BALTIMORE -- A four-time All-Star, Cy Young Award winner and MLB wins leader. A veteran left-hander with postseason poise. What if the Orioles had signed that 20th-round pick in 1998?What if Cliff Lee had put on the black and orange, instead of opting to go to college for the second
BALTIMORE -- A four-time All-Star, Cy Young Award winner and MLB wins leader. A veteran left-hander with postseason poise. What if the Orioles had signed that 20th-round pick in 1998?
What if Cliff Lee had put on the black and orange, instead of opting to go to college for the second straight year?
In advance of the MLB Draft, MLB.com is taking a fun look back at each club's Draft history. And few names stand out more than Lee.
• 2018 Draft order | 2018 Draft: June 4-6 | All-time Draft picks
"When you're picking low, sometimes you change your mind on guys," said former Orioles scouting director Gary Nickels, who is now with the Dodgers. "I don't remember us being that in on [Lee] and having that meeting after as, 'This guy will sign if we do so and so'. What I remember was 'This guy wants to go to Arkansas and play for Arkansas.' <p[>You probably go through 50 of those types of situations, especially back then, when the Draft had no limit [of rounds]." </p[>
Nickels laughs over the phone. "But not all of them were Cliff Lee."
:: 2018 Draft coverage ::
Lee was a senior standout at Benton High School in his hometown of Benton, Ark., and the Florida Marlins called in 1997, when they took Lee in the eighth round. He thought about turning pro, but the two sides couldn't reach contract terms, and he instead opted to enroll at Meridian Community College in Mississippi.
Lee's stock fell the next year, and he was still available when the Orioles picked 609th overall in Round 20. Again, Lee declined to turn pro. He had a scholarship offer from the University of Arkansas, and he had every intention of pitching for the Razorbacks. In 2000, Lee was drafted in the fourth round by the Expos, and he signed.
Two years later, Montreal traded Lee (along with Brandon Phillips, Lee Stevens and Grady Sizemore) to the Indians in exchange for Bartolo Colon and Tim Drew.
The rest is baseball history, as Lee won at least 14 games in each of his first three full seasons in the Majors and pitched more than 200 innings in both 2005 and '06.
Part of the fun of being a scouting director is looking at guys you drafted reach the big leagues. And then, there's watching the guys you didn't get.
"And other people remind you also, 'Didn't you guys draft him at one time?'" Nickels said of watching Lee dominate in other uniforms. "I don't remember having any interaction where it was like, 'This guy wants to sign'. We didn't get close to signing him. He wanted to go to Arkansas [first], and he ended up at Arkansas."
Lee likely doesn't have any regrets. The lefty had a stellar 13-year career, posting a 143-91 record with a 3.52 ERA in 328 big league games (324 starts).
However, Lee was not particularly dominant against the Orioles. The lefty went 4-2 in eight career starts against them, including one complete game, posting a 4.45 ERA. At hitter-friendly Camden Yards, Lee went 2-1 with a 5.40 ERA in five career starts.
Brittany Ghiroli has covered the Orioles for MLB.com since 2010. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter @britt_ghiroli, and listen to her podcast.