The MLB Draft is just over a week away and the foregone conclusion is that the Nationals will use the first overall pick on Stephen Strasburg. Most years, there is a consensus top overall pick so one might think that with the 44 years of the draft that we had several Hall of Famers go as the first overall pick. But until Ken Griffey Jr. and Chipper Jones retire and wait five years, we will not have one single guy with that distinction.
On the other side of the coin, some people think that the first overall pick has turned out to be a bust just as often as not. But is it fair to consider someone like Tim Foli or Bill Almon, who played 15 and 16 years in the majors, respectively, busts? Teams usually end up getting a solid major league player at the top slot of the draft, even if they do not always end up taking the best player.
But there have been some busts. So, here are the Top 10 Worst Number One Overall Picks in the MLB Draft.
Wilson went 13-5 with a 2.08 ERA in 143.0 innings pitched in his junior season at Florida State, with 32 walks and 161 strikeouts. He was a no-brainer selection as the top pick in the 1994 draft. That was the year the Mets had eight of the first 98 picks and the closest to an impact player they got was the oft-injured Jay Payton. Meanwhile, Wilson was also dogged by shoulder and elbow injuries that robbed him of most of his career. In parts of seven seasons in the majors, Wilson went 40-58 with a 4.86 ERA
Best first-round picks that season: Nomar Garciaparra (12th), Paul Konerko (13th), Jason Varitek (14th).
Anderson could throw 100 mph and looked like he was going to be a dominating closer for the Tigers, who took him leading off the 1997 draft. He had 22 saves in 2001 and what should have been the start of a nice run ended in the oddest of ways. Anderson ended up tearing a muscle in his throwing arm when he participated in an octopus throwing contest at Comerica Park. He ended up with a final line of 15-7 with 26 saves in seven seasons.
Best first-round picks that season: Lance Berkman (16th), Troy Glaus (3rd), J.D. Drew (2nd).
If you ask most people about amateur baseball in 1984, most will talk about the U.S. Olympic team. Generally considered the finest amateur team ever, it consisted of 18 first-round picks. However, with the first overall pick, instead of taking a college player, the Mets selected H.S. outfielder Abner when they could not come to a pre-draft deal with Mark McGwire. Abner played parts of six years in the majors after being traded to the Padres in the Kevin McReynolds deal. Abner finished with a lifetime .227 average and a .591 OPS in 902 career plate appearances.
Best first-round picks that season: Mark McGwire (10th), Jay Bell (8th), Billy Swift (2nd).
In 1971, the White Sox took high school catcher Goodwin as the top overall pick. He elected to go to college at Southern University after feeling that Chicago’s offer of $60,000 was not worth forsaking college. In 1975, Goodwin was again the top overall pick, this time by the Angels. Goodwin hit in college and hit in the minors. But he never hit in the pros. Also, he hurt his arm and had to move from catcher to first base, further hurting his prospects. Goodwin played seven years in the majors and finished with a .236 average before ending his career overseas in Japan.
Best first-round picks that season: Rick Cerone (7th), Dale Berra (20th), Clint Hurdle (9th).
As teams worried about being able to afford top draft picks, a new word entered the baseball vocabularly – signability. The Pirates made Bullington the top overall pick in the 2002 draft (the infamous “Moneyball Draft”) where the consensus at the time was there was no “can’t miss” talent. However,in hindsight the 2002 Draft was loaded with star players. Bullington was simply a signability pick. Dave Littlefield, the team’s own general manager, declared Bullington, “a good #3 pitcher.” To make matters worse, Bullington suffered shoulder problems. He has pitched parts of four seasons in the majors but is still active as a reliever with the Blue Jays. Bullington currently sits with an 0-5 record with a 5.08 ERA in 13 games.
Best first-round picks that season: Zack Greinke (6th), Cole Hamels (17th), Prince Fielder (7th).
The Mariners agreed to a pre-draft deal with 1979 top pick Al Chambers for the same $60,000 that Danny Goodwin found unacceptable eight years earlier. Perhaps that should have been a sign. Chambers was supposed to be a cross between Dave Parker and Dave Winfield with off-the-charts power. But while he hit for good averages in the minors, he never showed that awesome power. Chambers reached the majors as a 22-year-old in 1983, but played only 57 games in parts of three seasons, amassing just two home runs and a .208 average in 120 at-bats.
Best first-round picks that season: Andy Van Slyke (6th), Tim Wallach (10th), Steve Howe (16th).
All of the players on this list have a sad story. But hands down the saddest story was that of Clyde. In his senior year in high school, he went 18-0 with 14 shutouts and he established a high school record with 328 strikeouts. He was the first HS pitcher drafted with the first overall pick when the Rangers took him in 1973. Just 19 days after graduating high school, he was pitching in the majors. Clyde won his first start, became a gate attraction for the struggling Rangers (just two years after the move from Washington) and Texas kept him in the majors even though he was not ready. The following year, Billy Martin replaced Whitey Herzog as the team’s manager and he thought Clyde belonged in the minors. When the front office refused to ship him out, Clyde went 31 days without not only pitching in a game, but even warming up on the sidelines. Clyde lost his curveball, ended up having two shoulder surgeries and had problems with alcohol. He finished his career in the majors with an 18-33 mark with a 4.63 ERA.
Best first-round picks that season: Robin Yount (3rd), Dave Winfield (4th), Lee Mazzilli (14th).
There is an old baseball saying about the pitcher with the million dollar arm and the 10 cent head. Brien Taylor came from humble beginnings in the coastal town of Beaufort, North Carolina. But he had an electric arm, was clocked at 99 in a high school game and signed a $1.2 million deal with the Yankees as the top overall pick in the 1991 draft. Two years later he went 13-7 in Double-A and was on the cusp of stardom. But he got into a fight after his older brother got roughed up and wrecked his shoulder. There are numerous accounts of how everything went down that fateful night. But the only thing that really matters is that Taylor needed surgery, with Dr. Frank Jobe calling it one of the worst injuries he had seen up to that point. After the surgery both his fastball and command deserted him and Taylor never pitched in the majors.
Best first-round picks that season: Manny Ramirez (13th), Shawn Green (16th), Cliff Floyd (14th).
In the second year of the MLB Draft, there was no precedent against drafting high school catchers. In 1966 Steve Chilcott became one of the poster boys for that cause as the Mets took him over Reggie Jackson with the top overall pick. It sounds ridiculous now, but both players were ranked 1-2 on nearly every team’s draft board. The Mets sent Casey Stengel to scout Chilcott and he went 4-4 with Stengel in attendance. With the Mets without a legitimate catching prospect anywhere in the farm system, Chilcott was the pick. He signed for a $75,000 bonus. Chilcott never made the majors, played seven injury-plagued seasons in the minors and was released by the Yankees in 1972 after just 331 career games.
Best first-round picks that season: Reggie Jackson (2nd), Gary Nolan (13th), Richie Hebner (15th).
With Chilcott, many teams thought he was the best player. But with Bush in 2004, no one thought that. He was considered a good player but was basically a signability pick, chosen by the Padres at least as much for his San Diego roots as his baseball ability. Still, he received a hefty $3,150,000 bonus. Bush was suspended by the Padres before he even played a game for an altercation outside a club. He hit poorly for two seasons, broke an ankle, converted to pitching, injured his elbow, got into alcohol-related trouble, was dealt to Toronto and finally was released this year before the season for violating the Blue Jays’ zero tolerance behavior policy.
Best first-round picks that season: Justin Verlander (2nd), Jered Weaver (12th), Stephen Drew (15th).
Background information for many players in this article was taken from Baseball America’s The Baseball Draft: The First 25 Years: 1965-1989.