The Best No. 1 Picks in MLB Draft History
The Best No. 1 Picks in MLB Draft History

by Nick Selbe

Despite having less fanfare than the NFL or NBA drafts, the MLB draft is just as important. PointAfter ranks the best No. 1 picks in MLB draft history.

For a number of reasons, the MLB draft occurs each year with much less fanfare than the NFL or NBA versions. Baseball's amateur draft takes place in the middle of the MLB season. Widely unknown college and high school players are selected, and most take a few years to even reach The Show. The draft wasn't even televised until 2007, and even then it was held at 2 p.m. ET -- not exactly primetime.

Despite its relative anonymity, there's no debate about the draft's importance. While diamonds in the rough crop up every year, having a high pick is extremely valuable, and the top selections often go on to MLB stardom. With this in mind, PointAfter -- part of the Graphiq network -- ranked the top 25 No. 1 picks in MLB draft history.

We relied largely on Wins Above Replacement to sort each player, though we also took career accolades and championship track records into account. In order to more properly weigh active players who haven't amassed a full career's worth of WAR, we sorted the list based on WAR per 162 games for position players and WAR per 200 innings pitched for pitchers.

Active players currently in the prime of their careers benefited from this ranking, as they don't yet have their average WAR per season weighed down by their decline years. For this reason, the WAR per 162 games played and WAR per 200 innings pitched are used as guidelines rather than hard-and-fast rules. In addition, former players must have accumulated at least 10.0 career WAR to be eligible. This keeps former players who didn't last long in the Majors from being ranked ahead of those who stayed on the field for a long period of time.

In all, 23 of the 50 players taken with the No. 1 overall pick made at least one All-Star team. Seven of them won at least one Most Valuable Player Award, and one took home Cy Young honors, giving us an impressive group to sort through.

#25. 3B/1B Phil Nevin

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Career WAR: 15.8
WAR per 162 games: 2.1

Year drafted: 1992
Team: Houston Astros
School: Cal State Fullerton

Accolades: All-Star (2001)

Nevin was a bit of a nomad early on in his career. He was traded three times before finally getting a chance at regular playing time with the San Diego Padres in 1999. Nevin's breakout season came in 2001 when he hit .306/.388/.588 with 41 home runs.

#24. SP Tim Belcher

Rick Stewart/Getty Images

Career WAR: 26.2
WAR per 200 innings: 2.1

Year drafted: 1983
Team: Minnesota Twins
School: Mount Vernon Nazarene University

Accolades: World Series champion (1988)

Though the Twins took Belcher first overall in 1983, he refused to sign with the team and instead was picked in the 1984 supplemental draft by the New York Yankees. The Oakland A's picked him up in the compensation pool, and he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1987.

The highlight of his career came in 1988, when, as a rookie, he won Game 4 of the World Series. Belcher finished sixth in the 1989 NL Cy Young Award voting and remained a solid starter for the rest of his career.

#23. OF Jeff Burroughs

Career WAR: 17.6
WAR per 162 games: 1.7

Year drafted: 1969
Team: Washington Senators
School: Woodrow Wilson High School (Long Beach, CA)

Accolades: AL MVP (1974), two-time All-Star (1974, 1978)

At age 23, Burroughs broke onto the scene in a big way, hitting .301/.397/.504 with 25 home runs and an AL-leading 118 RBI to take home MVP honors. He hit 41 home runs in 1977 and made his second All-Star team in 1978.

Following his retirement, Burroughs coached his son Sean Burroughs' Little League team. The team won the Little League World Series in 1992 and 1993, and the younger Burroughs went on to a seven-year MLB career.

#22. SP Floyd Bannister

Career WAR: 26.9
WAR per 200 innings: 2.3

Year drafted: 1976
Team: Houston Astros
School: Arizona State University

Accolades: All-Star (1982), AL strikeout leader (1982)

After two unimpressive seasons with the Astros, Bannister was traded to the Mariners and enjoyed the best years of his career. He struck out 209 batters in 247 innings during the 1982 season, after which he signed with the Chicago White Sox. He remained productive until injuries derailed his career in 1989.

#21. SP Mike Moore

Career WAR: 28.5
WAR per 200 innings: 2.0

Year drafted: 1981
Team: Seattle Mariners
School: Oral Roberts University

Accolades: World Series champion (1989), All-Star (1989)

Though he never made an All-Star appearance for the team that drafted him, Moore was a workhorse during the seven seasons he spent with the Mariners. He threw 56 complete games in 217 starts and finished 10th in AL Cy Young Award voting in 1985.

Moore was the No. 2 starter for the Oakland A's during the team's 1989 World Series championship season. After four years in Oakland, Moore finished his career with the Detroit Tigers.

#20. LF/C B.J. Surhoff

Career WAR: 34.3
WAR per 162 games: 2.4

Year drafted: 1985
Team: Milwaukee Brewers
School: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Accolades: All-Star (1999)

Known for his versatility, Surhoff played every position except pitcher during his big league career, though he primarily played left field and catcher. His best season came as a member of the Baltimore Orioles in 1999, when he hit .308/.347/.492 with 28 home runs and 107 RBI. Surhoff played with the Brewers, Orioles and Atlanta Braves during his 19-year career.

#19. SP Ben McDonald

Career WAR: 20.9
WAR per 200 innings: 3.2

Year drafted: 1989
Team: Baltimore Orioles
School: Louisiana State University

Though he never made an All-Star team or won any awards, McDonald was a very good pitcher during his brief nine-year career. He made his first Major League start on July 21, 1990, throwing a shutout against the Chicago White Sox. McDonald posted a 4.5-WAR season in 1993 at age 25 and a 5.4-WAR season in 1996, though a rotator cuff injury cut his career short at age 29.

#18. SP Andy Benes

Career WAR: 31.7
WAR per 200 innings: 2.5

Year drafted: 1988
Team: San Diego Padres
School: University of Evansville

Accolades: All-Star (1993), NL strikeout leader (1994)

Benes had two top-10 finishes in Cy Young Award voting, placing sixth in 1991 and third in 1996. He led the NL in strikeouts during the strike-shortened 1994 season, fanning 189 batters in 172.1 innings, and finished his career with an even 2,000 punch-outs.

#17. DH/RF Harold Baines

Career WAR: 38.5
WAR per 162 games: 2.2

Year drafted: 1977
Team: Chicago White Sox
School: St. Michaels High School (Easton, MD)

Accolades: Six-time All-Star (1985-87, 1989, 1991, 1999), Silver Slugger Award (1989)

Advanced metrics aren't very kind to designated hitters, which hurts Baines' career WAR total. Still, Baines' production in the batters box and longevity earn him points in this ranking. He had 11 seasons with 20 or more home runs and received MVP votes each year from 1982-85.

Baines spent the bulk of his career with the White Sox, and after retiring in 2001, he returned to become the team's bench coach under manager Ozzie Guillen. He was on the staff when the team won the 2005 World Series, and the franchise retired Baines' No. 3 jersey in 1989.

#16. CF Rick Monday

Career WAR: 33.1
WAR per 162 games: 2.7

Year drafted: 1965
Team: Kansas City Athletics
School: Arizona State University

Accolades: World Series champion (1981), two-time All-Star (1968, 1978)

Monday was the first pick in the first-ever MLB draft. He was a steady contributor during his 19-year career, making two All-Star appearances and accumulating 241 career home runs. Monday is perhaps best known for saving the American flag from being burned during a game at Dodger Stadium in 1976.

#15. 3B Bob Horner

Career WAR: 21.7
WAR per 162 games: 3.4

Year drafted: 1978
Team: Atlanta Braves
School: Arizona State University

Accolades: All-Star (1982), NL Rookie of the Year (1978)

Horner dealt with injuries throughout his big league career, only reaching the 500-plate appearance mark four times in 10 seasons. He had immense power, posting seven 20-plus home run seasons despite missing significant time.

In his first three seasons, Horner hit 91 home runs in just 334 games and finished ninth in NL MVP voting in 1980. He is one of 16 players in Major League history to hit four home runs in a single game and one of two to accomplish the feat during a loss.

#14. OF Justin Upton

 

Career WAR: 24.2
WAR per 162 games: 3.2

Year drafted: 2005
Team: Arizona Diamondbacks
School: Great Bridge High School (Chesapeake, VA)

Accolades: Three-time All-Star (2009, 2011, 2015), two-time Silver Slugger Award (2011, 2014)

Upton made his Major League debut with the Diamondbacks at age 19 and made his first All-Star appearance at 21. He has posted five seasons with 25 or more home runs and signed a six-year, $132.75 million contract with the Detroit Tigers prior to the 2016 season.

#13. OF/1B Darin Erstad

Career WAR: 32.3
WAR per 162 games: 3.2

Year drafted: 1995
Team: Anaheim Angels
School: University of Nebraska at Lincoln

Accolades: World Series champion (2002), two-time All-Star (1998, 2000), three-time Gold Glove Award (2000, 2002, 2004), Silver Slugger Award (2000)

Though known mostly as an elite defender, Erstad's best season offensively was came in 2000, when he led the majors with 240 hits, tied for 13th-most in a single season. He was the first player in MLB history to win Gold Glove awards at two different positions (two in center field, one at first base), and was a key member of the Angels' World Series championship run in 2002.

#12. SS Carlos Correa

 

Career WAR: 5.2
WAR per 162 games: 5.5

Year drafted: 2012
Team: Houston Astros
School: Puerto Rico Baseball Academy (Gurabo, PR)

Accolades: AL Rookie of the Year (2015)

Correa's WAR per 162 games played is the third-highest among No. 1 overall picks, which is misleading since he has yet to play 162 games in his young career. Correa has drawn comparisons to A-Rod and has lived up to the hype so far.

His standing on this list is largely speculative, but if he were to end up having the career of, say, Justin Upton, the Astros would most likely be disappointed. When all is said and done, this might end up being far too low for the toolsy shortstop.

#11. SP Gerrit Cole

 

Career WAR: 8.9
WAR per 200 innings: 3.4

Year drafted: 2011
Team: Pittsburgh Pirates
School: UCLA

Accolades: All-Star (2015)

Cole was initially drafted with the No. 28 overall pick in the 2008 draft as a high school senior. He chose not to sign, and the move paid off after he dominated during his college career and went No. 1 in 2011. Cole is just starting to reach his ace potential, making his first All-Star appearance in 2015 and finishing fourth in NL Cy Young Award voting.

#10. SP Stephen Strasburg

 

Career WAR: 17.0
WAR per 200 innings: 4.0

Year drafted: 2009
Team: Washington Nationals
School: San Diego State University

Accolades: All-Star (2012), NL strikeout leader (2014), Silver Slugger Award (2012)

Few college pitchers have had as much hype as Strasburg did when he finished his career at San Diego State. His four-year, $15.1 million contract he signed with the Nationals after getting drafted was by far the most lucrative for a draft pick.

Strasburg has dealt with injuries throughout his career, most notably undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2010, but has been dominant when healthy. The Nationals signed him to a seven-year, $175 million contract extension during the 2016 season.

#9. 1B Adrian Gonzalez

 

Career WAR: 42.7
WAR per 162 games: 4.1

Year drafted: 2000
Team: Florida Marlins
School: Eastlake High Schol (Chula Vista, CA)

Accolades: Five-time All-Star (2008-11, 2015), two-time Silver Slugger Award (2011, 2014), four-time Gold Glove Award (2008-09, 2011, 2014)

Three years after being drafted, Gonzalez was traded to the Texas Rangers and made his big league debut with the team in 2004. He was traded again following the 2005 season and finally broke through with the San Diego Padres, hitting 161 home runs in five seasons. Gonzalez signed with the Boston Red Sox prior to the 2011 season and was traded to the Dodgers in 2012.

#8. RF Darryl Strawberry

T.G. Higgins/Getty Images

Career WAR: 42.0
WAR per 162 games: 4.3

Year drafted: 1980
Team: New York Mets
School: Crenshaw High School (Los Angeles, CA)

Accolades: Four-time World Series champion (1986, 1996, 1998, 1999), eight-time All-Star (1984-91), NL Rookie of the Year (1983), two-time Silver Slugger Award (1988, 1990), NL home run leader (1988)

Though he often clashed with teammates and dealt with drug issues during his career, there's no denying how supremely talented and productive Strawberry was during his career. He hit 39 home runs and stole 36 bases in 1987 and was one of the most dominant players of his era.

Strawberry is a legend in New York, winning a World Series with the Mets in 1986 and then three more with the Yankees in 1996, 1998 and 1999. He finished his career as the Mets' all-time leader in home runs with 252.

#7. SP David Price

 

Career WAR: 29.1
WAR per 200 innings: 3.9

Year drafted: 2007
Team: Tampa Bay Devil Rays
School: Vanderbilt University

Accolades: AL Cy Young Award (2012), five-time All-Star (2010-12, 2014, 2015), two-time AL ERA leader (2012, 2015), MLB strikeout leader (2014)

Price made his big league debut for the Devil Rays in 2008 and became a key member of the team's bullpen during its run to the World Series that season. By 2010 he was one of the best starting pitchers in the league, and he helped lead Tampa Bay to the postseason in 2010, 2011 and 2013.

Price was traded twice -- first to the Tigers, then to the Blue Jays -- before signing a seven-year, $217 million deal with the Red Sox prior to the 2016 season.

#6. OF Josh Hamilton

 

Career WAR: 28.1
WAR per 162 games: 4.4

Year drafted: 1999
Team: Tampa Bay Devil Rays
School: Athens Drive High School (Raleigh, NC)

Accolades: AL MVP (2010), five-time All-Star (2008-12), AL batting champion (2010), three-time Silver Slugger Award (2008, 2010, 2012)

By now, Hamilton's reclamation story is well known. He fell deep into drug addiction during his minor league career, failed multiple drug tests and was out of baseball for almost three years. After sobering up, he returned to action with the Cincinnati Reds and became a star with the Texas Rangers, winning the 2010 AL MVP Award and helping lead the franchise to back-to-back World Series appearances in 2010 and 2011.

Hamilton signed with the Los Angeles Angels prior to the 2013 season and has dealt with injuries ever since. His best days are almost certainly behind him, but his peak years were something to behold.

#5. OF Bryce Harper

 

Career WAR: 21.6
WAR per 162 games: 6.2

Year drafted: 2010
Team: Washington Nationals
School: College of Southern Nevada

Accolades: NL MVP (2015), three-time All-Star (2012, 2013, 2015), Silver Slugger Award (2015), NL Rookie of the Year (2012), NL home run co-leader (2015), NL Hank Aaron Award (2015)

Slotting Harper at No. 5 feels simultaneously too high and too low. On the one hand, ranking a 23-year-old ahead of players with storied careers sounds ludicrous. On the other hand, it's not as ludicrous as what Harper has accomplished this early in his big-league career.

The 2015 unanimous NL MVP has been compared to nearly every all-time great hitter, and he should continue to put up huge numbers for years to come.

#4. C/1B Joe Mauer

 

Career WAR: 49.5
WAR per 162 games: 5.3

Year drafted: 2001
Team: Minnesota Twins
School: Cretin High School (St. Paul, MN)

Accolades: AL MVP (2009), six-time All-Star (2006, 2008-10, 2012, 2013), three-time AL batting champion (2006, 2008, 2009), three-time Silver Slugger Award (2006, 2008-10, 2013), three-time Gold Glove Award (2008-10)

The Twins struck gold by having the No. 1 overall pick the year Mauer was the consensus top player available. A Minnesotan born and bred, Mauer has lived up to the prodigy label that followed him during his accomplished high school career. He won three AL batting titles by age 26 -- becoming the first catcher to win even one batting title -- and was the AL MVP in 2009.

His contract runs through 2018, when Mauer will be 35 years old, so unless he's traded, he'll likely spend his entire career in a Twins uniform.

#3. CF Ken Griffey Jr.

 

Career WAR: 83.6
WAR per 162 games: 5.1

Year drafted: 1987
Team: Seattle Mariners
School: Archbishop Moeller High School (Cincinnati, OH)

Accolades: Baseball Hall of Fame (2016), AL MVP (1997), 13-time All-Star (1990-2000, 2004, 2007), seven-time Silver Slugger Award (1991, 1993, 1994, 1996-99), 10-time Gold Glove Award (1990-99), four-time AL home run leader (1994, 1997-99), All-Star Game MVP (1992), NL Comeback Player of the Year (2005)

Wait, Junior at No. 3? We've entered rarified air now. The sweet-swinging lefty was perhaps the most popular player of his era, and were it not for injuries that plagued him during his 30s, he might have made a run at the all-time home run record.

Despite missing significant time, Griffey's résumé is nearly unparalleled. He's currently the only No. 1 overall pick to be elected to the Hall of Fame, though he'll likely be joined by our next selection very soon.

#2. 3B/LF Chipper Jones

Daniel Shirey/Getty Images

Career WAR: 85.0
WAR per 162 games: 5.5

Year drafted: 1990
Team: Atlanta Braves
School: The Bolles School (Jacksonville, FL)

Accolades: World Series champion (1995), NL MVP (1999), eight-time All-Star (1996-98, 2000, 2001, 2008, 2011, 2012), NL batting champion (2008), two-time Silver Slugger Award (1999, 2000)

Though he trails in most counting stats, Jones edges out Griffey in career WAR and WAR per 162 games. More importantly, he spent his entire career in a Braves uniform and brought home a World Series title in 1995. He's arguably the best switch hitter ever and is a lock to be inducted to the Hall of Fame when he's eligible in 2017.

#1. SS/3B Alex Rodriguez

 

Career WAR: 118.6
WAR per 162 games: 7.0

Year drafted: 1993
Team: Seattle Mariners
School: Westminster Christian School (Miami, FL)

Accolades: World Series champion (2009), three-time AL MVP (2003, 2005, 2007), 14-time All-Star (1996-98, 2000-08, 2010, 2011), 10-time Silver Slugger Award (1996, 1998-2003, 2005, 2007, 2008), two-time Gold Glove Award (2002, 2003), five-time AL home run leader (2001-03, 2005, 2007), AL batting champion (1996), four-time AL Hank Aaron Award (2001-03, 2007)

And to think that, for six seasons from 1994-199, Griffey and A-Rod were on the same team. Though his name will always be associated with baseball's era of performance enhancing drugs, there's no denying just how much Rodriguez pulverized opposing pitchers throughout his career.

He was the youngest player ever to hit 500 home runs, reaching the mark at age 32, and notched his 3,000th career hit on June 19, 2015. Whether or not he gets inducted into the Hall of Fame or is shunned like other dopers remains to be seen, but A-Rod's status as one of the most dominant hitters in the game's history is undisputed.

 

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