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?