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Upton, Braun help '05 claim top spot in ranking of best draft classes

The MLB draft that began Monday is said to be one of the deeper ones in recent years. Time, after the initial hyperbole fades, will tell. Bryan Bullington (2002) and Matt Bush (2004) once were drafted first overall. Only one of the first 42 pitchers picked in 2001 ever turned out to be an All-Star (Mark Prior). The first round of the 2003 draft produced zero position players who made an All-Star team.

So judgment on the 2011 draft will have to wait. Especially deep in pitching, it could eventually rival the 2002 draft for producing major league mound talent -- but don't expect it to touch the 2005 draft, which set a new standard for overall talent.

The draft began in 1965 with three phases, which was narrowed to two in 1968 and to one in 1987. What follows is one subjective view of the best drafts of the previous 45 years:

The highlights: This one looks like the gold standard -- though the players from this draft only are just beginning to build their careers, so its high grade is based on projections from their many great starts. First-round picks include Justin Upton (1 overall), Alex Gordon (2), Ryan Zimmerman (4), Ryan Braun (5), Ricky Romero (6), Troy Tulowitzki (7), Mike Pelfrey (9), Andrew McCutchen (11), Jay Bruce (12), Jacoby Ellsbury (23), Matt Garza (25), Colby Rasmus (28) and Clay Buchholz (42).

The sleepers: Clayton Richard (8th), Austin Jackson (8th), Tommy Hanson (22nd) and Jaime Garcia (22nd).

The lowlights: The Mariners whiffed on the third pick with Jeff Clement. The Rays, picking eighth, took the only player among the top 16 who has not made the majors (Wade Townsend).

The highlights: Six picks would go on to post a career WAR of more than 50: first-rounders Will Clark (second overall), Barry Larkin (4), Barry Bonds (6) and Rafael Palmeiro (22), second rounder Randy Johnson and 22nd-rounder John Smoltz. Others in this draft included B.J. Surhoff (first overall), Bobby Witt, Walt Weiss, Joe Magrane and Gregg Jefferies.

The sleepers: Brady Anderson (10th round), Mark Grace (24th) and Jim Abbott (36th).

The lowlights: The Mariners picked at numbers 7 and 27 and had little to show for it: pitcher Mike Campbell (12-19 career) and catcher Bill McGuire (23 career games).

The highlights: How about three future Hall of Famers drafted in the first two rounds, including back-to-back with the third and fourth picks? That would be Robin Yount, Dave Winfield and second-rounder Eddie Murray. Also in the draft were Fred Lynn, Mike Flanagan, Jack Clark and Lee Mazzilli.

The sleepers: Mike Krukow, Butch Hobson and Ken Landreaux (all eighth round).

The lowlights: The Texas Rangers, picking first, took high school pitcher David Clyde and immediately put him in the big leagues. Clyde soon developed arm problems and wound up 18-33 for his career.

The highlights: Josh Hamilton and Josh Beckett went 1-2 overall. The draft also included Barry Zito, Ben Sheets, Alex Rios, Brian Roberts, Carl Crawford, Brandon Phillips, John Lackey, Justin Morneau, J.J. Putz, Cody Ross and Shane Victorino.

The sleepers: This draft included one of the all-time sleepers: Albert Pujols in the 13th round. Two rounds later, Jake Peavy was drafted.

The lowlights: The Cubs made 50 selections, starting with pitcher Ben Christensen of Wichita State, that combined for one win and one home run in their major league careers. Christensen went 12-19 in six minor league seasons.

The highlights: High school phenom Todd Van Poppel was supposed to be the star of the draft. He slid to the A's picking 14th because of his contract demands. Van Poppel managed a journeyman's career -- nothing like some of the big names of the draft: Chipper Jones, Mike Mussina, Garret Anderson, Bret Boone, Tony Clark, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, Mike Hampton, Bret Boone and Ray Durham.

The sleepers: Troy Percival (sixth round) and Scott Erickson (31st).

The lowlights: Oakland was deciding between Van Poppel and Mussina with the 14th pick. Tony La Russa, then the Oakland manager, wanted the pitcher closest to helping the big club -- Mussina. Imagine if the defending world champions at the time added Mussina to their rotation.

The highlights: A mighty fine group of starting pitchers: Zack Greinke, Cole Hamels, Matt Cain, Joe Saunders, Scott Kazmir, Joe Blanton and Jeff Francis (all first-rounders), plus Jon Lester and Josh Johnson. The haul of position players included big lefthanded bats Prince Fielder, Denard Span, James Loney, Joey Votto, Brian McCann and Curtis Granderson and switch-hitter Nick Swisher.

The sleepers: Howie Kendrick (10th round) and Russell Martin (17th).

The lowlights: This was the Moneyball draft for Oakland. After Swisher and Blanton, none of Oakland's next 34 picks ever won a game or hit a home run for the Athletics.

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