Unlike the NFL, the names you hear called at the MLB Draft will not reach the sport's highest level for a few years. But like any sport, the draft is the best way for an organization to set itself up for sustained success. With the draft serving as the backdrop, let's look at the best first-round pick in the history of each Major League team.
The New York Yankees have obviously enjoyed a ton of success throughout their history and have hit on several first-round picks, but taking shortstop Derek Jeter 6th overall in 1992 takes the cake. He'd go on to play 20 seasons in the Bronx and was the linchpin behind five New York World Series championships. He won AL Rookie of the Year in 1996, won five Gold Gloves, and five Silver Sluggers, and was selected to 14 all-star games. Jeter was named the Yankees captain in 2003, his number 2 is retired by the organization, and he's the only first-round pick from his draft class in the Hall of Fame.
The Red Sox top first-round selection could have easily been right-hander Roger Clemens who won three Cy Young awards in Boston, but I'm partial to outfielder Jim Rice, who spent his entire 20-year career as an important piece of the team's everyday line-up. The Anderson, SC native was chosen by the Red Sox with the 15th pick in the 1971 draft, and would go on to put together one of the best resumes in the franchise's illustrious history. In 2,089 games with the club he slashed .298/.352/.502 with 834 extra-base hits and 1,451 RBI. He led the American League in homers three times and RBI twice, was the AL MVP in 1978, and qualified for eight all-star games. Boston retired his number 14 in 2009, the same year he was voted into the Hall of Fame.
I know what you're thinking. Adley Rutschman, is the Orioles best first-round pick? And yes, Hall of Famer starter Mike Mussina, and third baseman Manny Machado could both have gotten this nod. But I'm buying heavily into the future of Rutschman who has all the tools to be the best catcher in baseball if he's not already. The Oregon State product is already an offensive force with more than 70 career extra-base hits while playing a position that generally sees legitimate production with the bat come later on. He's become a leader on an upstart Orioles team, handles their pitching staff incredibly well, and has the 'it factor' this team has been missing for a longtime. Catcher is the most difficult position on the diamond to develop a bona fide superstar, and in a few years I don't feel like having Rutschman on this list will be all that surprising.
The 1995 MLB draft featured several first-round picks that became Major League all-stars, but the only one currently in the Hall of Fame is the late Roy Halladay, who is easily the best first-rounder in the history of the Blue Jays franchise. The righty spent the first 12 seasons of his career in Toronto, and for most of that time was arguably the best pitcher in the American League. Halladay was named the AL Cy Young winner in 2003, led the league in innings three times, and in an era that became much more bullpen heavy, paced the junior circuit in complete games in five different seasons. Toronto made the difficult decision to trade him to the Phillies ahead of the '10 campaign, and while he was only there for four seasons, today he is remembered as a legend in both of the cities he pitched in.
Third baseman Evan Longoria is easily the most accomplished player in the history of the Tampa Bay Rays franchise, and selecting him with the 3rd overall pick in the 2006 draft was one of the best decisions the organization ever made. In the decade he played for Tampa Bay, Longoria slashed .270/.341/.483 with 261 homers, 892 RBI, and 338 doubles. He was the AL Rookie of the Year in '08, played in three all-star games and earned three Gold Gloves, and is the team's all-time leader in most offensive categories.
Outfielder Manny Ramirez was not just one of the most prolific right-handed run producers of his era, he was also unquestionably the most entertaining. Originally selected 13th overall in the 1991 draft by the Indians, Ramirez would go on to enjoy a highly productive nearly two-decade career in the Major Leagues. In 967 games with Cleveland he slashed .313/.407/.592 with 236 homers, 804 RBI, and 237 doubles. He wore an Indians cap in four all-star games, won three Silver Sluggers, and in 1999 led the Majors with 165 RBI.
When the White Sox took first baseman Frank Thomas with the 7th overall pick in the 1989 draft, they almost certainly did not know at the time that the big right-handed slugger would eventually go on to be the face of their franchise for 16 years. Thomas was simply one of the best hitters of his era, seemingly from the moment he debuted as a 22-year-old rookie in 1990. In 1,959 games in a Chicago uniform, 'The Big Hurt' slashed .307/.427/.568 with 448 home runs, 1,465 RBI, and 447 doubles. He won back-to-back American League MVP awards in 1993 and 1994, won the batting title in '97, and was selected to represent the club in five all-star games. Chicago retired his number 35 in 2010, and he was voted into Cooperstown four years later.
In terms of perfect fits between an organization and a top draft pick, it's hard to find a more apropos example than the Twins and Joe Mauer. Minnesota selected the hometown kid from St. Paul first overall in 2001, and now, over two decade later, it's fair to call him the most accomplished player in the organization's history. In 15 seasons with the Twins, Mauer slashed .306/.388/.439 with 143 home runs, 923 RBI, and 428 doubles. He won three batting titles, played in six all-star games, won three Gold Gloves, and took home five Silver Sluggers. Most impressively, he was named the American League MVP in 2009, and as soon as he retired in 2018 the Twins retired his number 7.
Even in his 40s, Justin Verlander is still one of the top starting pitchers in baseball, which just serves as further evidence for what a good choice the Tigers made when they took the Old Dominion product 2nd overall back in 2004. Verlander ended up spending the first 13 seasons of his career in Detroit, and for much of that time very few American League hurlers were better. In 380 starts for the Tigers he went 183-114 with a 3.49 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP. He led the league in strikeouts four times, innings three times, won an ERA title, a Cy Young, an MVP, and was the 2006 AL Rookie of the Year. When the Tigers dealt their ace to Houston in August of 2017 it was a bittersweet day for the organization. As for Verlander, he's thrived late in his career, earning two more Cy Young awards and helping Houston capture a pair of World Series championships.
The best first-round pick in Royals history could have gone a couple different directions. A strong case could've been made for both Zack Greinke and Willie Wilson, but I'm personally going to give the distinction to left-handed swinging Alex Gordon. Kansas City chose him 2nd overall coming out of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and he'd end up playing his entire 14-year Major League career for the organization. In 1,753 times he took the field in a Royals uniform, Gordon slashed .257/.338/.410 with 190 homers, 749 RBI, 357 doubles, and 113 stolen bases. He represented the club in three all-star games, won eight Gold Gloves--including a Platinum one--and was a member of the 2015 Kansas City team that defeated the Mets in the World Series.
In a lot of ways, the Los Angeles Angels kind of lucked into the best first-round pick in their franchise's history, because with the benefit of hindsight it's pretty unfathomable that outfielder Mike Trout was even still available at number 25 overall in 2009. The Millville, NJ native made his Major League debut two years later, and for the last decade-plus has been the best player in the sport. In 1,488 career games to date, Trout owns a .301/.412/.582 lifetime slash line with 368 homers, 940 RBI, 310 doubles, 52 triples, and 206 stolen bases. He's won three American League MVP awards, was the Rookie of the Year in 2012, was selected to participate in 10 all-star games, and has won nine Silver Sluggers.
The first round of the 1987 MLB draft produced several all-stars and a pair of future Hall of Famers--Ken Griffey Jr. and Craig Biggio. Looking back, the Astros were rather fortunate the later was still available with the 22nd pick. In 20 seasons with Houston the Seton Hall product slashed an impressive .281/.363/.433 with 1,014 extra-base hits, 1,175 RBI, and 414 stolen bases. He qualified for seven all-star teams, won four Gold Gloves and five Silver Sluggers, and led the league in doubles three times. Houston retired his number 7 in 2008, and he was inducted into the Hall of Fame seven years later.
The Athletics entry on this list could have easily been outfielder Reggie Jackson, but I'm putting the club's first-round pick from 1984 draft, first baseman Mark McGwire, ahead of him by an eyelash. Long before he got to St. Louis and was involved with the incredible home run chase in the late '90s, McGwire played a dozen years by the Bay as one of the most prolific two-way players in the sport. With the A's, he slashed .260/.380/.551 with 363 homers, 941 RBI, and 195 doubles. He was the AL Rookie of the Year in 1987 when he led the league in long balls, qualified for nine all-star teams, won a pair of Silver Sluggers and a Gold Glove, and was an important piece of Oakland's 1989 World Series winning team.
The Mariners were the hardest team of all to come up with the answer to this question, because quite frankly, you cannot go wrong with either Ken Griffey Jr. or Alex Rodriguez. In the end, though, I had to go with Griffey, whose impact in the Pacific Northwest continues to have staying power. In 13 seasons with Seattle he slashed an excellent .292/.374/.553 with 417 home runs, 1,216 RBI, 341 doubles, 30 triples, and 167 stolen bases. Griffey wore an M's cap in 10 all-star games, was the AL MVP in 1997, earned seven Silver Sluggers, and took home 10 Gold Gloves. He was an easy selection to Cooperstown in 2016 and to this day remains as popular a sports figure in Seattle as anyone.
I'm sure the Rangers would love if their young rising star third baseman Josh Jung eventually held this distinction, but for now at least, their best first-round pick is first baseman Mark Teixeira, whom they selected 5th overall in 2001. The Annapolis, MD native ended up playing only four and a half seasons in Arlington before being moved to Atlanta in a deadline deal in 2007, but he still made quite an impact in the Lone Star State. With the Rangers he slashed .283/.368/.533 with 153 homers, 499 RBI, and 185 doubles, while making the all-star team in 2005 and earning a pair of Gold Gloves. The trade with the Braves netted Texas four prospects, and all of them--Elvis Andrus, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Neftali Feliz, and Matt Harrison ended up having solid Rangers tenures.
Both Darryl Strawberry and Dwight 'Doc' Gooden had strong cases to be the Mets best first-round selection, but both members of the 1986 Mets championship team held themselves back from even brighter careers. That was not the case with third baseman David Wright, who had he not ended up with spinal stenosis was on a Hall of Fame trajectory. In 1,585 games with New York, Wright slashed .296/.376/.491 with 242 home runs, 970 RBI, 390 doubles, 26 triples, and 196 stolen bases. He drove in over 100 runs for the Mets five times, participated in seven all-star games, and won two Gold Gloves and two Silver Sluggers.
Back in 1990, the Braves made switch-hitting Chipper Jones the first overall pick in the draft coming out of a high school in Jacksonville, FL area, and in short order he'd go on to become a franchise icon one state to the north. Jones spent his entire 19-year career in Atlanta, slashing .303/.401/.529 with 468 homers, 1,623 RBI, 549 doubles, and 150 steals. He was the National League MVP in 1999, won the batting title in 2008, played in eight all-star games, captured a pair of Silver Sluggers, and most importantly helped the club win the World Series in 1995. Atlanta retired his number 10 in 2013 and he was inducted into the Hall of Fame five years later. Even today, over a decade since his retirement, Jones remains as popular a player with this fan base as anyone to ever wear the Braves uniform.
Philadelphia's top first-round pick was not entirely cut and dry, Both Cole Hamels and Pat Burrell had an argument, but in the end, I'm giving the nod to second baseman Chase Utley. The UCLA star went 15th overall in the 2000 draft, and while he grew up in southern California, he soon became a standout player on the opposite side of the country. In 13 seasons in the City of Brotherly Love, Utley slashed .282/.366/.481 with 233 long balls, 916 RBI, 346 doubles, 49 triples, and 142 stolen bases. He represented Philly in six all-star games, won four Silver Sluggers, and was one of the primary reasons the Phillies won the World Series in 2008.
If not for his incredibly unfortunate tragedy nearly seven years ago, this answer would almost certainly have been right-hander Jose Fernandez. A case could also have been made for backstop Charles Johnson. But in the end, the Miami first-round pick that ultimately ended up impacting the franchise the most was probably Spring, TX native, Josh Beckett. The Marlins selected the righty 2nd overall in 1999, and while he only ended up spending five years with the team, he sure left his mark. In 106 outings for Miami, Beckett went 41-34 with a 3.46 ERA and a 1.24 WHIP. Those numbers don't exactly jump off the page, but he's remembered fondly in South Florida for what he did in October. During the Marlins improbable run to a World Series title in 2003 he pitched to a 2.11 ERA in 42.2 postseason innings, and was named the MVP of the Fall Classic.
The Nationals have hit on some pretty big-name first-round picks in a relatively short amount of time, and while Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg were legitimate stars in D.C., the guy who made the most lasting impact was the team's first-ever draft pick, Ryan Zimmerman. The Nats selected the third baseman 4th overall in 2005 and he'd go on to play his whole career with the club, slashing .277/.341/.475 in 1,799 games. He added 284 home runs, 1,061 RBI, and 417 doubles, made two all-star teams, and won two Silver Sluggers, and even earned a Gold Glove. Late in his career, he was rewarded for his faith in the organization and was able to get a World Series ring as a member of Washington's 2019 championship squad.
The Cardinals made catcher Ted Simmons the 10th overall pick in the 1967 draft, and he'd go on to enjoy a highly successful career with the Redbirds for over a dozen years. In 1,564 games in a St. Louis uniform, the switch-hitter slashed .285/.348/.437 with 248 homers, 1,389 RBI, and 483 doubles. He was selected to represent the team in the all-star game six times and earned a Silver Slugger award in 1980. Simmons was voted into the Hall of Fame by the Veteran's Committee in 2020.
The Cubs selected third baseman Kris Bryant with the 2nd overall pick in the 2013 draft coming out of the University of San Diego, and it didn't take long for him to establish himself as a fan favorite in the Windy City. Bryant crushed 26 homers and drove in 99 runs in 2015 en route to being named the NL Rookie of the Year. The following season he cleared the fence 39 times and led the league in runs scored, while earning NL MVP honors and helping the Cubs snap a historic championship drought. The Las Vegas, NV native would end up spending the first six and a half seasons of his career in Chicago, and he represented the Cubs in four all-star games before being traded to the Giants at the deadline in 2021. He then secured a lucrative free-agent contract with Colorado ahead of the '22 campaign.
The Pirates have had a lot of success with their high draft picks in relatively recent history, and while both Gerrit Cole and Neil Walker were productive and successful Major Leaguers in Steel City, I think outfielder Andrew McCutchen stands alone for this distinction. The Fort Meade, FL native was chosen by Pittsburgh with the 11th overall pick in the '05 draft, and while it took him four years to reach the big leagues, he was essentially an immediate star when he did. McCutchen was selected to five consecutive National League all-star teams from '11-'15, was named the NL MVP in 2013, and won four Silver Sluggers and a Gold Glove. The Bucs traded their star to the Giants ahead of the '18 campaign and he then bounced around to the Yankees, Phillies, and Brewers, before returning to Pittsburgh this winter in one of the really cool stories of the 2023 season.
Robin Yount is the best player to ever don a Milwaukee Brewers uniform, and is perhaps the easiest selection for a team's best first-round pick as anyone on this list. The Brewers took the Danville, IL native 3rd overall in 1973, and he was in the big leagues just a year later. Yount played his entire 20-year career in Milwaukee, slashing .285/.342/.430 with 251 home runs, 1,406 RBI, 583 doubles, 126 triples, and 271 stolen bases. He was named the MVP of the National League in both 1982 and 1989, made three all-star teams, won three Silver Sluggers, and even captured a Gold Glove. Yount's number 19 was retired by the Brewers in 1194 and he was ushered into Cooperstown in 1999.
The Reds chose shortstop Barry Larkin in the 2nd round of the 1982 draft but he didn't sign, instead opting to go to college at the University of Michigan. Ironically, when he reentered the draft three years later, it was again the Reds that chose him, this time 4th overall, and the rest is history. The Cincinnati native played for his hometown team for all 19 of his Major League seasons, slashing .295/.371/.444 with 715 extra-base hits, 960 RBI, and 379 stolen bases. He was chosen to represent the Reds in a dozen all-star games, won three Gold Glove awards, earned nine Silver Sluggers, and was named the MVP of the National League in 1995. Most importantly, Larkin helped Cincinnati win the World Series in 1990, and he'll forever be considered a legend in his home city. The Reds retired his number 11 in 2012, and he was inducted into the Hall of Fame the same year.
The Dodgers drafted left-hander Clayton Kershaw 7th overall in the 2006 draft, and 17 years later the club continues to reap the benefits. Kershaw is arguably the greatest starting pitcher of his era, and the resume he's put together will make him a shoo-in for Cooperstown when he's eligible. The Dallas, TX native has won three Cy Young awards, five ERA titles, and was even the rare starting pitcher to be named the league's MVP. He's led the league in strikeouts three times, won a pitching Triple Crown, has earned a Gold Glove, and participated in nine all-star games. Kershaw helped the Dodgers win the World Series in 2020, and even this season, at 35-years-old, he's pitched to a 2.55 ERA in his first 16 starts and currently leads the National League with 10 wins.
Buster Posey had significant competition for this spot on the list from both Will Clark and his longtime battery mate, Madison Bumgarner, but in the end the longtime San Francisco backstop gets the nod. In his 12 seasons with the Giants Posey earned just about every accolade available. He was the NL Rookie of the Year in 2010, won the MVP award in '12, won a batting title, a Gold Glove, five Silver Sluggers, and was selected to represent the senior circuit in seven all-star game contests. Most importantly, he was a huge part of three San Francisco World Series winning teams, and it's safe to say he'll never have to buy a beer in the Bay Area again.
Right-handed slugger Dave Winfield was selected 4th overall by the Padres in the 1973 draft coming out of the University of Minnesota, and he'd quickly go on to become a integral piece of San Diego's offensive attack for nearly a decade. In 1,117 games with the Friars, Winfield slashed .284/.357/.464 with 154 home runs, 626 RBI, 179 doubles, 39 triples, and 133 stolen bases. He represented the Padres in four consecutive all-star games from '77-'80, won a pair of Gold Gloves, and led the National League with 118 RBI in 1979. Winfield would go on to play for five other Major League teams, and ultimately landed in Cooperstown in 2001.
When the Rockies turned in the card to draft first baseman Todd Helton with the 8th overall pick in 1995, I'm sure they didn't realize at the time that they were selecting arguably the franchise's most iconic player. The University of Tennessee product would go on to play 17 seasons in Denver, and firmly establish himself as the most accomplished player in franchise history. In 2,247 games with the Rockies, Helton slashed a tremendous .316/.414/.539 with 369 home runs, 1,406 RBI, and 592 doubles. In 2000 he led the league in hits, doubles, RBI, and won the batting title, while qualifying for the first of five consecutive all-star game appearances. Helton earned three career Gold Glove awards and four Silver Sluggers, and the Rockies retired his number 17 in August of 2014.
The Arizona Diamondbacks held the first overall pick in 2005, and with it they had their sights set on selecting a franchise stalwart. Norfolk, VA born outfielder Justin Upton was the guy they settled on, and while he never emerged into a iconic star in Phoenix, that's not to say he didn't enjoy success. In 731 games with the Diamondbacks, Upton slashed .278/.357/.475 with 283 extra-base hits, 363 RBI, and 80 stolen bases. He was chosen to represent the team in a pair of all-star games, and earned a Silver Slugger in 2011.