MLB Trade Rumors recently ran an extensive three-part feature looking back at the 1992 expansion draft that birthed the Marlins and Rockies, found here: part 1, part 2, part 3. Expansion drafts are fascinating. Roughly once per generation a group of baseball executives gets to build a team in their own image as opposed to inheriting someone else’s organization.
Of course, the drawback is the only players that are available are the ones that other teams are willing to give away for free, so the talent pool is limited. This is why no expansion team has ever won more than 70 games in its first season. Still, there have been quite a few good players who have found themselves drafted by fledgling organizations. Here is a 25-man roster comprising the best players ever picked in an expansion draft.
- All players drafted in any MLB expansion draft are eligible. This includes the 1960 Los Angeles Angels and Washington Senators; 1961 Houston Colt .45s and New York Mets; 1968 Kansas City Royals, Montreal Expos, San Diego Padres, and Seattle Pilots; 1976 Seattle Mariners and Toronto Blue Jays; 1992 Colorado Rockies and Florida Marlins; and 1997 Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
- Players will be evaluated only on their performance in the years after they were drafted. For example, Gil Hodges is not on the roster because he only played 65 games after being drafted by the Mets in 1961.
- It is common during expansion drafts for a team to draft a player and then trade him away immediately. These players are still eligible because they were technically drafted and the expansion team derived value from having picked them. The players they were traded for are not eligible because they were not drafted.
- 2B Eric Young, Colorado Rockies– Young was drafted from the Dodgers after a cup of coffee in 1992. He hit the first home run in Rockies history and would play another 14 years in the majors. His .360 OBP and 459 SB after being drafted suit him well to the leadoff spot.
- DH Bobby Abreu, Tampa Bay Devil Rays– The Devil Rays made a lot of poor decisions that fueled a decade of futility. This may have been the first as well as the worst. On the night of the draft, Abreu was picked 6th overall and traded to Philadelphia for Kevin Stocker straight up. Abreu would play nine years for the Phillies averaging more than 5 rWAR per season. He’s currently 20th in JAWS among right fielders. Stocker played only three years after the draft slashing .202/.237/.322.
- LF Randy Winn, Tampa Bay Devil Rays– Winn played five years in Tampa but was also part of a regrettable trade. After a well deserved All-Star season in 2002 he was traded to Seattle for manager Lou Piniella. Winn slashed .286/.343/.423 after the trade with 135 SB. Piniella slashed .000/.000/.000 because he’s a manager. The Devil Rays went 200-285 in three seasons under Sweet Lou. As a side note, Piniella himself was an expansion draftee by the Royals, and just missed making it onto this team.
- 3B Vinny Castilla, Colorado Rockies– Castilla was an original Blake Street Bomber, the great beneficiaries of the wild pre-humidor days of Colorado baseball. He hit 195 HR from 1995-1999 with the Rockies. His career OPS is .797, but at Coors Field it’s .989.
- RF Carl Everett, Florida Marlins– Jurassic Carl Everett had only 74 PA over two seasons with the Marlins before being traded to the Mets for Quilvio Veras. Veras had a decent career, but Everett amassed 20.4 rWAR over the next dozen years.
- SS Jim Fregosi, Los Angeles Angels– If there’s a theme on this roster it’s historically bad trades. This one, however, benefitted the Angels long after they expanded. They sent Fregosi to the Mets after the 1971 season for Nolan Ryan, who immediately proceeded to strike out every single baseball player in the world. The reason the trade looked reasonable at the time is Fregosi was unquestionably the best shortstop in the American League in the 1960s.
- CF Ruppert Jones, Seattle Mariners– Jones was the Mariners’ first All-Star and had a career 106 wRC+ over 12 years (11 after the expansion draft). Remarkably, if you Google “Ruppert” you won’t get to him until the 8th page of results.
- 1B Nate Colbert, San Diego Padres– Colbert hit 163 HR for the Padres. This still stands as the franchise record.
- C Ernie Whitt, Toronto Blue Jays– No expansion draft pick ever spent more seasons with the team the drafted them than Whitt, who left the Blue Jays after the 1989 season. He was a consistent performer as the starting catcher for the entirety of the ’80s.
- RHP Dean Chance, Los Angeles Angels– Chance was one of the best pitchers in baseball in the mid ’60s. He averaged 4.7 rWAR per season from 1962-1968. In 1964 he won the Cy Young with a 1.65 ERA, 11 SHO, and 9.4 rWAR.
- RHP Jim Clancy, Toronto Blue Jays– Clancy and Ernie Whitt were the two franchise cornerstones selected by the Blue Jays in their draft. Clancy pitched in Toronto for a 12 seasons and is in the Blue Jays’ top three all time in IP, SO, CG, and SHO.
- RHP Turk Farrell, Houston Colt .45s– Unlike most players chosen in expansion drafts Farrell was in the prime of his career when he was selected. He spent six seasons with the Phillies and Dodgers, all as a reliever, and made the All Star Team in 1958. Houston converted him to a starter and Farrell rewarded them immediately with a 7.0 rWAR season in 1962.
- RHP Andy Ashby, Colorado Rockies– Ashby was traded from the Rockies to the Padres at the trade deadline in 1993. San Diego was the clear winner of the trade, netting Brad Ausmus (more about him shortly), Doug Bochtler, and Ashby for Greg Harris and Bruce Hurst. Harris threw 203.1 innings in Colorado with a 5.59 FIP and Hurst only pitched in three games. Ashby anchored the Padres rotation through 1999 and helped lead them to the 1998 World Series.
- LHP Dave Roberts, San Diego Padres– There have been four major leaguers named Dave Roberts. This one pitched for thirteen seasons amassing 22.1 rWAR.
- C Brad Ausmus, Colorado Rockies– The current Tigers manager never suited up for the Rockies, but he did play 18 seasons for the Padres, Tigers, Astros, and Dodgers. His career wRC+ is only 76 but he was regarded as a stellar defensive catcher and earned three Gold Gloves.
- INF Tony Batista, Arizona Diamondbacks– Batista was a journeyman infielder, but he did hit 204 HR from 1998-2004. Of course, so did pretty much everyone else in baseball at that time.
- 1B/OF Jeff Conine, Florida Marlins– Conine was the face of the franchise during two stints with the team, which probably says more about the transiency of the roster than anything else.
- UTIL Tommy Harper, Seattle Pilots– Harper had 95 BB and a league leading 73 SB for the Pilots in 1969. When the franchise moved to Milwaukee and became the Brewers in 1970 he had a 30-30 season and slashed .296/.377/.522.
- 1B/OF Dmitri Young, Tampa Bay Devil Rays– Young was another draft-and-trade. He was sent immediately to the Reds and finished his career with a respectable 112 wRC+. Five years later, Tampa Bay drafted his brother Delmon with the first overall pick in the amateur draft, which also didn’t work out too well.
- RHP Trevor Hoffman, Florida Marlins– Because Hoffman is likely to become a Hall of Famer next year, it would be easy to say the Marlins never should have traded him. However, the guy they got in return was pretty good too.
- RHP Mike Marshall, Seattle Pilots– Marshall epitomizes the term “rubber arm”. He had more than 100 IP each season from 1971-1975, all in relief, for the Expos and Dodgers. This includes 106 GP and 208.1 IP (both records) in his Cy Young season of 1974.
- RHP Dick Drago, Kansas City Royals– Drago compiled 20.5 rWAR in six seasons as a starter in Kansas City and Boston followed by seven seasons out of bullpen in Boston, California, and Seattle.
- RHP Steve Reed, Colorado Rockies– Reed pitched in 815 games after being drafted. He spent seven years with Colorado and pitched into his 40s.
- LHP Tom Burgmeier, Kansas City Royals– Burgmeier was no LOOGY, pitching in 689 games and throwing 1186 IP after being picked by the Royals.
- RHP Dave Giusti, San Diego Padres– Giusti was traded to St. Louis a few weeks after the Padres selected him, and then to Pittsburgh a year later. He starred as the closer for seven years on some very good Pirates teams and won the 1971 World Series.
Other Interesting Draft Picks
- The only current Hall of Famer ever picked in an expansion draft was Hoyt Wilhelm by the Royals, at least until Hoffman gets elected.
- Bobby Shantz was picked in two different expansion drafts by the Washington Senators in 1960 and the Houston Colt .45s in 1961.
- Ned Garver was selected by the Angels in 1960. Banished to the Pen writers who fail to acknowledge all possible Garver references are subject to disciplinary action.
- No players from the Washington Senators, New York Mets, or Montreal Expos drafts made this roster. In fact while researching this article, the author made a list of about 50-60 players and narrowed it down to 25, and no Expos even made it on the larger list. Perhaps that explains why they finished 52-110 in their first season and were under .500 for their first ten years.
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