10 best players who played professionally in Iowa

August 5th, 2022

There may not be an MLB team in Iowa, but plenty of current and former Major Leaguers have sharpened their tools with professional teams in the state. Iowa has a long history in Minor League Baseball. 

Hundreds, if not thousands, of players paid their dues in the Hawkeye State. Here’s a look at 10 of the best players — and a long list of honorable mentions — who have played professionally in Iowa before making their big league debuts.

Mike Trout (OF)

Trout is New Jersey-born and has played his entire Major League career under the sunny skies of Southern California. But before his time with the Angels, Trout played parts of two seasons for the Low-A Cedar Rapids Kernels, who were affiliated with the Angels from 1993-2012. 

During the 2010 season, Trout hit .362 with six homers, 39 RBIs and 45 stolen bases over 82 games while playing for Cedar Rapids. He was selected to play in the All-Star Futures Game after his dominant first half in Iowa. But he didn’t last there long – he was promoted to High-A Rancho Cucamonga shortly after the Futures Game and eventually debuted in the Majors in 2011.

Greg Maddux (SP)

Maddux, who played for the Iowa Cubs in 1986, is, perhaps, the best pitcher to play professionally in Iowa. The Hall of Famer won four Cy Young Awards and 355 games over his 23-year MLB career. 

Maddux’s all-time talent was on full display while he played for Iowa. In 1986, Maddux went 10-1 with a 3.02 ERA over 128 1/3 innings in 18 starts, striking out 65 and walking 30. Maddux made the National League All-Star Team two years later and contended for the NL Cy Young Award a year after that. 

Joe Carter (OF)

It’s true – the hitter of one of the most famous home runs in baseball history played professionally in Iowa. Joe Carter played 185 games, hitting .308 with 36 home runs, during two stints with the Iowa Cubs. 

Carter’s career is often defined by his walk-off home run to win the World Series for the Blue Jays in 1993. But he was a near-Hall-of-Famer even without the big fly. Carter played 16 seasons in the Majors and hit 396 home runs.

Vida Blue (SP)

Before there was the Cubs, there was the Iowa Oaks, who played in Des Moines from 1969 to 1981 before the name change. One of the best pitchers in Iowa Oaks history was Vida Blue. 

The left-hander spent one year in Iowa, posting a 12-3 record and a 2.17 ERA with 165 strikeouts. Blue, a six-time All-Star, had a legendary Major League career, winning three World Series titles and an American League MVP and Cy Young Award. Blue also threw a no-hitter in 1970. 

Jim Bunning (SP)

Bunning, a Hall of Fame pitcher and former U.S. Senator, lived a remarkable life, a life that made a one-year pitstop in Davenport, Iowa, as Bunning made his way through the Tigers’ Minor League system. 

Bunning pitched for the Davenport Tigers during the 1951 season, throwing 150 innings with a 2.88 ERA. Bunning would go on to win 224 games over his 17-year Major League career, including two no-hitters.

Hideo Nomo (SP)

Nomo, the first Japanese Major Leaguer to make a permanent move to the U.S., was an icon. A few years after he made his debut with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1995, he pitched a few games for the Iowa Cubs. Nomo made three starts for the Cubs in 1999, striking out 19 batters and posting a 3.71 ERA. 

Nomo burst onto the scene in 1995, making the All-Star team and winning the NL Rookie of the Year. As a whole, the 1999 season was a forgetful one for Nomo. But just two years later with the Red Sox, Nomo would throw his second no-hitter and lead the American League in strikeouts. 

Lou Boudreau (SS)

At 20 years old, just before making his MLB debut and kicking off his Hall of Fame career, Lou Boudreau was a Cedar Rapid Raider. The legendary player and manager spent the 1938 season with the Raiders, hitting .290 with 67 hits in 60 games. 

Boudreau hit .295 with 68 HR during his 15-year MLB career with the Indians and Red Sox. An eight-time All-Star, Boudreau won the 1944 American League batting title (.327) and led the league in doubles three times.

Trevor Hoffman (RP)

Hoffman was drafted in the 11th round for his exceptional arm strength -- as a shortstop. The Reds selected him in 1989 and he spent two seasons in their Minor League system playing short and third.

Where did Hoffman learn that he may have a Hall of Fame-caliber pitching arm? Iowa. After a disappointing 1990 season with the bat for Single-A Cedar Rapids, the legendary closer made the switch to the bump. Hoffman would go on to save 601 games, which was the most all-time until he was surpassed by Mariano Rivera in 2011. 

Denny McLain (SP)

Before he took the baseball world by storm in the late 1960s, McLain pitched for the Clinton C-Sox of the Midwest League in 1962. That's where legend has it the Tigers plucked McLain from the White Sox. 

The Tigers scouted McLain in Iowa that year and decided they’d claim him if he was left unprotected by Chicago. He was, and McLain went on to have a short but legendary career with the Tigers, winning 30 games and a World Series in 1968. He also earned a pair of Cy Young Awards and an MVP with Detroit before injuries and off-the-field problems abruptly ended his career.

Honorable mention

Ryne Sandberg
Joe Girardi
Kris Bryant 
Anthony Rizzo
Harold Baines
Jake Arrieta
Goose Gossage
Rod Beck
Joe Mauer
Justin Morneau
John McGraw
Ted Simmons
Rocky Colavito
Chris Sabo
Byron Buxton
Carlos Correa