With Major League Baseball's annual amateur draft starting on Thursday, it's worth taking a look back at the quality of players that each of the first-round picks has yielded over the last generation of players. Because there are 33 picks in the first round this year, I looked at the top 33 picks in each draft from 1990 to 2010, picking those end dates because the last active first-rounder from 1990, Chipper Jones, just retired, and 2010 is the most recent draft-class to produce players who have already completed qualifying seasons (specifically, Bryce Harper and Chris Sale).
With the data from those drafts assembled, I figured out how many of the 21 players at each draft position made the majors, made All-Star teams and played five and 10 major league seasons. For the latter categories, a judgment call was made about any player on an active major league roster and their chances of reaching such thresholds. For instance, Bryce Harper and Mike Trout project as five and 10-year players but Giants rookie Nick Noonan does not. I also totaled up the collective career wins above replacement for those 21 players (using Baseball-Reference's statistics) and listed alphabetically who the best player or players taken at that spot were over that 21-year span.
The result shows some interesting trends, with some surprising dips and spikes in draft-slot performance as well as a rapidly deteriorating rate of return, particularly in the last quarter of the first-round. That last suggests that compensation draft picks, which fall at the end of the first round, are of less value than we've come to believe. Still, it's worth remembering that great players can be found almost anywhere in the draft. The most famous examples of that are Albert Pujols, who was a 13th-round pick in 1999, and Mike Piazza, who was taken 1,390th overall in the 62nd round of the 1988 draft purely as a favor to Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda.
Those examples are so famous because they are so uncommon. As you'll see below, the success rate of even first-round picks is often quite low.
Pick: No. 1
The top pick in the draft has, on the whole, lived up to its billing. Only four top picks in the history of the draft have failed to reach the majors, and 23-year-old Rays infielder Tim Beckham (2008), who is currently in Triple-A, may yet get there. The total bWAR for the 21 top picks surveyed for this study is 62 percent higher than that for any other draft position. Those 21 picks have produced six players who have won an MVP or Cy Young award (Jones, Rodriguez three times, Josh Hamilton, Mauer and David Price), and Price, Justin Upton, Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper are among the best young players in the majors. Jones is on his way to the Hall of Fame. Rodriguez would be if not for his doping. Mauer is on track for the Hall, and it wouldn't be surprising to see at least one of the four younger players mentioned above make it as well.
On a darker note, two of the three retired top picks who did not make the majors, Brien Taylor (LHP, Yankees, 1991) and Matt Bush (SS, Padres, 2004), are currently in prison for addiction-related crimes, Taylor for cocaine trafficking, Bush for a trio of drunk driving arrests. Steve Chilcott (C, Mets, 1966) has thankfully had a happier life after baseball.
Pick: No. 2
Verlander is the only No. 2 pick from this survey to have won an MVP or Cy Young award, winning both AL honors in 2011. Also, the only second pick from this span who has yet to make the majors is the most recent, Jameson Taillon, the Pirates' 2010 pick, and he is a good bet to make it a perfect 21-for-21. He entered the season as a top-20 prospect and is currently thriving in Double-A at the age of 21 (3.26 ERA, 10.1 K/9 in 11 starts).
Once in the majors, Taillon will hope to avoid the same fate as famous second-pick flameouts Darren Dreifort (Dodgers, 1993), Mark Mulder (A's, 1998) and Mark Prior (Cubs, 2001).
(Note that the stats above include J.D. Drew, who was drafted No. 2 by the Phillies in 1997 but did not sign.)
Pick: No. 3
Manny Machado, the Orioles' 2010 pick, should soon inflate the number of All-Stars players by one, joining fellow third basemen Longoria (three selections) and Troy Glaus (four) and Phillies catcher Mike Lieberthal (two). No player drafted in this spot has ever won an MVP or a Cy Young, although Longoria and Machado are both contenders this year.
Pick: No. 4
Though the sixth pick has produced fewer total wins above replacement, in terms of star-power, the fourth pick has been the weakest of the top eight since 1990. The four All-Stars are Zimmerman (drafted by the Nationals in 2005), Kerry Wood (Cubs, 1995), Jeffrey Hammonds (Orioles, 1992) and Dmitri Young (Cardinals, 1991), though Alex Fernandez (White Sox, 1990) deserved a selection, and Jason Grilli may get one this year for his work as the Pirates closer 16 years after his selection by the Giants. That would still leave Zimmerman as the only All-Star number-four pick since 1997. However, the fourth pick did yield Hall of Famers Barry Larkin (Reds, 1985) and Dave Winfield (Padres, 1973).
Pick: No. 5
Braun and Posey have won MVPs. Teixeira has five Gold Gloves and 340 career home runs. However those three plus J.D. Drew (Cardinals, 1998) and Vernon Wells (Blue Jays, 1997) comprise 172 of the 197.6 bWAR to come from this pick, leaving 25.6 from the other 16 picks, half of which has come from Orioles catcher Matt Wieters. Still, on the strength of those six players, each of whom has been an All-Star, this ranks as one of the strongest picks in the draft over the 21 years of our survey.
Pick: No. 6
Jeter, a future first-ballot Hall of Famer who has collected 3,304 major league hits, is responsible for 13 of the 15 All-Star selections above, but Zack Greinke's 2009 Cy Young award is the biggest piece of hardware from this sample. After those two, who combine for 104.3 of the 123.5 bWAR above, the top No. 6 pick from this span is either Rickey Romero, who was outrighted off the Blue Jays' 40-man roster earlier this month, or Rocco Badelli, whose major league career lasted just seven seasons due to illness and included no All-Star appearances.
Pick: No. 7
This has been a particularly fruitful pick starting with the Brewers' selection of Prince Fielder in 2002. Fielder was followed by Nick Markakis, Homer Bailey, Tulowitzki, Cy Young award winner Kershaw, a dud in Matt LaPorta, Yonder Alonso, Mike Minor and Matt Harvey. None of those players has reached 30 yet, which means this could prove to be one of the best draft positions in the entire draft in the first two decades of this century.
Pick: No. 8
This spot has the lowest total bWAR in the top 17 picks. It's pretty much Todd Helton and a bunch of random guys. To wit, the other all-star was Felipe Lopez. Last year's number-eight pick, Stanford righty Mark Appel, didn't even sign, which is why the Pirates have two of the first 14 picks this year.
Pick: No. 9
A lot of clock-punchers have come out of the ninth spot in the draft. For example, did you realize that Mark Kotsay (Marlins, 1996) is in his 17th major league season? Kotsay wasn't one of the All-Stars picked here, but Preston Wilson (Mets, 1992), Geoff Jenkins (Brewers, 1995), Michael Cuddyer (Twins, 1997) and Aaron Crowe (who didn't sign with the Nationals in 2008) were four of the five. The fifth, of course, was 2002 American League Cy Young award winner Zito, who has been a below-average pitcher in San Francisco since 2007. The best player ever taken ninth overall was the underrated Kevin Appier, who went to the Royals in 1987.
Pick: No. 10
From 1979 to 2009, there were just two No. 10 picks who failed to make the majors, the retired Kevin Garner (RHP, Padres, 1987) and Joe Torres (LHP, Angels, 2000), who is still plugging away in the independent leagues at age 30. A's outfielder Michael Choice, who has yet to reach the Show, could soon extend that statistic through 2010.
Chavez is not one of the six All-Stars listed above. He has won six Gold Gloves and a silver slugger but has never been picked for an All-Star Game. However, righthander Tyler Greene, the Phillies' pick in 1991, had a well-timed streak of seven outstanding starts from the end of May into June of 1995 and made that year's All-Star squad despite never qualifying for an ERA title or posting an ERA+ above 87 in any of his four major league seasons.
Pick: No. 11
The 11th pick has generally performed on par with a pick 10 spots lower. Of the top 23 picks, only the 18th has produced fewer major leaguers from these 21 drafts. The All-Stars listed above are McCutchen and Shawn Estes (Mariners, 1991), who earned a single selection in 1997. McCutchen is a franchise player, but after him there's Max Scherzer, Pirates teammate Neil Walker and a whole lot of disappointment. Of the 14 players in this survey drafted before Walker (Pirates, 2004), only Estes and Adam Eaton logged 10 years in the major leagues.
Pick: No. 12
In stark contrast to No. 11, this has been one of the most productive picks in the draft. Garciaparra, Wagner and Weaver, who combined for 16 All-Star appearances, each at least briefly ranked among the best in baseball at their positions and fellow All-Stars Jay Bruce, Joe Saunders and Matt Morris were or are solid contributors. Only the first, second and fifth picks clearly rank above the 12th from what we've seen thus far, and only one pick to come has surpassed it in total value.
Pick: No. 13
Manny Ramirez, easily the greatest player ever picked here, and Paul Konerko combine for 18 of the 21 All-Star appearances listed above and are less than one win shy of 100 wins above replacement. The only 13th picks to crack 10 bWAR since Konerko was drafted as a catcher by the Dodgers in 1994 have been Aaron Hill (Blue Jays, 2003) and Chris Sale (White Sox, 2010).
Pick: No. 14
Based on cumulative bWAR, there's a clear breaking point in the value of first-round picks at No. 14. Of the top 13 picks, 10 have thus far produced more than 140 wins above replacement from the players considered in this survey. Of the remaining 20 picks, only one has exceeded that figure.
That doesn't mean that there aren't still Hall of Fame talents to be had, as Pujols, Piazza and others demonstrate, but the odds of turning up a stud player are clearly slimmer. Indeed, the candidates for best 14th pick from 1990 to 2010 include Lee, Jason Varitek and Cliff Floyd, all good players and All-Stars, but none the sort of player who ever appeared to be on a Hall of Fame track during his career, let alone one who might demand a second thought upon filling out a Hall of Fame ballot. In fact, by bWAR, Lee, who was taken by the Padres in 1993, was the best No. 14 pick in draft history.
Pick: No. 15
Utley and Chris Carpenter (Blue Jays, 1993) were elite players at their peaks, but both were late bloomers (particularly Carpenter, the 2005 National League Cy Young award winner, who was drafted out of high school) whose primes were cut short by injury.
After them, there's Scott Kazmir and Stephen Drew, then not one other pick from 1990 to 2010 who has totaled five bWAR in his career. Looking further back, the bWAR leader prior to 1990 is Hall of Famer Jim Rice (Red Sox, 1971), but the vast majority of the picks at this spot were forgettable. Just 13 of the first 35 No. 15 picks (from 1965 to 1999) even made the majors.
Pick: No. 16
Much like the 15th pick, what we see here are a few hits (Berkman, Shawn Green, Nick Swisher) amidst a lot of nothing. The only No. 16 picks in the majors right now are Berkman, Swisher and the injury-prone Brett Lawrie. Go back further and you get Lance Parrish (C, Tigers, 1974), who was by far the best No. 16 pick before Green and Berkman.
Pick: No. 17
Halladay, who owns eight of those All-Star appearances along with two Cy Youngs, Cole Hamels, and Brad Lidge came out of the 17th pick, as did outfielders David Murphy and Jeromy Burnitz. Still, there hasn't been a solid major leaguer from this spot since the Red Sox took Murphy, now a regular in Texas, in 2003.
Pick: No. 18
There's a sweet irony to the fact that Dickey proved to be the best No. 18 pick over a 21-year span given that the Rangers, who picked him in 1996, voided his bonus upon learning that he didn't have an ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow in his initial team physical.
Beyond that, however, Dickey's prominence is just further proof that this has been the worst pick among the top 25 over the last two decades. Beyond Dickey, the only No. 18 picks in the majors are Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma (2007) and Mets first baseman Ike Davis (2008). Aside from Dickey and Davis, no other No. 18 pick from 1990 to 2010 has produced as much as two wins above replacement. The only No. 18 pick with a career bWAR greater than Dickey's is Willie Wilson (CF, Royals, 1974)
Pick: No. 19
Shelby Miller (Cardinals, 2010) could prove to be the best of this bunch, but for now it's Rios, the only All-Star from this sample until Miller makes it. Going further back, however, yields Roger Clemens (Red Sox, 1983) and the underappreciated Bobby Grich (Orioles, 1967).
Pick: No. 20
The 20th pick is an odd little gem in the latter part of the first round. It has yielded not only Mussina and Sabathia, two pitchers with Hall of Fame hopes and a combined 11 All-Star appearances, but also Torii Hunter, a four-time All-Star and nine-time Gold Glove award winner.
Those three alone have produced more bWAR over the breadth of this survey than any other pick south of the 12th. There are also double-digit bWAR totals here from Eric Milton (LHP, Yankees, 1996), Adam Kennedy (SS, Cardinals, 1997) and Denard Span (CF, Twins, 2002). Prior to 1990, this pick gave the Dodgers pitchers Rick Rhoden (1971, 35.9 bWAR) and Bob Welch (1977, 44.2). However, the pick has been less productive in the years since Span was drafted in '02.
Pick: No. 21
Jason Varitek is by far the best player taken with the 21st pick over this span, but he didn't sign after Minnesota took him here in 1993. Instead he went with the 14th pick to the Mariners the next year. Take him out of the equation, and you lose one of your two All-Stars and three of the four appearances (the one remaining belongs to Westbrook) as well as more than a third of the total bWAR (24.3). Westbrook and Ian Kennedy have been solid pitchers, but without Varitek and the two of them, this pick has produced little more than Cliff Pennington's glove. Blue Jays catcher J.C Arencibia is the only other active 21st pick in the majors.
Pick: No. 22
This is the lowest draft pick in this study to yield 100 or more bWAR so far, but there's not much star-power here as evidenced by the fact that this is the first pick after the 18th not to have yielded a multi-time All-Star. Werth, Gil Meche and White Sox set-up man Matt Thornton are the three All-Stars this pick has produced since 1990, and the most recent No. 22 pick active in the majors right now is Twins closer Glen Perkins, who was drafted in 2004. Go a little further back, however, and you get Craig Biggio (Astros, 1987) and Rafael Palmeiro (Cubs, 1985).
Pick: No. 23
It's easy to forget how good Kendall was in his early 20s, when he was a three-time All-Star, but then one must think that far back, to the late '90s, to find a consistently impressive number-23 pick. The only All-Stars since Kendall in 2000 have been Phil Hughes and Jacoby Ellsbury, neither of whom can stay healthy or consistent enough to validate their lone All-Star appearances. Of the 13 men to make the majors after being drafted here between 1990 and 2010, six were below replacement on their career, and Jeff Francoeur (Braves, 2002) isn't one of those six.
Pick: No. 24
North of here, only two picks have failed to produce a total of 69 bWAR (11 and 18), but starting here not one other pick reaches that total. The small total of five-year players from No. 24 is a low to this point and, with Chad Billingsley (one of the two All-Stars along with White) on the shelf following Tommy John surgery, Joe Blanton is the only active No. 24 pick in the majors.
Pick: No. 25
Cain, Trout and Matt Garza account for nearly every positive here. Together they have been worth 58 of those 68.2 bWAR and represent four of those five All-Star appearances (Garza hasn't been an All-Star, but journeyman reliever Mike MacDougal was back when he closed for the Royals). Teams have gotten next to nothing from the 25th pick aside from those three.
Pick: No. 26
This is the highest spot not to yield an All-Star over the course of this survey. It hasn't had a 10-year player either, but Bonderman is on the Mariners active roster in what is now his ninth season. Brent Gates (SS, A's, 1991) actually leads these 21 picks in career bWAR with 5.6.
Pick: No. 27
This is one of the weakest draft positions. Porcello is the lone active player and none of the other five-year players ever had a season in which they qualified for a batting title or ERA crown.
Pick: No. 28
Johnson (C, Marlins, 1992) owns those two All-Star appearances and more than a third of the bWAR from this spot. The only No. 28 picks on active major league rosters are centerfielders Ben Revere (Twins, 2007) and Colby Rasmus (Cardinals, 2005). John Mayberry Jr. was chosen in this spot by the Mariners in 2002 (and included in the stats above) but chose college and was picked 19th by the Rangers in 2005. Pirates pitching prospect Gerrit Cole chose the same path when drafted here by the Yankees in 2008.
Pick: No. 29
Wainwright is responsible for nearly half of the bWAR above. Jay Payton (CF, Mets, 1994) and Carlos Quentin (RF, Diamondbacks, 2003) account for most of the rest. Midre Cummings is the other 10-year player. For what it's worth, Quentin and Wainwright have both come very close to major awards, though only Wainwright is still playing at that level. They are the only two active No. 29 picks, at least until the Indians give third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall (2008) another try.
Pick: No. 30
Adam Ottavino (RHP, Cardinals, 2006) is on an active roster (the Rockies') and thriving, but he's only in his third season, so he is included among five-year players but not 10-year players. Cust (1B, Diamondbacks, 1997) is the only 10-year player here, though he only qualified for a batting title just three times. He and Noah Lowry (LHP, Giants, 2001), who only qualified for an ERA title once, account for nearly all the bWAR here. Ottavino is the only active No. 30 pick because Casey Kelly (SS-turned-RHP, Red Sox, 2008) is out following Tommy John surgery.
Pick: No. 31
Washburn, the ace of the 2002 world champion Angels, compiled 28.5 bWAR in his career, so the other 20 guys here largely cancel each other out. Lefty reliever J.P. Howell (Royals, 2004) is in his eighth season and active in the Dodgers' bullpen, so he stands a good chance of joining Washburn as a 10-year player. If not for Howell, this pick would have a lower bWAR total than Washburn on his own.
Pick: No. 32
This is another position not to have yielded a 10-year player over the course of this survey, and the only active No. 32 pick is Giants rookie infielder Nick Noonan (2007), who has not been counted as a five-year player because it's far from certain he'll get even that far. Thompson (RHP, Tigers, 1991) was an All-Star as a sophomore in 1997, but got hurt two years later and faced just nine more batters in the majors thereafter, all in 2005.
Pick: No. 33
While no players have yet reached the 10-year mark, a pair of active bench players -- Marlins catcher Jeff Mathis (Angels, 2001), who is in his ninth season, and Mets infielder Omar Quintanilla (A's, 2003), who is in his eighth -- have a good shot to get there.
Those two are the only 33rd picks currently on active rosters. Of the eight major leaguers drafted here from 1990 to 2010, only two had qualifying season: Wilkerson and Dustin McGowan (RHP, Blue Jays, 2000) who threw 169 2/3 innings in 2007. Wilkerson (OF, Expos, 1998), was an on-base machine and occasional source of power for the Expos/Nats and Rangers last decade but injuries brought his career to an early end. He compiled 10.9 of the 11 wins above replacement above.