Columnists, Sports

MLB: Four players who soared to the big leagues shortly after being drafted

Only days remain until this wild and wacky Major League Baseball season ends, but that does not mean the craziness is slowing down.

Believe it or not, a 2020 draft pick with zero major or minor league experience made his major league debut last week. Left-hander Garrett Crochet of the University of Tennessee got the call to the show by the Chicago White Sox, who selected him with the No. 11 pick just three months ago. Crochet’s first inning went about as well as possible: a 1-2-3 inning with two strikeouts along with hitting triple-digit velocity six times with his fastball. 

In celebration of Crochet opening the door for the 2020 draft class at the major league level, let’s look at four recent cases of quick climbers to the big leagues.

Brandon Finnegan (Drafted in 2014 by Kansas City)

The southpaw out of Texas Christian University was drafted with the No. 17 pick by the Royals in the 2014 draft. After posting a 1.33 earned run average in 27 innings across two different levels in the minors, the Royals called the then-21-year-old up to provide left-handed relief in September and onward. 

He surrendered just one earned run in seven games before getting to pitch in the 2014 American League Wild Card, Division Series, Championship Series and World Series. 

Finnegan did not pitch well in the 2014 postseason, got traded to Cincinnati and derailed by injuries and hasn’t pitched since 2018 — but he is still one of the league’s quickest “draft day to debut day” players.

Chris Sale (Drafted in 2010 by Chicago White Sox)

In Sale’s case, spending just a month in the minors seemed to be the right move. Despite his lanky frame, baseball fans have gotten to watch one of the most dominant pitchers of the last decade do his work on the biggest stages. 

Selected at No. 13 by the White Sox out of Florida Gulf Coast University, he looked decent in the minor leagues. 

However, once he got to the bigs, there was no going back. He pitched to a 1.93 ERA with 12.3 strikeouts per nine innings as a 21-year-old rookie relief pitcher. After moving to the starting rotation in 2012, Sale finished in the top five in the American League Cy Young Award voting six consecutive seasons from 2013-2018. 

Hopefully, the veteran lefty will come back strong in 2021 after undergoing Tommy John surgery this year.

Ryan Zimmerman (Drafted in 2005 by Washington)

Zimmerman was the face of the young Nationals franchise throughout the 2000s. Given that he was the organization’s first-ever draft choice, he marked the beginning of a new chapter of baseball in our nation’s capital. 

The No. 4 pick of the 2005 draft batted 0.336 with a 0.941 on-base slugging percentage in the minors that year. While pitchers usually do not pitch well right out of the gate from the draft, this phenomenon is even rarer with hitters.

Zimmerman made his MLB debut in September of 2005 and finished runner-up to shortstop Hanley Ramirez for the 2006 National League Rookie of the Year. After batting 0.285 from 2006 to 2013 as the everyday third-baseman, injuries took their toll and “Zim” moved to first base. 

He has not been the same for much of his 30s and opted out of the 2020 season, but the career National did finally get a World Series ring last season, in his 15th year at the pro-level, when the Wild Card Nationals surged all the way to their first World Championship.

David Price (Drafted in 2007 by Tampa Bay)

Price is the only first overall pick out of these four players, which makes it all the more important that he got to the majors quickly and succeeded right away.

Several No. 1 picks since 2013 have either already retired, struggled to even get to the majors or struggled once they got there. 

The last two top picks, Spencer Torkelson and Adley Rutschman, get exemptions for now. But only three of the other six players have made it to the MLB and only one, Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson, has played in more than six games. 

Price debuted for the Rays in 2008, the year after he was drafted, after dominating in the minors with a 2.30 ERA in more than 100 innings across three different levels. He then excelled in relief for the 2008 Rays in September and throughout their World Series run. 

Over the course of the nearly seven seasons he spent in Tampa Bay, Price made four All-Star teams and won the 2012 Cy Young Award. 

Although he did not stay with the Rays for his entire career and has not had much success in recent seasons, Price has thus far panned out as one of the best No. 1 picks of the last 20 years.

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