December 9, 2022

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Who ya got? Best first-round picks of last decade

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The most efficient way to build a team is through the Draft, which makes hitting on first-round picks essential. On the heels of releasing MLB Pipeline’s new Draft Top 150, we decided to look back at each team’s best first-rounder from the last decade.

Of the 30 players spotlighted below, seven of them already have played major roles in World Series championships, including No. 1 overall picks Carlos Correa and Dansby Swanson. Correa, Corey Seager, Kris Bryant, Andrew Benintendi and Ian Anderson all won titles with the teams that drafted them, while Swanson and Trea Turner changed addresses before earning World Series rings.

In most cases, we’ve identified each team’s first-rounder who has had the most successful big league career to date. In a few cases where the club lacks an obvious standout, we’ve gone with a high-upside prospect.

Blue Jays: Marcus Stroman, RHP, No. 22 in 2012
We have to go to the beginning of the decade to find our pick here. (Reminder: Bo Bichette was a second-rounder in 2016.) Stroman dominated at Duke but faced questions about his size at 5-foot-7 and role as a potential reliever (where he thrived for Team USA) heading into the summer of 2012. The Jays still nabbed him in the second half of the first round and gave him his Major League debut two years later. He’s been a starter ever since with a Gold Glove and All-Star appearance to his credit over eight Major League seasons with the Jays, Mets and now Cubs, with whom he signed a three-year, $71 million deal in the offseason. Every Blue Jays top pick »

Orioles: Kevin Gausman, RHP, No. 4 in 2012
The first pitcher taken in the 2012 Draft, Gausman was an LSU product who was thought to be an advanced college arm who could move quickly. Sure enough, he was in the big leagues less than a year after being drafted and has gone on to accrue a WAR over 17 and made his first All-Star team last year with the Giants. Every Orioles top pick »

Rays: Shane McClanahan, LHP, No. 31 in 2018
Tampa Bay got the 31st pick four years ago as compensation for losing Alex Cobb in free agency and didn’t have to go far to find McClanahan out of South Florida. The 6-foot-1 left-hander used his blazing fastball to strike out 120 batters over 76 1/3 innings as a junior with the Bulls. He still throws hard, averaging 96.8 mph on the heater this season, but gets even more whiffs on his curveball, slider and changeup these days. Now in his second Major League season, the 25-year-old has legitimately taken over as the Rays’ ace. Every Rays top pick »

Red Sox: Andrew Benintendi, OF, No. 7 in 2015
After an injury-marred freshman season at Arkansas, Benintendi led NCAA Division I with 20 homers and won the Golden Spikes Award as a sophomore in 2015. The Red Sox slotted him at No. 2 on their Draft board behind only Swanson and got him at No. 7, promoted him to Boston 14 months later and wouldn’t have won the 2018 World Series without his bat and glove. Sent to the Royals in a curious three-team deal in February 2021, he won a Gold Glove last year and is off to a strong start this season. Every Red Sox top pick »

Yankees: Aaron Judge, OF, No. 32 in 2013
The Yankees went 1-for-3 on first-rounders in 2013, whiffing on Eric Jagielo (No. 26) and Ian Clarkin (No. 33) but scoring big with Judge, who slid amid questions about how well his huge raw power would translate into game production. He went deep just 18 times in three years at Fresno State and 56 times in three years in the Minors before exploding for an American League rookie record 52 homers in 2017 and 145 in his first four full big league seasons. Every Yankees top pick »

Guardians: Daniel Espino, RHP, No. 24 in 2019
The Guardians haven’t really hit on a first-rounder since taking Francisco Lindor eighth overall in 2011, with Tyler Naquin (No. 15 in 2012) their most productive big leaguer in the last decade. But Espino could change that, as the hardest thrower in the 2019 prep class has blossomed into one of the game’s best pitching prospects (No. 51 on the Top 100 Prospects list) and should make an impact in Cleveland before too long. Every Guardians top pick »

Royals: Bobby Witt Jr., 3B/SS, No. 2 in 2019
Yes, Witt’s introduction to the Majors hasn’t been as stellar offensively as may have been hoped. He’s still our top overall prospect and the best pick the Royals have made, regardless of round, in the last decade. The 21-year-old remains the five-tool talent he looked like in high school in Texas, and his power and speed projections have only gone up since the day he signed for $7,787,400. What you see in flashes now will soon become what Royals fans will see on the regular — a cornerstone of the franchise’s next contender. Every Royals top pick »

Tigers: Spencer Torkelson, 1B/3B, No. 1 in 2020
Detroit has made five Top 10 picks in the last six Drafts, including two No. 1 overall selections. The latest top spot went to Torkelson — the prodigious slugger who would have set the Arizona State home run record if not for the pandemic — and less than two years later, he’s already occupying first base in the AL Central. The 22-year-old has been inconsistent early but has shown an ability to take walks against MLB pitching while still showing off his trademark power. His opposite-field shot on April 23 came three batters after Miguel Cabrera’s 3,000th hit and was seen as a passing of the torch for the Tigers. Every Tigers top pick »

Twins: Byron Buxton, OF, No. 2 in 2012
Yes, injuries have been an issue throughout his career, but when he’s on the field, his impact is huge. He’s still managed to top 17 WAR and win a Gold Glove and the best may still be yet to come. Every Twins top pick »

White Sox: Tim Anderson, SS, No. 17 in 2013
Undrafted out of high school and after his first year at East Central (Miss.) CC, Anderson became the most recent junior college position player taken in the first round after leading NJCAA Division II in hitting (.495) and on-base percentage (.568). He won the AL batting title in 2019 (.335), a Silver Slugger in 2020 and earned his first All-Star Game nod last year. Every White Sox top pick »

A’s: Matt Chapman, 3B, No. 25 in 2014
He’s now obviously with the Blue Jays after the big trade, but the Cal State Fullerton standout hit 111 homers in five seasons and won three Gold Gloves with the A’s. A 2019 All-Star, he finished in the top 10 in MVP voting twice as he helped the A’s make the playoffs in 2018 and 2019. Every A’s top pick »

Angels: Reid Detmers, LHP, No. 10 in 2020
This is obviously more projection than performance as the Louisville lefty is just eight starts into his big league career. The Angels took him hoping he could help sooner rather than later and he lived up to that by making his debut just over a year after getting drafted. Every Angels top pick »

Astros: Carlos Correa, SS, No. 1 in 2012
Alex Bregman (No. 2 in 2015) would be a worthy choice but the pick clearly is Correa, who rode a series of impressive pre-Draft workouts to become the first Puerto Rican ever selected with the top choice. In seven years in Houston, he won the 2017 World Series, three pennants, the 2015 AL Rookie of the Year award, a Gold Glove and two All-Star Game berths. Every Astros top pick »

Mariners: Mike Zunino, C, No. 3 in 2012
The former Florida Gator perhaps hasn’t hit as well as some anticipated, though the power is certainly legitimate. But his 10+ WAR tops any other M’s first-rounder over the last decade and he has played in two straight postseasons with the Rays. Every Mariners top pick »

Rangers: Jack Leiter, RHP, No. 2 in 2021
In the last 13 Drafts, the only Rangers first-rounder who has accrued positive bWAR is Dillon Tate, whom the club dealt to the Yankees in a trade for Carlos Beltran 14 months after popping him fourth overall in 2015. Leiter, last year’s No. 2 overall pick after tying for the NCAA Division I strikeout lead (179 in 110 innings) in his lone full season at Vanderbilt, has a much brighter future and currently ranks 17th on the Top 100. Every Rangers top pick »

Braves: Ian Anderson, RHP, No. 3 in 2016
While Mike Soroka (2015) and Austin Riley have higher WAR so far, Soroka is hurt and Riley was technically a supplemental first-rounder. And it’s hard to argue with the impact Anderson has already made, earning Rookie of the Year votes twice and already compiling an impressive postseason ERA with a 1.26 mark in eight starts. Every Braves top pick »

Mets: Michael Conforto, OF, No. 10 in 2014
The first round hasn’t been all that kind to Mets fans of late. Of the last four picks, one didn’t sign (Kumar Rocker), and two (Jarred Kelenic, Pete Crow-Armstrong) have already been traded. Until Brett Baty establishes himself in Queens, you have to go back eight years to Conforto to find a first-rounder who turned himself into a regular contributor for New York. The former Oregon State outfielder debuted 13 months after his Draft day and put up a .255/.356/.468 line with 132 homers over seven seasons with the Mets. He remains unsigned as a free agent after undergoing shoulder surgery. Every Mets top pick »

Nationals: Lucas Giolito, RHP, No. 16 in 2012
The constraints of this piece limit us from taking Anthony Rendon (2011), Bryce Harper (2010) or Stephen Strasburg (2009). Instead, it’s worth remembering that Washington’s success in the last decade meant it didn’t pick higher than 16th again until last year when it selected Brady House 11th. We’ll still go with Giolito here. The right-hander has certainly ridden the roller coaster since signing — Tommy John in his Draft year, big-time prospect status after recovery, pitcher struggling to break through in D.C., trade piece in a blockbuster, owner of a 6.13 ERA in the Majors and now bona fide awards contender for the White Sox. Every Nationals top pick »

Marlins: Trevor Rogers, LHP, No. 13 in 2017
Older than a typical high school first-rounder, Rogers was 19 years and seven months old when the Marlins drafted him and 20 years and six months old when he finally made his pro debut in May 2018. He moved quickly after that, reaching the Majors during the 2020 pandemic season and earning All-Star honors and finishing second in NL Rookie of the Year voting in 2021. Every Marlins top pick »

Phillies: Aaron Nola, RHP, No. 7 in 2014
Drafted out of LSU, Nola was in the big leagues just over a year after the Phillies took him, and he’s been one of the more dependable starters in the National League since, with a WAR topping 24. He’s received Cy Young Award votes twice, finishing third in his 2018 All-Star season. Every Phillies top pick »

Brewers: Trent Grisham, OF, No. 15 in 2015
There’s a good chance that one of Sal Frelick, Garrett Mitchell, Brice Turang or Ethan Small eventually takes the crown for best Brewers’ Draft pick from 2012-21. For now, we’ll go with the pacesetter in Grisham. The 25-year-old is a career 102 wRC+ hitter over four seasons in the Majors with the Brewers and Padres and won a Gold Glove for his efforts on the grass in 2020. Even after a slow start this spring, his speed and plate discipline keep him as an everyday presence in the San Diego lineup. Every Brewers top pick »

Cardinals: Jack Flaherty, RHP, No. 34 in 2014
After St. Louis nabbed the 34th overall pick as compensation for losing Carlos Beltrán in free agency, the Cards swooped in to grab Flaherty out of Harvard-Westlake — the same California high school that produced Lucas Giolito and Max Fried. By the end of the decade, Flaherty had become a top-five Cy Young finisher after posting a 2.75 ERA with 231 strikeouts over 196 1/3 innings in 2019. Oblique and shoulder injuries have limited him over the past two seasons, but at his ceiling, Flaherty can still be one of the NL’s best hurlers. Every Cardinals top pick »

Cubs: Kris Bryant, 3B, No. 2 in 2013
Bryant not only led NCAA Division I with 31 homers as a San Diego junior in 2013, but he also exceeded the total of 223 of the 296 teams at that level. He won the National League Rookie of the Year award in 2015, a World Series and the NL MVP award in 2016 and was a four-time All-Star in seven seasons with Chicago. Every Cubs top pick »

Pirates: Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B, No. 32 in 2015
Austin Meadows leads the decade with his 6.5 WAR, but Hayes isn’t that far behind at 5.4, and he was drafted two years later and has had injuries slow him down. He’s off to a .351/.441/.456 start and the Pirates clearly think he’s that kind of hitter (not to mention his Gold Glove-caliber defense), signing him to a long-term extension earlier this spring. Every Pirates top pick »

Reds: Jonathan India, 2B, No. 5 in 2018
India’s 3.6 WAR leads all Reds’ first-rounders from the last 10 years, and he’s just getting started. He set a pretty good baseline in 2021, winning National League Rookie of the Year honors after hitting 21 homers and swiping 12 bases. Every Reds top pick »

D-backs: Dansby Swanson, SS, No. 1 in 2015
It’s a trade that will live in infamy. Arizona selected the Vanderbilt shortstop first overall in June 2015, only to trade him to Atlanta that December in a five-player deal revolving around Shelby Miller. Swanson played 22 games in the D-backs system, all with Class A Short Season Hillsboro. He’s now in his seventh Major League season with the Braves, and while he hasn’t reached the heights of a typical No. 1 overall selection, his steady production and quality defense have helped anchor Atlanta as a contender, culminating in that World Series win just last fall. Every D-backs top pick »

Dodgers: Corey Seager, SS, No. 18 in 2012
Walker Buehler (No. 24 in 2015) could surpass him in the future, but Seager is the choice for now. One of the best high school bats available in 2012, he slid a bit amid signability concerns but proved a bargain at $2.35 million ($400,000 over slot value at No. 18). The 2016 NL Rookie of the Year, he was an All-Star and Silver Slugger winner in each of his first two full big league seasons and won NLCS and World Series MVP honors en route to a championship in 2020. Every Dodgers top pick »

Giants: Joey Bart, C, No. 2 in 2018
After nailing three straight first-rounders with Madison Bumgarner, Buster Posey and Zack Wheeler in 2007-09, the Giants haven’t been able to duplicate that success since. They have high hopes for Posey’s successor. Bart was the Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year and defensive player of the year at Georgia Tech in 2018, when he set a since-broken record for the largest up-front bonus for a position player in Draft history ($7,025,000). Every Giants top pick »

Padres: Trea Turner, SS, No. 13 in 2014
Turner’s biggest contribution as a San Diego prospect might have been that he caused a rule change. The NC State speedster was considered the player to be named later in a December 2014 three-way swap between the Padres, Rays and Nationals, but he couldn’t be moved to Washington officially until the following June under MLB rules. Those regulations changed in 2015, allowing clubs to move drafted players after the completion of the World Series in their Draft year. Since the deal, Turner, now with the Dodgers, has won an NL batting title, finished in the Top 10 for NL MVP voting twice, led the Majors in hits twice and helped the Nats capture the 2019 World Series. Every Padres top pick »

Rockies: Kyle Freeland, LHP, No. 8 in 2014
Shout out to Jon Gray (2013) and his 10 WAR, but Freeland — taken a year later out of the University of Evansville — gets the nod with 13.7 WAR. Thus far, his best year has been his sophomore season in 2018, when he finished fourth in Cy Young voting, but the Rockies were confident enough in the left-hander to give him a five-year extension. Every Rockies top pick »

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