The MLB Draft is arguably the biggest guessing game of any professional sports draft, and there’s certainly no exception for the No. 1 overall pick. Chipper Jones will become just the second top pick to reach the Baseball Hall of Fame (following Ken Griffey Jr.) in the draft’s 52-year history when he’s inducted this July. While several of baseball’s biggest stars right now were first-overall selections, there have been plenty of No. 1 picks who have ended up as totally average players as well.
Let’s check up on what the last 15 first-overall picks are up to now:
2003: Delmon Young, OF, Devil Rays
Young certainly had a solid major-league career, but it likely could have been so much more if he had simply been able to stay out of trouble off the field. His issues began before he even reached the major leagues, as Young received a 50-game suspension after tossing a bat at an umpire while playing at Triple-A Durham in 2006.
While Young bounced around very frequently after reaching the majors — he had two stints with the Rays while also playing for the Twins, Tigers, Phillies, and Orioles over a 10-year career from 2006-15 — he was consistently solid at the plate, posting a career slash line of .283/.316/.421 with 109 homers in 4,371 MLB plate appearances. He finished second in AL Rookie of the Year voting in 2007, received MVP votes in 2010, and won the ALCS MVP in 2012. Unfortunately for Young, his outfield defense was far from major-league caliber. In fact, many fans’ lasting memory of the former No. 1 overall selection may be his awful throw from left field during the 2012 World Series.
Young’s offense was good, but just not quite good enough to justify him being an everyday DH. It didn’t help his case that he was continually so controversial; he was he was arrested after yelling anti-semitic slurs at and assaulting pedestrians in New York City while intoxicated in August of 2012, and in the offseason after he was let go by the Orioles, he was arrested for choking and threatening to kill a hotel valet. Young hasn’t played in affiliated ball since that incident, but he has explored several different avenues to try to make a comeback over the last year, playing in the Australian winter league (and performing quite well) last winter, then signing with Acereros del Norte of the Mexican League in February. Unfortunately for Young, he was released in early April despite posting a .291/.340/.430 slash line over his first 21 games, and it doesn’t appear as if he’s going to have too many more chances to try to resurrect his career and justify his status as a first overall pick.
2004: Matt Bush, SS, Padres
Bush has the most tumultuous but arguably the most uplifting story of anyone on this list. After being the first shortstop selected first overall since Alex Rodriguez, the 18-year-old Bush got into a bar fight and was suspended before ever playing in a professional game. He struggled mightily after getting onto the field, failing to post an OPS of .700 or better over his first four professional seasons. He was converted to the mound during the 2007 season, reaching up to 98 MPH with his fastball, but he tore his UCL and was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery, which knocked him out for the entire 2008 season.
That’s when Bush’s legal troubles really began to spiral out of control. While bouncing between the Padres, Blue Jays, and Rays organizations over a four-year period as each club lost patience with him, Bush was caught on video assaulting two lacrosse players while drunk in a high-school parking lot, allegedly threw a baseball at a woman’s head and rammed her into a car window, and ran over a 72-year-old motorcyclist while driving drunk. He was incarcerated after the latter incident and spent three years in prison. Bush, who was working at a Jacksonville Golden Corral as part of a work-release program in the winter of 2015, tried out for the Rangers in a parking lot prior to a work shift and made the most of the opportunity, earning a minor-league contract. He pitched his way into Texas’ major-league bullpen early in the 2016 season and remains there to this day. Bush, who was the Rangers’ closer for part of last season, has recorded 10 major-league saves while posting an ERA of 3.16 and WHIP of 1.20 over 128 career appearances.
2005: Justin Upton, SS, Diamondbacks
While Upton is rarely mentioned alongside MLB’s so-called “superstars,” he’s quietly been one of the game’s most productive hitters for roughly a decade now. Perhaps it’s because he’s only been to the playoffs three times over a 12-year career and hasn’t been there since 2013, but Upton is a four-time All-Star, has posted an above-average OPS+ in all 10 of his full big-league seasons, and is on pace for his third straight 30-plus-homer campaign. Upton — who immediately converted to the outfield after being selected by the D-Backs — didn’t do his greatest damage until after he was dealt to the Braves, so it’s arguable that the selection didn’t do a ton to improve the Arizona franchise. But Upton has turned himself into arguably the league’s best left fielder and should be recognized as such.
2006: Luke Hochevar, RHP, Royals
In terms of odd players to be selected first overall — guys that weren’t necessarily failures but were just random, run-of-the-mill players that you wouldn’t have expected to be No. 1 overall selections — Hochevar is arguably the king of randomness. He was fast-tracked to the majors, making his debut in September of 2007 after appearing in just 31 minor-league games. Though he looked good during his major-league cameo that September, he struggled mightily while pitching out of the woeful Royals’ rotation from 2008-12, posting a 5.44 ERA and a 1.41 WHIP over 128 starts. Hochevar’s career finally took a turn in the right direction after he converted to the bullpen prior to the 2013 season, though. He became one of the majors’ most consistent relievers, posting a 2.96 ERA with an 81.5% left-on-base rate from 2013-16 (though he missed the entire 2014 season after having Tommy John surgery). Hochevar played a massive role out of the bullpen as the Royals won the World Series in 2015, throwing 10.2 scoreless innings spread over nine postseason appearances. Seeing as the big right-hander is now 34 years old and hasn’t pitched professionally since undergoing surgery to correct thoracic outlet syndrome late in the 2016 season, it seems quite possible that his career is finished. While he ideally would have pitched a few more years, he has a World Series ring and several years of very good performance out of the bullpen to his credit, which is nothing to be ashamed of.
2007: David Price, LHP, Devil Rays
Price’s career has taken somewhat of an embarrassing turn since he joined the Red Sox in 2016, whether it’s been his public dispute with Dennis Eckersley, his refusal to talk to reporters, his possibly Fortnite-induced carpal tunnel syndrome, or his inconsistency on the mound. But that shouldn’t affect the legacy that he developed over his first eight seasons, which were split between the Rays, Tigers, and Blue Jays. Over that span, Price was a five-time All-Star and helped the Rays to their first (and only) four postseason appearances in franchise history, while also helping Detroit and Toronto to the playoffs after being traded to both of those teams at the deadline. He led the AL in ERA in 2012 and 2015, and though he’s regressed a bit since he turned 30, he still has a very respectable 3.25 ERA and 1.15 WHIP for his career.
2008: Tim Beckham, SS, Rays
Beckham was the last in a string of four No. 1 overall picks by the Devil Rays/Rays franchise following its establishment, and while he hasn’t been a total disappointment, he hasn’t exactly lived up to the billing. Much like two of his predecessors as Rays first-overall picks, Josh Hamilton and the aforementioned Delmon Young, Beckham’s potential to do great things has been damaged by off-the-field occurrences (though it should be noted that his issues have been much more benign than Hamilton and Young’s). Though he began his professional career shortly after being drafted in 2008, he didn’t reach the majors until late in the 2013 season, and his development was stunted after he was suspended 50 games after testing positive for a “drug of abuse” in 2012. He didn’t play in the majors in 2014 after tearing an ACL during an offseason workout, and he shuttled between Triple-A and the majors in 2015 and 2016, creating a stir in ’16 when the team sent him home for the year after he didn’t hustle home from second base in a late-August game. Beckham got off to a hot start after winning the Rays’ starting shortstop job in 2017, and though he took a downward turn after he moved to second base following the acquisition of Adeiny Hechavarria in June, Beckham bounced back after being traded to the Orioles at the deadline, posting an .871 OPS the rest of the way. Now 28, Beckham has established himself as the Orioles’ starting third baseman (though he’s currently on the DL after undergoing core surgery last month), and while he’s unlikely to ever justify his status as a first-overall pick, he’s still got a few years of his prime remaining to carve out a lasting legacy for himself.
2009: Stephen Strasburg, RHP, Nationals
Strasburg’s performance has been overshadowed somewhat over the past several seasons due to that of his rotation mate, Max Scherzer — and perhaps that’s a good thing for the reserved 29-year-old right-hander. While Strasburg has generally been durable over the course of his nine-year career, injuries have unfortunately shaped a large chunk of the narrative surrounding his long-term legacy. He tore his UCL just 12 starts after making one of the most anticipated debuts in MLB history, and as he was coming off that injury in 2012, the Nationals made the decision to shut down Strasburg — then their clear ace — after he reached a pre-determined innings threshold. Despite the fact that that Nats team won 98 games, management stuck to its guns and shut him down. Without Strasburg, Washington was bounced in the NLDS, causing the young right-hander to (unfairly) receive some of the blame for his team’s postseason ineptitude. He gained additional scrutiny after missing the playoffs due to injury in 2016, and he stood to be criticized even more last October after he nearly missed an NLDS start due to illness. With that said, Strasburg has a stellar 3.08 ERA and 1.08 WHIP over 193 career starts, he’s a three-time All-Star, and he remains one of the majors’ most consistent starting pitchers nearly a decade after being taken first overall.
2010: Bryce Harper, OF, Nationals
Minimal explanation required here. Harper hasn’t been quite as good as advertised when Sports Illustrated anointed him the “LeBron James of baseball” in 2009, as his Nationals have yet to win a playoff series, and he’s arguably only the third-best player at his own position in the majors right now with Mookie Betts and Aaron Judge both tearing it up in right field. With that said, Harper is pretty clearly baseball’s most recognizable player and has reached the All-Star game five times while winning the 2012 NL Rookie of the Year Award and 2015 NL MVP. Harper, who posted an insane 198 OPS+ with 42 homers in 2015, has seven major-league seasons under his belt at the age of 25, and many still believe that he hasn’t yet reached his ceiling. He’s very likely to earn the largest contract in MLB history when he becomes a free agent following this season, and he has plenty of time left to craft a Hall of Fame legacy.
2011: Gerrit Cole, RHP, Pirates
Cole didn’t establish himself as one of the best starters in the major leagues during his time in Pittsburgh, but the Pirates certainly got plenty of value out of him after selecting him with the first-overall pick in 2011. The UCLA product reached the majors roughly two years and a week after being drafted and quickly assumed the ace role, helping to navigate the Pirates through their greatest period of success in the last 30 years. He excelled in two postseason starts as a rookie in 2013, and he peaked in 2015, posting a 2.60 ERA with a 1.09 WHIP while reaching his only All-Star game thus far and finishing fourth in Cy Young voting. While Cole has now been dealt to the Astros, the Pirates got back plenty of value for him that will help fuel their rebuild, and from Cole’s standpoint, he’s arguably still in the early part of his prime and has a chance to develop into one of the league’s most dominant starters for a team that looks like it will be a serious contender for at least the next several years.
2012: Carlos Correa, SS, Astros
While Correa’s not even the best player in his own middle infield, it’s very possible that he’ll end up having the most successful career of any player on this list. The Puerto Rican shortstop doesn’t even turn 24 years old until September, and yet he’s in the midst of his fourth full major-league season. He’s never had worse than a 124 OPS+ or 20 homers in a season (and is on pace to do better than those very good career-worsts this season), he won the 2015 AL Rookie of the Year Award, and he made the AL All-Star team and won his first World Series last year. While some believe his size will eventually force Correa — a very solid defensive shortstop to this point in his career — to move to third base, Baseball-Reference lists the player most similar to Correa through his age-22 season as Cal Ripken Jr., another guy who came up as a tall shortstop and eventually transitioned to the hot corner. That comparison places a lot of pressure on Correa, but it’s easy to envision the Astros shortstop enjoying a level of success similar to Ripken’s.
2013: Mark Appel, RHP, Astros
Since we’re still giving guys like Brady Aiken and Mickey Moniak the benefit of the doubt and leaving open the possibility that they could one day turn into impactful major-leaguers, Appel is the leader in the clubhouse in terms of ending up with the least successful career on this list. Appel had an encouraging start in the first few months after he was drafted, holding his own over eight starts in full-season Class A, but after Astros GM Jeff Luhnow instituted a “tandem starter” program throughout the minor-league system in which starters pitched every four days, Appel began to struggle mightily. While he showed occasional signs of encouragement as he moved up the minor-league ladder, it quickly became clear that Appel had some major command issues, and Houston dealt him to the Phillies as part of their trade for Ken Giles prior to the 2016 season. Appel continued to struggle from a statistical standpoint and never posted an ERA under 4.00 over a full season. He announced his decision to “step away” from the game last winter so that he could attend business school, and while he left open the door for an eventual return, it seems likely that he’ll be just the third No. 1 overall pick in MLB Draft history to never reach the major leagues.
2014: Brady Aiken, LHP, Astros
While several guys on this list haven’t worked out for the teams that drafted them, Aiken is unquestionably the worst selection on this list from a team standpoint due to the simple fact that he never signed with the Astros. Houston’s medical staff was concerned about Aiken’s physical after they found inflammation in his throwing elbow, and they reportedly reduced their signing-bonus offer from $6.5 million to $5 million. Aiken refused to accept that deal and chose to re-enter the draft in 2015; that proved to be a poor decision, as he underwent Tommy John surgery the next March and was selected by the Indians with the No. 17 overall pick in 2015. Fortunately for the Astros, their failure to sign Aiken resulted in them being awarded the No. 2 selection in the 2015 draft — a pick they used to select Alex Bregman, who reached the majors very quickly and aided them in winning their first-ever World Series last fall.
The 21-year-old Aiken, meanwhile, has been less than stellar in Cleveland’s system. Over 41 professional appearances (40 starts), Aiken has posted a 5.05 ERA and 1.73 WHIP while failing to advance beyond Class A. For unspecified reasons, he hasn’t yet pitched in a game this season.
2015: Dansby Swanson, SS, Diamondbacks
Swanson probably hasn’t been quite as good as many thought he’d be when he arrived in the majors back in 2016, but above all else he’s done the one thing that every team wants when it selects a college shortstop in the first round: get to the majors quickly and play solid defense. After dealing with the hassle of being traded from the D-Backs to the Braves before he played a full professional season, Swanson arrived in the majors roughly 14 months after being drafted and tore the cover off the ball through 38 major-league games in 2016, posting a .302/.361/.442 slash line with three homers in 145 plate appearances. He regressed significantly at the plate in 2017, hitting .232/.312/.324 with six homers and getting demoted to Triple-A for a midsummer tune-up, but he’s bounced back a bit this year, posting a .289/.336/.430 line with two homers over his first 122 plate appearances for the surging Braves. Swanson’s ceiling quite honestly isn’t nearly as high as those of some other No. 1 overall picks, and it seems extremely unlikely that he’ll ever be as productive as other young shortstops like Francisco Lindor, Carlos Correa, and Corey Seager, but he makes good contact, is becoming one of the league’s best defenders, and should fill the shortstop position in Atlanta for years to come.
2016: Mickey Moniak, OF, Phillies
Moniak just turned 20 years old, so it’s way too early to start making any serious judgements about him yet. With that said, he’s posted a disastrous .245/.290/.341 slash line with six homers over 855 professional plate appearances thus far. The Phillies have been bold with moving Moniak up the minor-league ladder, moving him up one level per season over his first three professional campaigns, but he has yet to show any signs of on-base skills or power and has not shown enough speed to be a Billy Hamilton-like threat at the major-league level. There are plenty of high-school center fielders who are slow to develop, and Moniak still has plenty of time to progress, but he’s got a lot of work ahead of him if he wants to justify his selection as a No. 1 overall pick.
2017: Royce Lewis, SS, Twins
Though it’d certainly be understandable if an 18-year-old like Lewis struggled to find his way after jumping all the way from high school to full-season pro ball, last year’s No. 1 overall pick has flourished thus far in his first full professional season. Over 117 plate appearances for Class A Cedar Rapids, Lewis has posted a .317/.376/.383 slash line with 12 stolen bases and a 92% stolen-base success rate. Lewis still lacks a long-term position — he’ll likely be blocked at shortstop and center field in Minnesota by Nick Gordon and Byron Buxton, respectively, so he may end up at second or a corner-outfield spot — while he also needs to develop more patience at the plate, and he could also very much stand to add more power — to a degree, that should happen naturally as he ages and bulks up. But he’s done a fantastic job of making contact so far after a massive jump up the ranks, and his future looks very bright.