Rickey Henderson to the A's. Cal Ripken Jr. to the Orioles. Barry Larkin to the Reds. It's not uncommon to see a team go with a hometown kid in the Draft.
In 2004, Neil Walker was playing at Pine-Richland High School just outside of Pittsburgh, intending to head to Clemson University for college ball. A combination of him having focused on football in the fall and the typical dreary Pittsburgh weather in early spring led to a lack of interest in him.
“If I didn’t get drafted high, I was going to go to college,” said Walker, who was a catcher at the time. “Things steamrolled as the spring got going. The last third of the year there were 10 to 12 [scouts] at every game. By the end of my senior season, I realized there was a good chance I was going to get drafted in the first round.”
The buzz around Walker as the Draft approached was that he was going to go somewhere in the Nos. 9-15 range in that opening round. The Pirates picked at No. 11 and when the team had the chance to select the hometown kid, they didn’t hesitate.
“The more I played and the more people I met, there were a lot of kids from Texas, California, Florida, Georgia ... those hotbeds,” Walker said. “If they were with the Dodgers, those from the Los Angeles areas were considered hometown kids. But there’s something different in the smaller cities, the places not known as hotbeds.
“It was a dream come true. To be from this area, it’s rare to see someone come from this area at all. And to be drafted by the hometown team? It’s a really special feeling.”
Here’s a look at the best hometown player drafted and signed by all 30 organizations.
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
Blue Jays: Dalton Pompey, OF
Pompey was Toronto's 16th-round pick in 2010 out of John Fraser SS in nearby Mississauga, Ontario. The speedy outfielder who signed for $150,000 made it to the big leagues for the first time in '14, but has had trouble sticking and was most recently with the D-backs.
Orioles: Cal Ripken Jr., SS
Ripken Jr. went to Aberdeen High School, with his father serving as the Orioles’ third-base coach when he was drafted in the second round of the 1978 Draft. He established himself as the American League Rookie of the Year in 1982 en route to what would be a Hall of Fame career.
Red Sox: Billy Conigliaro, OF
In the first-ever Draft in 1965, Conigliaro was the No. 5 overall pick in the Draft out of Swampscott High School in Massachusetts. His older brother, Tony, joined the Red Sox in 1964 and the brothers played together in 1969 and '70. Billy reportedly wasn’t happy when the Red Sox traded his brother to the Angels after the 1970 season and was traded to the Brewers after the '71 season.
Rays: Wade Davis, RHP
Davis went to Lake Wales High School, about an hour east of Tampa, and went in the third round of the 2004 Draft. He made his big league debut in 2009 and spent two full seasons in the Rays' rotation before moving to the bullpen in 2012. He rejoined a rotation with the Royals in '13 then moved back to a relief role in 2014 en route to making three straight All-Star appearances with Kansas City and the Chicago Cubs.
Yankees: Dellin Betances, RHP
Betances was a talented but raw prospect out of Grand Street Campus High School in Brooklyn in 2006. He lasted until the eighth round that June when the Yankees rolled the dice and signed him for $1 million. He made his big league debut in 2011, but didn’t establish himself until he moved to the bullpen and was an All-Star for the first of four straight years in 2014.
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL
Indians: Jeff Shaw, RHP
Shaw went to high school outside of Columbus, Ohio, and caught the Indians’ eye when he was at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland. They took the right-hander as the top overall pick in the 1986 January Draft. He was in the big leagues in 1990 and was a full-time reliever by '94 with the Expos (he spent parts of three seasons with the Indians). Shaw finished his career with 203 saves.
Royals: David Cone, RHP
A product of Rockhurst High School in Kansas City, Cone was taken by the Royals in the third round of the 1981 Draft, but his time with them was short-lived. After making his big league debut in 1986 with Kansas City, he was sent to the Mets prior to the '87 season. He made it back home for 1993 and '94, winning the Cy Young Award in his second season back with his hometown team.
Tigers: John Smoltz, RHP
Stretching this one a bit, as Lansing is about 90 or so miles away from Detroit. Smoltz was a 22nd-round pick of the Tigers back in 1985. Unfortunately for Detroit, the right-hander spent just under two years in the system as the Tigers sent him to the Braves in the ill-fated Aug. 1987 trade for Doyle Alexander. Smoltz, of course, went on to have a Hall of Fame career.
Twins: Joe Mauer, C
The Twins opted to take the hometown kid from Cretin High School in St. Paul rather than the polished college right-hander in Mark Prior to start the 2001 Draft. All Mauer did to repay the Twins was go to six All-Star Games, win five Silver Slugger Awards, three Gold Gloves and an MVP in a 15-year career, all with the Twins.
White Sox: Steve Trout, LHP
South Holland, where Thornwood High School is, is only about 20 minutes south of what is now Guaranteed Rate Field. That’s where Trout was playing high school ball when the White Sox took him as the No. 8 overall pick in the 1976 Draft. He was in the big leagues by 1978 at age 20, and he spent parts of five years with the White Sox before moving across town to the Cubs for parts of five more.
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST
Angels: Mike Witt, RHP
There obviously have been scores of players to come from the Los Angeles area, but Witt actually attended Servite High School in Anaheim. Taken in the fourth round of the 1978 Draft, his first of 10 years with the Angels came in 1981 and he received Rookie of the Year votes that season. He made two All-Star teams and won over 100 games with the Angels before finishing his career with the Yankees.
Astros: Lance Berkman, OF
While Berkman went to high school outside of San Antonio, he traveled east a few hours across Texas to Rice University in Houston and the Astros took him in the middle of the first round in 1997. He spent 12 of his 15-year big league career with Houston, finishing with a combined 366 home runs and 1,234 RBIs.
A’s: Rickey Henderson, OF
Henderson attended Oakland Technical High School and the A’s took him from their own backyard in the fourth round of the 1976 Draft. His rookie season in 1979 was one of 14 he spent, at least partially, with the A’s. His Hall of Fame career includes being the all-time leader in stolen bases and runs scored to go along with over 3,000 hits.
Mariners: Eric O’Flaherty, LHP
There haven’t been any Seattle-area natives to be drafted and signed by the M’s, though they did nab Braden Bishop out of the University of Washington. O’Flaherty went to Walla Walla High School about four hours away from Seattle and he joined the Mariners as a sixth-rounder in 2003. He moved to the bullpen early in his pro career and spent parts of three seasons in Seattle before being selected off waivers by the Braves. He spent 12 seasons as a big league reliever.
Rangers: John Danks, RHP
Round Rock is over two-and-a-half hours south of where the Rangers play their home games. Texas hoped he would eventually make the trip north to the big league team when they took him with the ninth overall selection in the 2003 Draft. That never materialized as the Rangers sent him to the White Sox in December 2006, and he spent 10 seasons in Chicago.
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
Braves: Jason Heyward, OF
Many teams had trouble evaluating Heyward at his Georgia high school because he didn’t face tough competition, but the Braves certainly got it right, taking him No. 14 overall in 2007. He finished second in Rookie of the Year voting in 2010 and has gone on to win five Gold Gloves with the Braves, Cardinals and Cubs.
Marlins: Charles Johnson, C
A Floridian through and through, Johnson went to Westwood High School in Fort Pierce, which is near Port St. Lucie, about two hours north of Miami. The Expos took him in the first round out of high school, but he opted to head to the University of Miami instead and was a first-rounder again three years later in 1992. The talented backstop spent seven of his 12 years in the big leagues with the Marlins.
Mets: Lee Mazzilli, OF
A product of Abraham Lincoln High School in Brooklyn, Maz was the first-round pick of the Mets back in 1973. He would go on to make the All-Star Game in 1979 and spend parts of 10 seasons with the Mets and finish with a career 15.6 WAR and over 1,000 hits.
Nationals: Justin Maxwell, OF
Maxwell could’ve been a hometown hero for the Orioles, had he signed with them out of Sherwood High School in Sandy Spring, Md., in 2001. Instead, he headed to the University of Maryland, eventually signing with the Nats as a fourth-rounder in 2005. He never quite tapped into his tremendous raw tools as a big leaguer, though he spent parts of three seasons in Washington before seeing time with the Astros, Royals and Cubs.
Phillies: Jesse Biddle, LHP
Biddle was a native of Philadelphia who attended Germantown Friends High School when he was selected near the end of the first round of the 2010 Draft by the Phillies. He made it as high as Triple-A with his hometown team, but he was traded to the Pirates, then picked up off of waivers by the Braves, who moved him into the bullpen. That led to him finally reaching the big leagues in 2018 and he’s spent time in Major League bullpens with Atlanta, Seattle and Texas the last two seasons.
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL
Brewers: Jim Gantner, 2B
A native Wisconsinite who was born in Fond du Lac, Gantner even stayed in state for his college ball, playing at the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh, north of Milwaukee. The Brewers nabbed him in the 12th round of the 1974 Draft and he spent his entire career with the Brew Crew, amassing nearly 1,700 hits in just over 1,800 big league games.
Cubs: Joe Girardi, C
After playing his high school ball in Peoria, Ill., Girardi went on to Northwestern University, in the Chicago suburb of Evanston. After the Cubs took him in the fifth round of the 1986 Draft, he was in the big leagues less than three years later. He’d go on to spend parts of seven seasons over two stints with Chicago in a playing career that lasted 15 years and led to managerial opportunities with the Marlins, Yankees and now the Phillies.
Cardinals: Jerry Reuss, LHP
Ritenour High School is in St. Louis, so the Cardinals didn’t have to go far to scout Reuss leading up to the 1967 Draft. They took the big left-hander in the second round that June and he made his big league debut with the Cards two years later. He established himself as a starter the following year in 1970, and went on to win 220 games in a career that spanned more than two decades with multiple teams.
Pirates: Neil Walker, C
As mentioned above, Walker went to nearby Pine-Richland High School when the Pirates took him No. 11 overall in the 2004 Draft. He got Rookie of the Year votes in 2010, the first of six full seasons he spent with his hometown team.
Reds: Barry Larkin, SS
The Reds tried to get Larkin to come aboard as a second-round pick out of Moeller High School in Cincinnati in 1982, but he went on to the University of Michigan. Three years later, he was the No. 4 pick in the country and he was in the big leagues just over a year later. He spent 19 years with his hometown team in what turned out to be a Hall of Fame career.
NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST
D-backs: Scott Hairston, OF
Jerry Hairston’s son went to high school at Canyon del Oro in Arizona, then stayed home to go to Central Arizona College rather than signing with the White Sox, who took him in the 18th round of the 1999 Draft. The D-backs took him two years later in the third round. He reached the big leagues three years later and spent parts of four seasons with Arizona en route to an 11-year career.
Dodgers: Eric Karros, 1B
While Karros went to high school in San Diego, he travelled north to go to UCLA for his college ball. The Dodgers saw enough to take him in the sixth round of the 1988 Draft and he was the 1992 National League Rookie of the Year, the first of eight seasons in which he crushed 20 or more home runs.
Giants: Chris Speier, SS
Speier didn’t sign with the Washington Senators when they took him out of Alameda High School in Northern California in the 11th round of the 1968 June Draft. He was more than happy to stay home when the Giants took him in the second round of the January Secondary Draft in 1970 out of Laney College in Oakland. Just over a year later, he was San Francisco’s starting shortstop and he made three straight All-Star appearances from 1972-74 at the start of a 19-year career in the big leagues.
Padres: Tony Gwynn, OF
Gwynn was born in Los Angeles and went to high school in Long Beach, Calif., but went to San Diego State University to play basketball and baseball. The Padres took him in the third round of the 1981 Draft and he was in San Diego a year later. He made an All-Star appearance (the first of 15) and won a batting title (the first of eight) two years after that, in 1984, as the last on this hometown hero list to be enshrined in Cooperstown.
Rockies: Kyle Freeland, LHP
It was actually the Phillies who took Freeland out of Thomas Jefferson High School in Denver, as a 34th-rounder in 2011. But the Rockies brought the local kid home in the first round (No. 8 overall) in 2014 after three years at the University of Evansville. He got Rookie of the Year votes in 2017 and finished fourth in Cy Young Award voting in 2018, though he scuffled in his third year in the Rockies' rotation a year ago.
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.