Prince Fielder?! Nah, give me Bullington, Selig! Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-US PRESSWIRE

Looking Back On First Overall Picks In The MLB Amateur Draft


The 2012 amateur draft is only three days away, and as usual there are plenty of future stars littering the field. The problem teams have, of course, is that it’s very difficult to pinpoint who these players are, as not even the most astute of scouts could possibly be right at a very high percentage. Hall of Fame level talents like Albert Pujols and Mike Piazza were taken deep in their respective drafts, and the best player of each class is seldom the first off the board. With the draft fast approaching, it seems appropriate to look back over the last ten first overall picks and how they have panned out thus far. I omitted the two most recent drafts, as it’s a lot more difficult to point, laugh, and use idiotic amounts of hindsight when things haven’t played themselves out very clearly yet. The Astros are hoping the player they select first overall next Monday (Mark Appel? Carlos Correa? Byron Buxton even?) lands on the happy side of the ledger.

2002: Bryan Bullington

For being terrible all the time and getting extremely high picks, the Pirates sure have whiffed a lot. Their selection of right-handed starter Bryan Bullington first overall in 2002 was a particularly brutal one, as he wound up logging only 81 2/3 Major League innings. Bullington was just awful in the innings he did pitch, but perhaps he was confused by his surroundings in Pittsburgh and thought he was supposed to let everyone take him deep. Bullington’s career, which was last seen living in 2010 as (you guessed it) a Royal, featured 13 home runs allowed and a 1.58 WHIP. Other first round picks included B.J. Upton, Zack Greinke, Prince Fielder, Nick Swisher, Cole Hamels, and Matt Cain.

2003: Delmon Young

The Rays took Dmitri Young‘s younger brother, allegedly a fantastic all-around hitter, with the first overall selection in ’03. The Rays would obviously go on to have much more amazing drafts, but Young seemed like a safe enough bet with a solid pedigree at the time. He wasn’t. Young hit well as an extremely young (which is also his name!) minor leaguer, but never really found his way at the highest level. He never got the hang of plate discipline, and he’s always been just as likely to hit an umpire as a baseball. Add in the fact that his defensive work is best likened to that thing that happens at the end of “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” and you have a pretty big disappointment on your hands. The Rays missed out on fellow first rounders Rickie Weeks, Nick Markakis, Chad Billingsley, and Carlos Quentin. Not all that inspiring of a draft class, really…

2004: Matthew Bush?

Due to financial concerns, the Padres decided Matt Bush was their best option in 2004 and they ran with it. It turned out they were running directly into the ground and cementing their fate as a temporarily doomed team in the process. Bush began as a shortstop, encountered a myriad of personal problems, and then became a minor league pitcher. One pick later, the Padres could have picked Justin Verlander, who has a massive edge on Bush in every possible statistical category except for TFARBR (Times Failed at Reverse-Babe-Ruthing). Among the other first rounders were Jered Weaver, Billy Butler, and Stephen Drew. For the record, Drew still had both legs and feet attached back then.

2005: Justin Upton

Now here’s a first round pick that makes all the sense in the world. Justin Upton has every tool possible and knows how to use them. He’s off to a slow start in 2012, but he’s a franchise players who’s just 24 and has years of big league experience under his belt. He’s already logged two top notch seasons, the first of which came at age 21. The D-Backs did well, but there were plenty of others in this amazing draft class who have panned out quite nicely as well. Here are a few of them: Alex Gordon, Ryan Zimmerman, Ryan Braun, Ricky Romero, Andrew McCutchen, Jay Bruce, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Matt Garza. Has there been a better year to have drafted early than 2005? That was rhetorical, man; I didn’t really expect an answer. But you’re right. There totally hasn’t been!

2006: Luke Hochevar

The Royals have had so many high picks and “okay, this time it’s for real!” prospects that it’s becoming hard to keep track of them all. Hochevar has shown flashes of the pitcher he could have become, but it’s pretty clear his ceiling turned out to be one of those really low ones you find in the upstairs rooms of old houses rather than one of the vaulted variety. After impressing in the second half of 2011, Hochevar has gotten off to a dubious start in 2012 and appears doomed to be one of the 1-1 picks that just didn’t really work out as planned. Other first rounders included Evan Longoria, Brandon Morrow, Clayton Kershaw, Tim Lincecum, Max Scherzer, and Ian Kennedy.

2007: David Price

David Price is awesome, and the Rays got him just one year after drafting Longoria with the third overall pick. The team would go on to sign Longoria to a lifetime contract worth $18 and one free item with the purchase of another item of equal or higher value. Price is one of the best starting pitchers in baseball, and he’s actually been making incremental improvements, so there’s really no way to fault the Rays on this one. Other teams got the likes of Mike Moustakas, Matt Wieters, Jarrod Parker, Madison Bumgarner, and Jason Heyward in the first round.

2008: Tim Beckham

Well, you can’t win ‘em all. Tim Beckham, who was taken seven picks ahead of Gordon Beckham and played considerably less soccer than David Beckham, is a shortstop who’s always been heavy on tools but not on concrete results. While he’s still just 22 and something magical might one day happen (I doubt it; Dumbledore’s dead), Beckham’s shot at stardom seems to have been slowly fading for a while now. Pedro Alvarez, Eric Hosmer, Brian Matusz, Buster Posey, Yonder Alonso, and Brett Lawrie also went in the first round of this draft. Future 2011 1-1 pick Gerrit Cole was actually selected out of high school by the Yankees with the 28th pick, but of course later decided to attend college.

2009: Stephen Strasburg

There isn’t much to say about this pick, as it was clearly the correct thing to do at all costs. The Nationals immediately picked Strasburg, who was not only Major League ready but Cy Young ready at the time of his selection, with their first choice in 2009. Strasburg had to undergo Tommy John surgery, sure, but when healthy he’s one of the best pitchers in baseball. Let’s not rain on some of these other fellas, though. Dustin Ackley and Shelby Miller come to mind as guys from the ’09 class who may have excellent careers ahead of them.

Only time will tell how Houston truly does with its first overall pick Monday. I look forward to one day praising or skewering their decision based on years of performance here in about a half-decade or so! I know I’m not the only one.

If Brian’s writing strikes your fancy, follow him on Twitter at @vaughanbasepct and read his work at StanGraphs.

Tags: 2012 MLB Draft Byron Buxton Featured Houston Astros Justin Upton Mark Appel Popular Prince Fielder Stephen Strasburg