Mar. 10, 2013; Phoenix, AZ, USA: Former outfielder Ken Griffey Jr throws out the first pitch prior to the game between USA against Canada during the World Baseball Classic at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Who was the Best 1st Overall Pick in the MLB Draft


The MLB draft is much less of a sure thing than in any other professional sport. In my opinion, baseball is much less reliant on natural talent than any other of the American professional sports that players generally need between two and five years (or more) of seasoning, learning the ins and outs of professional baseball at the highest levels of the game, after being drafted.

Since the draft was inaugurated in 1965, there have been only a few #1 overall picks who have truly transcended the game. Two of the best hitters to ever play the game, Alex Rodriguez and Ken Griffey, Jr. top my list. Rodriguez, still technically active, has an rWAR of 116 to go along with his 654 career home runs and .942 career OPS. Griffey, who was never tainted by steroid scandals (or the stigma of being a jerk), amassed 83.6 rWAR, 630 home runs and a .907 OPS. Another great player, Braves’ third baseman Chipper Jones had a .930 OPS and 85 rWAR.

There aren’t nearly as many pitchers selected first overall who have made big splashes. Stephen Strasburg has yet to have had the chance to cash in on his huge potential while David Price has had an outstanding first few years of his big league career, with 19.1 rWAR, a very good 3.28 ERA and 1.16 WHIP. Ben McDonald and Andy Benes both had very solid careers, posting rWARs of 20.9 and 31.7 respectively. Lefty Floyd Bannister had a career rWAR of 26.9, putting him between McDonald and Benes on the pitching leaderboard.

While there aren’t as many busts coming out of the #1 pick as there are lower down in the draft, there are many players who never lived up to the hype, including Tim Beckham and Luke Hochevar (from some of the more recent drafts) to Matt Bush and Bryan Bullington in the first half of the 2000s. In the 1990s, we had Matt Anderson, Paul Wilson and Brien Taylor, one of whom didn’t make the majors at all (and note that all three were pitchers).

The 1980s had a good success rate in #1 overall picks with only OF Shawn Abner (1984) failing to contribute in the big leagues (with a -1.3 rWAR). The 60s and 70s were much more miss than hit.

While it’s still too early to call the last three #1 picks (Mark Appel, Carlos Correa and Gerrit Cole) the “greatest ever,” we can look back and try to determine who we think is the best #1 pick of all time. Who do you think it is?

Who is the best 1st overall pick in the history of the MLB Draft?

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Tags: MLB Draft Polls Seattle Mariners

  • Erockalypse

    Of all the #1s I know of I’d take Jr. 100/100 times. The guy was pure talent at the plate or in the outfield. His personality alone won me over as a kid. The majors need more of ambassador types like him. The Kid was the man. And how can you do any better out of the gate in MLB as a rookie than belting a HR at your first at bat. Instant success.

  • Michael L.

    Not sure how Josh Hamilton or Adrian Gonzales missed the poll. I’m a Nationals homer, but both of these players have accomplished more than Harper or Stras. Hamilton has a MVP in pocket. If Griffey didn’t spend the second half of his career on the DL, I would rank him above A-Rod, but unfortunately, The Kid was always hurt. A-Rod is clearly the best #1 (although one might argue his stats are inflated because of his drug use). I wouldn’t be surprised though if rumors were out there indicating Griffey had similar demons. His injuries appear to be similar to those individuals whose were popping needles on a consistent basis.

    • http://www.bluejaysfromaway.com Jay Blue

      They were considered but both have rWAR that is far lower than any of the other position players who were taken first overall. Hamilton’s well-documented injury and drug/alcohol problems will probably leave him very short in the longevity category which won’t allow him to rack up the career numbers that either Griffey, Jones or A-Rod will. Adrian Gonzeles is a very good player, of course, but I don’t think that anyone considers him in the same, superstar category as the other guys on the list.

      That said, you’re making your voice count with your comment!! Thanks!

    • Erockalypse

      His injuries were from giving his all to the game. I live in Seattle and remember watching a game on tv when he ran full boar into the back wall right after catching a ball. think that put him out for a bit, but what I see a lot is guys pulling up short on close plays to the wall and letting em bounce or not flying through the air for that out. You do see them, but on the highlight reel. Griffey was a walking highlight reel and he paid the ultimate price.

    • John Cate

      Not a single person has ever accused Ken Griffey Jr. of using PED’s. Not one. And a lot of players in their 30s have suffered from nagging injuries that limited their effectiveness. If you look at pictures of him throughout his career, he filled out naturally. He didn’t go from skinny and wiry at 21, to looking like an NFL linebacker at 39, like someone else did, and he had a normal decline phase, rather than suddenly turning into a prime Babe Ruth in his late 30s, like someone else did.

  • John Cate

    Even if A-Roid had the best WAR number, I’d take Junior first, for all of the reasons other than WAR.