Friday, June 7, 2013

Baseball's Best Number One Draft Picks

The MLB Amateur Draft has always been a crapshoot, so much so that multiple number one draft picks fizzled out in the minor leagues and never even made it to the Show. However, every now and then a can't miss prospect comes along, a once-in-a-generation talent who makes good on his potential  and dominates at the big league level.

With that in mind, here's my list of the ten best number one draft selections in baseball history. Notice that there are no pitchers--more on that later.

1. Alex Rodriguez (1993)
A-Rod delivered on the otherworldly promise he displayed as a high school prodigy by becoming the best shortstop since Honus Wagner, winning three American League MVP awards and leading the New York Yankees to the franchise's 27th World Series championship in 2009.

2. Ken Griffey Jr. (1987)
Baseball's best and most decorated player of the 1990s, Griffey was a perennial All-Star nod and Gold Glove winner.  Even though injuries sabotaged the second half of his career, the fan favorite still rates as the fifth best center fielder of all time (behind Willie Mays, Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, and Mickey Mantle) according to JAWS.

3. Chipper Jones (1990)
Originally drafted as a shortstop, Jones switched over to the hot corner and became one of the five best third basemen who ever lived (along with Mike Schmidt, George Brett, Eddie Mathews, and Wade Boggs). Among switch-hitters, only Mantle (and maybe Eddie Murray) were better than the lifelong Atlanta Brave.

4. Joe Mauer (2001)
The only catcher in MLB history to win three batting titles (.347 in 2006, .328 in '08 and .365 in his '09 MVP campaign), the Twins franchise player has already cemented his status as one of the best backstops of all time.

5. Darryl Strawberry (1980)
The 1983 NL Rookie of the Year made eight All-Star squads prior to his 30th birthday and appeared on his way to Cooperstown before drug abuse ruined his career.

6. Harold Baines (1977)
The prototypical professional hitter, Baines enjoyed a 22 year career in the majors that produced 2,866 hits, 384 home runs and 1,628 RBI. The six-time All-Star holds the MLB record for most games as a Designated Hitter with 1,652.

7. Adrian Gonzalez (2000)
The Florida Marlins and Texas Rangers have to be kicking themselves. Both teams traded the sweet-swinging first baseman during his formative years, only to watch him emerge as one of the best two-way first basemen in the game.

8. Josh Hamilton (1999)
Like Strawberry, Hamilton's personal demons overwhelmed his supernatural talent. It took him eight years to reach the Show, but since arriving for good in 2007 he's become one of baseball's biggest stars.

9. Rick Monday (1965)
The first pick in baseball's first amateur draft, Monday was much more than an answer to a trivia question. The centerfielder lasted 19 years in the bigs, made two All-Star teams and retired with a 125 OPS+, same as Yogi Berra.

10. Pat Burrell
Pat the Bat was one of baseball's most underrated power hitters of the new millennium. Overshadowed by teammates Bobby Abreu, Scott Rolen, Jim Thome Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, and Chase Utley, Burrell never got the attention he deserved for averaging 28 home runs, 92 RBI and 87 walks per year from 2000 through 2008.

Honorable Mention: B.J. Surhoff (1985), Darin Erstad (1995), and Bob Horner (1978)

Likely to join the list: Justin Upton (2005), David Price (2007), Stephen Strasburg (2009) and Bryce Harper (2010)

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