MLB Draft History: The Best Pick at Each Slot 1-50
Athlon Sports evaluates each slot 1-50 over 47 years of drafting.
By: Charlie Miller | 6/9/11, 6:06 PM EDT
With the 2011 Major League Draft final, let’s take a look back through history at the top picks at each slot 1-50. There are some Hall of Famers on the list, but some had to be left out. And there are a few slots that make you scratch your head and ask, “Who’s that guy?”
Dennis Eckersley, Cleveland, 1972
Became a Hall of Fame closer with Oakland after a 150-win career as a starter. The Indians received Bo Diaz and Rick Wise from Boston among others for Eck in a 1978 trade.
Carlos Beltran, Kansas City, 1995
Rookie of the Year for the Royals; too bad they couldn’t afford to keep him.
Cal Ripken, Baltimore, 1978
Seven shortstops were drafted ahead of Cal in 1978, including Buddy Biancalana, Lenny Faedo and Rex Hudler. Evidently, the Orioles thought more of Robert Boyce, Larry Sheets and Edwin Hook, who were drafted ahead of the Iron Man.
Tom Glavine, Atlanta, 1984
Five high school hurlers were selected ahead of Glavine, including Greg Maddux. Glavine wore his draft slot number on his back for 305 major league wins with the Braves and Mets. An Atlanta legend.
Jimmy Rollins, Philadelphia, 1995
Two years before taking Rollins at No. 46, the Phillies grabbed Scott Rolen with the same number. Give Rollins the edge here due to loyalty to the franchise. He has meant more to the Phillies than Rolen. The Brewers nabbed Yovani Gallardo here in 2004. He may replace Rollins on this list someday.
Tom Gorzelanny, Pittsburgh, 2003
So, what did you expect? Gerald Laird? Jed Lowrie? You find a better guy.
Joey Votto, Cincinnati, 2002
There were no good options at No. 44 until Votto showed up in 2002. He rewarded the Reds with an MVP in 2010 and likely will win another.
Bob Knepper, San Francisco, 1972
Knepper won 47 games for the Giants before being traded to Houston for Enos Cabell. I guess the Giants wish they had taken Eckersley with this pick, you think?
Dennis Leonard, Kansas City, 1972
As tempting as it was to put Mookie Wilson here, we just couldn’t ignore Leonard’s 144 wins for the Royals during their glory years in 1970s. The three-time 20-game winner played his entire career in Kansas City.
Fred Lynn, Boston, 1973
Two years later, the former USC star would be named Rookie of the Year and MVP for the AL champion Red Sox. Oddly enough, every season from 1980 until his retirement after 1990, Lynn hit below his career average.
Huston Street, Oakland, 2004
Street earned the 2005 Rookie of the Year award. He was traded with Carlos Gonzalez for Matt Holliday after the 2008 season. How’d that work out for ya, Oakland?.
Don Baylor, Baltimore, 1967
Baylor played 511 games over six seasons with Baltimore, getting some MVP votes in 1975. He was then a part of six-player deal just prior to the start of the 1976 season that brought Reggie Jackson to Baltimore. Baylor was named MVP in 1979 with the Angels.
David Wright, New York Mets, 2001
Of the 37 players drafted ahead of Wright, 14 have yet to see time in the big leagues. His 175 home runs and 682 RBIs are second to Mark Teixeira’s 293-947 among players drafted in ’01.
Frank Viola, Minnesota, 1981
Sweet music won a Cy Young in 1987, helping the Twins to the World Series championship. Mike Scott won a Cy Young in 1986 helping the Astros to the playoffs. Adam Jones of Baltimore may trump both in a few years.
Johnny Bench, Cincinnati, 1965
In the first draft ever, the Reds called Bench’s name in the second round. Bench holds the distinction of being the first Hall of Famer drafted. Among the seven catchers selected ahead of Bench were Ray Fosse, Gene Lamont and Ken Rudolph. Twenty years later the Montreal Expos would call Randy Johnson’s name at No. 36.
Johnny Damon, Kansas City, 1992
Economics lesson: In six seasons with the Royals, Damon played in 803 games, scored 504 runs and racked up 894 hits and made a total of $7,089,000. In one season with Oakland he played in 155 games, scored 108 runs, with 165 hits, and made $7,100,000.
Mark Gubicza, Kansas City, 1981
Gubicza won 14 games for the 1985 champion Royals and won 20 in 1988. After making 327 starts for Kansas City he ended his career with two forgettable starts for the Anaheim Angels in 1997.
Dave Burba, Seattle, 1987
Somehow Burba managed to win 115 and lose only 87. That seems better than Milt Wilcox’s 119-113 career record. Those were the best choices.
Dave Magadan, New York Mets, 1983
Magadan made history with eight consecutive hits to begin the College World Series. Actually received some MVP votes in 1990 after hitting .328 for the Mets.
Greg Maddux, Chicago Cubs, 1984
Perhaps the best pitcher of his generation, the Professor won 355 games and logged more than 5,000 innings. He won four consecutive Cy Young awards from 1992-95, and finished in the top five another five times.
Mike Schmidt, Philadelphia, 1971
The Hall of Famer hit 548 home runs for the Phillies with three MVP awards over an 18-year career. He anchored a lineup that won five division titles, two pennants and the 1980 World Series.
George Brett, Kansas City, 1971
Two Hall of Fame third basemen were drafted back-to-back in 1971. Brett is Mr. Royal — with three batting titles, 3,154 hits and a .305 lifetime average. He was the heart and soul of the best teams in franchise history.
Lee Smith, Chicago Cubs, 1975
Smith made closing look excruciating and painful, but he mastered it to the tune of 478 career saves. He had just 180 saves for the Cubs before a trade to the Red Sox for Al Nipper and Calvin Schiraldi.
Vida Blue, Kansas City Athletics, 1967
Of his 209 career wins, 124 of them came with the A’s. He was named MVP and Cy Young winner in 1971 and was a mainstay in the rotation that won three straight World Series titles from 1972-74.
Alan Trammell, Detroit, 1976
Two shortstops were selected ahead of Trammell in 1976. Neither reached the major leagues. Trammell played 2,293 games, all for the Tigers. He hit .419 in the 1984 postseason with three home runs, nine RBIs and seven runs in eight games.
Bill Buckner, Los Angeles Dodgers, 1968
Forget about the error and remember the 2,715 hits over a stellar 22-year career. Buckner had 837 hits in 773 games for the Dodgers prior to being traded to the Cubs in a deal that brought the Dodgers Rick Monday, the first player ever drafted in 1965. Buckner was then dealt to the Red Sox in a trade for Dennis Eckersley.
Terry Mulholland, San Francisco, 1984
Mulholland played for 11 different teams in a 20-year career that lasted until he was 43. He went from front-line starter to lefty specialist. I suspect Chad Billingsley will make this list here by 2015.
Mo Vaughn, Boston, 1989
Mo was one of the most feared hitters in the American League for a short period of time. Owns an MVP and was a member of three All-Star teams. Jacoby Ellsbury is right on his heels.
Craig Biggio, Houston, 1987
Two years earlier the Cubs drafted Rafael Palmeiro in this slot, and although Palmeiro has huge numbers, he wasn’t half the gamer that Biggio was. Biggio made the All-Star team as a catcher and second baseman, and owns 3,060 hits, 668 of them doubles.
Rick Sutcliffe, Los Angeles Dodgers, 1974
After winning Rookie of the Year with a 17-10 mark for the Dodgers in 1979, two years later Sutcliffe was dealt to the Indians for Jack Fimple, Jorge Orta and Larry White. Oops. He later won a Cy Young with the 1984 Cubs.
Mike Mussina, Baltimore, 1990
Mussina narrowly missed winning 20 games five times before accomplishing that feat in his 18th and final season. He rewarded the Orioles with a 147-81 mark over 10 seasons, then dissed them by signing a huge deal with the Yankees. He made 21 postseason starts, but never won a ring.
Roger Clemens, Boston, 1983
However tainted you may believe Clemens’ record is, he won seven Cy Young awards, an MVP, finished third in Cy Young voting another three times. He retired with 354 wins, 4,672 strikeouts, 46 shutouts and a 3.12 ERA. In 34 postseason starts, he was 12-8, including 3-0 in eight World Series starts.
Willie Wilson, Kansas City, 1974
The New York Mets are certainly rooting for Ike Davis to take over this slot one day, but for now it’s Wilson. The speedy center fielder stole 521 bases from 1978-87. He owns a batting title and finished fourth in MVP voting in 1980. At age 36, he stole seven bags in a six-game ALCS against the Toronto Blue Jays.
Roy Halladay, Toronto, 1995
Drafted in the same slot as Phillies teammate Cole Hamels, Halladay is among the career leaders for active pitchers in several categories. He owns two Cy Young awards and has finished in the top 5 another four times. His average season since 2002 is 16-7 with a 3.02 ERA.
Lance Berkman, Houston, 1997
A Texan through and through, Houston made the former Rice star the No. 16 pick in 1997 and promoted him to the big leagues in July 1999. Enjoying a resurgence with St. Louis this season, the five-time All-Star has a lifetime .410 on-base percentage.
Jim Rice, Boston, 1971
Between 1975-86, the consistent Rice averaged .307-31-110 with 95 runs (excluding the strike-shortened 1981 season). He won just one MVP, but was in the top 5 six times. In 1978 he had 406 total bases.
Don Gullett, Cincinnati, 1969
For whatever reason, the No. 14 slot isn’t very strong. Lots of above average candidates, but no Hall of Famers. Tino Martinez, Tom Brunansky, Derrek Lee, Jason Varitek, Jeff Weaver and Jason Heyward made the short list. But Gullet enjoyed the most success with his original team. He was the ace of the Big Red Machine in 1975-76 before signing with the Yankees as part of the first-ever free agent class in 1977. He appeared in four World Series with the Reds, the first at age 19 in 1970.
Manny Ramirez, Cleveland, 1991
Before “Manny Being Manny” became popular, Ramirez played eight seasons with the Cleveland Indians, hitting 236 home runs with 804 RBIs. He never won an MVP, but finished in the top 10 for eight consecutive seasons.
Kirk Gibson, Detroit, 1978
The former Michigan State star receiver was drafted into baseball by his home-state team. In 12 seasons with the Tigers, he hit 195 home runs and batted .273. But stats don’t show the impact that Gibson had on his teams. He won the 1988 NL MVP with modest numbers (.290-25-76). Billy Wagner, Nomar Garciaparra and Jay Bruce received consideration here as well.
Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh, 2005
Until McCutchen was drafted, Greg Luzinski (aka The Bull) was the best here. McCutchen is the centerpiece around which the Pirates are rebuilding.
Mark McGwire, Oakland, 1984
Although it’s unfortunate that Big Mac has become synonymous with the Steroid Era, it’s difficult to ignore his 583 homers, 363 of which came in an Oakland uniform.
Kevin Appier, Kansas City, 1987
The righthander spent 13 of his 16 seasons with the Royals, with whom he earned 115 of his 169 wins. He logged more than 200 innings eight times, and had 10 seasons of double-digit wins.
Todd Helton, Colorado, 1995
The former backup to Peyton Manning and closer at the University of Tennessee, Helton has become the face of the Colorado franchise. He is Mr. Rocky.
Frank Thomas, Chicago White Sox, 1989
The Big Hurt terrorized American League pitchers for 16 seasons in a White Sox uniform. He made his major league debut 14 months after being drafted, then played eight seasons before posting his first sub-.300 batting average. He had back-to-back MVPs in 1993 and ’94, and finished his career with 521 home runs, 1,704 RBIs and 1,494 runs.
Barry Bonds, Pittsburgh, 1985
Two of the greatest stars of this generation (Bonds and Derek Jeter) share this slot. Bonds’ numbers are absolutely off the charts (as is his hat size). Seven MVPs — four consecutive — 2,558 walks, 762 home runs and 2,227 runs. He was walked intentionally 120 times in one season. And in his pre-bulked-up days, he won eight Gold Gloves and stole more than 500 bases.
Ryan Braun, Milwaukee, 2005
Mark Teixeira, Dale Murphy and Dwight Gooden all have strong cases, but Braun has become the face of a franchise and is committed to Milwaukee through 2020.
Dave Winfield, San Diego, 1973
Winfield made his major league debut a few weeks after the draft and 3,110 hits, 465 home runs and 1,833 RBIs later he’s in the Hall of Fame. In seven full seasons in San Diego prior to bolting for New York via free agency (when have we heard that before), he averaged .284-22-88 with 19 stolen bases.
Robin Yount, Milwaukee, 1973
Four years later the Brewers drafted another shortstop in the third slot, and fellow Hall of Famer Paul Molitor became a teammate of Yount’s for 15 years in Milwaukee. During their time together, the two combined for 4,736 hits. Yount gets the nod with two MVPs and spending his entire career with the team that drafted him.
Reggie Jackson, Kansas City Athletics, 1966
Jackson owns four home run titles and five strikeout titles, but Mr. October electrified crowds in Oakland, New York and L.A. He was at his best when the lights were the brightest. In 27 World Series games, he batted .357 with 10 home runs. Just what were the Mets thinking with Steve Chilcott at No. 1?
Alex Rodriguez, Seattle, 1993
As tempting as it was to go with Ken Griffey Jr., who energized baseball fans in Seattle; or Chipper Jones, who has spent his entire career with the Atlanta Braves, and most of those seasons in the postseason; the best overall player is Rodriguez. And there is no argument here. A-Rod is among the best to ever play the game.
Well, there you have the best players drafted at each lot, 1-50. In case you’re wondering which team seemed to be the best at spotting talent over the last 47 years, the Kansas City Royals placed seven players on this list. But of course, that is far from a reliable evaluation given that the Giants get credit fro drafting Bob Knepper and the Brewers get no credit for Paul Molitor when counting from this list.
For what it’s worth, the Yankees, Cardinals, Angels and Rangers — franchises that participated in all 47 drafts — did not show up at all. Thurman Munson at No. 4 (Yankees), Ted Simmons at No. 10 (Cardinals), Frank Tanana at No. 13 (Angels) and Mark Teixeira at No. 5 (Rangers) were close calls.
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