Top of the World: From prospects to powerhouses
A look at the way some of the Fall Classic's biggest names came to stardom
The postseason's hottest player was never a hot prospect. Daniel Murphy was a 13th-round pick out of Jacksonville in 2006 who profiled as a line-drive hitter with below-average speed and defensive skills. That's exactly the type of big leaguer he became before he unexpectedly homered in a record six consecutive playoff games.
Both World Series clubs feature key contributors who didn't receive much hype in the Minor Leagues: Jacob deGrom, Lucas Duda, Jeurys Familia and Murphy on the Mets; Lorenzo Cain, Salvador Perez and Ben Zobrist on the Royals. But many of the players who will determine baseball's 2015 champion were regarded as elite prospects. Ten were first-round Draft picks, including five top-five selections, while five more were supplemental first-rounders and three were big-ticket international signings.
The Mets are as homegrown as any of the playoff teams this year, tying the Cardinals by signing and developing 15 members of their October roster. They have gotten a lot of mileage out of early Draft picks (first-rounders Matt Harvey and Michael Conforto, supplemental first-rounder David Wright) as well as late-rounders (seventh-rounder Duda, ninth-rounder deGrom, Murphy). New York's international program has been productive as well, tying the Dodgers with four foreign signees, most notably Familia and Wilmer Flores from the same class in 2007.
The Royals ranked third among postseason clubs behind the Mets and Cardinals with 11 homegrown players, including top-five Draft choices Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas. They've also found some amazing bargains on the international market, landing Perez for $70,000, Yordano Ventura for $28,000 and Kelvin Herrera for $15,000. Surprisingly, the Royals have a playoff-high seven free-agent acquistions on their roster, though they were thrifty signings topped by Edinson Volquez's two-year, $20 million deal.
Both clubs should remain contenders at least for the near future. Though both the Mets and Royals are in the process of replenishing their farm systems after graduating a slew of talented young players to the big leagues, most of the nucleus for both clubs should remain intact. Yoenis Cespedes and Murphy are the only vital free agents whom New York might lose, while Johnny Cueto, Alex Gordon (player option) and Zobrist are the only significant possible defectors in Kansas City.
Below, we rank the World Series participants based on their prospect status when they first arrived in the Major Leagues. Interestingly, the Royals drafted Luke Hochevar No. 1 overall in 2005 and brought him to Kansas City two years later -- yet he can't crack our top 15.
1. Alex Gordon, LF, Royals: The No. 2 overall pick in the '05 Draft out of Nebraska, he became the first player ever to win Baseball America's college and Minor League player of the year awards in consecutive seasons (Kris Bryant became the second). Gordon signed for $4 million and hit .325/.427/.588 in Double-A in his '06 pro debut, heightening the next-George Brett comparisons. He was as can't-miss as a prospect gets, but it took him five years and a move to the outfield to get his bat going in the Majors.
2. David Wright, 3B, Mets: As a high schooler in the Tidewater region of Virginia, he was likened to Michael Cuddyer (more on him in a moment) when New York selected him with the 38th overall choice in '01. Scouts always considered Wright a pure hitter, and his power suddenly blossomed in '04 when he hit .341/.441/.605 between Double-A and Triple-A. He joined the Mets that July at age 21 and never looked back.
3. Eric Hosmer, 1B, Royals: His $6 million bonus as the No. 3 overall selection in '08 set a record for up-front money for a high schooler (since broken by Bryce Harper and Bubba Starling). Hosmer struggled terribly in Class A in his first full pro season, 2009, but took off after having Lasik surgery that August. He won the high Class A Carolina League batting title (.354) and recorded a .977 OPS in 2010, then hit .439/.535/.582 in Triple-A in the first month of '11 before being called up to Kansas City.
4. Mike Moustakas, 3B, Royals: His bonus demands as a California high schooler nearly scared off the Royals and pushed them to take Josh Vitters with the No. 2 overall pick in '07, but Moustakas and the club reached a $4 million agreement the night before the Draft. He topped the low Class A Midwest League with 22 homers in his first full pro season and the entire Minors with 36 in his second before taking over Kansas City's third-base job in his third.
5. Noah Syndergaard, RHP, Mets: He made a late push as a high school senior in '10, dominating in the Texas 4-A state playoffs and going 38th overall to the Blue Jays. Signed for a below-slot $600,000, he continued to excel in four years in the lower Minors before Toronto sent him to New York as part of the R.A. Dickey trade in December '12. Syndergaard thrilled the Citi Field faithful at the 2013 Futures Game, led the Triple-A Pacific Coast League with 145 strikeouts in '14 and made five more overpowering PCL starts this year before joining the Mets in May.
6. Bartolo Colon, RHP, Mets: The Indians believed him to be 18 (he was actually 20) when they signed him for all of $3,000 out of the Dominican Republic in 1993. He emerged as one of the game's best pitching prospects by 1995, though he battled elbow issues that season and the next before joining Cleveland's rotation in mid-1997.
7. Yoenis Cespedes, OF, Mets: He set a standard for promotional videos with this gem and his talents were well known to scouts before he defected from Cuba in '11. Nevertheless, the Athletics stunned the industry by signing Cespedes to a four-year, $36 million contract in '12 -- a move that paid off immediately when he went straight to Oakland and slugged 23 homers as a rookie.
8. Alcides Escobar, SS, Royals: Signed for $33,000 by the Brewers and legendary scout Epy Guerrero out of Venezuela in '03, Escobar has been a smooth defender and a contact hitter since the day he stepped foot into pro ball. He debuted in Milwaukee at age 21 in '08 and went to Kansas City as the centerpiece of the Zack Greinke trade two years later.
9. Travis d'Arnaud, C, Mets: It was d'Arnaud and not Syndergaard who was considered the best prospect at the time in the Dickey trade. He was arguably the top catching prospect in baseball, and it marked the second time he had been dealt for a Cy Young Award winner. The Phillies drafted d'Arnaud 37th overall out of a California high school and signed him for $837,500 in '07, then shipped him to the Blue Jays in a package for Roy Halladay two years later.
10. Matt Harvey, RHP, Mets: New York strongly considered Zack Cox and Justin O'Conner with the No. 7 overall choice in 2010 before spending it and a $2,525,000 bonus on Harvey after he had an up-and-down college career at North Carolina. The Dark Knight recorded a 4.53 ERA in Double-A and a 3.68 mark in Triple-A before instantly overpowering big league hitters when he arrived in New York in August '12.
11. Steven Matz, LHP, Mets: He was New York's top Draft choice (second round) in '09 and signed for an over-slot $895,000, but the Long Island prep product didn't make his pro debut until three years later because of Tommy John surgery and subsequent complications. Matz really started to take off in '14 and starred in Triple-A for three months this year before bolstering the Mets rotation.
12. Michael Cuddyer, LF, Mets: In 1997, he and fellow Great Bridge High (Chesapeake, Va.) product John Curtice became the second pair of prep teammates taken in the first round of the same Draft. The ninth overall selection by the Twins, Cuddyer signed for $1.825 million. He totaled 28 homers in his first two pro seasons, then surprisingly dropped to six in '00 before rebounding to 30 and his first callup in '01.
13. Wade Davis, RHP, Royals: The Rays are known for developing their high school pitching prospects slowly and did exactly that with Davis after signing him for $475,000 as a third-rounder in '04. He made seven Baseball America Top 10 Prospects lists in various Minor Leagues as a starter, though his inability to develop a third pitch or his command led him to bullpen stardom after Kansas City got him in the James Shields /Wil Myers trade in December '12.
14. Yordano Ventura, RHP, Royals: One of several bargain international signings by Kansas City, Ventura garnered just a $28,000 bonus when he came out of the Dominican Republic in '08 because he was short and his fastball resided in the upper 80s. Ventura's velocity quickly surged into the triple digits, and once he developed some feel for his secondary pitches and throwing strikes, he went from high Class A at the start of 2012 to the Royals rotation by the end of '13. Tampa Bay wanted him in the Shields/Myers deal, but Kansas City refused and parted with Jake Odorizzi instead.
15. Johnny Cueto, RHP, Royals: His beginning is similar to Ventura's, as Cueto was a diminutive Dominican who signed with the Reds for $35,000 in '04. He showed feel for pitching more quickly, winning 15 games in his first full season in the United States in '06, reaching Triple-A in his second and beginning his third in Cincinnati.