The second in our two-part series on the 21 players who went directly from high school or college to their major league debut. In Part 2, we look at the last 11 players to skip the minors and explore why the practice is much less common now.
In Part I of this series, published Thursday, we looked at the first ten players who went straight from high school or college to the majors since the amateur draft began in 1965.
Today, in Part II, we look at the last eleven players who bypassed the minors on their way to their major-league debut. We'll also consider why the straight-to-the-majors practice is used much less frequently now as compared to the 1970s.
After a five-year hiatus, baseball saw the next straight-to-the-majors player when the Oakland Athletics selected Mike Morgan fourth in the June 1978 draft. Morgan, eighteen years old, had just graduated from Valley High School in Las Vegas. He debuted with the A's on June 11, 1978, pitching a complete game, but taking a 3-0 loss to the Orioles. Morgan lost his next two starts, as well, and was sent to the minors for the remainder of the season. Morgan started 1979 at AAA, was called up mid-season, and posted a 2-10 record in thirteen starts. That earned him another year in the A's farm system and, eventually, a trade to the Yankees in 1980.
Thus began Morgan's career as a major league nomad. He pitched for twelve different teams over parts of four decades. His most successful season came in 1992 with the Chicago Cubs. In 34 starts, Morgan posted a 16-8 record, with a 2.55 ERA over 240 innings, for a 142 ERA+. Morgan played his final three seasons with the Diamondbacks, pitching mostly out of the bullpen. He pitched in his last game in September 2, 2002, a 19-1 drubbing at the hands of the Dodgers, going 1⅓ innings and giving up three hits and one run out of the bullpen. He ended his career with a 141-186 record and a 4.23 ERA over 597 games.
The Atlanta Braves selected Horner first in the 1978 draft. Horner, out of Arizona State University, was the first ever recipient of the Golden Spikes Award, awarded to the best amateur baseball player each year. Horner debuted on June 16, 1978, playing third base for the Braves against the Pirates. He went 1-for-3, hitting a two-run home run in Atlanta's 9-4 loss. In 89 games his rookie year, Horner batted .266/.313/.539 with 23 home runs. He was the National League Rookie of the Year.
Horner played nine years with the Braves and finished his career with one season in St. Louis after a detour to play in Japan in 1987. Over his ten seasons in the majors, Horner posted a triple-slash of .277/.340/.499 and hit 218 home runs.
The A's weren't done drafting kids in 1978 when they drafted Morgan. Later in the first round, the A's selected Conroy, a left-hander, out of Gateway High School in Monroeville, Pennsylvania. Conroy debuted on June 23, 1978, getting the start for the A's against the Royals. Conroy went three-and-a-third innings, giving up one run on two hits and five walks. He started only one other game for the A's in 1978, taking another no-decision.
Conroy then spent the next three years in the A's farm system and didn't pitch in the majors again until 1982. His only full seasons in the majors came in 1983 and 1984, when he pitched in 47 games, starting 32 games and pitching 15 in relief. Conroy finished his career with the Cardinals in 1987. Overall, he compiled a 18-32 record and a 4.69 ERA.
Milner was the first and only catcher to go directly from the draft to the majors. The Blue Jays drafted Milner in the seventh round of the 1978 draft out of Southwest High School in Fort Worth, Texas. He debuted the same day as Conroy, June 23, 1978, going 1-for-4 in a losing effort for the Blue Jays against the Indians. He played only one other major league game that season and, as it turns out, in his career. Milner spent several years in the Blue Jays farm system, where he sustained a series of career-ending injuries.
The Expos drafted Incaviglia out of Oklahoma State University in the first round of the June 1985 draft. Incaviglia was a successful power hitter in college; in fact, he still holds the college baseball record with a career .915 slugging percentage. Incaviglia wanted no part of the minor leagues. The Expos had other ideas, so they traded him to the Texas Rangers. Thereafter, MLB enacted a rule prohibiting a team from trading a player until he'd been under contract with the team for one year, not surprisingly termed the Pete Incaviglia Rule.
"Inky," as he was known, debuted for the Rangers on April 8, 1986, played right field, and went 1-for-4 with a run scored. He hit 30 home runs his rookie year but couldn't sustain that kind of power over the course of his twelve-year career. In addition to the Rangers, Incaviglia played for the Tigers, Astros, Phillies, Orioles and Yankees. His career triple-slash is .246/.310/.448 with 206 home runs.
Abbott is one of the best baseball stories in the history of the sport. He was born without a right hand, but learned to pitch with this left hand, using his hand-less right arm to rest his glove. He led the University of Michigan to two Big Ten Championships in baseball and, in 1987, received the James E. Sullivan Award for top amateur athlete in the United States and the Golden Spikes Award.
The California Angels selected Abbott eighth in the June 1988 amateur draft and he debuted the following April in a game against the Mariners, taking the loss. He finished his rookie season 12-12 with a 3.92 ERA. His best season was 1991, when he posted an 18-11 record with a 2.89 ERA over 243 innings, and finished third in Cy Young Award voting.
Two years later, Abbott, then with the Yankees, threw a no-hitter against the Cleveland Indians on September 4, 1993. An accomplishment for any pitcher, but for Abbott, it was something special. Here's Bob Costas with a short video on Abbott's no-hitter:
Abbott went on to pitch for the White Sox, Brewers, and Angels, again. In all, an 87-108 record and a 4.25 ERA in 263 career games. Remarkably, he also had two hits in 21 at-bats when he played for the Brewers, who by then had moved to the National League. Abbott pitched his last game on July 21, 1999.
Olerud was a standout pitcher and slugger at Washington State University but was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in June 1989 as a first baseman. He debuted for the Blue Jays on September 3, 1989 in a game against the Twins, replacing Fred McGriff at first base in the ninth inning. He smashed a single in his first major league at-bat. Olerud's breakout season with the Blue Jays was 1993, when he led the American League in batting average (.363), runs created (156), intentional walks (33), on-base percentage (.473) and OPS (1.072). But Olerud could not sustain that level of performance for the Blue Jays, who traded him to the Mets after the 1996 season.
Olerud flourished with the Mets, both offensively and defensively. In his three seasons in New York, he posted a triple-slash of .315/.415/.501 with 109 doubles and 63 home runs. The September 6, 1999 issue of Sports Illustrated featured Olerud and his Mets teammates Edgardo Alfonzo, Rey Ordonez and Robin Ventura, with the headline: The Best Infield Ever? Olerud finished out his career with the Mariners (four-and-a-half seasons), Yankees (half season) and Red Sox (one season). He played his last game on October 2, 2005.
Over the course of his career, Olerud played in 2,234 games, batted .295/.398/.465, and hit 500 doubles and 255 home runs. He was a two-time All-Star and a three-time Gold Glove winner.
Dreifort was a standout pitcher at Wichita State University and was named 1993 NCAA Player of the Year. The Dodgers picked Dreifort second overall in the 1993 draft (behind only Alex Rodriguez). He made his debut on April 7, 1994, pitching a perfect inning in relief in a game against the Marlins. Dreifort threw 29 innings in 1994 over 27 games, going 0-5 with a 6.21 ERA.
Dreifort missed the 1995 season due to injuries and returned to the Dodgers bullpen in 1996. He transitioned from reliever to starter in 1998. By the end of the 2000 season, he'd compiled a 39-46 record with a 4.49 ERA. Even with those mediocre numbers and a history of injuries, Dreifort (via agent Scott Boras) still somehow negotiated a 5-year/$55 million contract with the Dodgers before the 2001 season. He never pitched anything close to a full season other than in 2004, when he appeared in 60 games. Injuries forced him to retire after the 2004 season.
Prieto was born and raised in Cuba, and then emigrated to Puerto Rico where he pitched in the winter leagues. The A's selected Prieto fifth overall in the 1995 draft. He debuted on July 2, 1995 in a game against the Angels, pitching two perfect innings in relief. The A's made him a starter in 1996 but injuries kept him from pitching a complete season for Oakland. He was traded to the then-Devil Rays before the 2001 season but pitched in only three games for Tampa Bay. Over the course of six seasons, he pitched 352 innings, compiling a 15-24 record with a 4.85 ERA.
Nady played college baseball at the University of California at Berkeley and holds the Pac-10 record for highest slugging percentage in a season (.729). The Padres drafted Nady in the second round in 2000; he debuted that year, playing his one and only major league game of the season on September 30, 2000. He singled as a pinch-hitter and scored a run. Nady didn't see the majors again until 2003.
His career has been marked by injuries, including two Tommy John surgeries and an emergency appendectomy. Over ten seasons, he's played in only 880 games, for the Padres, Mets, Pirates, Yankees, Cubs and Diamondbacks. To date, Nady's posted a career slash of .275/.328/.438. He is a free agent with hopes of playing in 2012.
Leake was a standout pitcher for Arizona State University, compiling a 40-6 record with a 2.91 ERA and 2 saves for the Sun Devils. The Reds selected Leake eighth overall in 2009. He debuted with Cincinnati on April 11, 2010, going 6⅔ innings, giving up one run on four hits and seven walks against the Cubs, for a no-decision. In two seasons with the Reds, Leake has appeared in 53 games (48 starts) and is 20-13 with a 4.03 ERA. Leake is perhaps best known for shoplifting $60 worth of American Rag shirts from a Macy's in Cincinnati in April, 2011.
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The practice of debuting players in the major leagues without any minor league experience has slowed considerably since the 1970's. Kevin Goldstein, an expert in scouting and prospects at Baseball Prospectus, believes that the level of play in the majors is far superior to what it was even in the 1970's and 1980's, making it much more difficult for players to transition directly from college to MLB. John Sickels, editor of SBNation's Minor League Ball, echoed Goldstein's comments and added:
If you look at baseball history, complaints that rookies and young players are being rushed too quickly are as old as the sport itself. However, in my view, both scouting and coaching are better than they were 20 or 30 or 40 years ago. In terms of comparing now to 1970, I think teams certainly have a better feel for which players are ready for the majors and which aren't, at least in terms of who can make a direct jump successfully.
Both Goldstein and Sickels also noted that teams are reluctant to start a player's arbitration clock running until they they believe the player is ready to make an impact at the major league level.
Will we ever see another straight-to-the-majors player? Stay tuned.