Reflecting On the Recent MLB 1st Overall Picks
I recently heard someone get challenged to name the last 10 first overall picks in both the NFL and NBA drafts. For the avid sports fan, I’m sure they can get most, if not all, of these names. For the casual fan, I’m sure they can still name a few. That being said, I’m sure the majority of people would have a hard time naming many, if any, of the first overall picks in recent MLB drafts. The MLB draft is tricky; it is not a spectacle like the NFL and NBA drafts, which have turned into full-fledged events covered on sports outlets for months. Furthermore, every guy drafted is usually buried in the minor leagues immediately, not to be heard of again for at least a year, and sometimes longer (or ever).
The MLB draft is also a very imperfect science. As of 2012 (which is still a relevant year considering how long it takes some guys to get called up), only 66% of 1st rounders ever reach the show. Less than half of 2nd rounders make it. Rounds 3-5 sees only 32% make it, rounds 6-10 are down to 20%, rounds 11-20 is 11%, and rounds 21-40 (which no longer exist as of 2020 when the MLB cut the draft to just 20 rounds) only had 7% players make it.* So we are here now to cover the last 10 first overall picks in the MLB and see where they are today.
I want to preface this by saying that I chose the last 10 years because that was the debate I had heard for the other sports, and I think covering any more than that will also be too long. With that being said, despite the absolute mediocrity and anonymity of some of the following names we will cover, the 1st overall pick is not always a swing and miss (pun intended). Had I chose to cover the last 15 years instead, here are the 5 names that would have also been included (from oldest to more recent): 2008 – Tim Beckham, 2009- Stephen Strasburg, 2010 – Bryce Harper, 2011 – Gerrit Cole, 2012 – Carlos Correa. One of the most impressive stretches of impact players, that 5 year span produced a plethora of all-star appearances and a few world series champions. With all that in mind, let's begin.
2013 - Mark Appel - Houston Astros
At 6’5” and 26 wins across 3 seasons at Stanford, Appel was poised to be the next ace in the MLB. Yet, as was covered recently in Episode 2 of 528's new Podcast, the Breaks-down’s Appel has sooner made the list of reverse drafts than he’s made an impact in the big leagues. In the 10 years since being drafted, Appel was only able to reach the show for 10.2 innings, before ultimately retiring from the game in 2023. A career 5.05 minor league ERA, this 1st overall pick will unfortunately go down as one of the biggest busts.
2014 - Brady Aiken - Houston Astros
With their third straight 1st overall pick, the Astros whiffed again on Aiken. Despite being one of the best prospects in the draft, an MRI during his post-draft physical showed potential arm troubles down the road and the Astros refused to offer the full signing bonus for his slot. When the two couldn’t agree on terms, the Astros let Aiken forgo his professional opportunity, and he instead enrolled for a year at IMG academy, where he was drafted 17th overall by Cleveland the following season. Aiken ultimately dealt with injuries in his professional career, only pitching 3 seasons in the minors before being out of baseball in 2019.
2015 - Dansby Swanson - Arizona Diamondbacks
After his junior season at Vanderbilt where he hit 15 HR’s while slashing .335/.423/.623, Swanson was viewed as consensus top two along with college rival Alex Bregman. Although Bregman may have the better career so far, it is not by a very wide margin. While the D-backs made a great selection here, they ultimately traded Swanson to the Braves for Shelby Miller, which is underrated as one of the worst trades in baseball history. Swanson has been a starting shortstop since the day he was called up, and has improved offensively almost every season he’s played while being one of the better defensive shortstops in the game. He won a world series with the Braves in 2021 and signed a 7 year/$177 million contract with the Cubs this past offseason.
2016 - Mickey Moniak - Philadelphia Phillies
Thinking they found a cornerstone center fielder in 2016, Mickey Moniak has been anything but. In 3 big league seasons, he has a career .157 AVG and .486 OPS, and was ultimately traded in 2022 to the Los Angeles Angels as part of the Noah Syndergaard trade. Still only 25 and having early success in AAA this season, Moniak has a chance to revive his career that has been nothing short of a bust.
2017 - Royce Lewis- Minnesota Twins
A raw but athletic prospect out of high school, Royce Lewis had some pretty good success in the minors, flashing both power and speed. He had a brief stint in the majors last year where he came out of the gates hot, hitting .300 with 2 HR’s and 4 2B’s in just 40 at-bats before tearing his ACL. Still recovering from now two ACL surgeries, the jury is still out on Lewis, but he has flashed some early promise to what might be a bright MLB career.
2018 - Casey Mize - Detroit Tigers
Casey Mize was dominant in college, racking up 324 strikeouts in 267.1 IP’s at Auburn before being selected 1st overall by the Detroit Tigers. Mize was fast tracked through the minors, where he had a sub 3-run ERA in just 2 seasons before debuting in 2020 for the Tigers. Mize has only started 39 games, amassing a 7-13 record with a 4.29 ERA. Currently recovering from Tommy John surgery from an injury last year, Mize has not pitched great thus far, but at only 26 years old still has a chance to be an impact starter going forward.
2019 - Adley Rutschman - Baltimore Orioles
2019 saw Oregon State standout Adley Rutschman selected 1st overall by the Baltimore Orioles. Rutschman was a consensus #1 for his defensive prowess and the 1.327 OPS he put up his junior year. He slugged his way through the minors before getting the call up in 2022, and has been the face of Baltimore's youth resurgence that has propelled them into relevancy after a few lowly years. Rutschman certainly seems to be a home run (again, pun intended).
2020 - Spencer Torkelson - Detroit Tigers
Despite 2020 being a shortened collegiate season, the Detroit Tigers selected Spencer Torkelson 1st overall. Hailing from Arizona State, Torkelson crushed 54 HR's in 129 career college games. He followed that up with 30 total HR's in his first minor league season. After only a year and a half in the minor leagues, Torkelson was also called up last season. The big leagues haven't been very kind to him so far, where he's carrying a sub .650 OPS. At only 23 years old, he still has quite some time to turn it around.
2021 - Henry Davis - Pittsburgh Pirates
Another standout catcher, Davis had over a 1.000 OPS in his collegiate days. He has only been as high as AA, but has shown some early signs of success in the minors with a .929 OPS across 4 levels. Already 23 years old, Davis is sure to get the call when the time is right to help out a young but emerging Pirates team.
2022 - Jackson Holliday - Baltimore Orioles
Ending a run of 4 straight collegiate 1st picks, Holliday is the son of 7 time all-star Matt Holliday. Jackson is only 19 and is sure to have a few more years in the minor leagues, but he is already making an early impact with a career minor league AVG of .329 and OPS over 1.000.
So there you have it. Next time you're at a party and someone asks you to list some recent 1st overall MLB draft picks, you will be able to rattle off names and history. A few are busts, a few are impact guys, and a lot still have the jury out on them. It would be nice to see the MLB create more buzz around the draft so that fans can understand where some of these top prospects come from and follow their progress.
Stats are as of May 9th 2023.