This year, the Baseball Hall of Fame class will see its first #1 overall selection to be inducted with Ken Griffey Jr. getting the nod in record-breaking fashion. But it also features the latest pick to ever be inducted, with Mike Piazza having been selected in the 62nd round, 1390th overall, mostly as a favor to his father from Tommy Lasorda. That got me interested in looking into who is the latest pick to ever make it to the major leagues, period.
This honor — and yes, I do believe it is an honor — goes to former right-handed pitcher Travis Phelps, who was taken in the 89th round of the 1996 draft by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
Phelps attended Wheaton High School in Wheaton, Missouri before pitching for Crowder College in Neosho, Missouri. He was drafted after one college season, at age 19. From there, he spent four full seasons in the minor leagues, working almost exclusively as a starting pitcher. But when he made his MLB debut on April 19th, 2001, it was as a reliever, coming in to throw two perfect innings against the Red Sox. The rest of his big league time came as a reliever as well, not starting any of his 79 career appearances.
He spent the majority of the 2001 and 2002 seasons with the Devil Rays, shuffling down to Triple-A a couple of times, finishing with ERAs of 3.48 and 4.78 in the two seasons respectively. He was let go by Tampa Bay prior to the 2003 season, and ended up pitching for Atlanta’s Triple-A team for the entire season as both a starter and reliever.
Milwaukee picked him up for 2004, and though he again spent most of the year as a Triple-A swingman, the Brewers would give him what would end up being his final shot in the big leagues, pitching 6 innings over 4 games to the tune of a 10.50 ERA. Though he bounced around in the minors for a couple years after that, he never made it back to the majors, and ended up heading to the independent Atlantic League.
We can look back now and see pretty clearly what ailed Phelps. He had a solid 7.92 strikeout-per-nine rate over his 105.2 innings, but he also allowed 4.60 walks- and 1.28 home runs-per-nine, which make for a career 4.86 FIP. Those kinds of guys are a dime a dozen, so it makes sense that he never really found success.
All that said, he was still able to reach the highest level of baseball possible after clearly being doubted by scouts, and that is nothing to sneeze at. Spending 10 years as a professional baseball player in some capacity is not an easy thing to do, so kudos to Travis Phelps.