We’re just days away from the 2014 MLB Draft, and diehard baseball fans and prospect gurus across the country are getting hyped up. For the casual fan that may be interested in the Draft, it’s worth noting that the MLB Draft is quite different from the NFL and NBA Drafts that you’re probably more used to.
The MLB Draft isn’t two rounds like the NBA Draft, or seven like the NFL Draft – it’s 50. Teams can pick players through the 50th round, and if they don’t feel like picking a player at any time, they can simply bow out of the Draft at that point. Teams can draft seniors in high school, college juniors, or junior college players, and the drafted player must be a resident of the United States or Canada.
Teams also have a pool of money to sign the players they draft. The system isn’t a hard slotting system, as money allocated for one pick can be lessened and given to another. But teams can’t just spend whatever the hell they want – there are penalties for exceeding your pool value. Extra picks can also be awarded to teams when free agents sign with other clubs, and picks can be forfeited when teams sign qualifying free agents. Teams also cannot trade picks aside from their “competitive balance” picks, which is a whole different article. It’s really a very complicated system.
Anyway, with all of that out of the way, we decided it would be nice to give fans a look at how their teams have drafted over the past decade. Teams don’t draft players with the expectation that they’ll contribute in the majors right away. Not every player is going to be like Stephen Strasburg, who blows through the minors and makes his major league debut within roughly a year after the Draft. Hell, some guys don’t even make it to the majors – look at failed Padres prospect Matt Bush. Some teams draft better than others, and here’s each team’s best first round pick of the last decade, encompassing the 2004-2013 Drafts. Warning – this might get painful for fans of certain teams. Also, I’m going to try to ignore players that haven’t made much of an impact in the majors yet, so there probably won’t be many players taken from 2011 to 2013 listed here,
Arizona Diamondbacks: Justin Upton (first overall, 2005). Upton made his MLB debut at the age of 19 in 2007 and played 731 games in the desert, hitting .275/.357/.479 with 108 homers. After some concerns about whether or not he was gritty enough, the Diamondbacks traded him to the Braves before the 2013 season for a package of players headlined by Martin Prado. Upton has hit .271/.359/.492 with 39 homers in his 192 games with the Braves.
Honorable mentions: Max Scherzer, Stephen Drew, A.J. Pollock, Jarrod Parker, Wade Miley
Atlanta Braves: Jason Heyward (14th overall, 2007). The Braves are an organization that seemingly does everything well – they draft well, they develop talent well, they make solid trades, most of their free agent signings don’t bust, they do an incredible job buying low on waiver candidates…yet their first round picks over the last decade have been disappointing. Heyward is the clear highlight, though there is still this mindset that he’s a bust or a flop. He’s hit .257/.349/.434 with 76 homers and 51 stolen bases over his 575 game MLB career, winning a Gold Glove in 2012 as well. There’s this almost ludicrous belief that Heyward has been a disappointment, but the only way he’s been disappointing is if you set the bar too high.
Honorable mentions: Mike Minor, Joey Devine.
Baltimore Orioles: Matt Wieters (fifth overall, 2007). Wieters was the top hitter on many teams’ draft boards in 2007, but he slightly dropped because of signability concerns. After the Rays took David Price first overall, the Royals went with the now-demoted Mike Moustakas at two, and the Cubs went with Josh Vitters (who hasn’t even been promoted to the majors) at three. Pittsburgh passed up Wieters for reliever Daniel Moskos at four, and Baltimore jumped on Wieters at five. After a ridiculous minor league career, Wieters made his debut with the Orioles in 2009, and has been a fixture behind the plate since. He’s hit .257/.320/.423 in the majors with 92 homers, and won back to back Gold Gloves in 2011 and 2012. In a couple of years, he might be surpassed by Manny Machado, but right now, Wieters is the pick for Baltimore.
Honorable mentions: Manny Machado, Brian Matusz
Boston Red Sox: Jacoby Ellsbury (23rd overall, 2005). Before signing with the Yankees this past winter, Ellsbury was an enigma in center field for the Red Sox. He was essentially a glove with wheels in 2008 and 2009, had injury-plagued years in 2010 and 2012, and was the AL MVP runner-up in 2011 after putting together a 30/30 season. He hit .298/.350/.439 with 65 homers and 241 stolen bases in his time in Beantown, but nearly half (32) of those homers came in that 2011 season. But hey, Ellsbury helped bring two rings to Boston, as a rookie in 2007 and as a departing veteran in 2013. They’ll take that any day of the week.
Honorable mentions: Clay Buchholz, Jed Lowrie, Daniel Bard
Chicago Cubs: Josh Donaldson (48th overall, 2007). Donaldson was drafted in the 2007 supplemental round as a catcher. He raked in the minors with the Cubs in 2007 and struggled in 2008 before being traded to the A’s that summer as part of the disastrous Rich Harden trade. He moved from behind the plate, and finally made his mark in the majors in 2013, finishing fourth in the AL MVP voting after a .304/.384/.499 campaign. The fact that Donaldson, who has played in a total of 292 career games, is the best Cubs first rounder of the last decade says a lot about that franchise, but that will change soon after their last three drafts have looked much better so far.
Honorable mentions: Andrew Cashner, Tyler Colvin
Chicago White Sox: Chris Sale (13th overall, 2010). Sale is one of those rare guys who cuts through the minor leagues like a hot knife through butter and immediately makes an impact in the majors. He’s thrown a total of 14 1/3 innings during his minor league career, and four of those came during a rehab assignment this month. He started as a reliever in the majors, but has been one of the best starters in baseball since his move to the rotation before the 2012 season. Overall, Sale has thrown 528 innings since being drafted, striking out 558, walking 141, and pitching to a 2.93 ERA in the process.
Honorable mentions: Gio Gonzalez, Gordon Beckham
Cincinnati Reds: Jay Bruce (12th overall, 2005). The Reds have largely built their team through solid drafting, though some shrewd trades have also been part of their success in recent years. Bruce has stood head and shoulders above their recent draftees, already smashing 167 career homers at the age of 27. Cincinnati hooked him up with a long-term deal too, ensuring that their star right fielder will be around for the next few years as well.
Honorable mentions: Mike Leake, Drew Stubbs, Todd Frazier, Homer Bailey
Cleveland Indians: Lonnie Chisenhall (29th overall, 2008). I have no doubt in my mind that in a few years, this will end up changing. Chisenhall has spent parts of four different seasons in the majors, and 2014 is the first season in which he’s really staked a claim to a starting job for the Tribe. In short order, Francisco Lindor or Clint Frazier will take this spot from Chisenhall.
Honorable mentions: Drew Pomeranz