Unlike the NFL or NBA, who mostly draw players from the top levels of the college ranks, Major League Baseball draws talent from all levels. As such, D3 baseball is well represented in the professional ranks. Today we're going to look at some of those D3 alums. Most of these names will be easily recognizable, but it might come as a surprise to find they came from the D3 ranks.
Charlie Furbush, P, Seattle Mariners – St. Joseph's (ME)
If you look at Furbush’s profile on MLB.com, it will say he attended Louisiana State. But dig a little deeper and you will find Furbush originally attended Saint Joseph’s (Maine) before transferring to LSU and entering the MLB draft as a Tiger.
Furbush has had an up-and-down career with the Mariners, but has established himself as a steady bullpen arm capable of getting lefties out, a critical piece to any manager’s late-game strategy. Forget the overall numbers when looking at this stud from D3, worry about the matchup problems he causes when thinking of his impact on the game of baseball. During the 2015 campaign, Furbush limited lefties to a paltry .105 average and a .77 ERA. You would be hard-pressed to find someone better at neutralizing left-handed hitters.[divider]
Erik Kratz, C, Houston Astros – Eastern Mennonite
A career backup for a handful of teams – Phillies, Astros, Pirates and Royals – Kratz has created a name for himself in one of the toughest situational spots in sports: the backup catcher role. Coming out of Eastern Mennonite, Kratz took his small school career into a big league staying spot as a backup catcher. As many pundits will say, the backup catcher is the last man on the bench, so Kratz has not seen a whole ton of playing time — 68 or fewer games every year of his career. But the value he brings is still tremendous, especially to the Phillies in 2012 and 2013 when he put up nine homers and 26 RBI’s in each campaign while backing up Carlos Ruiz in his prime.
At this point in his career, Kratz has taken on another role: teacher. Go through any clubhouse and ask about which players are most influential and you will find the backup catcher may be the most knowledgeable player in the room. Look out for Kratz in a coaching role within the next few years because of that fact.[divider]
Chris Heisey, OF, Washington Nationals – Messiah College
Heisey’s name might sound familiar amongst his colleagues on this list, as he has put up the most consistent numbers to get some national recognition. Drafted by the Reds out of Messiah College in 2006, Heisey played an integral role in establishing the Reds as contenders through the early 2010’s.
Heisey clubbed 18 homers in 2011 and drove in 50 runs while also posting his best OPS at .797. Since that season, Heisey has fallen off slightly and moved to the Dodgers in 2015, and then joined the Nationals this season. Heisey may no longer be the threat he was when he was in Cincinnati, but his role on a contending ball club for a few years puts him right in the middle of this list.[divider]
Chris Denorfia, OF, New York Yankees – Wheaton College
Denorfia has been a contributing player on any team he has been a part of for a long time. The average MLB career is only a few seasons for most, and lasts as long as a cup of coffee for the majority. Not the case for Denorfia, who went from a 21st round pick by the Reds to a starting outfielder for the San Diego Padres in 2012. It was during his time in San Diego that he started to make his mark as a consistent threat. In 2012 and 2013 combined, Denorfia hit 28 home runs, 40 doubles and was able to hit above .275 in each season.
Since those spectacular seasons, Denorfia has struggled to replicate that success, averaging under .264 each year and hitting a total of six home runs. He signed with the Yankees, but was released shortly before the season started. It is likely that Denorfia is reaching the twilight of his career. But as mentioned in the beginning, he has played the pastime longer than most, and brings a lot of honor to the name Wheaton (Massachusetts).[divider]
Jordan Zimmermann, P, Detroit Tigers – UW-Stevens Point
The former Nationals star now dons the Tigers' stripes after a splendid seven-year career in the nation’s capital. But before establishing himself as a staff ace in the bigs, Zimmermann was blowing people away at UW-Stevens Point. In his final year with the Pointers, Zimmermann struck out 90 over 78 innings and posted a 10-0 record, and added two saves as well.
Fast forward 10 years, and Zimmermann has racked up 70 wins and a career 3.32 ERA. His best campaign came in 2013, going 19-9 for a powerhouse Nationals club. It was even argued by some that he had become the ace of the staff as Stephen Strasburg was supposed to. If you were shocked to find such a big star on this list, I admittedly was too. That must be why it is a no-brainer to put Jordan Zimmermann as the best D3 baseball player in the Major Leagues over the last 15 years. Maybe, he is the best D3 alum to make it to the show ever.