The 2008 NBA draft will happen tonight and in case you haven’t switched on the TV, logged onto a sports website or visited your local tailor, this is kind of a big deal. The “Who’s Going Number One?” debate started ever since OJ Mayo was touted the Next Lebron before he even graduated from high school. The NBA draft is excessively overweight with hype as the lottery selection gets televised with an analysis crew even before the ping pong balls float in a machine.
While Bulls fans everywhere wait in anticipation for the ending of, “With the first pick in the 2008 NBA draft, the Chicago Bulls select…” other sports fans should pay attention to another draft development: the number one pick in the MLB draft. Who cares, you say? Well, what if I told you that the number one pick in the baseball draft has been as dominant as those in the NBA and NFL?
Take a look at the #1 picks in baseball and what they’ve done not only this year but in years past.
2001 #1 pick Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer
Drafted ahead of two of the biggest pitching disappointments in recent history (Mark Prior and Dewon Brazelton), Joe Mauer hasn’t disappointed the Twins. Just five years after the draft, he made history by becoming the first AL catcher to win the batting title.
This year, he’s looking to earn his second batting title before he turns 26. He’s batting .325, just behind league leader Milton Bradley who will likely return to his career .278 batting average. Not only that, but his .411 OBP places him third in OBP in the AL.
A little more power would be nice but the Twins can’t complain with their homegrown talent’s success early in his career.
2000 #1 pick San Diego Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez
Adrian has been involved in two trades with significant implications. Along with two scrubs, the Marlins traded their former #1 pick Adrian Gonzalez mid-season to the Texas Rangers for Ugueth Urbina. On the surface, the deal seems like a steal for the Rangers but keep in mind that Ugey collected 4 saves in the post season when the Marlins won the World Series.
Also keep in mind that Urbina is in jail indefinitely. The Marlins always seem to know when to let their players go.
Back to Adriaaan. The Padres burned the Rangers when they received Gonzo and All-Star starting pitcher Chris Young in a deal for Adam Eaton, Akinori Otsuka and Billy Killian in 2006. Eaton “pitches” for the Phillies, Otsuka’s out of the league, and Killian hasn’t sniffed anything above A ball in years. GM John Hart is a genius.
Gonzalez is finally tapping the surface of his potential this year for the Padres. Despite hitting at Petco, he’s crushed 21 home runs already and leads the NL in RBI with 65. At this rate, he’ll hit 44 home runs with 135 RBI by season’s end.
Did I mention he’s only 26? He’s got more home runs and RBIs this year than any major leaguer under 27 years old. Look for him to be a top first baseman years to come.
1999 #1 pick Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton
Everything I could say about Josh Hamilton has already been said. He's a Triple Crown contender. I could tell you about how he leads the AL in HR and RBIs while ranking 4th in SLG, 5th in OPS and 7th in batting average. I could tell about how he threw 96 miles as a left handed pitcher in high school. I could tell you about how he was out of baseball for from 2002 to 2006 battling drug problems and is now second in the 2008 All-Star voting behind Manny Ramirez.
But you already know all these things.
The only way that Josh Hamilton’s story could get any more inspiring is if he flew to the moon and played catch with Elvis. Even then I’d probably respond with “Yeah, but was the sun too far for him?”
1998 #1 pick Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Pat Burrell
Pat Burrell’s ascension to the majors isn’t quite as historical as Hamilton’s but let’s not forget that he has more home runs than any Philadelphia outfielder in the modern era and fourth most in the 118-year old franchise. At 31 years of age, he’s having a career year, posting a personal best .412 OBP and .580 SLG. Additionally, he ranks second in the NL in walks, fifth in OPS+ and shares the sixth most HRs with teammate Ryan Howard.
What most people may not know about Pat Burrell is that he’s only been caught stealing once in his career (he has 5 stolen bases).
1993 #1 pick New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez
Love him or hate him, this guy may go down as the best human being ever to play the game not named Babe Ruth or Crash Davis. However, he might have the charisma of a city rat.
Regardless, Rodriguez is the first on this list that is a surefire lock for the Hall of Fame. An absolute machine at the plate, here are his OPS+ figures since he was 20 years old: 160, 120, 136, 134, 162, 160, 158, 147, 131, 173, 134, 177, and 167 this year.
He revolutionized the shortstop position and holds practically every record in existence in that position. He’s the youngest player ever to hit 500 home runs and also the pansiest runner in ALCS history since Knoblauch's phantom tag on Jose Offerman. Awesome!
This year is just another year for ARod. He’s six points off for the batting title and third in OPS. In the AL, only Joe Crede has more home runs from the hot corner but he has 27 at-bats on ARod so it’s fair to say ARod will pass him soon enough. He’s been a thief on the bases too as he’s second in stolen bases among third basemen. He’s actually so good it’s boring—he’s Gershwinesque.
1990 #1 pick Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones
I was at a graduation party last year when my buddy and I sat down to talk baseball because some mother who was about 14 cosmos too deep was karaoking to “Build Me Up Buttercup.” To pass the time we decided to name active Hall of Famers at every position. At third base, I couldn’t think of anyone other than Chipper who I’d vote into the Hall of Fame. I mean, Scott Rolen isn’t even close, right?
And that was last year. Everyone and their drunken mother know that Chipper’s flirting with .400 this year. Right now, he not only leads the NL in hitting but he’s also the runner-up in OPS.
Growing up, no hitter signified quiet dominance like Chipper. I think this is the first year that he’s actually been a headliner during the season. He joins Mauer and Burrell as #1’s that have stayed with the team that drafted them.
1987 #1 pick Cincinnati Reds outfielder Ken Griffey Jr
To put his longevity in perspective, the first pick in 1987 NBA draft was David Robinson who retired five years ago. Many speculated he’d hit something like 3,000 home runs by the time he retired but he only managed to hit his 600th home run earlier this year.
He leads all active players in career home runs and the third no doubt Hall of Famer on this list. He’s probably the best #1 pick of all time in the sport, just beating out Darryl Strawberry.
Looking at this list, shouldn’t we as sports fans give the baseball draft a little more credit? Next, I'll compare to the NBA and NFL. The conclusion may surprise you.