The best the top of the MLB draft has had to offer

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As a little warmup for tonight’s MLB Draft coverage, here’s a quick look at the best players to come from the top 10 spots in previous drafts. I’m also noting who is picking in each spot tonight.

No. 1: Alex Rodriguez – 1993 Mariners (2015 Draft: Diamondbacks)

For the first 20 years of the MLB Draft’s existence, No. 1 overall picks were largely disappointing. The first ever in 1965 produced Rick Monday, and he was the best of the bunch until Harold Baines in 1977. It wasn’t until 1987 and Ken Griffey Jr. that a future Hall of Famer was picked first overall. He was followed by Chipper Jones in 1990 and, the best of the lot, Rodriguez in 1993.

No. 2: Reggie Jackson – 1966 Athletics (2015 Draft: Astros)

The first overall pick in the 1966 draft, taken by the Mets, was catcher Steve Chilcott. He was the only No. 1 overall pick not to reach the majors in the first 25 years of the draft (the Yankees’ Brien Taylor (1991) was the second). The A’s followed that pick up with Jackson, the lone Hall of Famer to go second overall. Justin Verlander has a chance to join him someday, as might Kris Bryant and Byron Buxton way down the line.

No. 3: Robin Yount – 1973 Brewers (2015 Draft: Rockies)

This one is a pick’em between a pair of Brewers stars; Paul Molitor was chosen in the very same spot four years after Yount. Both went on to become first-ballot Hall of Famers. The third overall pick has been a great spot for third basemen, but little else. That was Molitor’s primary position before he became a full-time DH, and Matt Williams, Troy Glaus, Evan Longoria and Manny Machado were also drafted here.

No. 4: Dave Winfield – 1973 Padres (2015 Draft: Rangers)

The No. 4 spot is home to two Hall of Famers, Winfield and Barry Larkin, plus a guy in Kevin Brown who finished with comparable numbers to some Hall of Famers. It’s also been home to a ton of disappointments; Ryan Zimmerman is the only impact player to come from this spot in the last 15 years, though the Orioles’ Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman could get there. 2014 first-round Kyle Schwarber is also awfully promising.

No. 5: Buster Posey – 2008 Giants (2015 Draft: Astros)

There aren’t any Hall of Famers here, though Dale Murphy has his backers and Dwight Gooden certainly had the talent. So, I’ll reach a little bit and anoint Posey the best of the bunch, even if that’s still a little premature. Gooden, Mark Teixeira, Murphy, J.D. Drew and Ryan Braun currently rank as the top five players by bWAR.

No. 6: Barry Bonds – 1985 Pirates (2015 Draft: Twins)

This was a no-doubter, even though the No. 6 spot also produced Derek Sanderson Jeter in 1992. The Yankees got more from their pick than the Pirates did, but that’s not really what I’m going by here.

No. 7: Frank Thomas – 1989 White Sox (2015 Draft: Red Sox)

This could eventually become Clayton Kershaw’s spot, but it goes to the first-ballot Hall of Famer for now. Picked ahead of Thomas in the 1989 draft were two guys who failed to make the majors (Jeff Jackson and Paul Coleman), two guys who might as well not have (Roger Salkeld and Donald Harris), a journeyman in Tyler Houston and No. 1 overall selection Ben McDonald.

No. 8: Todd Helton – 1995 Rockies (2015 Draft: White Sox)

This is the weakest spot in the top 10, with little beyond Helton to salvage it. Jay Bell (1984 Twins) rates as the second best No. 8 pick, and Jim Abbott (1988 Angels) is probably the third for now, though Mike Leake (2009 Reds) should eventually overtake him. The big hope here for the future is 2011 selection Francisco Lindor.

No. 9: Kevin Appier – 1987 Royals (2015 Draft: Cubs)

The No. 9 spot is without a single superstar, though the terribly underrated Appier was an excellent pitcher for a lot of bad Royals teams in his career. Barry Zito is the runner up here. Javier Baez might factor into the mix somewhere down the line.

No. 10: Mark McGwire – 1984 Athletics (2015 Draft: Phillies)

Again, there are no Hall of Famers here. McGwire, though, has the numbers, and Robin Ventura is an inner-circle Hall of Very Good guy. Plus, there’s Madison Bumgarner as a future possibility, not to mention two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum. Overall, 41 of 50 No. 10 picks have reached the majors, which is the most of any spot outside of the top three. In comparison, just 29 No. 5 picks and 30 No. 8 picks have reached the majors.

Nationals’ starting pitching carrying them into World Series

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In my postseason preview at the end of September, I listed the Nationals’ starting rotation as a strength and their bullpen as a weakness. Anyone who had followed the club this season could have told you that. Even the Nats are aware of it as manager Dave Martinez has leaned on his rotation to hide his sometimes unreliable ‘pen.

In Game 1 of the NLDS against the Dodgers, Martinez was burned by his bullpen as Tanner Rainey, Fernando Rodney, and Hunter Strickland combined to allow six base runners and four runs. Martinez used ace Max Scherzer in relief in Game 2, sandwiched by Sean Doolittle and Daniel Hudson. Starter Patrick Corbin pitched in relief in Game 3 and it backfired, but the bullpen after Corbin continued to allow more runs — three officially, but Wander Suero allowed two inherited runners to score on a three-run homer by Max Muncy. Martinez only had to rely on Doolittle and Hudson in Game 4 and he again went to Corbin in relief in Game 5.

The strategy was clear: use the actual bullpen as little as possible. If Martinez absolutely has to, Doolittle and Hudson get top priory by a country mile, followed by a starter, then the rest of the bullpen.

Thankfully for Martinez and the Nationals, the starting pitching has done yeoman’s work in the NLCS, jumping out to a three games to none series lead over the Cardinals. Aníbal Sánchez famously brought a no-hit bid into the eighth inning of Game 1, finally relenting a two-out single to José Martínez before his night was over. Doolittle got the final four outs in the 2-0 win. Max Scherzer flirted with a no-hitter in his Game 2 start as well, losing it when Paul Goldschmidt led off the seventh with a single. He was erased on an inning-ending double play. Doolittle, Corbin, and Hudson got the final six outs in the 3-1 victory.

It was more of the same in Game 3. While Stephen Strasburg didn’t flirt with a no-hitter, he was dominant over seven innings, yielding one unearned run on seven hits with no walks and 12 strikeouts. The Nats’ offense woke up, amassing eight runs through seven innings which allowed Martinez to give his main relief guys a night off. Rodney and Rainey each pitched a perfect inning of relief with two strikeouts in low-leverage situations, their first appearances in the NLCS.

The Nationals starting pitching has been outstanding by itself, but it has also had the secondary effect of allowing Martinez to hide his team’s biggest weakness. Now Martinez just has to hope for more of the same for one more game, then at least four more in the World Series.