly’s Draft slide was somewhat parallel to Sandberg’s one year before him, as the threat of a college scholarship got in the way. After Mattingly set a still-standing state record with 25 career triples at Reitz Memorial (Ind.) High School, his father, Bill, insisted to scouts that his son would honor a commitment to Indiana State. But the Yankees took a chance on him, and they were able to sign him with a higher-than-expected contract offer.

Including his 1985 MVP season, Mattingly finished his career as a six-time All-Star and won nine Gold Glove Awards, the latter of which trails only the aforementioned Hernandez among first basemen.

Mattingly is one of five people to both win MVP and Manager of the Year, joining , , and .

6. , 1B
13th round (402nd overall), Cardinals, 1999
2005, 2008 and 2009 NL MVP

Long before Pujols became the fourth player in MLB history with 700 home runs, he was a child in the Dominican Republic, growing his love of baseball by playing catch with limes and using a glove made from a milk carton. But his family then moved to Missouri, kicking off what would be a meteoric rise.

After Pujols was walked in 55 of 88 plate appearances as a high school senior -- partially out of strategy, and partially out of protests from coaches who doubted that he was 18 -- Pujols was not drafted, leading to him attending Maple Woods Community College (Mo.). He hit .461 with 22 homers in his lone season there, convincing St. Louis to take a chance on him, and the rest was history.

7. , OF
15th round (392nd overall), Athletics, 1982
1988 AL MVP

Most of the prior entries on this list had some specific reason they slid in the Draft, whether it be character concerns, injuries, worries about college scholarships, and/or lack of opportunity. For Canseco, it was a bit simpler: he just wasn’t that good yet. He didn’t make the varsity team at Coral Park High School in Miami until his senior season in 1982. That spring, he had a breakout year, winning team MVP and convincing Oakland to take a chance on him despite only having a year of varsity experience.

That gamble quickly proved to be successful as Canseco, along with 1984 first-round pick , became the “Bash Brothers.” Canseco was the AL Rookie of the Year in 1986, and two years later, he won AL MVP while putting up MLB’s first-ever 40-40 season (40 home runs, 40 steals). Led by their two star sluggers, the A’s made three consecutive World Series from 1988-90, winning in 1989 against the Giants.

Canseco finished his career as a six-time All-Star and four-time Silver Slugger Award winner.

8. , RF
14th round (332nd overall), Pirates, 1970
1978 NL MVP

Parker was a successful baseball player at Courter Tech (Ohio) High School, but a serious knee injury during his senior football season perhaps led to some hesitation from scouts. But after Pittsburgh drafted him out of high school, his accomplishments quickly piled up.

He led the NL in slugging percentage in his third season in 1975. He won the NL batting title in 1977. In 1978, he led MLB in both batting average and OPS en route to the NL MVP Award. That led to him becoming the first player in MLB history to earn a $1 million per season contract, and that deal paid off as Pittsburgh won the World Series in 1979 (still the last time the Pirates have done so).

Parker went on to be teammates with Canseco on the 1989 World Series-winning A’s. He finished his career as a seven-time All-Star and three-time Silver Slugger Award winner.

9. , OF
11th round (250th overall), Expos, 1975
1987 NL MVP

Similarly to Parker, Dawson suffered a pair of serious knee injuries while playing high school football, pushing baseball scouts away and preventing him from earning a college scholarship as well. But Dawson was able to heal up enough to walk on to the baseball squad at Florida A&M, from where he was drafted by the Expos in 1975.

Dawson won NL Rookie of the Year and had two MVP runner-up finishes with Montreal, but his breakthrough finally came with the Cubs in 1987, when he led MLB with 49 home runs and 137 RBIs. He finished his career as an eight-time All-Star and eight-time Gold Glove Award winner, and he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2010.

10. , 1B
8th round (246th overall), D-backs, 2009
2022 NL MVP

Goldschmidt was arguably not even the best player on his state championship baseball team at The Woodlands (Texas) in 2006, after which he was drafted in the 49th round by the Dodgers. Goldschmidt chose to attend Texas State, and while he raised his stock there, he still became the lowest Draft pick in the 21st century who would proceed to win AL or NL MVP.

Over the nine-season span from 2013-21, Goldschmidt made six All-Star teams and won four Silver Slugger Awards. In 2022, an NL-high .981 OPS led to him finally bringing home the NL MVP trophy. Goldschmidt became the only player who was drafted outside the top 200 to win the award at age 35 or older.