Major League Baseball draft classes are much different than what you’ll find in the other three top North American professional sports leagues. In the National Football League, National Basketball Association and National Hockey League, a top-ten overall draft pick is expected to contribute the first year that he enters that league. That’s not the case regarding MLB selections. It can sometimes take half a decade for a draft pick to make even a single appearance for an MLB team. For that reason, “recent” does not mean the same thing for an MLB draft selection as it does for players drafted in other sports. Patience truly is a virtue in baseball.
One way that MLB draft picks are similar to those in other leagues is that busts are not all the same. Sometimes, a guy is labeled a draft bust because an injury or multiple physical setbacks prevent him from reaching his full potential in Big League baseball. In other instances, a team simply overvalued the individual ahead of the draft. Hindsight is 20/20, teaches the old adage, and that saying plays a role in us looking back and redrafting certain classes based on busts and on swings-and-misses made by clubs during those drafts. Remember that even somebody who found success in MLB can be viewed as a bust.
22 Recent MLB draft bust: Matt Harvey
Some may consider it a hot take to start with former New York Mets starter Matt Harvey. After all, Harvey certainly had the goods to win multiple Cy Young awards, and he was an All-Star who won Comeback Player of the Year. Unfortunately for the Mets and for Harvey, injury issues stripped him of a promising prime right when it seemed as if the Amazins were going to be the top club in New York, and he and the Mets parted ways in 2018. As of the typing of this piece, there is no indication Harvey will ever reach the potential he had at the beginning of his career.
21 Should have been drafted instead: Chris Sale
Maybe the worst part about the New York Mets drafting Matt Harvey, other than the fact that the club had to put up with him for at long as he was with the organization, is knowing what the Mets could have had on the roster instead. Chris Sale, taken six picks after the Mets acquired Harvey in the first round of the 2010 MLB Draft, is a proven ace and perennial All-Star who could be on the verge of winning a World Series in 2018 or 2019 as a member of the Boston Red Sox. Sale would’ve looked good on the hill for the Mets during the team’s postseason run in 2015.
20 Recent MLB draft bust: Donavan Tate
Some may view Donavan Tate as the biggest MLB draft bust in the history of the San Diego Padres. Drafted third overall in 2009, the outfielder never came close to playing anything than low minor league baseball during a career that ended after the 2016 season. As Tate explained to Michael Weinreb of Bleacher Report, he struggled with personal issues away from the diamond, but he notched victories over those demons and moved on to college football. Tate ended his stint with the Arizona Wildcats in late 2017. He’s destined to become a forgotten prospect in time.
19 Should have been drafted instead: Mike Trout
Spending a third overall draft pick on a dude who never sees a pitch of Major League Baseball stings enough. Knowing that you could have spent that selection on Mike Trout is like pouring a gallon of salt into an open wound. Trout is often compared to Mickey Mantle because of the offensive numbers he has produced during his brief MLB career, and he is going to be worth literally hundreds of millions of dollars when the time comes for him to be paid. Fans of the Padres can only close their eyes and dream of what it would have been like to see Trout blasting homers while wearing the team’s colors.
18 Recent MLB draft bust: Chad James
You know things have gone horribly wrong for a prospect when he does not even have his own Wikipedia page. That, sadly, is the case with Chad James, the pitcher selected by the Florida/Miami Marlins with the 18th overall pick of the 2009 MLB Draft. It actually takes some research to learn that James has not registered anything of note in pro baseball since 2015. That probably has something to do with the fact that he was suspended three times after being drafted. By the time he earned a third ban, he was no longer within the Marlins organization. Essentially, the team could not have done much worse with this pick.
17 Should have been drafted instead: Shelby Miller
OK, we understand that the name Shelby Miller does not jump off the screen and scream Cy Young award. Remember that in this scenario, Mike Trout has already gone to the San Diego Padres, so the Miami Marlins instead get Miller, who did earn one trip to an All-Star Game before injuries slowed his career. Most recently, Miller returned from the 60-day disabled list to feature for the Arizona Diamondbacks late in the 2018 campaign. Earlier in the year, he won an arbitration case against the Diamondbacks. We could see that process repeat itself in 2019, although Miller could later become part of a trade package.
16 Recent MLB draft bust: Jake Skole
It’s yet another case of an MLB Draft bust who doesn’t have a Wikipedia page dedicated to his career and who moved on from pro baseball to try his hand at football. Drafted by the Texas Rangers in the first round of the 2010 MLB Draft, Jake Skole was an outfielder who never materialized while in the minor leagues. After realizing that he was never going to realize his dream of playing an inning in MLB, Skole moved on to University of Georgia. We don’t expect to see him playing defensive back in the NFL at any point in the future, but it’s nice he was able to pursue multiple sports.
15 Should have been drafted instead: Noah Syndergaard
The positive for the Toronto Blue Jays is that they were able to find a stud like Noah Syndergaard in the second round of a draft. Unfortunately, the Blue Jays added Syndergaard as part of the trade that landed the club R.A. Dickey. The New York Mets won that trade and in a big way, as Syndergaard evolved into a phenom lovingly known as Thor among the faithful followers of the Amazins. The 26-year-old with a cannon and dominant fastball already has won a World Series game, and his future remains bright. He would have been the better choice for the Rangers.
14 Recent MLB draft bust: Christian Colon
With the fourth overall pick of the 2010 MLB Draft, the Kansas City Royals selected Christian Colon. The shortstop made his Major League debut during the 2014 season, and he had a total of 25 RBI during his stint with the club. His bat betrayed him as time went on, though, and the Royals let him walk in 2017. That was the last time anybody saw him in the Big Leagues, as the New York Mets claimed him and then sent him down this past spring. He’s still only 29-years-old, so there’s a chance he could make it. He won’t with the Royals, though, so he’s a draft bust for that club.
13 Should have been drafted instead: Christian Yelich
When the Miami Marlins grabbed Christian Yelich in the first round of the 2010 MLB Draft, the club probably hoped he would, eventually, become an All-Star. That organization couldn’t have dreamed that he would compete for a Triple Crown, which he did during the 2018 campaign. As the Marlins have done with other similar talents, the team traded him last January, and the Milwaukee Brewers could not be more pleased to have him in October. Yelich has the goods to be the best player of a World Series, and the 26-year-old should only get better and better with age. A lot of teams wish they would’ve pulled the trigger on a trade for him last winter.
12 Recent MLB draft bust: Kevin Matthews
With the final pick of the first round of the 2011 MLB Draft, the Texas Rangers selected southpaw Kevin Matthews. By the summer of 2015, the Rangers were done with him, and the team released him in May of that year after he was charged with DWI. A shoulder injury derailed his career, and he hasn’t done anything of note with organizations since the Rangers gave up on him. Earlier this year, Evan Grant of SportsDay wrote about what went down during the draft and how the Rangers ended up with a pitcher who never made it with the franchise or with any other organization. To Matthews' credit, he’s still at it, just not in MLB.
11 Should have been drafted instead: Blake Snell
Just a year ago, nobody would have thought anything about the Texas Rangers spending a first- or second-round pick on lefty Blake Snell. The Tampa Bay Rays got the starter in the second round of the 2011 MLB Draft, and he became a revelation for the club in 2018. Somewhat out of nowhere, the 25-year-old won a league-best 21 games, and he posted an incredible 1.89 ERA and a 0.97 WHIP. It’s too early to say, with any certainty, the Snell is a future ace and will continue to post those types of stats for the next several years. The Rangers probably wish he was pitching for them as of October 2018.
10 Recent MLB draft bust: Alex Meyer
The Washington Nationals never got a chance to see what Alex Meyer would or wouldn’t be as a pro, as the team traded the first-round pick of the 2011 MLB Draft to the Minnesota Twins before he pitched an inning for the team. It seems as if that was the right decision. Meyer has had cups of coffee in the Big Leagues, and his most recent stint was with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. It was reported in September 2017 that a torn labrum was going to sideline him for the foreseeable future. This past August, the baseball world learned that he suffered a setback in his recovery. Here’s hoping for the best for him.
9 Should have been drafted instead: Trevor Story
25-year-old Trevor Story fell to the Colorado Rockies in the second round of the 2011 MLB Draft. In short, the Nationals and every other team that passed on him would probably love to have him within its organization today. Story became a mainstay in the lineup beginning in 2016, and he has shown that he is capable of blasting 500-foot home runs during his brief tenure in the Bigs. Story turns only 26 years old in November, so he should have plenty of more opportunities to make history as he did in September, when he became only the fourth SS in NL history to tally 80 extra-base hits in a single season.
8 Recent MLB draft bust: Taylor Jungmann
Back in 2015, the Milwaukee Brewers didn’t have too many reasons to feel badly about spending a first-round pick on pitcher Taylor Jungmann back in 2011. After all, he posted a decent ERA of 3.77 during his debut year with the club. That, Milwaukee would learn, would be as good as things would get for Jungmann during his MLB tenure. By January 2018, Jungmann saw the writing on the wall and worked for a release so that he could pursue an opportunity to play professionally in Japan. Regardless of what he does on the other side of the planet, he’ll be an MLB bust for the Brewers.
7 Should have been drafted instead: Jackie Bradley Jr.
If not for the tragic passing of Jose Fernandez, he probably would have been the player mentioned here. In light of that, however, Jackie Bradley Jr. gets the nod as the individual the Brewers should have drafted. Bradley went to the Boston Red Sox in the second round of the 2011 MLB Draft, and he won his first World Series ring with the club only two years later. While he didn’t have a direct role in the team’s postseason run that year, he is now a starting outfielder and a key contributor for what was, through the end of September 2018, the best team in baseball.
6 Recent MLB draft bust: Bubba Starling
A well-known sports adage says that the most important ability for an athlete is availability. Despite having a tremendous name, outfielder Bubba Starling has not been able to provide that for the Kansas City Royals since the team drafted him with the fifth pick of the 2011 MLB Draft. In July 2017, Baseball Prospectus listed Starling as one of the biggest MLB busts in history. In August 2018, Jack Johnson of The University Daily Kansan referred to Starling as the “‘star’ that never shone.” It's surprising to nobody who has followed him since the Royals drafted him, as he ended the 2018 campaign injured. His future is with another team.
5 Should have been drafted instead: Francisco Lindor
Three picks after the Kansas City Royals selected Starling, the Cleveland Indians acquired a shortstop named Francisco Lindor. Lindor has been even better than advertised since receiving his first call-up to the Majors. The 24-year-old is already a perennial All-Star and widely viewed as one of the best young talents in baseball. It’s not a matter of if the Indians will lose him because the team won’t be able to afford him. It’s a matter of when. As long as he stays healthy and keeps producing, Lindor is going to be one of the faces of the sport next decade. He’s a joy to watch.
4 Recent MLB draft bust: Danny Hultzen
Lefty Danny Hultzen was the second player taken in the 2011 MLB Draft. The Seattle Mariners would have been better off selecting one of several other talents. Injuries prevented this supposed can’t-miss prospect from ever finding his way to Seattle, and he was out of baseball, for a time, until making a comeback in 2018. After earning a college degree, Hultzen agreed to a deal with the Chicago Cubs, and he was recently seen playing Triple-A ball. This was a low-risk acquisition for the Cubs, but Seattle baseball fans will always see Hultzen as a bust.
3 Should have been drafted instead: Trevor Bauer
There are plenty of things that can drive one crazy about pitcher Trevor Bauer, who went third overall in the 2011 MLB Draft to the Arizona Diamondbacks. When Bauer isn’t playing with machines and potentially risking his career during a postseason run, in the process, he’s flashing the goods to be one of the better pitchers in all of MLB. The 27-year-old may be the best stater in the rotation of the Cleveland Indians heading into 2019, and he’s a big reason why many expect the Tribe to once again win the division and compete for more than just a playoff berth next October.
2 Recent MLB draft bust: Mark Appel
In February 2018, Joon Lee of Bleacher Report wrote about Mark Appel stepping away from baseball and how Appel may be the biggest bust in MLB history. Selected first overall by the Houston Astros in 2013, Appel just was not good enough to face even Triple-A competition, let alone Major League batters. As things stand today, he would be only the third No. 1 overall pick to never play Big League baseball. He is only 26 years old, so he could end his sabbatical and work on a return, possibly as a reliever. For the Astros, though, Appel will always be a historic bust and a terrible draft pick.
1 Should have been drafted instead: Aaron Judge
Kris Bryant was taken second overall in 2013, and he would have been a fine pick for the Astros. We’re going with Aaron Judge over Bryant, though, just because we still aren’t sure just how high Judge will rise (yes, pun intended) while with the New York Yankees. Judge isn’t just a massive slugger who can hit the ball out of any park, seemingly with ease. He is already well-liked and well-respected around the league, to the point that it would not be a surprise to see him named captan of the Yankees down the road. He’s also an underrated fielder. Go watch him take batting practice if you’re ever able to do so. You’ll be in for a show.