The New York Yankees will choose 28th in Wednesday’s draft. Several notable names, including a not-so-new friend, have appeared in the slot.
Baseball is, for lack of a better term, back.
The 2020 MLB Draft will commence on Wednesday night in a virtual setting (7 p.m. ET, MLB Network/ESPN), albeit in far shorter settings via a five-round setup. Wednesday’s first-round will see the New York Yankees choose 28th as they ironically seek a 28th World Series title once we roll back the tarp that is the current health crisis and the dispute between players and owners.
The 28th pick of the draft perhaps couldn’t be described as enviable, but the past has yielded some entertaining, productive picks that have gone down in baseball lore…
1975: RHP Lee Smith, Chicago Cubs
The former all-time save leader’s baseball career nearly ended before it truly began. After struggling on the Double-A-level as a starter, Smith nearly exchanged his mitt for a mid-range shot via college basketball but was convinced to return by former Cubs veteran Billy Williams. The rest is history, as Smith earned 478 saves in an 18-year career that included an eight-game, three-save stop with the Yankees in 1993. After retiring in 1997, Smith earned a long-sought Hall of Fame nod more than two decades later in 2018.
1981: Darrin Jackson, Chicago Cubs
Jackson is perhaps better known for his current exploits as the television voice of the Chicago White Sox, but he built a began a lengthy baseball career with their North Side rivals, the Cubs. He became one of the more well-traveled selections of the 1981 draft, partaking in games with seven different MLB teams, along with a two-year stint in Japan. In that time, he became a reliable outfielder, leading the National League in Defensive WAR (3.9) in 1992, his last of four seasons with the San Diego Padres.
1992: C Charles Johnson, Florida
Johnson originally declined a first-round contract from the Montreal Expos in 1989, but an NL East destiny nonetheless awaited him with the Florida Marlins. The catcher didn’t have to go far, rejecting Canada for college in Miami. The U has produced great catchers in football, but Johnson brought the trend over to the baseball diamond upon his MLB entry in 1995.
While he never made a dent on the offensive statsheet, Johnson established himself as one of the best defensive catchers of all time. He became the fourth rookie backstop to win a Gold Glove in his rookie season and was a key part of Florida’s 1997 World Series trek, batting .357 in their seven-game series win over Cleveland. The aforementioned Gold Glove was the first of four straight, and he combined it with two All-Star Game appearances (1997, 2001).
2008: RHP Gerrit Cole, NY Yankees
Gerrit Cole has been touted as the newest member of the New York Yankees, but, technically speaking, he had borne pinstripe representation long before inking a $324 million deal with the team last winter. The Yankees originally chose Cole with the 28th pick out of Orange Lutheran High School and were prepared to over him a $4 million signing bonus.
Cole instead opted to put his Bronx dreams on hold and play for UCLA, where he united with fellow future Major Leaguer Trevor Bauer to the Bruins’ best baseball season in program history. A second visit to the draft in 2011 put Cole in the top spot, where he was chosen by the Pittsburgh Pirates. He would make his MLB debut two years later and spent five seasons in black and yellow before behind dealt to the future champion Houston Astros.
2015: RHP Mike Soroka, Atlanta
A Calgary native, Soroka would make his Major League debut in 2018 in New York, throwing six innings of one-run baseball against the Mets at Citi Field. Injuries limited Soroka to five games in his rookie year, but he burst onto the scene with a 13-4 mark and a 2.68 ERA last season. He finished second in Rookie of the Year voting to Pete Alonso but Soroka was nonetheless invited to his first All-Star Game last summer.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags