Wednesday, November 1, 2023

The Immaculate Grid and Baseball's Best Fifth Round Draft Picks, 1965 - 69

I'm a consistent Immaculate Grid player and use whatever cards litter my desk as "original sources" to plug in names. On Halloween 2023, the grid-makers added a curveball for game #212 with "First Round Draft Pick," something they introduced on earlier versions for football and basketball. I filled in six squares with familiar names and then observed the 1940s and 50s cards on my desk lacked any draft info, leaving me cold. I threw in three guesses, missing on Rick Ankiel and Keith Hernandez, and counted myself lucky to get Barry Zito.

One problem with high picks: many first show up as low picks in earlier years. Barry Zito's "first round pick" (Oakland, 1999) came after earlier attempts in the 59th (Seattle, 1996) and third (Texas, 1998). Many skilled draftees delay signing to play college ball or otherwise develop their skills, reentering the draft in later years.

Draft picks do show up from time-to-time on baseball sets, including something I pinched myself for forgetting, the 1985 Topps subset of active #1 picks.

Check out 30 Year-Old Cardboard's subset profile for all 12

I've used Shawn Abner for Immaculate Grid before at the intersection of Padres, Angels, or White Sox and the trick is that he never played in the bigs for New York. A trade of multiple players, including Kevin McReynolds, moved Abner to SD, where he debuted in 1987. Donruss went all-in by giving Shawn his own "Baseball's Best" card after just 16 games the prior year. The weight of great expectations!

Any memory of Abner's #1 pick card would've helped my IG score, since 2% is far better than the 100-point penalty for missed guesses.

My "what if" Mets row

Interesting that Abner qualified as a Met, since other Immaculate Grid categories require players log at least one team appearance in that uniform. It appears their "first round draft pick" considers selection alone, opening up more obscure answers for MLB draftees who reached the bigs with other clubs. (Most first-rounders get at least a cup of coffee, given how much teams commit to that pick.)

Roger moved fast, from 1983 #1 pick to 1984 in Boston

1985 Topps, and others like it, knit draft status into that tiny bio text. MLB's current amateur selection process ("The Rule 4 Draft") started in 1965 and Topps added relevant info to card backs a decade later in 1976.

1976 card for one member of the inaugural Rule 4 draft 

Those top-tier picks often achieve great things, in terms of stats and accolades, so let's hunt for hidden treasure by finding our best fifth-rounders from the amateur draft's initial years, 1965 to 1969.

1965: Amos Otis (42.8 WAR, 5x All-Star, 3x Gold Glove)

Otis ranked among baseball's best 1970s outfielders and helped KC reach the postseason five times. His cards also show off how good those powder blues can look, year after year.

1966: Dave Cash (25.6 WAR, 3x All-Star, 1971 World Series champ, "Action Dog" nickname)

Dave played almost every day 1971-78, first for Pittsburgh's title winners, and then for an improving Phillies team that won the NL East in 1976. Teammates often mentioned his reliable defense and esprit de corps in the clubhouse.

Dave appears at card shows these days and a trading friend came away with a dollar bill signed by Cash & (Don) Money at the same National. They each seemed amused by the pun.

1967: Dave Goltz (23.1 WAR, 1981 World Series champ)

Dave lingered in the low minors for several years before debuting in 1972 for a 77-77 Twins club by going 3-3. Goltz registered .500 W/L records three more times in the next four years before breaking through with 20 wins in 1977 and still ranks in Minnesota's franchise top-10 for strikeouts. (Remove numbers from the Washington Senators and he'd be even higher.)

My favorite Goltz cards hail from the same 1978 Topps set, first autographing something for a fan and then sharing space with three other excellent hurlers.

1968: Burt Hooton (35.5 WAR, 1981 All-Star, 1981 World Series champ)

Hooton split the 1970s between Chicago and LA, where he and Goltz ended up as teammates on the title-winning 1981 Dodgers squad. Burt spread his 151 career wins across 15 seasons and spring training card photos from Dodgertown, Florida come to my mind first.

His last name's pronounced /WHO-ten/, which led to a 1975 Hostess "Hooten" error, later corrected.

1969: Dwight Evans (67.2 WAR, 3x All-Star, 8x Gold Glove, 2x Silver Slugger)

"Get yourself someone who can do both," as the saying goes, and Evans sure could hit and flash leather in the outfield. He rates best of these 1965-69 fifth-round picks and many say Cooperstown-worthy. (Hall of Famers Al Kaline, Billy Williams, and Tony Perez all rank in Dewey's top-10 similarity scores.)

My favorite Evans cards sport the bushy mustache, eyebrows, and/or eye black. While one last year in Baltimore "spoiled" his 19 years in Boston for Red Sox fans, he continued to get on base ~40% of the time and ranks #29 all-time in walks (1391), leading the AL three times.

More picks coming!

I'll continue this theme and see what kind of team we can build from fifth-round draft picks, given this solid starting five.
  • SP: Goltz, Hooton
  • RP: TBD
  • C: TBD
  • 1B: TBD
  • 2B: Cash
  • 3B: TBD
  • SS: TBD
  • OF: Otis, Evans, TBD


Mark Zentkovich said...


Brett Alan said...

That #1 Picks subset definitely helped me get Rick Monday (who I believe was actually the first player EVER drafted) and Tim Foli! For the Mets I really wanted to answer "Steve Chilcott", who they made a huge mistake drafting first in 1966 when everyone else knew they should have taken Reggie Jackson, but Chilcott wasn't eligible to be put in as he never played in the majors at all.

Matthew Glidden said...

Ahhh, good point that a player needs to reach the bigs with _someone_ to be eligible for IG, even if it's a different team. I've updated that comment in the post.

Bo said...

I used Shawn Abner for that one too! Yes, thinking of that card. A lot of my answers from that set come from thinking about what cards might help with the answer. I have so very many in my brain.