We’ve all heard the classic saying, “hindsight is 20/20.” Everybody has experiences in life that they wish they could go back in time and do-over. This sentiment especially holds true for many professional sports general managers when it comes to draft picks. They spend months perusing the available players and scouting reports to do their best in determining who the best players are and who fits their teams’ long-term goals. While holding the #1 pick in a draft is a privilege for a general manager, it adds massive pressure to draft a future star. Sometimes these selections work out perfectly and the player goes on to become the face of the franchise. Other times, however, the pick flops and discourages the team’s fan base.
More than any other professional sport, baseball drafts are speculative because draft picks often spend years developing and working their way up through the minor league system. A baseball general manager has to envision how the player projects 3-5 years after the actual draft. This dependency on development creates an uncertainty that a pick will never reach the major league level, let alone become an all-star caliber player. How a #1 overall pick eventually develops has a dramatic effect on the general manager’s job security. When it works, the general manager looks like a genius. When it doesn’t work, the blame falls squarely on the general manager’s shoulders.
This list takes a look back at the last 15 #1 overall picks in the MLB draft. Some of these players have become bonafide superstars and were worthy of the high draft selection. Other picks on this list are selections that the teams probably wish they could go back and “do-over.” For these do-overs, this list provides an alternate candidate that should have been selected #1 overall given what we know now. Let’s take a look!
(Note: The 2016 #1 overall draft, Mickey Moniak, is far too early to determine whether he deserved the #1 spot and will be skipped for that reason).
2001: Ryan Howard
Original selection: Joe Mauer
The original thought here was to choose Joe Mauer to retain the #1 spot in the 2001 re-draft, given the consistency he has shown throughout his career. Mauer has been the face of the Minnesota Twins franchise since first appearing in the majors in 2004. But another name kept coming to mind when evaluating this draft class and that name is Ryan Howard. Howard had one of the most impressive runs in league history from 2006 to 2011 in which he never hit less than 31 home runs. In fact, Howard’s magical season when he hit 58 home runs and 149 RBIs in 2006 would be enough to give him the #1 spot alone.
Howard has slowed down in the later days of his career and injuries have been a major force of his regression, but his impact is still evident when watching the Philadelphia Phillies play. The power is certainly still there as Howard hit 25 home runs in 2016 but he had a dismal .196 batting average. Although he is not the same player he once was, Howard’s early career dominance made him one of the most feared hitters in the game and supplanted his name in baseball lore. For that reason, Howard gets the selection for the #1 overall pick in the 2001 re-draft.
2002: Zach Greinke
Original Selection: Bryan Bullington
After reaching the majors in 2004, Zach Greinke has been an interesting story. Early in his career, Greinke was often quiet and reclusive in the Kansas City clubhouse. It later came out that Greinke suffers from depression and severe anxiety issues, which actually caused him to miss the entire 2006 season. But throughout, Greinke has remained a unique specimen on the mound. With his personal growth, grew his ability to control his emotions on the field and he has become one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball.
After several strong seasons, Greinke peaked in 2015 when he went 19-3 with the Los Angeles Dodgers and had an incredible 1.66 ERA. After that season he opted out of his contract with the Dodgers to sign a six year deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks for a whopping $206 million. His first season with the Diamondbacks was a forgettable one for Greinke and he is eager to regain his Cy Young winning form in 2017. Although there were other great players drafted in 2002 (Prince Fielder, Cole Hamels, etc.,) Greinke is the best of the group when he is on. Look for him to bounce back in 2017.
2003 Re-Draft: Matt Kemp
Original Selection: Delmon Young
Originally drafted in the 6th round of the 2003 draft, Matt Kemp worked his way up the Los Angeles Dodgers system before finally taking the starting centerfield spot in 2010. He awarded the Dodgers’ trust in him by absolutely raking at the plate, leading the league in home runs, RBIs, and runs scored. Unfortunately, he was snubbed of the NL MVP award that season when Ryan Braun was selected for the award (Braun later tested positive for performance enhancing drugs).
Kemp has certainly slowed since that incredible season but he continues to be a solid clean-up hitter. Last season, Kemp started off hot for the San Diego Padres before they decided to sell high on Kemp by trading him to the Atlanta Braves near the trade deadline. Between the Padres and Braves, Kemp hit 35 home runs and 108 RBIs. Clearly, the man still has the ability to dominate any game and will look to continue his career rebirth in 2017.
2004: Justin Verlander
Original Selection: Matthew Bush
Justin Verlander won at life when he married supermodel Kate Upton, but he has also won many games as an MLB pitcher. Verlander in his younger years was overpowering with his fastball that would often reach triple digits. His career appears to have peaked in 2011 when he was named both the AL Cy Young and the AL Most Valuable Player. In that season, he amassed 24 wins and had 250 strikeouts. Those are eye-popping numbers.
Since then, Verlander’s career has been somewhat of a roller coaster. In 2014, Verlander’s ERA was shockingly near 5.00. In 2015, Verlander only had 5 wins and a surprising 8 losses while dealing with injuries. He was vulnerable for the first time in his career and appeared to be trending downward as he continued to get older. However, 2016 was a major bounce back season for the Detroit Tigers ace, as he won 16 games and was back in the running for the AL Cy Young award again. It will be interesting to see how Verlander returns in 2017, but his career to this point notches him the #1 spot in the 2004 re-draft.
2005: Andrew McCutchen
Original Selection: Justin Upton
The original #1 selection in 2005 was Justin Upton. Upton quickly became the face of the Arizona Diamondbacks franchise and showed immense potential. Unfortunately, Upton has never taken that next step into MLB stardom. For that reason, the 2005 re-draft #1 pick goes to another NL outfielder, Andrew McCutchen. “Cutch” was named in All-Star in five straight seasons from 2011 to 2015 and won the NL MVP award in 2013.
McCutchen is a consistent 20 home run and 20 stolen base player and has tremendous range in the outfield. Although he appears to have slowed down a bit over the past couple seasons, McCutchen is still an elite talent. He is the face of the Pittsburgh Pirates and has led the franchise to heights many never expected. Although there are rumors that the Pirates are now shopping McCutchen, it would be a shame to see him in anything but Pirates black and gold.
2006: Clayton Kershaw
Original Selection: Luke Hochevar
This re-draft focuses on a battle of the two most dominant pitchers in the game right now. The 2006 draft included both Clayton Kershaw (drafted #7 overall by the Los Angeles Dodgers) and Max Scherzer (drafted #11 overall by the Arizona Diamondbacks). Scherzer is exceptional and has won back-to-back Cy Young awards (one in the AL and one in the NL). But for as good as Scherzer has been, he has been out-shined by the dominance of Clayton Kershaw.
Kershaw has already won three Cy Young awards and was runner-up in 2012. In 2015 he became the first pitcher since Randy Johnson to strike out over 300 batters in a single season. Kershaw has been the model of consistency at the pitching position and showed no signs of slowing down in 2016 before suffering a major injury. If Kershaw can fully bounce back from his injury woes, he has the potential to have an all-time great career. Look for Kershaw to return to the Cy Young conversation in 2017.
2007: Giancarlo Stanton
Original Selection: David Price
What a draft class 2007 was. David Price was drafted #1 overall, a great selection in its own right. Other names in this class that were considered here were Madison Bumgarner, Jake Arrieta, and Anthony Rizzo. But the selection here has to be Giancarlo Stanton. Stanton is a massive human being, standing 6’6″ and weighing 240 pounds. His size allows him to generate great force and speed in his swing and the end result is some of the most towering home runs in MLB history.
Stanton is the best pure power hitter in the league right now. Possibly the most intimidating player for opposing pitchers when he is standing in the batter’s box, Stanton has the ability to change the momentum of a game with one swing. Although he missed a substantial amount of time after being hit in the face with a fastball, Stanton has come back with a vengeance. Perhaps the most fun thing about Stanton is watching him take batting practice or compete in the home run derby during all-star weekend. His type of power is rare and a sight to be seen.
2008: Buster Posey
2008 Original Selection: Tim Beckham
In 2008, the Tampa Bay Rays drafted shortstop Tim Beckham #1 overall. Who? Exactly. In retrospect, the Rays surely wish they would have selected Buster Posey instead. All Buster Posey has done since entering the league in 2009 is lead the San Fransisco Giants to three World Series Championships. Posey isn’t just a power hitting catcher, he is the heart and soul of the Giants. Posey also is a favorite of his pitchers with his great pitch framing and ability to scout opposing hitters. The guy is an old-school player and it’s fun to watch.
Posey won the NL Rookie of the Year award in 2010, his first full season in the MLB (hint: winning the rookie of the year appears to be a clear sign of a player becoming a perennial all-star according to the names on this list). Posey has dealt with his fair share of injuries throughout his career, but he always seems to come back better and stronger. With his talent and leadership ability, he will keep the Giants relevant until the day he retires. Posey deserves more recognition then he receives and gets the selection here.
2009: Mike Trout
Original Selection: Stephen Strasburg
While some of these re-draft selections have been no-brainers, this was a tough one. The original #1 pick in 2009 was Stephen Strasburg, who looked to be one of the most dominant pitchers of all time before struggling to overcome arm injuries that have lowered the trajectory of his career. Although Strasburg is a great selection, he has not had the effect that Mike Trout has so far in his career. Mike Trout is the ultimate five-tool player as he can do it all with his bat, feet, and glove. In short, Trout is everything a general manager looks in a franchise cornerstone.
Like many of the players on this list, Trout took the league by storm in his rookie season and was unanimously named the AL Rookie of the Year in 2012. He has continued to develop into an elite player and that is evident by the fact that he has already won the AL Most Valuable Player award twice. There are few players a team would want at bat over Trout with the game on the line as well, as Trout is one of the most clutch hitters in the league. Trout is baseball at its finest and well deserving of the #1 selection in the 2009 re-draft.
2010: Bryce Harper
Original Selection: Bryce Harper
This is another easy one. What can be said about Bryce Harper that isn’t already known? Harper has been on the radar of MLB general managers since he was only 16 years old and was given the moniker of being the “LeBron James of baseball” for the attention he garnered during his prep career. Harper more than lived up to the billing, earning the NL Rookie of the Year award in 2012 for the Washington Nationals. Harper has since taken his game to another level and was unanimously voted the NL Most Valuable Player in 2015.
Although Harper has been known to rub some people the wrong way with his attitude and hardball style of play, he is a generational talent that will be in the MVP running for the next decade plus. Harper is still only 24 years old and will soon be entering into a new long-term deal that could command upwards of $750 million. Yes, $750,000,000. The craziest part of that number is that it’s not unfathomable that he actually obtains it. This was the most “can’t miss” pick in recent memory and Harper has lived up to his otherworldly expectations.
2011: Jose Fernandez
Original Selection: Gerrit Cole
Candidly speaking, this selection is made in memoriam of Jose Fernadez. Despite the tragic and untimely death of Fernadez this past season, he earned the right to be selected #1 overall in the re-draft of the 2011 class. On the field, Fernandez encompassed everything that is great about baseball. He played the game with a sense of fun and energy that is often only seen in youth baseball. His infectious smile made him a joy to watch on the mound.
Fernandez’s personality and energy were only outshined by his impressive pitching repertoire. With his arm-strength and nasty slurve, Fernadez was capable of striking out 15+ batters a game. His game appeared to be the second coming of Randy Johnson, in right-hand form. He was truly electric. Although he is now deceased, Fernandez left a permanent mark on the game of baseball in his brief stint. For that reason alone, he gets the #1 overall selection in the 2011 re-draft.
2012 Re-Draft: Carlos Correa
Original Selection: Carlos Correa
Carlos Correa was drafted #1 overall by the Houston Astros (the Astros were remarkably bad from 2011-2014 and held the #1 overall pick in each draft). While the Astros may have regretted drafting Brady Aiken (2014) and Mark Appel (2013), they certainly cannot be disappointed with their selection of Correa. Correa made his major league debut in 2015 and proceeded to produce one of the greatest rookie seasons of all time, on his way to being named the American League Rookie of the Year.
Although he regressed a tad in 2016, Correa continued his assault on major league pitching in his second season. Correa possesses a unique skill set of power, speed, and instincts that make him a sure-fire perennial all-star candidate at the shortstop position. One selection that could be considered here is a similarly talented shortstop, Cory Seager of the Los Angeles Dodgers. However, at this point, Correa deserves to be the #1 selection in his draft class and will be a player to watch entering 2017.
2013: Kris Byrant
Original Selection: Mark Appel
This one is too easy. Kris Bryant was originally selected #2 overall by the Chicago Cubs and immediately created regret in the Astros organization for passing over him with the #1 spot. In 2015, Bryant made his MLB debut and quickly established his dominance, as he was named the 2015 National League Rookie of the Year award. Bryant followed up his remarkable rookie season by hitting 39 home runs and batting in 102 runs in 2016.
Bryant was named the National League Most Valuable Player and was a major factor in helping the Cubs win their first world series in 108 years. At only 24 years old, Bryant will only continue to develop at the plate and with his glove, although it’s hard to imagine just how good he can become. Between him and the previously mentioned Schwarber, it shows how a team’s drafting ability can dramatically improve the franchise from the inside-out. Bryant is a stud and will be a sure MVP candidate for years to come.
2014: Kyle Schwarber
Original Selection: Brady Aiken
Looking back now, the clear selection for this pick would have been Kyle Schwarber. Schwarber was the fourth overall pick in the draft by the Chicago Cubs and has already made a name for himself in his first two professional seasons. In only 69 games his rookie year, Schwarber hit 16 home runs and 43 RBIs. He subsequently tore it up in the postseason as well, setting a Cubs record by hitting 5 home runs.
Unfortunately, Schwarber suffered a major knee injury at the beginning of the 2016 season that caused him to miss the entire regular season. Still, he is a clear cornerstone piece in the 2016 World Series Champions’ future and will be a name to watch for years to come. He can still play catcher but grades out better as a corner outfielder in the MLB. Schwarber has the natural power that teams covet and deserves the #1 spot in the 2014 re-draft.
2015 Re-Draft: Dansby Swanson
Original Selection: Dansby Swanson
The Arizona Diamondbacks had the dubious honor of drafting #1 in the 2015 draft and selected shortstop Dansby Swanson. Swanson was a highly touted collegiate player while at Vanderbilt University. In his final collegiate season, he helped lead the Commodores to the College World Series and was named the series Most Outstanding Player. He was also a finalist for the 2015 Golden Spikes award, given to the nation’s best collegiate player.
Much like the 2016 #1 pick, it is still far too early to determine how the 2015 draft class will pan out but at this point, Swanson appears worthy of the #1 overall spot. He retains this honor because he has already reached the majors in his first year out of college. Swanson was traded by the Diamondbacks to the Atlanta Braves for starting pitchers Shelby Miller last offseason and quickly made his way up the Atlanta system. In his brief time in the MLB, Swanson had a stat line of .302/3 HR/17 RBIs and added three stolen bases. The promise he has shown at the plate and in the field, plus the fact he has already reached the majors makes him well worth the #1 pick.
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