With so many players taken each year in the MLB draft, it’s very difficult to know exactly who will pan out and who won’t. And there’s certainly no guarantee that a high draft pick will go on to have a Hall of Fame career. After all, it took more than 50 years for a No. 1 overall pick to make it to Cooperstown, that being Ken Griffey Jr. in 2016.
Since the inception of the first-year player draft in 1965, numerous future Hall of Famers were taken later than when they probably should have been. Ozzie Smith and Rickey Henderson were fourth-round selections. Wade Boggs was a seventh-round pick. Goose Gossage went in the ninth round. 1987 NL MVP Andre Dawson was an 11th-round pick.
Hidden gems are sprinkled throughout every MLB draft. Here’s a quick look at the five lowest picks to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Nolan Ryan was a 12th-round pick in the 1965 MLB draft
Nolan Ryan was taken in the 12th round of the 1965 MLB draft, the 226th overall pick, by the New York Mets and went on to play a record 27 seasons in the majors. Playing for the Mets, Angels, Astros, and Rangers, Ryan racked up 324 wins, tied for 14th on the all-time list, an MLB-record 5,714 strikeouts, and also a record seven no-hitters. He was an eight-time All-Star, an 11-time strikeout leader, and also won the World Series with the Mets in 1969. Oddly enough, he never won a Cy Young Award. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on his first try in 1999.
Jim Thome was drafted in the 13th round in 1989
After just one season at Illinois Central College just outside his hometown of Peoria, Jim Thome was drafted by the Cleveland Indians in the 13th round as the 333rd overall pick in the 1989 MLB draft. He made his big-league debut for the Tribe two years later and mashed baseballs for 22 seasons with six teams, ending his career in 2012 with 612 home runs, good for eighth on the all-time list. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 2018.
Ryne Sandberg was a 20th-round pick in 1978
Ryne Sandberg was taken in the 20th round of the 1978 MLB draft, the 511th overall selection, by the Philadelphia Phillies. After appearing in just 13 games with the Phillies in his first big-league season in 1981 and recording just one hit, which happened to be at Wrigley Field, Sandberg was traded to the Chicago Cubs. In 15 seasons with the North Siders, he was a 10-time All-Star, a nine-time Gold Glove winner, and was the 1984 NL MVP. Ryno was voted into the Hall of Fame in his third year on the ballot and inducted in 2005.
John Smoltz was selected by the Detroit Tigers in the 22nd round
In the 22nd round of the 1985 MLB draft, the Detroit Tigers selected John Smoltz with the 574th overall pick. Smoltz never played a big-league game for Detroit and was traded to the Atlanta Braves in 1987, making his debut in the majors in 1988. Alongside Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine in arguably the greatest trio of pitchers on one team in baseball history, Smoltz was a huge part of the Braves’ success in the 1990s, helping Atlanta to a World Series title in 1995, also winning the Cy Young in 1996. He moved into the closer role later in his career and is still the only pitcher in MLB history to record at least 200 wins and 150 saves. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2015, his first year of eligibility.
Mike Piazza is the lowest pick in MLB draft history to make it to the Hall of Fame
Mike Piazza wins the grand prize of the lowest MLB draft pick in history to make it to Cooperstown. As a favor to Piazza’s father, Tommy Lasorda and the Los Angeles Dodgers drafted Piazza in the 62nd round of the 1988 MLB draft with the 1,390th pick. Originally a first baseman, Lasorda suggested that Piazza transition to catcher to better his chances of making the big leagues, a move that obviously paid off. Piazza won the 1993 NL Rookie of the Year and he was off to the races. Over the course of 16 seasons with four teams, the majority of his time split between the Dodgers and Mets, Piazza belted 427 home runs, 396 of those coming as a catcher, the most in history at that position. It took four tries but Piazza was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2016.
*All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference