The 51st annual June amateur draft will take place on Monday and for the first time in four years, the Houston Astros will not have the first overall selection. That belongs to the Arizona Diamondbacks, who will be picking first for the second time in franchise history and hoping they don't make the same mistake the New York Mets made back in 1966, when they passed on a college outfielder named Reggie Jackson. When the Diamondbacks last chose first, they selected Justin Upton, a pretty good selection considering the rocky history of first overall picks.
Where does Upton rank? Let's find out, ranking those first overall picks, focusing on the value that player gave the franchise -- not necessarily what the player accomplished over his entire career. For example, Josh Hamilton has been a good player, but he never played a game for the Devil Rays. So we'll look at that as well as the quality of that particular draft and whether a team passed on a better player.
We'll skip some of the most recent choices: Brady Aiken (who didn't sign), Mark Appel and Carlos Correa were the three players the Astros picked. While Correa looks like a future star, Appel is currently struggling in Double-A and, worse, the Astros passed on Kris Bryant, who went second to the Cubs. Gerrit Cole looks like a Cy Young contender and Bryce Harper may win this year's MVP award but it's too early to project their careers, as with Stephen Strasburg. But we'll rank every other player from 2008 back to the first draft in 1965 and tell you some of their stories.
An unmitigated disaster of epic proportions, Bush was a local two-way prep star whom the Padres took first overall to save money. Although he ended up signing for the same bonus as No. 2 pick Justin Verlander, it was less than Jered Weaver and Stephen Drew, the top-rated talents who fell in the draft, had demanded. Before he played his first game, Bush got into a fight outside a nightclub and was suspended. He hit .192 that first season in the minors and only ranked as Baseball America's No. 6 Padres prospect that offseason. "Taking Bush with the first pick was a reach," wrote Baseball America, "but Bush was a consensus top 10 talent." Things, however, only got worse from there. He didn't hit and tried pitching. He got injured and was traded, got into several alcohol-fueled incidents, got released and is currently in prison after a third DUI arrest in which he ran over a 72-year-old man. Otherwise, solid choice.
42 and 43. Danny Goodwin, C, Chicago White Sox (1971); California Angels (1975)
As the "Baseball America Draft Almanac" wrote a few years ago of the 1971 draft, "There never has been a baseball draft where the talent was so misread as this one." Goodwin, a power-hitting high school catcher from Peoria, Illinois, was the consensus No. 1 pick and the White Sox selected him but failed to sign him after a lowball bonus offer of $60,000. The cumulative WAR of the first 10 picks ended up below zero, although Jim Rice and Frank Tanana went later in the first round and George Brett and Mike Schmidt went back-to-back in the second.
Goodwin elected to play at Southern University and four years later went No. 1 overall again, with some observers calling him "the black Johnny Bench." Well, that certainly wasn't a fair label to put on a kid. He'd end up playing just 252 games in the majors -- none at catcher, after a shoulder injury apparently suffered early in his pro career sapped his arm strength. He'd say he never received enough of an opportunity and he did have some good minor league numbers, albeit no real position. Goodwin had post-career success as president of the Atlanta Braves Foundation from 1992 to 2000 and is now the president of First Choice Management Services, LLC.
41. Tim Belcher, RHP, Minnesota Twins (1983)
Unknown at the beginning of his junior season at tiny Mount Vernon Nazarene University in Ohio, Belcher soared to the top pick with his 96 mph fastball. But the Twins, notoriously cheap back then, didn't sign him and the Yankees selected Belcher the following year. Belcher did go on to a fine career, winning 146 games, but in a weak first round the Twins missed the one big prize: Roger Clemens, who went 19th overall.
While a few below contributed even less, this was an especially bad pick because Anderson was drafted as a relief pitcher. Who takes a reliever No. 1 overall? This wasn't even during the time when Bo Schembechler was team president. The Tigers took the college right-hander from Rice because he threw 98 and was an easy sign, but he finished with a 5.19 career ERA, 26 saves and -0.5 WAR. On a related note, the 2003 Tigers lost 119 games.
39. Josh Hamilton, OF, Tampa Bay Devil Rays (1999)
Obviously, Hamilton has had a better career than a lot of these guys -- but none of it came with Tampa Bay, as the Rays lost him for nothing in the Rule 5 draft after he had missed most of four years with drug and alcohol problems.
38. Steve Chilcott, C, New York Mets (1966)
In the early years of the draft, teams favored high school players over college players. Only four of the 20 first-round picks in 1966 were college players. Unfortunately for the Mets, one of them was the second pick, an outfielder from Arizona State named Reggie Jackson, and the Chilcott selection went down in infamy. He was actually hitting well in the Florida State League in 1967 when he, too, injured his shoulder; he was never the same after that and never reached the majors.
37. Brien Taylor, LHP, New York Yankees (1991)
Baseball America rated Taylor, a raw but hard-throwing left-hander, the No. 1 prospect in baseball in 1992 before he'd even pitched a minor league game. That was a bit ambitious, but two years later Taylor still rated No. 18 after posting a 3.48 ERA at Double-A. That offseason, he hurt his shoulder in a bar fight, allegedly defending his brother. His career was over. How good could Taylor have been? He walked 102 batters in 163 innings in Double-A so there were legit concerns about his control, but Gene Michael told ESPNNewYork's Andrew Marchand last year in a look at the rise and fall of Taylor that "His arm slot was exactly like Randy Johnson's, not sidearm but very low three-quarters. They had the same exact arm slot, only Brien Taylor threw a little bit harder."
36. Al Chambers, OF, Seattle Mariners (1979)
The Mariners went with Chambers and his power potential, an all-state defensive end in Pennsylvania, over Brad Komminsk, another high school outfielder. Chambers hit 20 home runs in Double-A at age 20, with 91 walks. That was pre-prospect ranking days, but considering his age, Chambers looked like a pretty good prospect at that point. But his power stalled at Triple-A and the Mariners, who wouldn't have known a ballplayer from a fire hydrant in those guys, never gave Chambers much of a chance, even though he was ninth in the Pacific Coast League in OPS at age 22.
35. Phil Nevin, 3B, Houston Astros (1992)
Oh, what could have been: The Astros took Nevin despite the advice of scout Hal Newhouser, who wanted the club to draft a high school shortstop from Michigan named Derek Jeter. Newhouser retired after the Astros instead selected Nevin out of Cal State Fullerton. Nevin ended up compiling 15.8 WAR in the majors and once hit 41 home runs, but he hit just .117 in 18 games with the Astros, who oddly gave up on him quickly, trading him during the 1995 pennant race for veteran reliever Mike Henneman, who would pitch just 18 innings with Houston.
34. Shawn Abner, OF, New York Mets (1984)
The Mets narrowed their choices to Abner, another Pennsylvania high schooler, or USC first baseman Mark McGwire. They couldn't agree with McGwire on a bonus so went with Abner, who never appeared in the majors with Mets (he'd go to the Padres as part of the Kevin McReynolds trade) and had career WAR of -1.3. McGwire ended up going 10th overall to the A's and popped a few home runs in his career.
The Pirates chose the Ball State right-hander over B.J. Upton and Adam Loewen and then general manager Dave Littlefield said they had drafted a potential No. 3 starter. Hmm. In a related note, the Pirates suffered 20 consecutive losing seasons during this time. Zack Greinke or Prince Fielder, who went sixth and seventh overall, would have been better picks.
32. David Clyde, LHP, Texas Rangers (1973)
This is the kind of thing owners did in the '70s: The Rangers drafted Clyde out of a Houston high school where he'd gone 18-0 as a senior with 328 strikeouts in 148 innings. Desperate for fans, owner Bob Short immediately put him in the majors. Possessing little more than a fastball, you can guess how this went. Clyde made 18 starts and posted a 5.01 ERA. To make matters worse, the third and fourth picks that year: Robin Yount and Dave Winfield. At least Short got his sellout for Clyde's debut.
The Rays selected the Georgia high schooler over players like Buster Posey, Pedro Alvarez and Eric Hosmer. Just two years later, Baseball America wrote, "Multiple scouts said it would be impossible to know by watching him that he was the No. 1 overall pick and the recipient of a then-record $6.15 million bonus." Beckham finally stuck in the majors this year as a part-time infielder after a lackluster minor league career, but the upside is minimal.
30. Paul Wilson, RHP, New York Mets (1994)
Drafted out of Florida State, Wilson looked like a future star after blowing through the minors in 1995. But he posted a 5.26 ERA as a rookie, had poor mechanics and arm injuries and didn't pitch in the majors again until 2000 -- with Tampa Bay. At least we'll always have this moment.
In what turned out to be a pretty decent draft -- Evan Longoria went third overall, Clayton Kershaw seventh, Tim Lincecum 10th and Max Scherzer 11th, the Royals chose wrong. Hochevar may yet have a good career as a reliever but in five years in the Kansas City rotation he went 38-58 with a 5.45 ERA.
28. Dave Roberts, 3B, San Diego Padres (1972)
The University of Oregon product played 709 games in the majors but not very well, perhaps due to a back injury. He went straight to the majors and hit .286 with 21 home runs in 1973 (although with just 17 walks). The next year, he hurt his back and hit .167 and he'd finish with just 0.4 career WAR. At least he suffered a better fate than some others. Baseball America's "Draft Almanac" review of the 1972 draft starts with the headline, "Draft remembered not for big leaguers, but for line of tragedy it produced."
27. Bill Almon, SS, San Diego Padres (1974)
In general, it's probably a good rule of thumb not to select an Ivy Leaguer first overall. The Brown University product did play 15 years in the majors, mostly as a utility infielder, but accumulated just 4.8 career WAR. The Braves would select Dale Murphy four picks later. Maybe it was just a bad draft. "The apparent reduction in the quality of talent available ... has to raise serious questions as to the quality of our product at the major league level in 15 years," said then-Royals farm director Lou Gorman. "If this alarming trend to continues, I shudder to think what we will be marketing as Major League Baseball in the future." I love cranky old baseball officials.
26. Mike Ivie, C, San Diego Padres (1970)
The San Diego Padres, everyone! The story goes that the Padres brought the 17-year-old catcher to work out with the major league before sending him to the minors. While catching batting practice, one of his throws back to the mound hit the pitching screen. "That's why they're sending you to Tri-Cities," one veteran said. Ivie developed a mental block about throwing and twice bolted the organization out of frustration and a fear of failure. He did have a couple nice seasons in the late '70s with the Giants as a part-time first baseman, but wasn't the strong-armed, power-hitting catcher the Padres once envisioned.
25. Ron Blomberg, 1B/OF, New York Yankees (1967)
Blomberg's claim to fame was becoming the first designated hitter in major league history. He had a few good years as a platoon player for the Yankees but injuries -- knee, hamstring and a collision with an outfielder -- shortened the career of the "Jewish Mickey Mantle," as he was known as a prep star.
24. Tim Foli, SS, New York Mets (1968)
He did play 1,696 games in the majors but he was the classic no-hit 1970s shortstop. He also played just 102 games with the Mets before the was traded to the Expos -- for Rusty Staub. Good trade then? Not really. The Mets also included Ken Singleton in that trade.
23. Jeff King, 3B, Pittsburgh Pirates (1986)
The Pirates would have been better off drafting Matt Williams, another third baseman who went third to the Giants; Kevin Brown, who went fourth to the Rangers; or Gary Sheffield, who went sixth to the Brewers. A few years ago, Joe Posnanski, who covered King when he played for the Royals, wrote in a blog, "Best I could tell, Jeff King did not like playing baseball. I can never remember seeing a player who seemed so miserable on a baseball diamond." His former manager Tony Muser told a story that King said he hated the National Anthem because "Every time they play this song, I have a bad day." The day after he allegedly secured his major league pension early in the 2009 season, he retired.
22. Kris Benson, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates (1996)
Probably not a good thing when his ex-wife (Anna Benson) is more famous.
21. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Florida Marlins (2000)
Gonzalez had a weird minor league career. In what was considered a weak draft, some thought Gonzalez was a safe pick without a lot of upside. He also became the only first baseman ever drafted first overall. But he turned out to be a great pick in that draft -- the only other player with more than 1.0 career WAR in the top 14 picks was Rocco Baldelli -- and owns the sixth-highest career WAR of any No. 1 overall pick. He just didn't anything for the Marlins, who traded him as a minor leaguer to the Rangers in 2003 for reliever Ugueth Urbina, who at least helped the Marlins win the World Series that year. The Rangers, too, would give up on him too soon, trading him to the Padres.
20. Floyd Bannister, LHP, Houston Astros (1976)
The hard-throwing left from Arizona State reached the majors in 1977 but spent just two seasons with the Astros before they traded him to Seattle for shortstop Craig Reynolds, who would spent 11 seasons with Houston, contributing in about four of those. Bannister had a fine career with the Mariners and then the White Sox, winning 134 games.
A favorite of Cubs fans, he had a legendary throwing arm but he walked about once every full moon and wasn't really all that valuable.
18. Delmon Young, OF, Tampa Bay Devil Rays (2003)
Amazing fact: Young is still only 29! Anyway, with poor defense and below-average OBPs, his career WAR is only 2.9, a huge disappointment considering his hype coming up through the minors. The Rays traded him after one season for Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett, and then turned Garza into Chris Archer, so at least the Rays can point to the long-term dividends from this pick.
17. Bob Horner, 3B, Atlanta Braves (1978)
He went straight to the majors out of Arizona State and won Rookie of the Year honors. He hit 33 home runs at 21 and 35 at 22, both in fewer than 130 games. He could have been one of the game's great power hitters, but didn't stay in shape and then couldn't stay healthy.
16. Mike Moore, RHP, Seattle Mariners (1981)
In another pretty weak first round, Moore trailed only Kevin McReynolds in career WAR among first-rounders. His best year, however, came with the A's in 1989 when he finished third in the Cy Young voting and helped them win the World Series.
15. Jeff Burroughs, OF, Washington Senators (1969)
Ted Williams, then the Senators manager, called Burroughs the best 18-year-old hitter he'd ever seen. He won an MVP with the Rangers in 1974 at age 23 but would make just one more All-Star team in his career.
14. B.J. Surhoff, C, Milwaukeee Brewers (1985)
Surhoff had a terrific career with over 2,000 career hits but he eventually moved off catcher. He went to the Orioles in the mid-'90s and suddenly started hitting home runs in his 30s. Plus, the Brewers missed bigger fruit: The second pick was Will Clark; the third pick was Barry Larkin; and the sixth pick, to the Pirates, was Barry Bonds.
He moved to the outfield in the majors and he never quite put up the monster numbers expected of him when he came out of the University of Miami, but he was there when the Phillies won the 2008 World Series, the first along with Jimmy Rollins from that core group to reach the majors.
12. Ben McDonald, RHP, Baltimore Orioles (1989)
The 6-foot-7 right-hander from LSU with the 98-mph fastball was called maybe the best college pitcher to ever hit the draft, the clear No. 1 choice throughout his junior season. "He probably has better stuff than anyone on the Baltimore staff," Dodgers scouting director Ben Wade told the Washington Post that year. "He's damn near a complete pitcher right now. I mean, I don't know the last time I graded a pitcher so highly."
In McDonald's final college game, a loss to Texas in the College World Series, an obviously laboring McDonald was left in to absorb a 12-7 loss. Some said he was never the same after that. In 2009, McDonald told the New York Times that he probably used up a lot of his bullets before turning pro:
"In high school, I threw 221 pitches in 13 innings in a state semifinal game, then the next day closed the last four innings of the championship game -- and that really wasn't anything unusual," said McDonald, who in college would start on one day and relieve the next. "From my sophomore year at L.S.U. through the Olympics and then through my junior season, I threw 352 innings in basically a 14-month period. Obviously, that didn't help my arm, either. Thank God they aren't doing that anymore."
In his first major league start in 1990, McDonald tossed an 85-pitch shutout. He'd win his first five starts with a 1.72 ERA. But the electric stuff was never quite there. He had a solid career, going 78-70 with a 3.91 ERA, before his shoulder gave out, done at 29.
11. Andy Benes, RHP, San Diego Padres (1988)
The Padres selected Benes over Gregg Olson, another college right-hander, although 10th overall selection Robin Ventura ended up being the best pick of the first round. Benes had a solid run for the Padres but was traded to the Mariners before hitting free agency. That trade netted them Ron Villone, who later helped get Greg Vaughn, who hit 50 home runs for the 1998 World Series team. We can keep playing this game. Vaughn then turned into Reggie Sanders, who turned into Ryan Klesko, who played on two Padres playoffs teams in 2005 and 2006.
10. Darin Erstad, CF, California Angels (1995)
A two-time All-Star, Erstand had a monster 2000 season when he hit .355 -- his only .300 season -- with 240 hits and was a Gold Glove-winning center fielder on the 2002 World Series champs. (Baseball-Reference credits him with 39 runs saved on defense that year, the most ever for a center fielder since 1954 via its Total Zone metric.)
9. Justin Upton, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks (2005)
Upton went one spot higher than his older brother did two years before and reached the majors at 19. He's already 17th on the career WAR list for No. 1 picks and will end much higher as he's still just 27.
8. Harold Baines, OF, Chicago White Sox (1977)
White Sox owner Bill Veeck first saw Baines play as a Little Leaguer -- or so Veeck claimed. So while pitcher Bill Gullickson was the No. 1-rated player that year, the White Sox selected Baines (who was ranked fifth by the Major League Scouting Bureau). Baines had a long and productive career and finished third among first-rounders that year in career WAR behind Paul Molitor (the third pick) and Bob Welch (20th). The White Sox even extracted further value when they traded Baines to the Rangers for a young outfielder named Sammy Sosa -- only to trade Sosa a couple years later for the washed-up George Bell.
7. Rick Monday, CF, Kansas City A's (1965)
The Arizona State outfielder had a fine career with over 30 career WAR and 241 home runs, but after five-plus seasons with the A's, he was traded to the Cubs for pitcher Ken Holtzman in 1972 -- who won 59 games in 1972-74 as the A's won three straight World Series.
6. David Price, LHP, Tampa Bay Devil Rays (2007)
He's had an outstanding start to his career with a Cy Young Award already in the bank and a monster payday ahead when he hits free agency after this season. As good as he's been, I bet the Giants are pretty happy that another left-hander fell to them with the 10th pick that year, a high schooler named Madison Bumgarner.
5. Darryl Strawberry, OF, New York Mets (1980)
He's one of just four No. 1 overall picks to win the World Series with the team that drafted him, along with Burrell, Erstad and one more guy to come. Sure, his post-Mets career was a long string of troubles, but Strawberry earned 36.5 WAR in his eight seasons with the Mets. FYI: The Mets had another first-round pick and took another high school outfielder from California. Name of Billy Beane. He's had a pretty good baseball career as well.
4. Joe Mauer, C, Minnesota Twins (2001)
With three batting titles, an MVP award and three trips to the postseason, the first half of Mauer's career looked like the Twins had drafted a hometown Hall of Famer. Mauer was actually the safe pick, as USC pitcher Mark Prior was the more highly regarded talent, but the Twins weren't sure what it would cost to sign him.
3. Alex Rodriguez, SS, Seattle Mariners (1993)
He's certainly the best player ever drafted first overall, with the easily the highest career WAR at 117.2. It seems funny in retrospect, but Mariners manager Lou Piniella wanted the team to draft Wichita State right-hander Darren Dreifort, because he would provide more immediate help. The scouting staff prevailed and A-Rod was actually in the majors a year later at 18 years old. He helped the Mariners to three playoff appearances but jumped as a free agent after six seasons. With the bonus pick for losing A-Rod, the Mariners drafted Garciaparra -- Michael, not Nomar -- so the A-Rod legend in Seattle was beautiful but brief.
2. Ken Griffey Jr., CF, Seattle Mariners (1987)
The Mariners at this time were owned by a billionaire real estate investor from California named George Argyros. He seemed more interested in trying to make money than building a winning team, ran the team on a shoestring budget, threatened to move the club and tried to buy the Padres in 1987. Yes, kind of an old-school Jeffrey Loria, minus the World Series title. (He finally sold the team in 1989 at a big profit over his initial investment.) He wanted the Mariners to draft college pitcher Mike Harkey -- not only a cheaper sign than Griffey, but presumably a guy who would reach the majors more quickly. The Mariners made the right choice and if there's a lesson through all this: Don't ever make a draft pick predicated on saving a little money.
1. Chipper Jones, SS, Atlanta Braves (1991)
So why Chipper over Griffey? First off, their career value is pretty similar: 85.0 for Chipper compared to 83.6 for Griffey. Griffey was certainly better at his peak but he really had only half a career, his 30s ruined by a string of injuries after the Mariners traded him to the Reds. Meanwhile, Chipper won a batting title at 36 and was a solid contributor at age 40. Importantly, Chipper spent his entire career with the Braves, winning one World Series and appearing in 12 postseasons. It's a close call in comparing Chipper's career to Griffey's career, but when you compare Chipper's career with the Braves versus Griffey's career only with the Mariners, I have to go with Chipper's longevity and World Series ring.
But if you want Griffey ... well, I won't disagree.