Major League Baseball’s amateur draft finished Wednesday and, despite the experts’ proclamations, no one really knows whether the picks – first-rounders or 40th rounders – will develop into big leaguers.
It’s an absolute crapshoot. There have been plenty of No. 1 overall picks who have failed to live up to the hype. And there are some late-rounders who have become superstars.
Hall of Famer Mike Piazza is the ultimate example of that. He was selected in the 62nd round of the 1988 draft – the 1,390th pick that year — by the Los Angeles Dodgers. The pick was made as a courtesy to Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda, who was close friends with Piazza’s father.
Piazza is the lowest draft pick to make the Hall of Fame. The Orioles have one who is in the Top 10 on that list, however.
In honor of this week’s draft, here’s my look at the five best Orioles’ draft picks of all-time. Keep in mind, the draft began in 1965, so a lot of the franchise’s best players weren’t actually “drafted,” but were signed as amateurs.
If you aren’t in the mood to be positive given the club’s recent play, don’t worry. Check back in a few hours and we’ll post the five most disappointing selections in franchise history.
The best picks in O’s history
5. RHP Mike Mussina, 1990, 1st round, 20th pick, Stanford University
Everyone knew Mussina could pitch when he left Stanford for the pros, but there was a question as to how his lanky frame would hold up to rigorous big league schedules year after year. Well, he lasted 18 seasons, appeared in 537 games (536 starts) and threw more than 3,500 innings.
Mussina was the eighth pitcher selected in the first round – and by far the best. The only one in that group that had a solid career was Alex Fernandez, who was taken fourth overall by the Chicago White Sox. Fernandez never made an All-Star Game; Mussina went to five. Mussina won 270 major league games, 147 for the Orioles, which is third in club history. He’ll eventually end up in Cooperstown.
What most people don’t know about Mussina is that the Orioles had been watching him well before drafting him in 1990. They also selected him in the 11th round in 1987 out of Montoursville High School in Northern Pennsylvania, but he chose to go to college.
4. Mike Flanagan, 1973, 7th round, 159th pick, University of Massachusetts
Flanagan isn’t even the best Orioles pick from the 1973 draft (you’ll see why in a moment), but getting the quick-witted, quirky lefty in the seventh round was a huge steal.
It was the second time Flanagan had been drafted. He was selected in the 15th round in 1971 by the Houston Astros out of a New Hampshire high school. Flanagan pitched 15 of his 18 seasons with the Orioles and is fifth all-time in wins (141), fourth in strikeouts and third in games pitched.
He won the AL Cy Young Award in 1979, and also was a club executive and broadcaster for years.
3. Al Bumbry, 1968, 11th round, 238th pick, Virginia State University
Bumbry was a basketball player who could play baseball, too. He also had a military commitment, which he fulfilled while serving in the Vietnam War.
He returned to the States and became the AL Rookie of the Year in 1973 by hitting .337 in 110 games. The speedy center fielder and leadoff hitter played nearly 1,500 games in parts of 14 seasons, including 13 years with the Orioles. He is in the club’s Hall of Fame.
2. Cal Ripken Jr., 1978, 2nd round, 48th pick, Aberdeen High School
Not only were 47 players taken before baseball’s Iron Man, but the Orioles selected three of them, including another high school third baseman, Robert Boyce, with their first-round pick (22nd overall). Boyce never made the majors, but Ripken did.
He won the AL Rookie of the Year in 1982, the AL MVP in 1983 and 1991, set baseball’s consecutive games played streak in 1995 and was a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 2007. He ended up with 2,632 consecutive games played – a mark that will never be approached.
The Orioles had some inside information on the kid from nearby Aberdeen. His dad, Cal Sr., was the Orioles’ third base coach at the time. Ripken also was considered a pitching prospect, but the Orioles thought his future was as a third baseman, or, maybe, a shortstop.
If they hadn’t taken him, Ripken might have been drafted by someone else as a pitcher – and the most durable player in baseball history could have appeared in games every fifth day instead.
1. Eddie Murray, 1973, 3rd round, 63rd pick, Locke (Calif.) High School
Only nine other Hall of Famers were taken later in the draft than Murray, who was inducted into the Hall on his first ballot in 2003.
Murray came from an athletic family in Los Angeles and he attended the same high school as fellow Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith. Within four years of signing, he was the 1977 AL Rookie of the Year.
The switch-hitter ended up with 3,255 hits and 504 homers in a 21-season career. It was a pretty darn good draft for the Orioles, who also selected Flanagan in the seventh round. The Orioles selected right-hander Mike Parrot in the first round of the 1973 draft, but dealt him to the Seattle Mariners in 1977. Parrot pitched parts of five seasons in the majors.