Major League Baseball draft classes are different than those in the other “big four” North American professional sports organizations. Unlike in the NFL and NBA, where a first overall pick is expected to play and also excel right out of the gates most of the time, top-tier MLB selections are stashed away in developmental systems, often for years, before they see any real action the big leagues. Every MLB draft pick is an investment for the future and for rosters that can only be imagined at the time. Because of this, it can take half a decade, at least, before one can truly evaluate an MLB draft class.
With that said, more than enough time has passed to mention plenty of regrettable draft picks and busts selected by each MLB team since 2000. Many of the players mentioned in this piece did little, if anything, for the actual clubs that drafted them as it pertains to regular season and playoff contests. These picks sting all that much more for the general managers and front offices involved when you realize who was on the board when the clubs made those selections. At a time when organizations are not as willing to splash cash on free agents as they were during the 1990s and early 2000s, MLB draft classes are becoming more and more important with each year.
30 Arizona Diamondbacks: Barret Loux
We begin with a pitcher who literally never featured for the MLB club that drafted him. The Arizona Diamondbacks selected pitcher Barret Loux in the 2010 draft, but he failed a team physical before he and the organization came to terms on a contract. At 29-years-old, all indications are that Loux’s career is over before it ever really got started, as there is no sign any team is all that interested in him as of the fall of 2018. Matt Harvey, Chris Sale, and Christian Yelich were all available when the Diamondbacks selected Loux, who became one of the worst draft busts of the past ten years.
29 Atlanta Braves: Josh Burrus
The Atlanta Braves kept things local when the team used a 2001 first-round draft pick on Georgia product Josh Burrus, who played in both the infield and outfield. Unfortunately for Burrus and the Braves, he didn’t play well, nor did he ever come all that close to making an MLB roster. Truth be told, Burrus was so unimpressive as a player that he does not even have a Wikipedia page dedicated to his playing days, which ended following 2010 per Baseball-Reference. Seven picks after the Braves took Burrus, the New York Mets grabbed a third baseman named David Wright. Imagine how differently things could have gone had Atlanta taken the man who became captain of the Mets.
28 Baltimore Orioles: Billy Rowell
The Baltimore Orioles had opportunities to draft Tim Lincecum and Max Scherzer with the ninth pick of the 2006 MLB Draft. Instead, Baltimore selected third baseman Billy Rowell, a guy many of you reading this sentence probably never heard of until now. According to Baseball-Reference, Rowell never flashed the power the Orioles hoped he’d show during plate appearances, and he was out of pro baseball after 2011. In May 2016, CBS Baltimore named Rowell as the biggest draft bust in franchise history. Baltimore was so desperate to get something out of him, the team even tried to make him a pitcher. It didn’t work.
27 Boston Red Sox: Lars Anderson
As explained by Fangraphs.com, Lars Anderson spent 2018 playing baseball in Germany, which is rather far from the Boston Red Sox team that drafted him in 2006. Per ESPN’s David Schoenfield in August 2013, the first baseman was viewed as a top prospect in the minors leading into the 2009 campaign. The problem was that he couldn’t hit the baseball when facing any real competition. The Red Sox gave up on him during the summer of 2012, and the Chicago White Sox released him roughly one year later. His time playing professionally in North America ended after 2016, but he did manage to find some work in Australia and, later, in Germany.
26 Chicago Cubs: Josh Vitters
A lot of buzz was generated when the Chicago Cubs grabbed third baseman Josh Vitters with the third overall pick of the draft in 2007. As Chris Gennone of Unbalanced explained earlier this year, Vitters was an All-American who was expected to develop into a reliable hitter, at worst. While there were glimpses during minor league stints that his swing was coming along, it never happened, especially when he had a cup of coffee against the best competition in the sport. Vitters was last seen playing for Les Capitales de Quebec. Matt Wieters, Madison Bumgarner, Jason Heyward, and Josh Donaldson, among others, were available.
25 Chicago White Sox: Jared Mitchell
In May 2015, Nate Dusek of Sports Mockery referred to Jared Mitchell as the “biggest mistake” made by the Chicago White Sox during any draft. Taken by the organization in the first round of the 2009 draft, the outfielder couldn’t hit for power with any consistency against good pitchers, and he struck out way too much. Mitchell failing to make it with the White Sox isn’t the biggest reason this one hurts Chicago fans. Two picks later, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim selected Mike Trout, who is already on pace to make it to the Hall of Fame and is often compared to all-time greats such as Mickey Mantle.
24 Cincinnati Reds: Chris Gruler
The Cincinnati Reds spent the third pick on pitcher Chris Gruler in 2002. In October 2012, an Our Sports Central post explained how legendary catcher Johnny Bench believed Gruler could have better stuff than Tom Seaver. We’ll never know if that could have been the case. Injury woes kept him from ever featuring for the Reds, and he last performed within the organization in 2006. Zack Greinke, Prince Fielder, Cole Hamels, and Scott Kazmir were on the board when the Reds took Gruler. After his career unceremoniously came to an end, he became the CEO of Protege Branding, where he found more success than he did on the diamond.
23 Cleveland Indians: Beau Mills
Fans of the Cleveland Indians may only remember the name of Beau Mills for a purported incident that occurred inside of a bar in 2010. The first baseman drafted by the Indians with the 13th selection in 2007 never registered any meaningful or significant hits with the Tribe. In July 2012, the Indians shipped Mills to the Cincinnati Reds for cash. Jason Heyward and Devin Mesoraco were the two players selected right after the Indians took Mills. Todd Frazier and Josh Donaldson also would have been more worthwhile picks for what has become one of the more reliable franchises in MLB since the 2016 campaign.
22 Colorado Rockies: Greg Reynolds
One might think that the Colorado Rockies should avoid using a high draft pick on a pitcher because of where the club plays. The Rockies obviously did not believe in such a mantra when the team used the second pick on Greg Reynolds in 2006. Unlike others on the list, Reynolds actually made it to the MLB club that drafted him. Too bad he wasn’t any good. His astronomical ERA overshadowed the fact that he notched three wins in 2011, and he last played pro baseball in 2016. Evan Longoria, Andrew Miller, and a starter named Clayton Kershaw could have been drafted by the Rockies instead.
21 Detroit Tigers: Kyle Sleeth
In May 2012, Doug Mead of Bleacher Report included Kyle Sleeth among the 50 worst MLB draft busts in history as of the time that piece was published. The right-hander taken by the Detroit Tigers with the third pick in 2003 impressed while pitching for Wake Forest, and the Tigers sent him to Double-A side the Erie SeaWolves as part of his development. In 2005, he underwent Tommy John surgery, and that operation was the beginning of the end of his career. He retired from playing in 2008. Nick Markakis, Aaron Hill, Chad Cordero, Carlos Quentin, and Adam Jones were available when the Tigers wasted this draft pick.
20 Houston Astros: Mark Appel
One day, the baseball community may view Mark Appel as the biggest bust in MLB history if individuals such as Joon Lee of Bleacher Report are accurate with their assessments. The Houston Astros acquired the righty with the first pick of the draft in 2013, and it was believed, at the time, that he was a can’t-miss future ace. He wasn’t. As Lee pointed out, he is on pace to become “just the third No. 1 overall pick to never make the major leagues.” At least the Astros did not miss out on lineup-changing players such as Kris Bryant or Aaron Judge by drafting Appel. Oh, right. That’s exactly what happened.
19 Kansas City Royals: Bubba Starling
As Pete Grathoff of The Kansas City Star pointed out in July 2017, Baseball Prospectus listed Bubba Starling as one of the biggest busts in MLB history at that time. The outfielder drafted fifth overall by the Kansas City Royals in 2011 was a tremendous athlete who played both baseball and football before opting to pursue life in MLB. Unfortunately, he couldn’t stop striking out right as he was supposedly on the cusp of making it big. Injuries have also been a problem. In May 2018, Tyler Dierking of Kings of Kaufman suggested the Royals should try Starling as a pitcher. Hey, it probably couldn’t hurt his status at this point.
18 Los Angeles Angels: Brandon Wood
Here is hoping that Brandon Wood has more success as a manager than as a player. The shortstop selected in the first round back in 2003 looked like the real deal early into his stint in the minor leagues. Once he was called up, however, Wood couldn’t hit the ball, he notched more strikeouts than hits and he was not the franchise’s shortstop of the future. His last MLB appearance occurred in 2011 with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Chad Billingsley, Carlos Quentin, and Adam Jones were still available when the Angels went in a different direction. Wood went on to become a minor league manager after he retired.
17 Los Angeles Dodgers: Zach Lee
Zach Lee is still in professional baseball as of the posting of this piece. That likely won’t mean much of anything to the Los Angeles Dodgers, the team that drafted the right-hander in 2010. Lee had a promising fastball when the Dodgers took him, but he was never able to become even a role-player in the team’s rotation. In fact, he was absolutely shelled by the New York Mets in his MLB debut. The 27-year-old is currently within the Tampa Bay Rays' organization. Meanwhile, the Dodgers could have drafted Noah Syndergaard instead of Lee. Syndergaard has already pitched and won a World Series game.
16 Miami Marlins: Tyler Kolek
There’s still time for the Miami Marlins to get something out of Tyler Kolek, the pitcher drafted by the team in 2014. That time is ticking, however, and things aren’t looking all that good. Miami used the second pick on the right-hander in 2014, but multiple physical setbacks have turned him into a bust candidate. The only good news one could point to regarding his future is that he is only 22 years old, meaning we have not yet seen him at his best. With that said, one would imagine the Marlins would probably prefer having Aaron Nola or Michael Conforto over Kolek as of the fall of 2018.
15 Milwaukee Brewers: Matt LaPorta
Even before the Milwaukee Brewers drafted first baseman Matt LaPorta in 2007, it seemed that the prospect was too good to be true, a power hitter who could, in time, potentially develop into an All-Star. The bulk of his MLB playing days occurred with the Cleveland Indians after he was included in the trade for ace C.C. Sabathia, and his offensive statistics never matched the expectations had before that trade. By 2012, the Indians read the writing on the wall and moved on from LaPorta, who retired in 2015. Perhaps Madison Bumgarner would have played for the Brewers had the team drafted him instead of LaPorta.
14 Minnesota Twins: Adam Johnson
The Minnesota Twins actually drafted pitcher Adam Johnson twice; once in 1997 and before he was ready to fully commit himself to life in MLB, and again in 2000. Minnesota goofed twice. The second pick of the 2000 draft appeared in nine total games for the Twins up through the end of the 2003 campaign. Johnson lost three of four starts, and he pitched in 26.1 innings before the Twins parted ways with him. In June 2010, John Beattle of NESN named Johnson among one of the worst MLB draft picks of the last 20 years at that time. Chase Utley and Adam Wainwright are just two players the Twins passed on.
13 New York Mets: Philip Humber
Fernando Martinez would be the easy choice except for the fact that the New York Mets landed that bust as a free agent. Therefore, pitcher Philip Humber, the third pick of the 2004 draft, is the guy for this portion of the piece. History will always remember that Humber pitched a perfect game during his career. That’s great, except that he didn’t do so with the Mets. While with the Amazins, Humber appeared in only five games, and he gave up six earned runs in nine innings of work. Jered Weaver possibly would have developed into a better pitcher for the Mets. New York also could have drafted Phil Hughes instead of Humber.
12 New York Yankees: Andrew Brackman
When the New York Yankees drafted lengthy right-handed pitcher Andrew Brackman in 2007, the club probably had visions of the “Big Unit” Randy Johnson in mind. Listed at 6-foot-10, Brackman only looked the part in the uniform. Drafting Brackman was always a risk, as he already had an injury history even before going pro. There was no reward to this gamble for the Yanks, who appeared in only three games for the club and never played in MLB again after 2011. The Yankees could have saved some time by drafting New Jersey product Todd Frazier rather than trading for him in the summer of 2017.
11 Oakland Athletics: Jeremy Brown
As Jerry Crasnick of ESPN wrote in September 2011, catcher Jeremy Brown retired in 2008, potentially because of the attention that he received after he was depicted in a memorable scene of the movie “Moneyball.” In real life, the pick from the 2002 draft probably would have only been a backup catcher, at best, for any MLB club if he made it that far for any significant period of time. In total, he notched three hits in ten at-bats for the Athletics. His MLB career ended after only five games. Maybe he deserved a little better, but we’ll always have that scene to remember him by.
10 Philadelphia Phillies: Anthony Hewitt
Shortstop Anthony Hewitt fell to the Philadelphia Phillies late in the first round of the 2008 draft. It appears the Phillies should have let him continue to drop. After the Phillies released Hewitt in 2014, Corey Seidman of CSNPhilly.com referred to the bust as “a player who stands as a symbol of the Phils' early-round draft failures over the last decade.” Somewhat amazingly, Hewitt disappointed in the field almost as much as he did at the plate. While Philadelphia did not lose out on a once-in-a-generation player by drafting Hewitt, this selection certainly could have been used on a prospect who actually became a starter.
9 Pittsburgh Pirates: Bryan Bullington
With the first pick of the 2002 draft, the Pittsburgh Pirates selected Bryan Bullington. Fans quickly began wishing the team would have been a bit more adventurous than taking the pitcher who ultimately appeared in six games for the franchise. In July 2008, he and the Pirates made a clean break, and he last pitched in an MLB game in 2010. Zack Greinke would have looked good in a Pittsburgh jersey. Prince Fielder, Cole Hamels, Nick Swisher, and Matt Cain were also options for the Buccos at that time. The team’s draft history explains a lot about its on-the-field struggles during the 2000s.
8 St. Louis Cardinals: Chris Lambert
The St. Louis Cardinals are a franchise respected for getting more right than wrong during draft classes. One of its biggest misses in history, let alone of the 2000s, occurred in 2004 when the team selected right-handed pitcher Chris Lambert. Lambert was never deemed good enough to receive a call-up to the Cards as a starter, and a move to the bullpen was not enough to save his tenure with the organization. He was out of professional baseball by the end of 2009. Phil Hughes was drafted by the New York Yankees a handful of picks after the Cardinals swung and missed on this selection.
7 San Diego Padres: Donavan Tate
Donavan Tate possibly could have played both baseball and football in college. His elite athleticism likely had something to do with the San Diego Padres drafting him with the third pick in 2009. Tate experienced far more lows than highs as a pro, including a broken jaw that he sustained in an off-the-field accident. He also dealt with other off-field issues that slowed his growth in pro baseball. He never made it with the Padres, and his career was over after 2016. Most notably, Mike Trout could have been a member of the Padres, had San Diego known what Trout would become when the team selected Tate.
6 San Francisco Giants: Christian Arroyo
Remember that Christian Arroyo is still only 23-years-old and is in MLB as a member of the Tampa Bay Rays as of the fall of 2018. There’s still time for him to prove all critics and doubters wrong. He won’t do so with the San Francisco Giants, though, which is why he checks-in here. The Giants took the infielder later in the first round of the 2013 draft, but he failed to bat even .200 during his 125 at-bats with the club. In December 2017, the organization traded Arroyo to the Rays. Later in the draft, the New York Yankees were able to select Aaron Judge. Imagine Judge blasting home runs at AT&T Park.
5 Seattle Mariners: Danny Hultzen
Gerrit Cole was the first pick of the 2011 draft. Trevor Bauer went third overall. In-between them was southpaw Danny Hultzen, drafted by the Seattle Mariners. Injuries and not playing at all became far too commonplace during Hultzen’s time with the Mariners, and he signed with the Chicago Cubs ahead of the 2018 campaign. Meanwhile, Seattle passed on Francisco Lindor, Javier Baez, George Springer, Sonny Gray, Jackie Bradley Jr., Michael Fulmer, and Trevor Story. When all is said and done, Hultzen could go down as one of the biggest draft mistakes ever made by the Mariners because of all of the talent that was on the board.
4 Tampa Bay Rays: Delmon Young
Don’t forget that the Tampa Bay Rays have not been drafting talent for all that long compared to other MLB franchises. That doesn’t erase this particular blunder from the team’s history. Tampa Bay grabbed outfielder Delmon Young with the first pick in 2003, but an incident that involved him having an altercation with an umpire in the minors was a sign of things to come. The Rays traded Young less than two years after he made his MLB debut. He hung around the league up through the 2015 campaign, but the Rays would have been better off using this pick on a variety of available players.
3 Texas Rangers: Kasey Kiker
In March 2010, Harry Pavlidis of Fangraphs wrote about whether or not Kasey Kiker would make it in MLB. Kiker didn’t, or at least he didn’t with the Texas Rangers, the franchise that drafted him in 2006. In December 2011, Kiker was one of multiple players released by the Rangers after he struggled in the minors. He is technically a free agent, but there is no reason to believe we will see him at any point in the future. History tells us that Ian Kennedy would have been a better pick. Jeremy Jeffress was also available. Kiker is going to be known as an all-time Rangers draft bust.
2 Toronto Blue Jays: Russ Adams
Any team of all-time Toronto Blue Jays draft busts had to include Russ Adams, the 14th pick of the 2002 draft. Adams managed to spend several years with the Blue Jays, but his offensive production got worse until Toronto parted ways with him, for good, after the 2009 season. That would be the last year Adams would appear in an MLB game. As was pointed out earlier this piece, several noteworthy players and All-Stars were available for the Blue Jays when the franchise drafted Adams. Even Jeff Francoeur would have been a better selection. At least Francoeur won a Gold Glove during his MLB career.
1 Washington Nationals: Ross Detwiler
Lefty Ross Detwiler was the sixth overall pick of the 2007 draft. By the summer of 2018, he was with his seventh different organization. The Nationals rushed him to the bigs in '07, a decision that did not lead to him becoming a long-term starter with the club. Outside of a decent 2012, Detwiler was not worth the high value placed on him during the 2007 draft, especially considering players Washington could have drafted. Then again, it is possible that somebody as special as Madison Bumgarner would not have been as successful had he worked his way through that organization at such a young age and before he was ready.