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MLB Draft: All-Time Best Players Taken in the First Round by Pick Number

Mike Trout

The 25th overall pick in the 2009 MLB Draft, Mike Trout has already punched his ticket to Cooperstown

The 2021 MLB Draft kicks off this Sunday in conjunction with the All-Star Game. A total of 612 players will be picked in 20 rounds over a two-day period. With compensation picks and the Houston Astros being forced to forfeit theirs over the sign-stealing scandal, a total of 36 picks will be taken in the first round.

Unlike the NFL and NBA drafts, the MLB Draft did not begin until 1965 and teams often draft players who never set foot onto a professional baseball field. However, the first round is always taken seriously. With that in mind, here is a ranking of the best players to be taken with each pick, starting at 36.

36. Randy Johnson, P, USC
1985 Draft, Round 2 – Montreal Expos

“The Big Unit” won five Cy Young Awards over his 22-year career with the Expos, Seattle Mariners, Houston Astros, Arizona Diamondbacks, New York Yankees, and San Francisco Giants, and finished second in career strikeouts with 4,875.

Related: Top 50 College Prospects in 2021 MLB Draft

35. Mark Langston, P, San Jose State
1981 Draft, Round 2 – Seattle Mariners

The current Los Angeles Angels radio color commentator led the American League in strikeouts three times and picked off 91 runners during his career.

34. Mark Gubicza, P, William Penn Charter School (Philadelphia)
1981 Draft, Round 2 – Kansas City Royals

Gubicza’s made the All-Star Game in 1988 and 1989 when he won a collective 35 games and recorded 356 strikeouts.

Related: Top 50 High School Prospects in 2021 MLB Draft

33. Milt Wilcox, P, Crooked Oak High School (Del City, Okla.)
1968 Draft, Round 2 – Cincinnati Reds

Wilcox won 97 games in his nine seasons with the Detroit Tigers and was instrumental in the franchise’s 1984 championship season.

32. Aaron Judge, RF, Fresno State
2013 Draft, Compensatory Round – New York Yankees

During his 2017 rookie season, Judge led the league in home runs with 52 and earned American League Rookie of the Year honors. He also is the fifth player in MLB history to start an All-Star Game his first two seasons.

31. Greg Maddux, P, Valley High School (Las Vegas)
1984 Draft, Round 2 – Chicago Cubs

Maddux is the only pitcher in MLB history to record more than 300 wins, more than 3,000 strikeouts, and less than 1,000 walks. Because of his proclivity to throw complete-game shutouts in fewer than 100 pitches, the feat is now known as a Maddux.

30. Mike Schmidt, 3B, Ohio
1971 Draft, Round 2 – Philadelphia Phillies

Arguably the greatest third baseman in MLB history, Schmidt led the National League in home runs eight times and won 10 Gold Gloves during his Hall of Fame career.

29. George Brett, SS, El Segundo High School (El Segundo, Calif.)
1971 Draft, Round 2 – Kansas City Royals

Brett was the American League batting champion in 1976, 1980, and 1990, making him the only player to win batting titles in three different decades.

28. Lee Smith, P, Castor High School (Castor, La.)
1975 Draft, Round 2 – Chicago Cubs

Smith retired as the MLB’s all-time career saves leader (currently third with 478) and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2019.

27. Vida Blue, P, DeSoto High School (Mansfield, La.)
1967 Draft, Round 2 – Kansas City Athletics

A key member of the Oakland Athletics dynasty that won three consecutive World Series, Blue also was the first pitcher to start an All-Star Game for both the American League and National League.

26. Alan Trammell, SS, Kearny High School (San Diego)
1976 Draft, Round 2 – Detroit Tigers

Trammell played for 19 seasons with second baseman Lou Whitaker and the two turned more double plays than any other shortstop-second baseman combination in MLB history. He also earned four Gold Glove and three Silver Slugger Awards during his Hall of Fame career.

25. Mike Trout, CF, Millville Senior High School (Millville, N.J.)
2009 Draft, Round 1 – Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Baseball’s best and highest-paid player has won three MVP awards since debuting in 2011. If he stays healthy, there’s no telling what kind of numbers the 29-year-old will have when his career ends.

24. Walker Buehler, P, Vanderbilt
2015 Draft, Round 1 – Los Angeles Dodgers

The 26-year-old Buehler has shown a great deal of promise in his young career, making the All-Star Game in 2019 and winning Game 3 of the 2020 World Series.

23. Jason Kendall, C, Torrance High School (Torrance, Calif.)
1992 Draft, Round 1 – Pittsburgh Pirates

Kendall had rare speed for a catcher and could hit leadoff and steal bases. His 26 steals in 1998 are an MLB record for a catcher in the modern era.

22. Craig Biggio, C, Seton Hall
1987 Draft, Round 1 – Houston Astros

Biggio is the Astros' franchise leader in most career games, at bats, hits, runs scored, doubles, total bases, and extra-base hits and is one of only five MLB players with 250 home runs and 400 steals.

21. Todd Worrell, P, Biola University
1982 Draft, Round 1 – St. Louis Cardinals

Despite his career being interrupted by Tommy John surgery, Worrell led the National League in saves in 1986 and 1996.

20. CC Sabathia, P, Vallejo High School (Vallejo, Calif.)
1998 Draft, Round 1 – Cleveland Indians

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Sabathia is one of three lefthanders to record 3,000 strikeouts in his career and was the first pitcher to debut in the 21st century and win 250 games. He also won a World Series with the New York Yankees and is likely headed to Cooperstown.

19. Roger Clemens, P, Texas
1983 Draft, Round 1 – Boston Red Sox

Whether or not the allegations of Clemens taking performance-enhancing drugs are true, he was still the best pitcher of his generation.

18. Willie Wilson, OF, Summit High School (Summit, N.J.)
1974 Draft, Round 1 – Kansas City Royals

Wilson hit 13 inside-the-park home runs, which are the most of any MLB player since 1950. He also hit .367 in the 1985 World Series, helping the Royals beat the St. Louis Cardinals.

17. Roy Halladay, P, Arvada West High School (Arvada, Colo.)
1995 Draft, Round 1 – Toronto Blue Jays

The late Halladay led MLB in complete games seven times and wins twice during his Hall of Fame career. In 2010, he pitched a perfect game and a postseason no-hitter.

16. Lance Parrish, 3B, Walnut High School (Walnut, Calif.)
1974 Draft, Round 1 – Detroit Tigers

“Big Wheel” was converted to catcher in the minor leagues and made it to The Show in 1977. During his 19-season career, he hit 324 home runs and led the American League twice in baserunners caught stealing.

15. Jim Rice, OF, Westside High School (Anderson, S.C.)
1971 Draft, Round 1 – Boston Red Sox

In Rice’s 1978 American League MVP season, he led the league in home runs, RBIs, and triples. He is the only MLB player in history to accomplish that feat. An eight-time All-Star, Rice was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2009.

14. Jason Varitek, C, Georgia Tech
1994 Draft, Round 1 – Seattle Mariners

The Mariners traded Varitek to the Boston Red Sox and he went on to be an integral part of the franchise’s 2004 and 2007 championship teams. He also caught an MLB-record four no-hitters.

13. Manny Ramirez, OF, George Washington High School (New York City)
1991 Draft, Round 1 – Cleveland Indians

Ramirez’s .312 batting average, 555 home runs, and 1,831 RBIs are Hall of Fame-worthy, but violations of MLB’s drug policy may keep him out of Cooperstown.

12. Billy Wagner, P, Ferrum College
1993 Draft, Round 1 – Houston Astros

“Billy the Kid” is just one of six pitchers with more than 400 saves and his 11.9 strikeouts per nine innings pitched ratio is the highest of any hurler with at least 800 IP.

11. Max Scherzer, P, Missouri
2006 Draft, Round 1 – Arizona Diamondbacks

Scherzer has won three Cy Young Awards and pitched two no-hitters. It is very likely that he will reach 3,000 strikeouts this season as well.

10. Ted Simmons, C, Southfield High School (Southfield, Mich.)
1967 Draft, Round 1 – St. Louis Cardinals

Simmons retired as the all-time leading catcher in career hits and doubles and was inducted in the Hall of Fame in 2020.

9. Kevin Appier, P, Antelope Valley College
1987 Draft, Round 1 – Kansas City Royals

Employing a fastball, slider, and forkball, Appier was a starting pitcher for four different teams and won a World Series with the Anaheim Angels in 2002.

8. Todd Helton, 1B, Tennessee
1995 Draft, Round 1 – Colorado Rockies

Having played his entire career in Denver, Helton is the Rockies' career leader in games played, at-bats, runs, hits, total bases, doubles, home runs, RBIs, walks, and intentional walks.

7. Frank Thomas, 1B, Auburn
1989 Draft, Round 1 – Chicago White Sox

“The Big Hurt” is the only MLB player to have a .300 batting average, 100 RBIs, 100 runs, 100 walks, and 20 home runs in seven consecutive seasons and is one of a handful of players to retire with at least a .300 batting average and 500 home runs.

6. Derek Jeter, SS, Kalamazoo Central High School (Kalamazoo, Mich.)
1992 Draft, Round 1 – New York Yankees

Jeter is the Yankees' all-time career leader in hits and stolen bases and had a .321 batting average in World Series. He also was clutch in New York’s five World Series championships.

5. Dale Murphy, C, Woodrow Wilson High School (Portland, Ore.)
1974 Draft, Round 1 – Atlanta Braves

The Braves moved Murphy to the outfield in 1980 and he played his best ball in that position. He earned National League MVP honors in 1982 and 1983 and won five straight Gold Glove Awards from 1982 to 1986.

4. Dave Winfield, OF, Minnesota
1973 Draft, Round 1 – San Diego Padres

Winfield was a 12-time All-Star who played for six teams during his 22-season, Hall-of-Fame career. He also had the winning hit for the Toronto Blue Jays in the 1992 World Series.

3. Paul Molitor, SS, Minnesota
1977 Draft, Round 1 – Milwaukee Brewers

Possessing a combination of hitting and speed, Molitor is the only player in MLB history with at least 3,000 hits, a .300 lifetime batting average, 200 home runs, and 500 stolen bases.

2. Reggie Jackson, RF, Arizona State
1966 Draft, Round 2 – Kansas City Athletics

“Mr. October” won five World Series with the Oakland Athletics and New York Yankees and led his teams to first place in their division in 10 of his 21 seasons.

1. Ken Griffey Jr., OF, Moeller High School (Cincinnati)
1987 Draft, Round 1 – Seattle Mariners

The most electrifying player of the 1990s hit 630 home runs and was a 10-time Gold Glove recipient. If injuries had not derailed his career in the 2000s, there is no telling what else he would have accomplished.