The MLB draft consists of a period defined by anxiety and uncertainty not only for the upcoming players, but also for the teams investing millions in the talented yet unproven young athletes. While first-round draftees carry the hope of success, glory and fame—the 2005 MLB draft exceeded everyone’s expectations by bringing into the majors a surplus of achievements, talent and superstars. And it just might be best draft Major League Baseball has ever seen.
Oral history of one of the best first rounds in Draft history
By Doug Miller | June 04, 2015
Read on MLB.com
Justin Upton was the first name called on June 7, 2005, but as that day’s first round of the MLB Draft unfolded, pick by pick, the hits — and future MVPs, Gold Gloves and All-Star appearances — kept on coming.
That year’s Draft was hyped then and historic now. Joining Upton on a glittering roster of current players in the first round were (in order of selection) Alex Gordon, Ryan Zimmerman, Ryan Braun, Troy Tulowitzki, Mike Pelfrey, Cameron Maybin, Andrew McCutchen, Jay Bruce, Jacoby Ellsbury, Colby Rasmus, Matt Garza, Jed Lowrie, and Clay Buchholz, not to mention later-round finds such as Chase Headley (second), Brett Gardner (third) and Michael Brantley (seventh). Given the often astronomical odds involved, even for blue-chippers, that’s statistically stunning and something we might never again witness.
Ten years after the historic 2005 Draft, we will keep enjoying it by honoring its anniversary with an oral history of what many consider MLB’s ultimate first round.
I. Hope and Hype
Upton, OF, Padres (No. 1 overall pick, D-backs, Great Bridge High School, Chesapeake, Va.): There were some great players in that Draft — a lot of the high school guys I had played against in the showcases. Playing against each other, constantly, you knew which guys were the top guys.
Braun, OF, Brewers (No. 5 pick, Brewers, University of Miami): I knew about the college guys — Troy Tulowitzki, Ryan Zimmerman, Alex Gordon. I had an opportunity to play against all those guys during college. And then the high school guys. McCutchen, Justin Upton, Jay Bruce. Just some incredible talent.
Tulowitzki, SS, Rockies (No. 7 pick, Rockies, Long Beach State): I had an idea playing on the USA team the previous summer [which featured Tulowitzki, Zimmerman, Gordon, Ellsbury, Lowrie and Gordon]. I looked at that team and said, “Wow. I don’t know if this is how it is every year, but these guys are really, really good players.” I didn’t know it was going to be as big as it turned out to be.
II. Scout Central
McCutchen, OF, Pirates (No. 11 pick, Pirates, Fort Meade (Fla.) H.S.): It was a little nerve-wracking for me, being young and having a lot of scouts at the games. I was much more, like, soaking it in, as opposed to being cut off and thinking, “Man, this is crazy.”
Bruce, OF, Reds (No. 12 pick, Reds, West Brook H.S., Beaumont, Texas): It was a whirlwind, but it was a lot of fun. A Pirates [scout] came a couple of times on the weekend. He would throw BP to me and stuff. That was a little odd.
Maybin, OF, Braves (No. 10 pick, Tigers, T.C. Roberson H.S., Asheville, N.C.): I remember hearing that a private investigator moved in across the street from my house. I was told that after the Draft. That was just one of the things they do before they’re going to give an amateur guy a lot of money. They do their homework.
Rasmus, OF, Astros (No. 28 pick, Cardinals, Russell County H.S., Seale, Ala.): A lot of scouts were coming in, actually, to watch my younger brother [Cory] and Kasey Kiker, who got drafted [12th overall in 2006] by the Rangers, which kind of helped me to get seen a little bit more.
Buchholz, RHP, Red Sox (No. 42 pick, supplemental first round, Red Sox, Angelina College): There wasn’t a whole lot of talk about anything as far as I went. The first fall ballgame that I pitched in, there was one scout there, and I threw two innings, and my dad came up to me and said, “How hard do you think you’re throwing?” I was like, “I don’t know … 91, 92?” He was like, “You haven’t thrown a fastball under 96 yet.” I was like, “That’s a little different.” The next time I started, there was nothing but scouts in the stands.
Maybin: I didn’t have a class fourth period. So I would have to go out and set the field up and just do stuff for scouts. There was just a lot of working out before high school games. Looking back on it, that was kind of crazy — all the workouts I did before games, because in high school, you might not get pitched to. That was the fun part of it.
Ellsbury, OF, Yankees (No. 23 pick, Red Sox, Oregon State): We had a rainout in San Diego State or something. We were just trying to kill time and there was a basketball lying on the court. I threw a couple of alley-oops to myself off the backboard and took off right in front of the free-throw line on one of them. I dunked it, hit my elbow on the rim. I guess [some Red Sox scouts] saw it. After they drafted me, that’s one of the big comments they made. They brought up the time they saw that.
Buchholz: [Indians right-hander] Josh Tomlin was on my team. We’d sit down and talk and he would say, “Buch, I have to thank you, because you’re the reason why I’m getting looked at, too. Because they’re here to see you.”
III. Speculation Season
Upton: Closer to the Draft, I did a couple of pre-Draft workouts for a couple of teams and one was the D-backs [who held the No. 1 overall pick]. I guess at that point, I knew they were interested.
Gordon, OF, Royals (No. 2 pick, Royals, Nebraska): I really had no contact with the Royals. I thought I was going to go No. 3 to Seattle. I talked to one of their area scouts who lived close to Lincoln [Neb.], so I talked to him all the time.
Tulowitzki: Everybody was like, “If you do get past the Mariners [at No. 3], we’ll take you.” The Rockies had talked to me a little bit here or there, but it’s not like they stood out more than any other team. The pre-Draft stuff said, “Another A-Rod for the Mariners,” and that’s the last thing you wanted to hear. You didn’t want to have to live up to that.
Maybin: You always hear first round, but I was told by previous [draftees] to not believe anything they tell you.
McCutchen: It was between the Rays, who were picking eighth, and the Pirates, 11th. I was thinking more of the future, and [Tampa Bay] had so many prospects, outfielders. With the Pirates, I would have more of an opportunity to get to the Majors than I would’ve had with the Rays at the time. So I was like, “I hope the Pirates get me.”
Lowrie, SS, Astros (45th pick of supplemental first round, Red Sox, Stanford): We had a little scout day where you can go and talk and have lunch with a couple that were more interested. It was a fun experience, because you got to think about your future and hopefully the opportunity to play professional baseball.
Tulowitzki: The Mariners had told me all along that basically I was their guy. The night before the Draft, my advisor received a phone call that said they were going to go in a different direction. It wasn’t full-on panic, because I knew I was going to get picked. But I had all these teams I didn’t really talk to, because all they’d heard was the Mariners were going to pick me. (Editor’s note: The Mariners selected USC catcher Jeff Clement.)
IV. The Big Day
Upton: I think everyone around me was really excited. I was more shocked than anything. You never really expect that, to be the first overall pick. I couldn’t believe it.
Gordon: We had practice going on at the time of the Draft. And I had my brother in the stands, listening to the Draft. So when it happened, he just raised his hand with two fingers, meaning I went No. 2. Then the whole team got together around me and congratulated me.
Zimmerman, 1B, Nationals (No. 4 pick, Nationals, Virginia): Taking your game to the next level was special enough. To be drafted by the team that was close to where I grew up, where I went to college, it was a good fit.
Braun: I just remember interacting with [current Mariners general manager] Jack Zduriencik, who was our scouting director at the time. He was a lot of fun to be around and he had a lot of success drafting Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, J.J. Hardy, Corey Hart. So I knew I was going to a good organization that was headed in the right direction.
Maybin: We rented out a steakhouse. That was before you could watch it on television. We had some computers hooked up to the Internet in the restaurant. It was exciting, but really nerve-racking at the same time.
McCutchen: During the Draft, the Rays went for a pitcher [Wade Townsend], and I said, “Man, this is going to be tough.” Tenth pick was the Tigers, they got Maybin, and the Pirates were next, and I’m going, “OK, this is the team.” And then they got me.
Bruce: The Rockies were supposed to take me. Braun was supposed to go third to the Mariners. Tulowitzki was supposed to go fifth to the Brewers. I was supposed to go seventh, but Jeff Clement got picked by the Mariners, then Braun dropped to the Brewers and Tulowitzki went to the Rockies. It was like a trickle-down effect. I was just ecstatic to be anywhere near that area.
Ellsbury: I don’t even remember my reaction. I just remember everybody’s reaction, obviously being very excited, a lot of high fives, congratulating me.
Rasmus: Leading up to the Draft, with all the guys that had a lot of credentials already, it was a great Draft to be a part of. But at the same time, if there wouldn’t have been so many good players I could have [gone] a little higher. It’s all good.
Buchholz: I was in a hotel room with some of my family. It wasn’t a huge party, but it was a pretty special day.
Lowrie: I was flying back from [the NCAA Regionals in] Waco, [Texas,] when the Draft was happening, so I didn’t hear my name get called. When I got off the plane, I had about 10 text messages and 10 voicemails, so I figured something good happened.
Tulowitzki: You’re happy to go anywhere to fulfill a dream, but you compare yourself to other guys and say, “I think I’m better than him, and he was picked before me.” You definitely play those games, but in the end you’re looking forward to joining that organization and trying to get to the big leagues.
Bruce: I say the only person the Draft works out for, all in all, is the first pick. I think the second pick always thinks he should have gone first. The third pick probably thinks he should have gone first, and everyone else thought they should have been drafted higher or were told at some point they would be drafted higher.
V. A 10-Year Legacy
Braun: Time certainly does fly, and when you reminisce about a thing that happened 10 years ago and it seems like last year, it’s kind of scary. It’s a constant reminder of how quickly life goes by.
Lowrie: It’s crazy to think it was 10 years ago. I played with a lot of those guys on Team USA, and a lot of those guys were first-round picks and had success in the Major Leagues. It’s cool to be a part of that Draft class, because there are so many good players who have come from it.
Zimmerman: I think it was a pretty good Draft from top to bottom. The first round was obviously loaded with guys that got to the big leagues quickly. When they got there, they made a big contribution to the team that they were part of. … I consider myself very lucky to be where I’m at today.
Bruce: It’s one of, if not the, best Drafts of all time, in my opinion. Maybe I’m biased a little bit.
Rasmus: It’s kind of cool to see how everything panned out. Looking back on being 17 years old and getting drafted and not really knowing the unknowns of the baseball world I was going to get into, it was a crazy ride, and I feel very fortunate and blessed to be able to be a part of it.
Reporting done by Corey Brock, Jeffrey Flanagan, Bill Ladson, Adam McCalvy, Thomas Harding, Mark Bowman, Tom Singer, Mark Sheldon, Bryan Hoch, Brian McTaggart and Ian Browne. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.