Alright, let's just say it: the MLB First-Year Player Draft is a crapshoot. Young hitters struggle to adjust to wooden bats and enhanced movement on pitches, while pitchers face all-too-regular injury risks. Those challenges, coupled with the extended duration that it typically takes most prospects to reach the majors, make for an uphill climb for any aspiring major leaguer - whether they're drafted in the first round or 40th. Of course, it goes without saying that the odds of reaching 'The Show' lean greatly towards the higher picks, but you get my drift.
Based on the unpredictable nature of the MLB draft, there's considerably less scrutiny attached to top picks every June than to, say, the equivalent selections from the NBA, NFL or NHL. Still, some degree of expectation remains - if a team uses a high draft choice on you, then you better advance through the pipelines and be ready to contribute at the major league level (one day, anyway). Baseball history is littered with famous late round steals like Albert Pujols, but also with agonizing busts like Brien Taylor. These days, however, it's hard to find a recent draft decision that has resonated so loudly, either for good or bad reasons. It could be that baseball executives have gotten savvier and better at evaluating draft talent, but then again All-Star talent continues to be mined deep into each year's draft and, likewise, heavily-hyped first rounders still don't carry a surefire success rate.
Recent drafts may not have produced a generational steal or bust along the likes of a Pujols or Taylor, but they have laid the foundation for the current power structure of contenders and pretenders that we now have in MLB. With that in mind, we will now take a look at the biggest steal and bust from the past decade of amateur drafts. Since the 2018 annual selection process took place mere months ago, we'll omit that one for now and examine the 10-year stretch of drafts between 2008 and 2017. Without further ado, here's the best and worst from 10 years of major league drafting, a period that has shaped the current pro baseball landscape:
20 2008: Bust – Tim Beckham (TB)
When Tim Beckham opted to switch to No. 1 late in his Tampa Bay Rays tenure, some were quick to link the jersey change with his status as the top pick of the 2008 draft, one that he could never quite live up to. Those people, however, would be wrong. "If you give me the opportunity to play every day," Beckham told the New York Times earlier this year, "I think I'm the best shortstop in baseball." That's considerable self-belief for a 28-year-old who only became a major league regular last season, especially as other 2008 first rounders like Eric Hosmer and Buster Posey have thrived.
Even in emerging as an everyday player, Beckham has been merely serviceable on some bad Rays and Baltimore Orioles teams.
19 2008: Steal – Craig Kimbrel (ATL)
Not only is Craig Kimbrel the premier closer in today's game, but the shutdown specialist is rapidly climbing the ranks among the all-time greats. Still just 30, the flame-throwing righty is one of only two active pitchers with 300 saves (Fernando Rodney is the other) and could rank as high as eighth on the all-time saves list after next season. While he is now in Boston, most of that production came in Atlanta, as Kimbrel led the league in saves four consecutive years with the Braves. To get a player among the greatest at his position and a potential Hall of Famer with a third round pick is awfully good value.
18 2009: Bust – Donavan Tate (SD)
The story of Donavan Tate reads like a classic tale of a much-heralded draft bust, except for a rather surprising post-script. You see, the 2009 No. 3 overall pick looked like an ideal blue chipper. But once he signed his $6.7 million bonus, issues soon followed, derailing his ascension and vastly limiting his potential. The Padres, who had drafted and developed him, saw the writing on the wall and released Tate after the 2015 season, never seeing him advance past low-A.
A second act, however, was awaiting Tate, who went back to school at Arizona and joined the football team as a 26-year-old rookie quarterback. The unique freshman didn't see much game action and only threw one pass before leaving the team to be closer to his Georgia home at the end of last season, but what a story he has to tell.
17 2009: Steal – Mike Trout (LAA)
Stephen Strasburg was the can't-miss phenom who defined the 2009 MLB Draft at one time. And while the three-time All-Star has certainly brought value for the Washington Nationals, that draft year stands remembered for one name and one name only: Mike Trout. Now almost universally regarded as the best player in baseball, Trout had to wait until the 25th pick rolled around to hear his name called.
There were 21 other teams that missed the boat on the two-time MVP before the Angels took him off the board, but the missed opportunity has to be especially painful for the New York Yankees. Not only is Trout a native of nearby Vineland, New Jersey, but the pick used by the Angels to take the superstar right fielder was compensation for the Yanks' signing of Mark Teixeira.
16 2010: Bust – Barret Loux (AZ)
"Contingent upon a physical" is a nice little phrase that often gets overlooked when discussing contracts. But when it comes into play, it can really make a difference. Right-hander Barret Loux found this out the hard way soon after being drafted sixth overall, well above his projected slot, by the Diamondbacks in 2010. The ensuing physical revealed a torn labrum and serious elbow damage, prompting the D-Backs to not even offer Loux a contract.
Per MLB rules, this allowed Arizona to gain the seventh overall selection in the following draft, which netted them standout reliever Archie Bradley. Still, the compensation doesn't quite measure up to what the club could have had, such as fellow 2010-drafted pitchers Chris Sale, Aaron Sanchez and Noah Syndergaard.
15 2010: Steal – Jacob deGrom (NYM)
This past season saw Jacob deGrom record a career-best 269 strikeouts. If the New York Mets ace had fanned two more hitters, however, he would have had 271, one for every player picked ahead of him back in 2010. That's right, the presumptive NL Cy Young front-runner lasted until the 272nd pick in the ninth round to be taken off the board by the Mets. Since then, the lightly-scouted Stetson University hurler has made strides every season, culminating in a 2018 campaign in which he maintained a microscopic 1.70 ERA through 217 innings of work.
14 2011: Bust – Danny Hultzen (SEA)
A trio of collegiate hurlers anchored the 2011 MLB Draft. And there, in between All-Stars Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer, was No. 2 pick Danny Hultzen, a lefty out of the University of Virginia taken by the Mariners. Looking back, Hultzen can admit that his No. 2 draft slot probably added pressure that prompted him to throw harder and not allow the game to come to him. It's no wonder, then, that Hultzen has had recurring issues with his rotator cuff, shoulder capsule and labrum, which have prompted multiple surgeries and more than likely shaved a few MPH off of his fastball.
The former ACC Pitcher of the Year remains in baseball, chasing his dream while on a minor league contract with the Chicago Cubs. Still, prospects don't look great for the 28-year-old.
13 2011: Steal – Mookie Betts (BOS)
Boston Red Sox star Mookie Betts somehow lasted until the 172nd pick, a slot that seems unimaginable seven years later. Though an All-Star in the previous two seasons as well, Betts took it to another level in 2018, leading the juggernaut, 108-win Bosox with league-highs in average (.346), runs scored (129) and slugging percentage (.640). Betts continued his stellar play into the postseason and led the Red Sox to their fourth World Series championship since 2004.
The 26-year-old right fielder is currently staking his claim as one of the best players in baseball - not bad for a fifth round pick!
12 2012: Bust - Byron Buxton (MIN)
Quite frankly, the 2012 MLB Draft isn't exactly shaping up to be an all-timer. After Carlos Correa, the draft has been littered with disappointment after disappointment. So then, let's start at the top of the disappointment string. Byron Buxton was drafted No. 2 out of high school as an impossibly talented dual threat, a Gold Glove-caliber centerfielder with speed and a potent bat.
While Buxton's glove has come as advertised, his bat has made it challenging to keep him in the lineup, especially when he posts a .156/.183/.200 slash line during a shortened 2018 season. Given that the 2012 draft has now produced seven All-Stars, it's becoming more challenging to maintain the "it's still early" refrain.
11 2012: Steal – Corey Seager (LAD)
Through parts of four major league seasons for Dodgers, shortstop Corey Seager, the only problem the 24-year-old has had is staying healthy. Seager was shut down all the way back in May after just 26 games for Tommy John surgery and has since undergone hip surgery while recovering from elbow reconstruction. The 2016 NL Rookie of the Year is expected back in time for spring training, which is bad news for opposing pitchers.
When healthy, all Seager has done is earn All-Star honors in each of his two full seasons in LA, not to mention a third-place finish in 2016 NL MVP voting to go along with the Rookie of the Year award. That's already a pretty decent return for what was the 18th overall pick in the draft, and there's surely more to come once Seager gets back on the field.
10 2013: Bust – Mark Appel (HOU)
The Astros were celebrated for winning a World Series by building a roster filled with homegrown stars like George Springer, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman and international free agent Jose Altuve. Of course, it helps to have a string of three straight No. 1 overall picks and then a No. 2 pick to build from. However, the club still missed on several picks. We already discussed the Brady Aiken pick, but the choice of Stanford righty Mark Appel one year prior hasn't turned out much better.
Appel struggled with command issues and a low strikeout rate through various levels of the Astros' system before being traded to Philadelphia for Ken Giles in December of 2015. Appel's woes reached the point that the 26-year-old decided to step away from the game earlier this year, perhaps set to become just the third 1st overall pick to never reach the majors.
9 2013: Steal – Aaron Judge (NYY)
In hindsight, it seems implausible that Aaron Judge, a 6'7", 280-pound slugger, could have lasted into the compensatory round of the 2013 draft, with other players taken with the first 31 picks. Even the New York Yankees, who were there to snap him up with the 32nd pick, opted to bypass the 2017 home run champ and Rookie of the Year when they came up with the 26th pick. But the then-21-year-old was still growing into his large frame, with gangly features that many felt wouldn't translate at the next level.
Now we know how that turned out. Judge has now cemented himself as the latest in a long line of larger-than-life Yankee legends.
8 2014: Bust – Brady Aiken (HOU)
Unsigned draft picks are a waste of precious resources, but they're also a part of the game. The Astros, who have had some questionable organizational dealings despite winning the 2017 World Series, liked Cathedral Catholic High School lefty Brady Aiken enough to take him to open the 2014 MLB Draft, but later got cold feet after identifying some red flags. They even backed out of what was reported as a verbally agreed upon $6.5 million bonus and decreased it, angering Aiken enough that a deal could not be reached.
After a stint with IMG Academy, he was drafted 17th overall by Cleveland one year later, but has struggled in their system while attempting to return from Tommy John surgery.
7 2014: Steal – Aaron Nola (PHI)
If the Astros were looking for a college righty instead of a high school southpaw, they might have had more luck. Six picks after Houston took Aiken, the Phillies took Aaron Nola out of LSU. Not only did Nola join the Phillies just 13 months after getting drafted, but he made an instant impact as a starter and has already accumulated 41 career wins despite having just turned 25 in June. Now firmly established as the Phillies ace moving forward, Nola's 2018 campaign - 17-6, 2.37 ERA, 224 strikeouts - earned him a first All-Star nomination and should put him in the conversation as part of a loaded NL Cy Young field. Given that 13 out of 30 first rounders from that draft still haven't arrived in the majors, Nola's ascent to stardom counts as significant.
6 2015: Bust – Dillon Tate (TEX)
The 2015 draft class has arrived - well, some of it anyway. Guys like Dansby Swanson, Alex Bregman and Andrew Benintendi already serve as key contributors on playoff contenders. At the same time, though, other top picks from the same year aren't even within sniffing distance of the big leagues. Take Dillon Tate, the fourth pick of that draft. A right-handed pitching prospect, Tate's professional journey has been mired in health woes and mechanics issues that have prevented him from climbing any higher than Double-A.
His once-lofty potential has faded so much over time that he's been traded twice and now resides outside of the MLB Top 100 prospects. Tate may well be in the majors as early as next season, although that will have as much to do with the sorry state of his current club, the Baltimore Orioles, than with his own performance.
5 2015: Steal - Ryan Mountcastle (BAL)
Ironically, Tate currently slots in further down the O's prospect pecking order from Ryan Mountcastle, a newly turned third baseman taken 32 spots after the hurler. Now considered one of the league's top prospects at the hot corner despite only recently shifting over from short, Mountcastle has hit well at every stop and projects to only gain power as he develops, owing to his 6'3", 200 lb frame.
Nearly three full years younger than Tate, Mountcastle may also reach Camden Yards this season on account of a lack of infield depth in Baltimore. The departed Manny Machado casts a long shadow over third with the O's (and yes, for those of a certain age, Brooks Robinson casts a bigger one), but Mountcastle could be readying to fill those shoes soon.
4 2016: Bust – Braxton Garrett (MIA)
It's the two words no pitcher wants to hear, especially a young one with a bright future ahead: Tommy. John. Unfortunately, a tear of the UCL back in June of 2017 left Miami Marlins prospect Braxton Garrett with little choice but to go under the knife. A huge blow to the Marlins' surprisingly thin farm system and to the left-hander, Garrett is only expected back on the mound next spring. That means that through what should be two and a half seasons of pro ball, the seventh overall pick only has four starts and one win to show for it. Garrett just turned 21, but he will need to catch up just to match the development of other members of his draft class.
3 2016: Steal - Carter Kieboom (WAS)
For an example of how much a 2016 draftee could have already achieved as a pro, you don't even need to step outside of the Marlins' NL East division. The Washington Nationals drafted shortstop Carter Kieboom with the 28th pick of that same 2016 draft - four years after taking his brother Spencer - and their system has been reaping the benefits ever since. The younger Kieboom has risen all the way to No. 2 on MLB.com's top prospects list for the Nationals on the strength of potent offensive numbers in the Rookie League, in A-ball and right up to Double-A.
By that point, he had already been named to Team USA for the All-Star Futures Game. Trea Turner seems to have the shortstop position on lock for the foreseeable future in DC, but Kieboom may be forcing his way into the major league lineup sooner rather than later.
2 2017: Bust – Hunter Greene (CIN)
When it comes to picking a steal and bust from a draft class that has yet to graduate anyone to the majors - well, you kind of have to wing it. Let it be clear that we remain years away from being able to offer even an early evaluation on the career of Hunter Greene, a right-hander in the Reds' system who just turned 19 in August. But since we have to choose one bust out of the class, you'd be hard-pressed to find a prospect who got out to a bumpier start to his pro career than the draft's No. 2 overall pick.
Over two seasons spent between Rookie and A ball, Greene has amassed an underwhelming 3-8 record and 4.95 ERA. Most recently, he saw his 2018 season cut short with a UCL sprain that the organization hopes will not require Tommy John surgery.
1 2017: Steal - Nick Pratto (KC)
Since being taken 14th overall by the Kansas City Royals last year, first baseman Nick Pratto has shown that he can hit for average, power and even steal a base or two. And if the Royals were hoping to see how the lefty might respond to coming up to the plate in clutch situations, they need only look back to the 2011 Little League World Series. The Huntington Beach High School grad delivered the game-winning RBI single against Japan in a walk-off win. That probably doesn't mean much all these years later, but Kansas Comity would be thrilled to see Pratto follow the path of other notable LLWS alumni in the majors like Cody Bellinger, Michael Conforto and Todd Frazier.