Crew's final pick is oldest player ever drafted

July 13th, 2021

MILWAUKEE -- The Brewers ended the MLB Draft with a half-court heave at the buzzer.

The thing about Milwaukee’s 21st and final selection is not just that 6-foot-7 Samuel Mendez spent most of his sporting life playing basketball in the Dominican Republic, but that he’s 28 years old -- making Mendez, a right-handed pitcher out of Cisco (Texas) Junior College, the oldest player on record ever to have his name called in the MLB Draft.

There’s a chance, MLB said, that some team, some time, has drafted someone older. The league doesn’t have a birth date on record for every player since the start of the draft in 1965 -- particularly players in the late rounds during the 1960s and '70s. But the league does have a heck of a lot of birthdates, including one for every player who has eventually made it to the Majors, and none of them were as long in the tooth as Mendez.

“He is a former semi-pro basketball player from the Dominican Republic who moved up here to play baseball and wanted to get drafted or signed,” Brewers scouting director Tod Johnson said. “K.J. Hendricks is the area scout down there, and he got to know [Mendez] through the coach at Cisco that K.J. knows real well.

“He’s 94-97 [mph with his fastball], throws strikes, has some feel for his secondary stuff. Obviously a 28-year-old is not a normal profile for the Draft, but I also wanted somebody for you guys to ask me about. So we figured, why not?”

Johnson was kidding, obviously. The Brewers spent the past year preparing for the Draft, which saw them take 11 hitters, including center fielder Sal Frelick and second baseman Tyler Black on Day 1, nine pitchers -- including four who stand 6-foot-6 or taller -- and one two-way player in Quinton Low, a left-handed-hitting first baseman and a right-handed pitcher from Chatfield High School in Littleton, Colo., who would begin his pro career at first base if he doesn’t opt to attend Santa Clara College instead. He’s one of the 6-foot-6ers.

But none of the Brewers’ picks were as far outside the box as Mendez, who made 16 appearances (10 starts) for Cisco in 2021 and went 5-2 with a 4.82 ERA. He struck out 100 batters in 65 1/3 innings. The Brewers drafted him in the 20th round with the 597th overall pick.

“Obviously [we are] not sure what will happen there, but we’re excited by the ingredients,” Johnson said.

Before Mendez, MLB’s oldest draftee on record was Brodie Downs, a 27-year-old right-hander who, according to a Seattle Times feature, was working on his sister’s pool when he learned he’d been drafted by the Mariners in the 23rd round in 2007. Downs had been pitching in recreational leagues for years, and when his velocity got up to 94 mph he pitched for Modesto (Calif.) Junior College and drew notice from scouts.

Three weeks later, Downs was pitching in Triple-A.

Whether Mendez take a similarly aggressive path remains to be seen.

It’s not the first time the Brewers have been creative in their search for pitching. They signed 28-year-old Justin Topa out of Indy ball in 2019, after a video of him lighting up the radar gun went viral on Twitter. More recently, they’ve had a nice find in Jake Cousins, who is the cousin of Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins. Jake was 24 years old and pitching in Indy ball when he signed with Milwaukee. Now his slider is a key bullpen weapon.

“Whether it’s a niche or not, I think it’s something that we’ve demonstrated we’re open to doing and have had success with,” Johnson said. “I think it’s a testament to our [player development] staff as well -- that they bring those guys in and help them take those next steps that get them from where they are to potential big league pieces. I think that’s helpful as well. So, you’ve got to credit the acquisition side, but also the development side getting them to be able to get to that next step.”

Don’t take too many steps, though -- that’s traveling.