These stars took express lane from Draft to bigs
Could the next quick-impact star be in the 2020 Draft?
The list of players who went straight to the Show without stepping foot on a Minor League field includes Hall of Famers like Dave Winfield, Catfish Hunter and Sandy Koufax, but the truth is we might never see that phenomenon again. Right-hander Mike Leake was the last big leaguer to skip the Minors entirely when he debuted in 2010.
Instead, even the biggest modern-day stars have at least dipped their toes in the Minors before making a quick impact in the big leagues. One of the best examples is Nationals ace Stephen Strasburg, who as perhaps the most hyped pitching prospect in history, played one Arizona Fall League season and then tore through Double- and Triple-A (1.30 ERA) before striking out 14 Pirates in his Major League debut, 10 years ago this week.
Could we see someone taken in this week’s Draft blow through the Minors and star as soon as next summer? If so, they’ll join this list of recent players who needed very little seasoning before they became household names in MLB. We’re looking at those who debuted in this century, and did so within roughly two years of when they heard their names called on Draft day. Players are listed in reverse chronological order by the date of their debuts.
Drafted 2016 (fourth round) / Debuted with Indians on May 31, 2018
Bieber finished his first big league campaign with an extraordinary 118-to-23 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and then got even better in Year 2, capturing the 2019 All-Star Game MVP and finishing fourth in American League Cy Young Award voting.
Drafted 2015 (fourth round) / Debuted with Cardinals on May 28, 2017
DeJong’s power blossomed immediately as he led all NL shortstops with 25 homers and finished runner-up to Cody Bellinger in the NL Rookie of the Year vote. His glove was just as impressive, convincing the Cardinals to sign him to a six-year extension before his sophomore campaign.
Drafted 2014 (10th overall) / Debuted with Mets on July 24, 2015
Conforto was a Golden Spikes Award finalist with Oregon State, and in the summer of 2015 the Mets promoted him straight from Double-A just over a year after they drafted him. He belted two homers in Game 4 of that year’s World Series, becoming the third-youngest player to go deep twice in a Fall Classic game behind Andruw Jones (1996) and Tony Kubek (1957).
Drafted 2014 (fourth overall) / Debuted with Cubs on June 16, 2015
Schwarber won the 2015 Futures Game MVP and then knocked 16 homers in only 69 games after the Cubs promoted him from Triple-A. He memorably clubbed a mammoth homer that landed atop the Wrigley Field scoreboard in that fall’s NLDS victory over the Cardinals. A collision with Dexter Fowler the following spring knocked Schwarber out of action, but he returned in time to play postseason hero for Chicago’s ‘16 World Series champion club.
Drafted 2013 (second overall) / Debuted with Cubs on April 17, 2015
Bryant tore up Triple-A pitching to the tune of a 1.036 OPS in 2014, but it took an injury to starting Cubs third baseman Mike Olt to get Bryant up to the big league lineup. The Las Vegas native finished the year with 26 dingers and 99 RBIs, winning NL Rookie of the Year honors and powering Chicago to an NLCS appearance.
Drafted 2011 (18th overall) / Debuted with Athletics on July 10, 2013
Gray helped transform Vanderbilt University into the powerhouse it is today, leading the Commodores to their first College World Series berth as ace of the staff. He made a couple of appearances for the A’s in the summer of 2013 before he was sent back down, then came back in August and pitched lights out down the stretch for Oakland. Gray battled Tigers ace Justin Verlander admirably twice in that year's ALDS, giving up only three runs across 13 innings.
Drafted 2011 (first overall) / Debuted with Pirates on June 11, 2013
Cole memorably turned down the Yankees in 2008 to attend UCLA, raising his Draft stock to the first overall pick three years later. He struck out his first big league hitter on three pitches, including the last one at 99 mph, and later claimed NL Rookie of the Month honors for September after finishing the month 4-0 with a 1.69 ERA. Cole made two starts in that fall's NLDS against the Cardinals, dominating St. Louis in Game 2 but taking a tough-luck loss in the decisive Game 5.
Drafted 2012 (19th overall) / Debuted with Cardinals on May 30, 2013
Wacha was in the Majors less than a year after he threw his last pitch for Texas A&M University, having posted a microscopic 0.86 ERA in his first summer in the Minors. He mowed through big league hitters, too, compiling a 2.78 ERA and coming up an out short of a no-hitter in his last regular-season start. Wacha was even better in October, allowing just one run over his first three postseason starts and claiming NLCS MVP honors while leading St. Louis to the World Series.
Drafted 2011 (14th overall) / Debuted with Marlins on April 7, 2013
Fernández made three unsuccessful attempts to defect to the United States from Cuba before he finally succeeded. He made the 2013 NL All-Star team after debuting in April, captured the league's Rookie of the Year Award and finished third in Cy Young Award voting with a 12-6 record, 2.19 ERA and 187 strikeouts. A boating accident killed Fernández in September 2016, tragically cutting a promising life and career short.
Drafted 2010 (seventh overall) / Debuted with Mets on July 26, 2012
Harvey set a Mets record with 11 strikeouts in his big league debut and finished 2012 with an impressive 2.73 ERA and 70 strikeouts over his first 10 starts. His legend grew in Queens the next year as he started the All-Star Game at Citi Field and put himself in Cy Young Award contention with a 2.27 ERA before a torn UCL required season-ending Tommy John surgery.
Drafted 2010 (first overall) / Debuted with Nationals on April 28, 2012
Harper debuted at Dodger Stadium less than three years after Sports Illustrated profiled him on its cover at age 16. He switched from catcher to outfield to accelerate his path to the Majors. Harper slugged .729 in the Arizona Fall League, hit nearly .400 in Spring Training and tore through the Minors before capturing 2012 NL Rookie of the Year honors with 22 homers for the Nats. Harper joined Andruw Jones as the second teenager to homer in the postseason, going deep in Game 5 of the NLDS before the Cardinals came back to win the game and the series.
Drafted 2009 (25th overall) / Debuted with Angels on July 8, 2011
Trout didn't draw many headlines in his first cups of coffee in 2011, but his first full season the following year ranks among the greatest rookie campaigns in history. Trout paced the Majors in runs and steals, led the AL in OPS+, robbed homers in center field and finished runner-up to Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera in the MVP race.
Drafted 2009 (first overall) / Debuted with Nationals on June 8, 2010
Strasburg's 14 strikeouts are the second most put up by any pitcher in his big league debut, delivering on the hype that drew record crowds to see his Minor League starts. His K/9 rate stood at 12.2 over his first 12 starts before a torn UCL in his elbow necessitated Tommy John surgery that kept him out of action until the following September.
Drafted 2008 (third round) / Debuted with Braves on May 7, 2010
Kimbrel earned a pair of call-ups with the Braves in 2010, finishing that summer with a 0.44 ERA and 40 strikeouts in 20 2/3 innings. That dominance continued into '11, when Kimbrel captured the first of his four straight NL save titles, broke the Major League record for saves by a rookie, won the NL Rookie of the Year Award and finished ninth in NL Cy Young voting.
Drafted 2006 (third overall) / Debuted with Rays on April 12, 2008
The Rays were so sure of Longoria's potential that they signed him to a six-year extension just six days after he made his debut. By July, Longoria was playing in the All-Star Game. In October, Longoria kicked off Tampa Bay's first postseason game with homers in his first two at-bats, then homered four more times in the ALCS against Boston to lead the Rays to their first pennant.
Drafted 2007 (first overall) / Debuted with Rays on Sept. 14, 2008
While Longoria powered the Rays into contention in 2008, Price was the late-season shot in the arm that got them over the hump. The former No. 1 pick debuted as a dominant left-handed bullpen option for Joe Maddon, memorably closing out Game 7 of the ALCS with a clutch four-out save.
Drafted 2005 (23rd overall) / Debuted with Red Sox on June 30, 2007
Ellsbury's speed and energy earned him instant acclaim from Red Sox Nation, even more so after manager Terry Francona inserted him into the starting lineup for the 2007 World Series. Ellsbury hit .438 with four doubles in Boston's Fall Classic sweep, and then paced the AL in steals in each of the next two seasons.
Drafted 2005 (fifth overall) / Debuted with Brewers on May 25, 2007
Braun exploded onto the scene with Milwaukee, knocking 25 homers in his first 82 games to become the quickest player to reach that total since Mark McGwire. He finished the year with an NL-best .634 slugging percentage and edged out Troy Tulowitzki for NL Rookie of the Year, and then signed an eight-year contract extension the following spring.
Drafted 2006 (10th overall) / Debuted with Giants on May 6, 2007
Lincecum netted a franchise-record signing bonus from the Giants and tore through the club's Minors ranks until it was clear he couldn't stay there any longer. He struck out the side in his first big league inning, and later went 4-0 with a 1.62 ERA in the month of July -- including a 12-strikeout game against the D-backs. The Giants shut down Lincecum in September as a precaution, but he came back to win his first of two straight NL Cy Young Awards in 2008.
Drafted 2004 (12th overall) / Debuted with Angels on May 27, 2006
Weaver swept the major awards as college baseball's best player at Long Beach State, but his signing bonus demands caused him to drop to 12th in the Draft. Weaver and the Angels took months to hammer out a contract, but it took him less than a year after the ink was dry to reach the Majors. He stuck with the Halos for good after his brother, Jeff, was designated for assignment, and won each of his first nine big league decisions to tie Whitey Ford's AL record. Weaver finished the year 11-2 with a 2.56 ERA.
Drafted 2005 (fourth overall) / Debuted with Nationals on Sept. 1, 2005
"Mr. National" was the franchise's first Draft pick after it moved to Washington, and after an impressive cup of coffee as a 20-year-old (10 doubles in 20 games) in 2005, he quickly became the franchise's first homegrown star with a penchant for knocking clutch hits and walk-off home runs. In '06, Zimmerman finished runner-up to Hanley Ramirez in one of the closest Rookie of the Year votes in history.
Drafted 2004 (40th overall) / Debuted with Athletics on April 6, 2005
Street authored one of the best careers by any college reliever at the University of Texas, helping the Longhorns win the College World Series in 2002 as the tournament's most outstanding player. He spent no more than a month at each level of the A's farm system before making Oakland's '05 Opening Day roster. After taking over as closer in May, Street won AL Rookie of the Year with 23 saves and a 1.72 ERA.
Drafted 2001 (second overall) / Debuted on May 22, 2002
There was healthy debate over Prior or Joe Mauer for the top spot in the 2001 Draft, and the Cubs also considered taking Mark Teixeira at No. 2. They ultimately drafted and signed Prior to a then-record $10.5 million signing bonus and called him up within a year, and Prior rewarded them right away with 10 strikeouts in his debut. Chicago shut down Prior in September, but he came back to win 18 games in 2003 before injuries began to take over for good.
Drafted 1999 (13th round) / Debuted with Cardinals on April 2, 2001
Pujols was terrific in his only year in the Minors, capturing the Class A Midwest League's MVP award before going up to Triple-A and capturing postseason MVP honors for Memphis. Pujols' Spring Training performance the following year convinced Cardinals manager Tony La Russa to put him on the Opening Day roster, and the slugger responded with a sensational 1.013 OPS, 37 homers and 130 RBIs to win the NL Rookie of the Year Award unanimously and earn a fourth-place finish in the MVP vote. In the 2001 NLDS, Pujols hit just one of two homers that D-backs ace Randy Johnson would allow that entire postseason.
Drafted 1999 (ninth overall) / Debuted with Athletics on July 22, 2000
Zito pitched well after his call-up but didn't get flashy results until a big September in which he went 5-1 with a 1.73 ERA, earning him a fifth-place finish in AL Rookie of the Year voting despite starting the season in July. He outpitched Roger Clemens in Game 4 of the 2000 ALDS, and followed up with 205 strikeouts in his first full campaign with Oakland.
Drafted 2017 (ninth overall) / Debuted with Brewers on May 14, 2019
Undrafted out of high school, Hiura raised his stock with some massive years at UC Irvine. He clubbed 44 extra-base hits across his first 84 games in 2019.
Drafted 2015 (seventh overall) / Debuted with Red Sox on Aug. 2, 2016
Boston promoted Benintendi straight from Double-A, and he was one of the only Red Sox who hit well in their ‘16 ALDS loss to the Indians, becoming the youngest Boston player to homer in the postseason in Game 1.
Drafted 2015 (second overall) / Debuted with Astros on July 25, 2016
Helped Team USA capture gold at the World Baseball Classic and helped Houston claim its first World Series title within a year and a half of his debut.
Drafted 2014 (13th overall) / Debuted with Nationals on Aug. 21, 2015
Finished second in 2016 NL Rookie of the Year vote after hitting .342 and stealing 33 bases in 73 games.
Drafted 2011 (sixth overall) / Debuted with Nationals on April 21, 2013
A decent cup of coffee in 2013 set the stage for a big '14, as Rendon finished fifth in the NL MVP vote.
Drafted 2010 (third overall) / Debuted with Orioles on Aug. 9, 2012
Machado homered during Baltimore's ALDS loss to the Yankees, setting the stage for a breakout 2013.
Drafted 2010 (second round) / Debuted with Braves on June 2, 2012
Simmons captured NL Rookie of the Month honors after his first 30 days in the big leagues, and then enjoyed a breakout '13 season as he earned his first Gold Glove Award.
Drafted 2009 (eighth round) / Debuted with D-backs on Aug. 1, 2011
Goldschmidt struck out 20 times in his first 44 Major League at-bats, but he came up huge for Arizona in the 2011 NLDS, crushing a grand slam in Game 3 and batting .438 in the Series.
Drafted 2010 (13th overall) / Debuted with White Sox on Aug. 6, 2010
Sale went from Class A to Triple-A to the Majors in just two months, debuting with Chicago out of the bullpen. The southpaw posted a 1.93 ERA and averaged 12.3 strikeouts per nine across his first 21 appearances.
Drafted 2008 (fifth overall) / Debuted with Giants on Sept. 11, 2009
After a seven-game cup of coffee in 2009, Posey won the '10 NL Rookie of the Year and became a key piece for the Giants' World Series champion club .
Drafted 2007 (10th overall) / Debuted with Giants on Sept. 8, 2009
After four appearances as a 20-year-old in 2009, Bumgarner put up a 3.00 ERA across 18 starts for the Giants the following year before writing the first chapter of his impeccable postseason resume.
Drafted 2007 (27th overall) / Debuted with Tigers on April 9, 2009
Porcello won five straight starts in May, becoming the youngest pitcher to do so since Dwight Gooden in 1985, and he finished the year with 14 victories.
Drafted 2005 (seventh overall) / Debuted with Rockies on Aug. 30, 2006
Tulowitzki played in 25 games to close out 2006 and then broke out as an all-around star at shortstop the following year.
Drafted 2003 (fourth round) / Debuted with Red Sox on July 31, 2005
Papelbon broke into the Majors as a starter in 2005 and then excelled as Boston's closer to begin '06, racking up 10 scoreless saves by the end of April.
Drafted 2001 (fifth overall) / Debuted with Rangers on April 1, 2003
Teixeira needed just one season in the Minors before beginning 2003 with Texas. The switch-hitter bashed 26 homers as a rookie and followed up with 38 big flies in Year 2.