The 2018 MLB Draft opens this week with the first 78 selections live on MLB Network on Monday, and the remaining 38 rounds spread over Tuesday and Wednesday. Many of the players selected in the early rounds will immediately become top prospects in their respective organizations and names that many fans will follow intently through their development process in the minor leagues.
Perhaps more so than in any other professional sport, however, a lot of selections in the MLB draft don’t work out. Only a small percentage of players drafted each year will eventually reach the major leagues, and the process is further complicated by the relatively common practice of players opting not to sign and enrolling/remaining in college to return to the draft at a later date. As such the Brewers, like most teams, have a long list of MLB stars they drafted (but did not sign) who went on to stardom elsewhere.
Jason Giambi (43rd round, 1989)
Long before he was a 20-year MLB first baseman, Giambi was a shortstop and the 1,118th overall selection in the 1989 draft out of South Hills High School in West Covina, California. The Brewers were unable to convince him to skip out on a scholarship offer to Cal State Long Beach, where he played for three years before being selected again in the second round by Oakland in 1992.
Giambi went on to play in 2,260 MLB games, hit 440 home runs, made five All-Star teams and was the American League’s Most Valuable Player with the Athletics in 2000. Baseball Reference lists his career value at 50.5 Wins Above Replacement (WAR), which would have put him ahead of Ryan Braun (45.3) and behind only Paul Molitor (60) and Robin Yount (77.3) on the Brewers’ all-time list.
He wasn’t the only future MLB star selected in the 43rd round in 1989. The Yankees selected catcher Jorge Posada two picks earlier. The two were eventually teammates in New York from 2002-08.
Nomar Garciaparra (5th round, 1991)
While the Brewers took a long shot on Giambi in 1989, they presumably thought they had a chance to sign Garciaparra as a California high schooler when they picked him in the fifth round in 1991. Things didn’t work out and he instead went to Georgia Tech before being selected 12th overall by the Red Sox in 1994.
Once he finally entered professional baseball Garciaparra had a pretty quick rise to stardom: He was an All-Star, Silver Slugger Award winner and Rookie Of The Year in his first full MLB season in 1997. His peak was relatively brief but he still won two batting titles, collected 190 or more hits six times and played in six All-Star Games.
None of the Brewers’ first seven picks in the 1991 draft reached the majors as Brewers (and six never reached the big leagues at all), but things still worked out pretty well for the Crew that draft day. They selected Michigan catcher Mike Matheny in the eighth round and USC third baseman Jeff Cirillo in the 11th.
Jake Arrieta (26th round, 2005)
The Brewers were trying to capitalize on another team’s missed opportunity when they selected Arrieta out of Weatherford College in the 26th round in 2005: He had already been drafted once (in the 31st round by the Reds in 2004) but opted not to sign. Instead, Arrieta remained in school, transferred to Texas Christian University and was selected in the fifth round by the Orioles in 2007. Adam McCalvy of MLB.com recently talked to then-Brewers scouting director Jack Zduriencik about Arrieta getting away.
Arrieta was a bit of a slow starter as a big leaguer, posting a 5.46 ERA over four seasons with Baltimore before resurrecting his career with the Cubs in 2013. Nonetheless, a guy the Brewers failed to sign has a career 3.51 ERA and a Cy Young Award on his resume. If he had signed he would have joined Ryan Braun and Michael Brantley in arguably one of the best draft classes in franchise history.
Hunter Pence (40th round, 2002)
The Brewers waited until the 40th round to try their luck with an outfielder from Texarkana College in 2002, drafting Pence from the junior college. He opted not to join Milwaukee and instead continued his collegiate career at Texas before being selected in the second round by the Astros in 2004.
Pence has been unorthodox but effective across 12 seasons for three MLB teams now, making three All Star appearances and winning a pair of World Series rings during his time with the Giants. He’s never been an elite player but has still accumulated nearly 30 wins above replacement as a consistent performer. He and Prince Fielder are the only players the Brewers selected in 2002 that played in 100 or more MLB games.
Carlos Rodon (16th round, 2011)
The most recent example of a drafting near-miss is a potential star that’s still developing: The Brewers selected Rodon out of Holly Springs High School in North Carolina in the 16th round in 2011 but couldn’t get him to sign, and the White Sox made him the third overall pick in 2014.
Rodon experienced immediate professional success, was named the number 14 prospect in all of baseball by MLB.com before the 2015 season and made his MLB debut less than a year after being drafted. He’s currently recovering from shoulder surgery, but is expected to rejoin the White Sox. He already had a 3.95 ERA in 66 MLB appearances before his age 25 season.
The top two players the Brewers selected in 2011 (by Wins Above Replacement) are both players they selected but failed to sign: Rodon and 13th round pick Mallex Smith, who is in his third MLB season with the Rays.