In our current sports culture, prospects and the shiny future they are supposed to bring are an essential part of our discussions. If you root for a bad team, chances are that they will draft high and can go for a franchise-changer, and even if you cheer for a perennial contender, there is always a chance to get lucky and get a surprise future star. But while the respective drafts for basketball, football, and hockey come with the promise of instant impact players, baseball is a whole different animal.
The baseball draft is an exercise in patience, or at least that's what it produces. Even with tools like Baseball America, Keith Law's projections, and the good coverage of the draft provided by MLB Network, we all know that all the players selected are projects, and come with risk. Even the bluest of blue chippers need somewhere around two to three years of minor-league seasoning, and probably more time in AAA if they struggle in their first big-league call-ups.
Higher draft picks tend to produce some of the biggest stars, but also some of the most infamous busts, and there are just no guarantees despite the rigorous scouting and projections available. In a sport where Mike Trout can be bypassed by 24 teams and first overall picks turn into below-replacement level players, we can still have fun debating the decisions made by each franchise.
This week was big for the draft in two fronts, as the first round started on June 8th, while on the same day we saw the debut of 2012's first overall pick, Astros shortstop Carlos Correa. While the road ahead is long for 2015's top 3 picks (Dansby Swanson to Arizona, Alex Bregman to Houston, Brendan Rogers to Colorado – all of them shortstops), at least they have a good chance to reach the majors somewhere around 2018-19. As for Correa, he had a nice debut with a 1-for-4 night (with 1 RBI) after tearing up AAA, so Houston can be confident that he will be among the front-runners in their franchise turnaround.
With these events in mind, today we take a look at 10 years of MLB top-3 draft picks, ending with Correa's class of 2012. Even as a few top players drafted even later have made their MLB debut (like Chicago's Carlos Rodon), two plus years of preparation seem like a good starting point to start judging how each pick has fared after being selected. If you are a Mariners fan, it may be a good time to start covering your eyes.
The list includes the position played by the draftees at the time they were selected.
2003 MLB Draft
#1: Delmon Young (OF) – Rays: Young's career has been long and colorful, with stops at 5 teams and a reputation as a folk playoff hero. However, he still has to be considered a big bust as the top pick, and more so for Tampa Bay, for whom he could only accrue 2.1 WAR in two stints.
#2: Rickie Weeks (2B) – Brewers: Weeks' potent bat and lousy defense combined for a solid career in Milwaukee, even as he never met expectations. His 148 homers for the franchise remain in the top 10 in Brewers history. After 11 years with the team, he is now in Seattle.
#3: Kyle Sleeth (RHP) – Tigers: it's easy to forget that just a decade ago, the Tigers were a franchise marked by letdowns. Sleeth was the prime example of this, after being picked third overall as a potential #1 starter. However, the righty had to undergo Tommy John surgery, and could never progress past AA. He opted to retire in 2008.
2004 MLB Draft
#1: Matt Bush (SS) – Padres: Bush is still only one of the three #1 picks that could never reach the major leagues, and is mentioned under the same breath as Ryan Leaf in San Diego. Even as he was more known for his defensive prowess, his bat became unplayable in the minors, finishing with a career .219 average. He's been out of baseball since 2011.
#2: Justin Verlander (RHP) – Tigers: after whiffing badly a year prior, the Tigers struck gold with Verlander, who turned into the franchise ace soon after. In terms of WAR, he is on pace to be the best pitcher ever selected at #2, and the second-best player in that slot, just behind Reggie Jackson.
#3: Philip Humber (RHP) – Mets: Humber's career with the Mets lasted all of 9 innings, as he was part of the package that landed Johan Santana. Humber never amounted to much, as suggested by his career WAR of 1 and the fact that he was forced out of the game by 2013. However, he can boast of having thrown a perfect game while with the White Sox.
2005 MLB Draft
#1: Justin Upton (SS) – Diamondbacks: even as he never turned into the franchise player Arizona hoped, Upton was still a star with the Dbacks, making the playoffs twice, and finishing 4th in the MVP race in 2011. He was later traded to Atlanta and now plays for San Diego. About to enter free agency, he is due to command a hefty price in 2016.
#2: Alex Gordon (3B) – Royals: Gordon came up in 2007, but his first 4 seasons left him on the brink of being a bust. However, Kansas City's patience was rewarded with Gordon switching to left field and becoming a defensive wizard and a perennial All-Star. He is 31, though, and could be entering the decline phase of his career.
#3: Jeff Clement (C) – Mariners: Clement dazzled in a 19-PA brief September call-up in 2007, but was terrible when he joined the Mariners full-time in 2008. His woes at the plate and as a defender caused him to leave Seattle, and then could never develop elsewhere. His last MLB game came in 2012.
2006 MLB Draft
#1: Luke Hochevar (RHP) – Royals: despite their many years of mediocrity, Hochevar is still the only #1 pick in Royals history. His turn as a starter was full of terrible showings (his career ERA is 5.10), but he has reinvented his career as another weapon in the Kansas City bullpen. He is still considered a bust, but at least he can salvage some of the damage.
#2: Greg Reynolds (RHP) – Rockies: Reynolds belongs in the long list of failed Rockies pitching prospects, and may end up becoming the worst #2 pick since Mark Merchant couldn't even reach the majors after being picked in 1987. Reynolds brief stints with Colorado and then Cincinnati yielded -1.6 WAR, and a 7.01 ERA in 123 innings, and he was out of baseball by 2012.
#3: Evan Longoria (3B) – Rays: Longoria's 41 career WAR is the highest by a 3rd pick since the Giants picked Matt Williams in 1986. Even as he hasn't developed into the superstar many hoped, Longoria has been an excellent player for Tampa, and helped rejuvenate the franchise as its first true blue chipper. He is signed through 2023.
2007 MLB Draft
#1: David Price (LHP) – Rays: after drafting a franchise player in Longoria, the Rays landed an ace in David Price. He made his debut as the closer on the 2008 Rays team that reached the World Series, and then went on to lead the team's rotation and win a Cy Young. Unlike Longoria, Price couldn't be locked with a team-friendly contract, so he was then traded to the Tigers. He is a free agent following the year, and should command a monster deal.
#2: Mike Moustakas (SS) – Royals: in what is yet another Royals prospect that took time to develop, Moustakas is finally hitting as expected. His memorable performance in the 2014 playoffs has been parlayed to a 132 OPS+ in 2015, and the hope that, at age 26, he will finally put it all together.
#3: Josh Vitters (3B) – Cubs: Vitter was projected as a power hitter at third base, but instead turned into a huge bust. He could only receive playing time until 2012, when he hit .121 in 109 trips to the plate. He was last seen being released by the Rockies last Spring Training.
2008 MLB Draft
#1: Tim Beckham (SS) – Rays: after two straight hits, the Rays whiffed badly with Beckham. Battling injuries and poor plate discipline, his development has been a nightmare for the franchise, as he had a brief cameo in 2013 and had to wait until 2015 to again reach the big club. Even then, time is running out for the 25-year old, who currently sits injured in the DL.
#2: Pedro Alvarez (3B) – Pirates: Alvarez's defensive woes have seen him move from third to first, but he has still been a productive member of the Pirates. He led the league in homers in 2013, and has hit 113 in Pittsburgh. He may never be the force many projected, but he is still way above average, and a justifiable pick for the Pirates.
#3: Eric Hosmer (1B) – Royals: the string of top-3 picks for the Royals ended with Hosmer, a player who has been erratic but productive. His 7 WAR in 4+ seasons still seems low, but Hosmer is still only 25 and primed to enter his best years. With the way the franchise has turned around, Kansas can be happy with this pick.
2009 MLB Draft
#1: Stephen Strasburg (RHP) – Nationals: Strasburg was way overhyped as the future of the franchise in Washington. But after Tommy John surgery, a team self-sabotage that kept him out of the playoffs, and tons of erratic results, we still don't know what to expect. It is clear that he has the talent, as evidenced by his 10.2 career K/9, but something is still amiss for the righty, who will be a fascinating free agent by 2017.
#2: Dustin Ackley (CF) – Mariners: yet another potential bust for Seattle, Ackley started out with an impressive 3.8-WAR 2011, only to fade slowly into what is now a below-replacement 2015. He is still only 27, so he could salvage his career, but the Mariners' track record with hitters doesn't bode well.
#3: Donovan Tate (CF) – Padres: at age 24, Tate is still trying to work his way to the Padres, but the fact that he has never played above Class A doesn't bode well for his chances. The pick may likely end up being a huge mistake for San Diego.
2010 MLB Draft
#1: Bryce Harper (OF) – Nationals: picking first in consecutive years, the Nats had no choice but to go for Harper, who has been as good as advertised, yet both overrated and underrated in some circles. At age 22, he is working on his fourth full season in the big leagues, and now threatens to go for 50 homers at his current pace. Going by age alone, he is well on his way to a historic career, and certainly could be on the conversation as the best #1 pick since Alex Rodriguez.
#2: Jameson Taillon (RHP) – Pirates: if not for the TJ surgery he had to take in 2014, we might have already seen Taillon's debut in the big leagues. However, he is still rehabbing and could be back by 2016. Despite his injuries, he was rated by Baseball America and other outlets as a top-30 prospect entering 2015.
#3: Manny Machado (SS) – Orioles: even after moving from shortstop to third base, Machado has been a revelation for the Orioles. His high defensive value has been balanced by a good bat, and yet Machado's full potential has been slowed by injuries. Still, Machado projects to be one of the best draft picks in Baltimore history.
2011 MLB Draft
#1: Gerrit Cole (RHP) – Pirates: after being drafted first, Cole represented the future of a Pirates franchise that was working at nearly 20 straight losing seasons. His presence on the mound has coincided with Pittsburgh's ascent as a contender, and in 2015 Cole has taken a step forward to be considered as a Cy Young candidate. After missing badly with their previous 2 #1 picks (Kris Benson and Bryan Bullington), the Pirates finally got it right.
#2: Danny Hultzen (LHP) – Mariners: another victim of injuries, Hultzen missed all of 2014 and is back at AA this season. Before his injuries he had shown flashed of brilliance in the minors. However, since he injured his shoulder and not his elbow, the jury is still out in what to expect from Hultzen going forward.
#3: Trevor Bauer (RHP) – Diamondbacks: Bauer was rushed to the majors in 2012, but character issues and problems with Arizona's management forced the team to trade him to the Indians. Once there, Bauer has been inconsistent, but showing his potential as a strikeout artist. Still only 24, he might end up being a steal for Cleveland.
2012 MLB Draft
#1: Carlos Correa (SS) – Astros: so far, so good for Correa and the Astros. He entered 2015 rated as the #4 prospect by Baseball America, and Houston's status as a contender forced management's hand to call him up. His minor league numbers (.313/.392/.491) would be playable at any position, but are superlative for a shortstop that can actually play defense.
#2: Byron Buxton (OF) – Twins: Buxton entered 2015 as the #1-rated prospect, and with the Twins emerging as surprise contenders, he might get the call sometime this summer. Even with his power not yet fulfilled, he is bound to develop as a true 5-tool player in center field.
#3: Mike Zunino (C) – Mariners: it may be early to tell, but Zunino's bat gives Mariners fans a lot of Jeff Clement flashbacks. With a bit over 800 PA's under his belt, he is still hitting below the Mendoza Line, albeit with playable defense behind the plate.