With the MLB Draft this week, it’s fun to look back at the some of the best picks over the past 50 years of the draft. Here’s the best selection at each of the first 40 positions in the draft.
1 Ken Griffey Jr., Seattle, 1987
Certainly there are numerous No. 1 overall selections worthy of being named the best. But I’ll take Griffey over Chipper Jones, Alex Rodriguez and David Price.
Best of the 2000s: David Price, Tampa Bay Devil Rays, 2007
2 Reggie Jackson, Kansas City Athletics, 1966
The struggling A’s were more than happy to hear the Mets call Steve Chilcott’s name to begin the second draft in history.
Best of the 2000s: Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers, 2004
3 Robin Yount, Milwaukee, 1973
The Hall of Famer edges out long-time teammate and fellow Hall member Paul Molitor, who was taken third four years later.
Best of the 2000s: Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Devil Rays, 2006
4 Dave Winfield, San Diego, 1973
The big outfielder was drafted in the NFL and both the ABA and NBA.
Best of the 2000s: Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals, 2005
5 Dale Murphy, Atlanta, 1974
Tough call over Dwight Gooden and Buster Posey. The Giants’ catcher will likely earn this spot in a few years, but if his career ended today, he would fall short.
Best of the 2000s: Buster Posey, San Francisco, 2008
6 Derek Jeter, New York Yankees, 1992
Clearly, this presents the classic argument of best performance on the field vs. the most significant impact on the game. Barry Bonds was an awfully good player, but was never as revered or considered the “face of the game” as Jeter was.
Best of the 2000s: Zack Greinke, Kansas City Royals, 2002
7 Frank Thomas, Chicago White Sox, 1989
Clayton Kershaw is not in the Hall of Fame yet, so this goes to the big tight end from Auburn, who quickly became the Big Hurt and a Big Star in Chicago.
Best of the 2000s: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers, 2006
8 Todd Helton, Colorado, 1995
The greatest player in Colorado history once started at quarterback at the University of Tennessee with Peyton Manning on the bench.
Best of the 2000s: Mike Leake, Cincinnati, 2009
9 Kevin Appier, Kansas City Royals, 1987
Appier has four more wins and six fewer losses than Barry Zito.
Best of the 2000s: Mike Pelfrey, New York Mets, 2009
10 Ted Simmons, St. Louis, 1967
I’ll take Simmons’ complete game over Mark McGwire’s power.
Best of the 2000s: Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco, 2007
11 Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh, 2005
I’m taking the Pirates’ center fielder over Greg Luzinski and Max Scherzer.
Best of the 2000s: Max Scherzer, Arizona, 2006
12 Kirk Gibson, Detroit, 1978
The All-America wide receiver from Michigan State delivered one of the most dramatic home runs in history in the 1988 World Series—but not for the team that drafted him.
Best of the 2000s: Jered Weaver, Anaheim Angels, 2004
13 Paul Konerko, L.A. Dodgers, 1994
Konerko hit just four of his 439 career home runs for the team that drafted him. Manny Ramirez was a nice pick by the Indians at this spot as well.
Best of the 2000s: Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox, 2010
14 Jason Varitek, Seattle, 1994
After making this terrific pick, the Mariners dealt Varitek AND Derek Lowe to the Red Sox for Heathcliff Slocumb.
Best of the 2000s: Jason Heyward, Atlanta Braves, 2007
15 Jim Rice, Boston, 1971
Condredge Holloway, Roger Quiroga, Ed Kurpiel and David Sloan were among the 14 players chosen before Rice in 1971. The Hall of Famer spent his entire career with Boston, winning an MVP trophy in 1978.
Best of the 2000s: Chase Utley, Philadelphia, 2000
16 Lance Berkman, Houston, 1997
Berkman joined Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell as a full-time member of the Killer Bs in 2000.
Best of the 2000s: Nick Swisher, Oakland A’s, 2002
17 Roy Halladay, Toronto, 1995
Doc Halladay is second in wins, strikeouts and shutouts on the Blue Jays’ career lists.
Best of the 2000s: Cole Hamels, Philadelphia, 2002
18 Willie Wilson, Kansas City, 1974
Wilson played center field and batted leadoff for the Royals’ AL pennant winners in 1980 and ’85.
Best of the 2000s: Sonny Gray, Oakland A’s, 2011
19 Roger Clemens, Boston, 1983
As great as Clemens was for the Red Sox, he couldn’t reverse the curse in Boston.
Best of the 2000s: Shelby Miller, St. Louis, 2009
20 Mike Mussina, Baltimore, 1990
Mussina should be in the Hall of Fame one day, and could easily be joined there by Torii Hunter, drafted at No. 20 by the Twins in 1993.
Best of the 2000s: Trevor Plouffe, Minnesota, 2004
21 Rick Sutcliffe, Los Angeles Dodgers, 1974
The Dodgers figured this whole scouting and drafting thing pretty quickly with several solid picks over the first 10 years of the draft.
Best of the 2000s: Ian Kennedy, New York Yankees, 2006
22 Craig Biggio, Houston, 1987
With more than 3,000 hits and All-Star starts at both catcher and second base, Biggio is second to no one here, not even Rafael Palmeiro and his 3,000 hits and nearly 600 homers.
Best of the 2000s: Kolten Wong, St. Louis, 2011
23 Jacoby Ellsbury, Boston, 2005
Billy Beane was selected at No. 23 by the Mets in 1980. But his playing career didn’t measure up to Ellsbury’s.
Best of the 2000s: Phil Hughes, New York Yankees, 2004
24 Terry Mulholland, San Francisco, 1984
The left-handed Mulholland gets the nod due to longevity and lock of competition. Toronto manager John Gibbons was selected with the pick right after Beane.
Best of the 2000s: Randal Grichuk, Los Angeles Angels, 2009
25 Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels, 2009
I know that if Trout’s career ended today, he would not likely measure up well to Bill Buckner. But I’m going with Trout anyway.
Best of the 2000s: Matt Cain, San Francisco, 2002
26 Alan Trammell, Detroit, 1976
Many experts believe the talented shortstop should be in the Hall of Fame. I’m not one of them, but I don believe he is the best player of guys drafted at No. 26.
Best of the 2000s: Blake Swihart, Boston, 2011
27 Vida Blue, Kansas City Athletics, 1967
The left-handed pitcher was named American League MVP in 1971, the year before his A’s reeled off three straight World Series titles.
Best of the 2000s: Rick Porcello, Detroit, 2007
28 Lee Smith, Chicago Cubs, 1975
When Smith, a former collegiate basketball player, lumbered out to the mound, it was usually lights out for opponents. He is one of only three pitchers with more than 450 saves.
Best of the 2000s: Colby Rasmus, St. Louis, 2005
29 George Brett, Kansas City Royals, 1971
The Hall of Famer remains the face of the Kansas City Royals franchise. Brett won batting titles in three different decades and played in two World Series, winning one.
Best of the 2000s: Adam Wainwright, Atlanta, 2000
30 Mike Schmidt, Philadelphia, 1971
This Hall of Fame third baseman was taken one pick behind Brett in 1971. The two were their respective leagues’ best third basemen throughout the 1970s and ’80s.
Best of the 2000s: Noah Lowry, San Francisco, 2001
31 Greg Maddux, Chicago Cubs, 1984
It’s too bad the Cubs couldn’t hang on to Maddux through his free agency in the early 1990s.
Best of the 2000s: J.P. Howell, Kansas City Royals, 2004
32 Lee Lacy, Los Angeles Dodgers, 1969
A lean group features Dave Valle, Dave Magadan and Jon Farrell. See why I chose Lacy?
Best of the 2000s: Jake Odorizzi, Milwaukee, 2008
33 Milt Wilcox, Cincinnati, 1968
I’ll take Wilcox since he has four more wins (119) than Dave Burba. Although, Mike Gallego has the highest WAR (17.1) from this slot.
Best of the 2000s: Jeff Mathis, Anaheim Angels, 2001
34 Mark Gubicza, Kansas City Royals 1981
The Royals’ stalwart piled up 132 wins in his career.
Best of the 2000s: Todd Frazier, Cincinnati, 2007
35 Mark Langston, Seattle 1981
The left-handed starter who played most of his career in Seattle just edges Johnny Damon.
Best of the 2000s: Kevin Plawecki, New York Mets, 2012
36 Johnny Bench, Cincinnati, 1965
In the first year of the draft, Ray Fosse, Gene Lamont, Ken Plesha, Raldolph Kohn, Ken Rudolph, Donald Johnson and Dick Horton were the seven catchers drafted ahead of Bench. Every team passed on Bench once, and 15 of the 20 teams at the time passed on him twice.
Best of the 2000s: Chris Coghlan, Florida Marlins, 2006
37 Frank Viola, Minnesota, 1981
Mike Scott, drafted by the Mets in 1976, won a Cy Young in 1986 but had just two seasons with a sub-3.00 ERA. Viola won a Cy Young in 1987 and finished his career with 176 wins.
Best of the 2000s: Adam Jones, Seattle, 2003
38 David Wright, New York Mets, 2001
The seven-time All-Star has established himself as Mr. Met (no, not the guy with the big baseball head), but has played in as many as 140 games just once in the last five seasons.
Best of the 2000s: Noah Syndergaard, Toronto, 2010
39 Don Baylor, Baltimore, 1967
The 1979 American League MVP once played in three successive World Series with three different teams (1986 Red Sox, 1987 Twins, 1988 A’s). Joey Gallo, recently called up by the Rangers, may one day take over Baylor’s space here.
Best of the 2000s: Lance Lynn, St. Louis, 2008
40 Larry Gura, Chicago Cubs, 1969
There’s not much competition for this position, but Gura won 111 games in nine years with the Royals.
Best of the 2000s: Huston Street, Oakland 2004