Hindsight: Looking Back at Past MLB Drafts


The opening rounds of the 2016 MLB draft took place last night and with the 21st overall pick the Blue Jays selected 6-foot-7 RHP Zdeno Chara TJ Zeuch out of Pittsburgh.  As we all know by now the MLB draft is the ultimate crapshoot with so many early round picks flaming out and many late round picks turning into bargains.  The real verdict on Zeuch won’t be in for several years.  But with the benefit of hindsight we can easily go back and re-grade past drafts.  So to continue a 500 Level Fan tradition, let’s do just that.  To keep it simple I am using Baseball Reference’s WAR stat to rank all players.  It’s not perfect but it’s a nice, convenient stat.  So let’s take a look back at the 2011, 2006, and 2001 MLB drafts (5, 10, and 15 years ago). Armed with hindsight, which is always 20/20, we can see how the draft order might have changed knowing how careers played out.

Note – My re-ranked top-10 list doesn’t take into account things like signability issues, team needs, or draft strategy (i.e. high school vs. college). I simply re-ranked the drafted players based on career WAR (Note: Career WAR totals are as of June 10).

2011 Draft

It often takes several years for drafted players to reach the major leagues. Five years have passed since the ’11 draft, and while many of the drafted players are still young, one would expect the top talents to have found their way to the big leagues by now.

Here are the top-10 picks of the 2011 draft:

2011 Draft

Unlike the previous two years, where Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg were the top picks, there really wasn’t a consensus choice at the top.  Even so, the Pirates made a very nice choice in selecting Gerrit Cole.  He arrived in the big leagues in 2013 and emerged as a true ace last year with a 19-8 record, 2.60 ERA, and 202 strikeout season.  He made the All-Star team and finished 4th in Cy Young voting and 19th in MVP voting.  Anthony Rendon has been a solid, if inconsistent, player for Washington, and Francisco Lindor looks to be a star in the making.  The rest of the top-10 however?  The jury is still out.  The four B’s (Bundy, Bauer, Bradley, and Baez) are all on major league rosters but enjoying varying degrees of success.  Hultzen has put up good numbers in the minors but missed all of 2014 and is currently out for 2016 with injury.  Starling has yet to play above AA and is currently under the Mendoza line in the Texas League.  They are getting perilously close to being considered busts.

This is what the the top-10 looks like with the magic of hindsight, based on career WAR:

2011 Redux

There are a lot of terrific players on that list, including some later round talents that prove the fact that future MLB regulars exist after round one.  Jose Fernandez, Mookie Betts, George Springer, and Jackie Bradley all might be All-Stars in 2016.  Cody Allen has emerged as a solid closer for the Indians and of course Pillar is one of baseball’s best defensive outfielders (even if he steadfastly refuses to take walks!).

Blue Jay Focus

The 2011 draft was Toronto’s second under Alex Anthopoulos, and aside from Pillar will go down as a bit of a bust on the surface.  However many of the prospects were used in trades to acquire big league players so the story isn’t all bad.  Musgrove and Comer were sent to Houston in the Happ trade (who was in turn traded for Michael Saunders).  DeSclafani was sent to Miami in the huge Jose Reyes trade, and of course Daniel Norris was used in the package to acquire David Price last season.  Toronto failed to sign top choice Tyler Beede (now in the Giants system), and Aaron Nola who looks like a future star in Philadelphia (Nola chose to pursue a collegiate career before turning pro).

First Round Picks: Tyler Beede (21st overall), Jacob Anderson (35th overall), Joseph Musgrove (46th overall), Dwight Smith (53rd overall), Kevin Comer (57th overall) – none have made the major leagues

Total Number of Picks: 55

Number of Players to Reach the Majors: 6

– Daniel Norris – traded to Detroit for David Price in 2015, currently in AAA (74th overall), WAR of 0.5

– Anthony DeSclafani – traded to Miami in the Jose Reyes deal in 2012, currently with Cincinnati (199th), WAR of 1.0

– Andy Burns (349th) – WAR of 0.1

– Aaron Nola – did not sign, now with Philadelphia (679th), WAR of 3.6

– David Rollins – traded to Houston in the J.A. Happ deal in 2012, now in AAA in Seattle’s organization (739th), WAR of -0.6

– Kevin Pillar (979th) – WAR of 7.6

Total WAR = 12.2

2006 Draft

The 2006 draft produced a few All-Stars, including one of the greatest pitchers of all time, but was otherwise underwhelming.  In fact the career WAR of the top-10 players selected in 2011 has nearly caught up to those drafted in ’06.

Here are the top-10 picks of the 2006 draft:

2006 Draft

Pick number seven: the one that got away from KC, Colorado, Tampa, Pittsburgh, Seattle, and Detroit.  Clayton Kershaw has emerged into not only one of the best pitchers in baseball today, but as one of the best to ever play.  He has three Cy Young awards (and two other top-3 finishes), and currently leads baseball with a 1.46 ERA and an absolutely staggering K/BB ratio of 18.17 (109 K’s, 6 BB).  Evan Longoria is still playing at a high level for the Rays, Tim Lincecum won a few Cy Young awards and World Series with the Giants, and Andrew Miller has developed into a dynamite reliever in New York, but the rest of the first round is full of busts and disappointments.  Both Lincoln and Morrow had stops in Toronto that did little to shake that verdict.

With the magic of hindsight, here is a re-ranked version of the 2006 draft, based on career WAR:

2006 Redux

As you can see, underwhelming.  Add Max Scherzer to the list of studs, but that’s about it.  Chris Davis and Daniel Murphy have had great seasons, but there is little else to suggest that 2006 was a great draft.

Blue Jay Focus

The 2006 draft was completed under the guidance of J.P. Ricciardi, and to be blunt, it was terrible.  Everybody had such high hopes for Travis Snider, but he failed to deliver – in Toronto and elsewhere.  The rest of the picks?  Yikes.

First Round Pick: Travis Snider (14th overall) – Career WAR: 4.6

Total Number of Picks: 48

Number of Players to Reach the Majors: 5

– Travis Snider – now in the AAA with Kansas City (14th), WAR of 4.6

– Cole Figueroa – now with Pittsburgh (270th), WAR of -0.2

– Jonathan Diaz (360th) – WAR of -0.3

– Brad Mills – now in AAA with Seattle (660th), WAR of -1.5

– Graham Godfrey – out of baseball (1020th), WAR of -0.5

Total WAR = 2.1

2001 Draft

Similar to the 2006 draft, the 2001 draft featured a few borderline Hall-of-Famers and then a bunch of decent but not great players.

Here are the top-10 picks of the 2001 draft:

2001 Draft

A classic case of “what-if”.  Joe Mauer was a force for several years, even winning an MVP, but is clearly in his decline years.  But Mark Prior – he could have been huge.  He put up an absolutely incredible 2003 campaign (18-6, 2.43 ERA, 245 strikeouts), but overuse caused him to burn out early and he was out of baseball by 2006.  Gavin Floyd was always a solid pitcher – good but not great – and remains such as a member of Toronto’s bullpen.  The rest of the top-10?  Oh boy.  Three players put up negative career WARs, and three never even made the big leagues.  Do over?

Here is a re-ranked version of the 2001 draft, based on career WAR:

2001 Redux

David Wright was one of the best players in baseball until his health got in the way, and Haren, Youkilis, and Hardy all made All-Star teams, but the rest of the best from ’01 doesn’t exactly scream out “success”.

Blue Jay Focus

2001 was the final draft for Gord Ash and it left a lot to be desired.  Nobody developed into a star major leaguer, and only a few even contributed.

First Round Pick: Gabe Gross (15th overall) – Career WAR: 4.7

Total Number of Picks: 50

Number of Players to Reach the Majors: 7

– Gabe Gross – now out of baseball (15th), WAR of 4.7

– Brandon League – now out of baseball (59th), WAR of 2.6

– Tyrell Godwin – now out of baseball (91st), WAR of -0.1

– Mike Rouse – now out of baseball (151st), WAR of -0.5

– Jeff Fiorentino – now out of baseball (631st), WAR of 0.7

– Dave Gassner – now out of baseball (721st) – WAR of -0.2

– Sean Barker – now out of baseball (1370th) – WAR of 0.0

Total WAR = 7.2

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