The Best MLB Draft Pick in the History of Every Team

Joel ReuterJuly 15, 2022

The Best MLB Draft Pick in the History of Every Team

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    Focus on Sport/Getty Images

    The 2022 MLB draft is right around the corner, with Round 1 and Round 2 scheduled for this Sunday at 7 p.m. ET as part of All-Star Weekend once again.

    Before we dive headfirst into our coverage of this year's draft, let's take a look back at some of the greatest draft selections of all time.

    Ahead we've selected the greatest draft pick in the history of all 30 MLB teams, based on how that player performed with the team that drafted him. In other words, you won't see John Smoltz listed with the Detroit Tigers or Jeff Bagwell for the Boston Red Sox since they found success with a team other than the one that drafted them.

    Along with each team's pick is a handful of honorable mentions, with each player's round and year they were drafted included for context.

    Off we go!

American League East

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    Cal Ripken Jr. (Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

    Baltimore Orioles: SS Cal Ripken Jr. (No. 48 overall in 1978)

    The O's whiffed on first-round pick Robert Boyce in 1978 as he failed to advance above the Single-A level, but they made up for it by grabbing a future Hall of Famer and franchise icon in the second round. Ripken debuted in 1981, won AL Rookie of the Year in 1982, took home AL MVP in 1983 and went on to rack up 19 All-Star appearances and 95.9 WAR in 21 seasons in Baltimore.

    Honorable Mentions: 1B Eddie Murray (3-1973), RHP Mike Mussina (1-1991), OF Nick Markakis (1-2003), 3B Manny Machado (1-2010)

    Boston Red Sox: RHP Roger Clemens (No. 19 overall in 1983)

    The first player to have his number retired at the University of Texas, Clemens was the 11th pitcher taken in the 1983 draft. He reached the majors the following May, and by 1986, he was the AL Cy Young winner and one of the game's elite pitchers. He took home a second Cy Young and an MVP award the following year, and he won 192 games with 2,590 strikeouts and 80.7 WAR in 13 seasons with the Red Sox.

    Honorable Mentions: C Carlton Fisk (1-1967), OF Dwight Evans (5-1969), OF Jim Rice (1-1971), 3B Wade Boggs (7-1976), SS Nomar Garciaparra (1-1994), 2B Dustin Pedroia (2-2004), OF Mookie Betts (5-2011)

    New York Yankees: SS Derek Jeter (No. 6 overall in 1992)

    Who else? Jeter's rookie season in 1996 helped usher in a Yankees dynasty, and he went on to become one of the premier faces of the sport throughout a 20-year career spent entirely in pinstripes. Shoutout to the 1990 draft, when the Yankees snagged Andy Pettitte (22nd round) and Jorge Posada (24th round) as two of the best late-round picks in MLB draft history.

    Honorable Mentions: C Thurman Munson (1-1968), SP Ron Guidry (3-1971), 1B Don Mattingly (19-1979), SP Andy Pettitte (22-1990), C Jorge Posada (24-1990), OF Aaron Judge (1-2013)

    Tampa Bay Rays: 3B Evan Longoria (No. 3 overall in 2006)

    Longoria was the No. 3 overall pick in a pitching-heavy 2006 first round that included Andrew Miller (No. 6), Clayton Kershaw (No. 7), Tim Lincecum (No. 10), Max Scherzer (No. 11) and Ian Kennedy (No. 21). He is Tampa Bay's all-time leader in games played (1,435), doubles (332), home runs (261), RBI (892) and WAR (51.2).

    Honorable Mentions: OF Carl Crawford (2-1999), RHP James Shields (16-2000), LHP David Price (1-2007)

    Toronto Blue Jays: RHP Roy Halladay (No. 17 overall in 1995)

    Halladay debuted as a 21-year-old in 1998, but it wasn't until the 2001 season that he finally found his footing in the big leagues. He was an All-Star for the first time in 2002, won AL Cy Young in 2003 and went 148-76 with a 3.43 ERA and 48.4 WAR in 12 seasons with the Blue Jays to lay the foundation for his Hall of Fame induction.

    Honorable Mentions: OF Jesse Barfield (9-1977), RHP Dave Stieb (5-1978), LHP Jimmy Key (3-1982), 1B John Olerud (3-1989)

American League Central

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    Frank Thomas (Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

    Chicago White Sox: 1B Frank Thomas (No. 7 overall in 1989)

    After hitting a school-record 49 home runs at Auburn, Thomas played just 181 games in the minors before making his MLB debut on Aug. 2, 1990. He hit .330/.454/.529 with 21 extra-base hits in 60 games in his first taste of the big leagues and went on to bat .307/.427/.568 with 448 home runs and 1,465 RBI in 16 seasons with the South Siders. He was a five-time All-Star, two-time AL MVP and one of the biggest stars in the sport.

    Honorable Mentions: OF Harold Baines (1-1977), 3B Robin Ventura (1-1988), LHP Mark Buehrle (38-1998)

    Cleveland Guardians: 1B/3B Jim Thome (No. 333 overall in 1989)

    Thome had to wait until the 13th round to hear his name called after playing his collegiate ball at Illinois Central College, and he was originally drafted as a shortstop before growing into his burly 6'4" frame. He hit 337 of his 612 career home runs in Cleveland, posting a 152 OPS+ and 48.0 WAR in 13 seasons with the team. Fellow draft picks Albert Belle and Manny Ramirez were also homegrown members of those stacked 1990s lineups.

    Honorable Mentions: OF Albert Belle (2-1987), OF Manny Ramirez (1-1991), LHP CC Sabathia (1-1998), SS Francisco Lindor (1-2011), RHP Shane Bieber (4-2016)

    Detroit Tigers: RHP Justin Verlander (No. 2 overall in 2004)

    Essentially the entire core of Detroit's 1984 World Series team was homegrown, and any of them would be a worthy selection here. Instead, we'll go with Verlander, who is unquestionably one of the greatest pitchers of his era and a no-doubt future Hall of Famer. He debuted roughly one year after he was drafted and went 183-114 with a 3.49 ERA, 2,373 strikeouts and 56.6 WAR in 13 seasons with the Tigers, winning the AL Cy Young and AL MVP in 2011.

    Honorable Mentions: C Lance Parrish (1-1974), 2B Lou Whitaker (5-1975), SS Alan Trammell (2-1976), RHP Jack Morris (5-1976), OF Kirk Gibson (1-1978)

    Kansas City Royals: 3B George Brett (No. 29 overall in 1971)

    This was the easiest choice in this entire exercise. There is no team in baseball with a greater disparity between the greatest player in franchise history and everyone else. In 21 seasons, Brett hit .305/.369/.487 with 3,154 hits and 88.6 WAR, winning three AL batting titles and 1980 AL MVP while earning 13 All-Star selections.

    Honorable Mentions: OF Willie Wilson (1-1974), RHP Bret Saberhagen (19-1982), RHP Kevin Appier (1-1987), Alex Gordon (1-2005)

    Minnesota Twins: OF Kirby Puckett (No. 3 overall in 1982—January draft)

    There used to be a second MLB draft in January that was geared toward high school players who graduated in January and JUCO players who were required to finish their current season before they could be drafted. It was eliminated in 1986, and Puckett stands as the best example of a player selected during that draft window. After playing college ball at Illinois JUCO Triton College, he went on to hit .318 with 2,304 hits and 51.2 WAR in 12 seasons with the Twins, helping deliver World Series titles in 1987 and 1991.

    Honorable Mentions: RHP Bert Blyleven (3-1969), 1B Kent Hrbek (17-1978), C Joe Mauer (1-2001)

American League West

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    Mike Trout (G Fiume/Getty Images)

    Houston Astros: C/2B Craig Biggio (No. 22 overall in 1987)

    Biggio made his MLB debut a year after he was drafted out of Seton Hall, and by 1989. he was Houston's starting catcher and a Silver Slugger winner after posting a 114 OPS+ with 13 home runs and 21 steals. He shifted to second base in 1992 where he went on to win four Gold Glove awards, and he finished his 20-year career with 3,060 hits and 65.5 WAR en route to Cooperstown.

    Honorable Mentions: RHP Roy Oswalt (23-1996), OF Lance Berkman (1-1997), OF George Springer (1-2011), SS Carlos Correa (1-2012), 3B Alex Bregman (1-2015), OF Kyle Tucker (1-2015)

    Los Angeles Angels: CF Mike Trout (No. 25 overall in 2009)

    There were 21 different teams that passed on Mike Trout before the New Jersey high school standout was taken in the 2009 draft, and he made his MLB debut on July 8, 2011, a few weeks before his 20th birthday. He had a 10.5-WAR campaign in his first full season in the big leagues and quickly became the greatest player on the planet. Now, if only the Angels could build a winner around him.

    Honorable Mentions: LHP Chuck Finley (1-1985, JAN), OF Tim Salmon (3-1989), OF Garret Anderson (4-1990), 1B/OF Darin Erstad (1-1995), 3B Troy Glaus (1-1997)

    Oakland Athletics: LF Rickey Henderson (No. 96 overall in 1976)

    The greatest leadoff hitter the game has ever seen, Henderson wreaked havoc on the bases throughout his 25-year career, and he was on base plenty thanks to a .401 on-base percentage and a 16.4 percent career walk rate. His 1,406 steals and 2,295 runs scored are both MLB records, and he spent 14 of his 25 big league seasons in Oakland spread over four different stints with the team.

    Honorable Mentions: 3B Sal Bando (6-1965), OF Reggie Jackson (1-1966), LHP Vida Blue (2-1967), 1B Mark McGwire (1-1984)

    Seattle Mariners: CF Ken Griffey Jr. (No. 1 overall in 1987)

    Had Alex Rodriguez spent more than seven seasons with the Mariners, there might be a legitimate debate here, but since he walked in free agency after his age-24 season, there's no question Griffey is the guy. A perennial MVP candidate in his prime and one of the most popular players in the history of the sport, he was the face of baseball throughout the 1990s, and taking him No. 1 overall in 1987 completely reshaped the Seattle organization.

    Honorable Mentions: 1B Alvin Davis (6-1982), SS Alex Rodriguez (1-1993), 3B Kyle Seager (3-2009)

    Texas Rangers: 1B Mark Teixeira (No. 5 overall in 2002)

    Teixeira slugged 153 home runs in five seasons with the Rangers, including a 43-homer, 144-RBI campaign in 2005. He also wound up being one of the greatest trade chips of all time when he was sent to the Atlanta Braves in exchange for Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Beau Jones. That deal helped lay the foundation for the team's back-to-back World Series appearances in 2010 and 2011.

    Honorable Mentions: C Jim Sundberg (8-1972), LHP Kenny Rogers (39-1982), RHP Kevin Brown (1-1986), OF Rusty Greer (10-1990), 2B Ian Kinsler (17-2003)

National League East

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    Chipper Jones (Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

    Atlanta Braves: 3B Chipper Jones (No. 1 overall in 1990)

    The Braves have a pair of Hall of Famers to choose from in Jones (85.3 WAR) and Tom Glavine (73.9 WAR), and both were key figures in the team's impressive run of success during the 1990s. The slight edge in WAR and the fact that Jones is one of the best No. 1 overall picks of all time earns him the nod, but you can't go wrong with either guy.

    Honorable Mentions: OF Dale Murphy (1-1974), LHP Tom Glavine (2-1984), OF David Justice (4-1985), C Brian McCann (2-2002), 1B Freddie Freeman (2-2007)

    Miami Marlins: OF Giancarlo Stanton (No. 76 overall in 2007)

    It was tempting to go with Charles Johnson here as he was the organization's inaugural first-round pick who gave the fledgling team a franchise catcher while winning four Gold Glove awards and a ring in 1997. That said, it's difficult to argue with 267 home runs and 2017 NL MVP honors from Stanton in his eight seasons with the team.

    Honorable Mentions: C Charles Johnson (1-1992), RHP Josh Beckett (1-1999), RHP Josh Johnson (4-2002), OF Christian Yelich (1-2010)

    New York Mets: RHP Dwight Gooden (No. 5 overall in 1982)

    Gooden went 17-9 with a 2.60 ERA and 276 strikeouts in 218 innings as a 19-year-old phenom in 1984. He followed that up with NL Cy Young honors the following season, and he was the ace of the staff for a World Series champion in 1986. His career was ultimately derailed by off-field issues, but at his peak, he's one of the best the game has ever seen.

    Honorable Mentions: OF Mookie Wilson (2-1977), OF Darryl Strawberry (1-1980), 3B David Wright (1-2001), RHP Jacob deGrom (9-2010), 1B Pete Alonso (2-2016)

    Philadelphia Phillies: 3B Mike Schmidt (No. 30 overall in 1971)

    Taken one pick after George Brett in the 1971 draft, Schmidt would put together a similarly legendary career spent entirely with one organization. He led the NL in home runs eight different times in 18 seasons, winning three MVP awards and finishing with 548 home runs and 106.8 WAR as arguably the greatest third baseman in the history of baseball.

    Honorable Mentions: 3B Scott Rolen (2-1993), SS Jimmy Rollins (2-1996), 2B Chase Utley (1-2000), 1B Ryan Howard (5-2001), LHP Cole Hamels (1-2002)

    Washington Nationals: 1B/3B Ryan Zimmerman (No. 4 overall in 2005)

    Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon helped win a World Series in 2019, and Bryce Harper won NL MVP in 2015 while largely living up to an absurd level of hype, but we'll go with the first draft pick of the Nationals era. Zimmerman debuted the same year he was drafted, hitting .397 in 62 plate appearances as a September call-up before settling in as the face of the franchise. He finished his 16-year career with 284 home runs, 1,061 RBI and 40.1 WAR.

    Honorable Mentions: RHP Stephen Strasburg (1-2009), OF Bryce Harper (1-2010), 3B Anthony Rendon (1-2011)

    Top Expos Draft Picks: RHP Steve Rogers (1-1971), C Gary Carter (3-1972), OF Andre Dawson (11-1975), OF Tim Raines (5-1977)

National League Central

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    Johnny Bench (Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

    Chicago Cubs: 3B Kris Bryant (No. 2 overall in 2013)

    Had Greg Maddux spent more time with the Cubs or Mark Grace won a World Series, the pick here might be different. Instead, Bryant gets the nod as a pivotal figure in the Cubs' transition from rebuilding to contending under Theo Epstein. He won NL MVP during the team's championship season in 2016 and posted a 133 OPS+ with 27.7 WAR in seven seasons before he was traded last summer.

    Honorable Mentions: RHP Rick Reuschel (3-1970), RHP Lee Smith (2-1975), RHP Greg Maddux (2-1984), 1B Mark Grace (24-1985), RHP Kerry Wood (1-1995), SS Javier Baez (1-2011)

    Cincinnati Reds: C Johnny Bench (No. 36 overall in 1965)

    A second-round pick and the eighth catcher selected overall in the inaugural MLB draft in 1965, Bench would go on to become the consensus best catcher in MLB history. A 14-time All-Star and two-time NL MVP, he was the centerpiece of the Big Red Machine, and he tallied 389 home runs, 1,376 RBI and 75.1 WAR in 17 seasons.

    Honorable Mentions: OF Eric Davis (8-1980), SS Barry Larkin (1-1985), 1B Joey Votto (2-2002)

    Milwaukee Brewers: SS Robin Yount (No. 3 overall in 1973)

    As far as Brewers history is concerned, it's Robin Yount, Paul Molitor and then everyone else. The pair were teammates from Molitor's debut in 1978 through the 1992 season, when he left for Toronto in free agency. Meanwhile, Yount spent his entire 20-year career in Milwaukee, racking up 3,142 hits and 77.4 WAR along the way.

    Honorable Mentions: OF Gorman Thomas (1-1969), IF/OF Paul Molitor (1-1977), RHP Ben Sheets (1-1999), OF Ryan Braun (1-2005), RHP Corbin Burnes (4-2016)

    Pittsburgh Pirates: LF Barry Bonds (No. 6 overall in 1985)

    Before he joined the San Francisco Giants, Bonds was already a bone fide superstar and two-time NL MVP in Pittsburgh. In seven seasons with the Pirates, he hit .275/.380/.503 for a 147 OPS+ with 176 home runs, 251 steals and 50.3 WAR. He also helped lead the team to the NLCS in 1990, 1991 and 1992, though they were never able to get over the hump and into the World Series.

    Honorable Mentions: OF Dave Parker (14-1970), LHP John Candelaria (2-1972), C Jason Kendall (1-1992), OF Andrew McCutchen (1-2005)

    St. Louis Cardinals: 1B Albert Pujols (No. 402 overall in 1999)

    Pujols hit .466 with 22 home runs and 76 RBI in 56 games as a freshman at Maple Woods Community College in Kansas City, and he batted .314/.378/.543 with 41 doubles, 19 home runs and 96 RBI in 133 games across three levels in his only minor league season. He quickly became one of the most feared hitters in the sport while winning three NL MVP awards and a pair of World Series titles in St. Louis, and he's putting the finishing touches on one of the greatest careers in MLB history.

    Honorable Mentions: C Ted Simmons (1-1967), 1B Keith Hernandez (42-1971), OF Ray Lankford (3-1987), C Yadier Molina (4-2000)

National League West

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    Clayton Kershaw (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

    Arizona Diamondbacks: 1B Paul Goldschmidt (No. 246 overall in 2009)

    Goldschmidt was never a top-100 prospect in the league, or even a top-10 prospect in the Arizona system before making his MLB debut in 2011. He had a 126 OPS+ and 64 extra-base hits in his first full season in the big leagues, and the following year, he finished runner-up in NL MVP voting. By the time his eight seasons in Arizona ended, he was the franchise's all-time leader in position player WAR (39.9), and he's a prime candidate to have his jersey retired one day.

    Honorable Mentions: RHP Brandon Webb (8-2000), OF Justin Upton (1-2005)

    Colorado Rockies: 1B Todd Helton (No. 8 overall in 1995)

    Early Rockies history is littered with star players who began their career elsewhere, including Larry Walker, Andres Galarraga, Dante Bichette, Ellis Burks and Vinny Castilla. With Nolan Arenado traded to St. Louis, Helton's hold on the title of best homegrown player in franchise history is safe for the time being. A .316/.414/.539 hitter with 369 home runs, 1,406 RBI and 61.8 WAR in 17 seasons, he received 52.0 percent of the Hall of Fame vote in his fourth year on the ballot in 2022 and appears to be trending toward induction.

    Honorable Mentions: OF Matt Holliday (7-1998), SS Troy Tulowitzki (1-2005), OF Charlie Blackmon (2-2008), 3B Nolan Arenado (2-2009), SS Trevor Story (1-2011)

    Los Angeles Dodgers: LHP Clayton Kershaw (No. 7 overall in 2006)

    There is no question Mike Piazza is the greatest late-round pick in MLB history, but since he only spent seven seasons of his Hall of Fame career in Los Angeles, the pick here has to be Kershaw. The greatest pitcher of his generation and a three-time Cy Young winner, Kershaw will go down as one of the most dominant pitchers of all time, and he's still going strong with his ninth All-Star selection this year.

    Honorable Mentions: 1B Steve Garvey (1-1968, JAN), 3B Ron Cey (3-1968), RHP Orel Hershiser (17-1979), C Mike Piazza (62-1988), OF Matt Kemp (6-2003)

    San Diego Padres: RF Tony Gwynn (No. 58 overall in 1981)

    Gwynn hit .338 with just 434 strikeouts in 10,232 plate appearances during his 20-year career as one of the best pure hitters of all time. He won eight NL batting titles and never hit under .300 after his rookie season. He was a 15-time All-Star and seven-time Silver Slugger winner and is hands down the greatest player in Padres history.

    Honorable Mentions: OF Dave Winfield (1-1973), RHP Jake Peavy (15-1999)

    San Francisco Giants: C Buster Posey (No. 5 overall in 2008)

    One of the most hyped college catchers ever, Posey hit .463/.566/.879 with 21 doubles, 26 home runs and 93 RBI in 68 games during his junior year at Florida State. He helped lead the Giants to a World Series in his rookie season in 2010 and two more titles in 2012 and 2014, winning the NL batting title and NL MVP during the '12 season. Will the Hall of Fame be next in a long list of accolades?

    Honorable Mentions: 1B Will Clark (1-1985), 3B Matt Williams (1-1986), RHP Tim Lincecum (1-2006), LHP Madison Bumgarner (1-2007), SS Brandon Crawford (4-2008)

    All stats and draft information courtesy of Baseball Reference.


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