MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

Smoltz to become lowest drafted Hall of Famer

Smoltz to become lowest drafted Hall of Famer

John Smoltz, among four former players who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame this summer, was a 22nd-round Draft choice of the Detroit Tigers in 1985, which will make him the lowest drafted player to be enshrined in Cooperstown.

Don't, however, get carried away with a rags-to-riches type story. Much like Ryne Sandberg, a 20th-round pick of the Phillies in 1978, who was the previous lowest pick among what is now 30 products of the MLB Draft in the Hall of Fame, Smoltz's signability was in question when he came out of high school.

While multimillion-dollar signing bonuses are common for top picks now, 40 years ago, six-figure bonuses were unusual, which made teams reluctant to use a high pick on a multisport high school prospect who had college opportunities.

Bob Horner ($162,000 from Atlanta) and Kirk Gibson ($150,000 from Detroit) became the two biggest bonus babies in baseball history in 1978.

Smoltz, meanwhile, slipped all the way to the 22nd round, even though scouts had indicated he would go somewhere in the top three rounds. Smoltz had the leverage of a scholarship to play basketball and baseball at Michigan State.

Sandberg was a similar case. He was the premier high school quarterback in the western United States when he came out of high school, and had offers from every school in the Pac-12, which allowed him to slip through the first 19 rounds before the Phillies called his name.

We're No. 1

Ten of the 30 products of the Draft who became Hall of Famers were first-round picks, including Reggie Jackson, who went second overall in 1966 to the A's. The Mets had the first pick that year and took high school catcher Steve Chilcott.

Chilcott spent six years in the Minor Leagues, but an arm injury limited his potential, and he is one of only three players taken No. 1 overall in the first 46 years of the Draft, which began in 1965, to not make a big league appearance.

Brien Taylor (1991, Yankees) and Matt Bush (2004, Padres) are the other two.

This year's Hall of Fame class does include two first-round picks -- Craig Biggio, 22nd overall by Houston in 1987, and Frank Thomas, seventh overall by White Sox in 1989 -- in addition to Smoltz and Pedro Martinez, a free-agent signee out of the Dominican Republic by the Dodgers.

Early decisions

Twenty-four of the 30 Draft products elected to the Hall of Fame were selected in the first four rounds of the Draft.

The late bloomers included Wade Boggs, seventh round, Boston, 1976; Goose Gossage, ninth round, White Sox, 1970; Andre Dawson, 11th round, Montreal, 1975; Nolan Ryan, 12th round, Mets, 1965; Sandberg and Smoltz.

Ryan and Johnny Bench, Cincinnati's second-round pick, were products of the first Draft in 1965 who landed in Cooperstown.

Educated

The evolution of the college player in the Draft is underscored by the Hall of Fame voting.

Only three college players -- Jackson, Arizona State; Fisk, New Hampshire; and Schmidt, Ohio University -- were among the first 12 drafted players enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

That, however, began to change with the selection of Dave Winfield of the University of Minnesota, fourth overall, and immediately after Robin Yount in the first round in 1973. Ten of the last 18 Draft products enshrined in the Hall of Fame were college products, including Biggio (Seton Hall) and Randy Johnson (Southern Cal) this year.

Happy anniversary

Eleven years ago today, Rice had three pitchers selected among the top 10 picks in the Draft: Phil Humber, third to the Mets; Jeff Niemann, fourth to the Rays; and Wade Townsend, ninth to the Orioles. Humber was the only one of the three to sign, and he didn't agree to terms until Jan. 11, 2005, the day before a federal law was enacted taking Medicare and Social Security taxes out of signing bonus money.

Twenty-nine years ago Sunday, the Royals selected Heisman Trophy winner Bo Jackson of Auburn in the fourth round of the Draft. Third time was the charm. The Royals signed Jackson, who had been drafted but not signed by the Yankees out of high school in the second round in 1982, and the Angels in the 20th round in 1985.

Forty-two ago Sunday, three of the first 11 players selected went directly to the big leagues: No. 1 pick David Clyde of Texas, No. 4 pick Dave Winfield of San Diego and No. 11 pick Eddie Bane of Arizona State.

Quickly

• Danny Goodwin is the only player to be selected No. 1 overall in the Draft twice. He turned down the Chicago White Sox when they selected him out of high school in 1971, but signed with the Angels when they used the top pick on him out of Southern University in 1975.

• Brady Aiken, who was the No. 1 overall pick by Houston last year, joined Goodwin as the only first picks to not sign. Aiken has since undergone Tommy John surgery but is draft eligible again this year because he did not enroll in a four-year college.

• The Dodgers had the most successful Draft year in history in 1968 when between the January Draft that no longer exists and the June Draft they signed 14 players who made it to the big leagues, including three-fourths of their 1970s infield -- first baseman Steve Garvey, third baseman Ron Cey and second baseman Davey Lopes. Shortstop Bill Russell was a ninth-round selection in 1966.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.