July 7, 2023
By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
In April 2021, while listening to former big leaguer Bret Boone interview John Olerud for his podcast, I learned that Olerud was originally selected by the New York Mets in the 27th round of the 1986 MLB draft out of Interlake High School in Bellevue, Wash.
Olerud, of course, didn’t sign with the Mets, and opted to attend Washington State University, and in 1989, the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee re-entered the draft and was selected in the third round by the Toronto Blue Jays.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Olerud went on to bat .363 in 1993 to become the first Blue Jays player to win an American League batting title. He also picked up two World Series rings with the Blue Jays and ranks first all-time in franchise history in on-base percentage (OBP) (.395).
He did, however, eventually suit up for the Mets when they acquired him from the Blue Jays for pitcher Robert Person on December 20, 1996.
Not knowing that Olerud had been drafted by the Mets got me wondering how many other key Blue Jays players were drafted by other teams that I didn’t know about. So I decided to do some research and I came up with the following list:
Jimmy Key – The steady left-hander was originally chosen in the 10th round of the 1979 MLB draft by the Chicago White Sox out of S.R. Butler High School in Huntsville, Ala. He decided not to sign and attended Clemson University. The Blue Jays then selected him in the third round of the 1982 draft.
Tom Henke – Most of us know that Henke was not drafted by the Blue Jays and that he came to the Blue Jays as compensation for free agent Cliff Johnson signing with the Texas Rangers after the 1984 season. But did you know that Henke was originally chosen in the 20th round of the 1979 June Amateur draft by the Seattle Mariners? Or that after not signing with the Mariners, he was selected in the first round (24th overall) by the Chicago Cubs in the 1980 MLB January Draft (Secondary Phase)? Henke did not sign with the Cubs either and he was eventually taken in fourth round of the 1980 June Amateur draft by the Rangers.
Todd Stottlemyre – The intense right-hander was originally selected in the fifth round of the 1983 June Amateur draft by the New York Yankees out of Davis High School in Yakima, Wash. After declining to sign with the Yankees, he was taken in the first round (first overall) by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1985 MLB January Draft (Secondary Phase). He did not come to an agreement with the Cards either and then was selected in the first round (third overall) by the Blue Jays in the 1985 June Amateur draft.
Ed Sprague – Sprague was originally selected in the 26th round of the 1985 June Amateur draft by the Boston Red Sox out of St. Mary’s High School in Stockton, Calif. He did not sign and opted to attend to Stanford University and was then taken in the first round (25th overall) by the Blue Jays in 1988.
1976 Expansion Draft picks
Jim Clancy – The workhorse right-hander won 128 games in parts of 12 seasons with the Blue Jays after they picked him with their third selection in the 1976 American League expansion draft. He was originally chosen in the fourth round of the 1974 MLB draft by the Rangers.
Garth Iorg – Blue Jays fans think of him as Rance Mulliniks‘ long-time platoon partner at third base. Iorg played all nine of his major league seasons with the Blue Jays after he was selected with the 41st overall pick in the 1976 expansion draft. Iorg was originally selected by the Yankees in the eighth round of the 1973 MLB draft.
Rule 5 picks
Willie Upshaw – The Blue Jays claimed Upshaw as a Rule 5 pick from the Yankees in December 1977. He was originally chosen by the Yankees in the fifth round of the 1975 draft.
George Bell – The fiery slugger and 1987 American League MVP was a Rule 5 pick from the Philadelphia Phillies in December 1980. Bell had been signed by the Phils as an international amateur free agent out of the Dominican Republic.
Kelly Gruber – The athletic third baseman was a Rule 5 pick from Cleveland in December 1983. Gruber was originally selected in the first round (10th overall) of the 1980 MLB draft by Cleveland.
Manuel Lee – The heir apparent to Tony Fernandez at shortstop for the Blue Jays, Lee was a Rule 5 pick from the Houston Astros in December 1984. He had been signed by the Astros as an international amateur free agent.
Other Blue Jays stars and the surprising teams they were drafted by . . .
Dave Winfield – Most of us know that Winfield played for the Padres, Yankees and Angels before signing with the Blue Jays as a free agent for the 1992 season. But did you know that he was originally selected in the 40th round of the 1969 MLB draft by the Baltimore Orioles?
Paul Molitor – Molitor was originally drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers, right? Wrong. Molitor was first drafted in the 28th round in 1974 by the St. Louis Cardinals out of Cretin High School in St. Paul, Minn. He declined to sign and enrolled at the University of Minnesota and re-entered the draft in 1977 and was selected third overall by the Brewers.
Roger Clemens – He was a dominant pitcher for the Red Sox from the mid-80s to the mid-90s and then won back-to-back Cy Young awards with the Blue Jays in 1997 and 1998, but did you know that Clemens was originally selected in the 12th round of the 1981 MLB draft by the Mets?