Draft decade: Each team’s top-ranked pick

Detroit Tigers

The Draft, obviously, is all about projection. All 30 teams’ scouting staffs scour the country evaluating the best amateur talent available each year, trying to decipher who will turn into the game’s next stars. 

It is a huge understatement to call it an inexact science. Over the years, we’ve tried to encapsulate what the scouting industry is thinking about each Draft class when we put out our Draft prospect rankings. Just like with the newly minted Draft Top 150 we launched, this isn’t a guess as to who will go where, but as thorough a vetting of the ranking of a class’ talent as we can muster. 

Every team’s rankings are different and we’re not cocky enough to believe that teams simply print out our Top 200 and line up their Drafts accordingly (We don’t, for instance, consider signability in our rankings). But suffice it to say, each team hopes to get the best talent possible each year, especially at the top. Looking at Drafts over the last 10 years (2011-20), we’ve highlighted the highest-ranked selection for each team in that decade.

Blue Jays, Austin Martin, SS/OF (No. 2, 2020)
Martin stood out for a tremendous overall hit tool, good speed and defensive versatility during all three of his years at Vanderbilt but fell all the way to the fifth spot in last year’s Draft. The Jays have made shortstop his priority position thus far and have high hopes for how his bat will carry him toward Toronto. Martin opens his first full season as MLB Pipeline’s No. 19 overall prospect.

Orioles: Adley Rutschman, C (No. 1, 2019)
It was a no-brainer to rank Rutschman No. 1 heading into the 2019 Draft (though Bobby Witt Jr. could’ve been in the top spot in many other years) just as much as it was a relatively easy choice for the O’s to take him No. 1 overall. It’s crazy to think he’s barely been able to play pro ball, but it shouldn’t take him too long to get up to Baltimore and become the face of the franchise.

Rays: Brendan McKay, LHP (No. 2, 2017)
McKay was arguably the best college player in the country in 2017 as a two-way star at Louisville. After all, he hit .341 with 18 homers and a 1.116 OPS over 276 plate appearances and also posted a 2.56 ERA with 146 strikeouts in 109 innings. Perhaps it was fate, then, that brought him to the Rays – an organization known to value versatility – at the fourth overall pick that year. McKay made the Majors as a pitcher in 2019 but missed last season with shoulder issues. He is currently rehabbing at the Minor League complex, where he is still getting in work as a hitter thus preserving his two-way potential.

Red Sox: Jay Groome, LHP (No. 1, 2016)
The Red Sox landed MLB Pipeline’s top-rated prospect with the No. 12 pick after Groome slid amid major concerns about his signability and makeup. He has stayed out of trouble after signing for $3.65 million, still a franchise record for a drafted pitcher, but has pitched just 66 innings in five years as a pro, in large part because of Tommy John surgery in May 2018. Boston still has high hopes for him, and he worked with a 92-96 mph fastball and power curveball at its alternate training site last summer.

Yankees: Blake Rutherford, OF (No. 8, 2016)
Rutherford began 2016 as the top-ranked high school position prospect and dropped to the Yankees at No. 18 because of worries about his signability and age (19 years, one month on Draft day). He batted .351/.451/.570 in his pro debut, but hasn’t approached those numbers since or gotten past Double-A in the White Sox system, where he wound up as part of a package for Todd Frazier, Tommy Kahnle and David Robertson in July 2017.

Indians: Clint Frazier, OF (No. 4, 2013)
The top-rated high schooler in the 2013 Draft, Frazier was a product of Logansville, Ga., which also featured the No. 2 prep prospect (at a rival school) in Austin Meadows. The Indians drafted Frazier fifth overall and dealt him three years later to the Yankees as part of a trade for Andrew Miller. He finally grabbed a regular role in New York last season and has hit .252/.326/.457 with 24 homers in 175 big league games.

Royals: Brady Singer, RHP (No. 2, 2018)/Bobby Witt Jr., SS (No. 2, 2019)
The Royals picked 18th overall in 2018 and second in 2019, yet ended up with players with the same MLB Pipeline rankings both years. Singer entered his Draft year as a potential 1-1 candidate but saw his stuff drop off enough as a Florida junior to scare off some clubs. Instead, he became the headliner of Royals class in which the first four picks were all college pitchers. Witt was much more of a no-doubter as a five-tool shortstop coming out of a Texas high school. Despite his age and inexperience, Witt has shown the Royals enough that he could join Singer in the Majors at some point in 2021.

Tigers: Casey Mize, RHP (No. 1, 2018)/Spencer Torkelson, 3B (No. 1, 2020)
The Tigers drafted first overall in 2018 for the first time since 1997, only to do it again two years later. They took chalk both times. Mize showed three plus pitches, including a splitter that earned 70 grades, during his time at Auburn and instantly became the face of Detroit’s rebuild in 2018. His arrival in the Majors last year signaled what could be the organization’s turning the corner on that rebuild strategy. Torkelson is now at the head of the farm system as a right-handed slugger with plus-plus power and a hit tool that stands as a 60 on its own.

Twins: Byron Buxton, OF (No. 1, 2012)
Buxton was in the mix to go No. 1 overall, but the Astros loved Carlos Correa and saved money to boot, leaving Buxton, our top-ranked talent, to go No. 2 to the Twins. The multi-tooled center fielder then spent several years atop our Top 100 Prospects list, with injuries getting in the way of his ascension to stardom, but we might be there now.

White Sox: Carlos Rodón, LHP (No. 2, 2014)
The White Sox were delighted to get Rodón, at that point the best college lefty since David Price, with the third overall choice after he entered the year as the slam-dunk favorite to go No. 1. He joined Chicago’s rotation nine months after signing but got derailed by shoulder and elbow injuries. Non-tendered by the Sox last December, he re-signed in January and is off to a spectacular start in 2021, highlighted by a no-hitter against the Indians.

A’s: A.J. Puk, LHP (No. 4, 2016)
It’s been tough for Puk to stay healthy enough to make a real impact on Oakland’s big league staff, but just like now, there was no questioning the big southpaw’s stuff when he was coming out of the University of Florida in 2016. He was the top college arm in our rankings and the only one in our top 10, but has only managed 11 big league games because of Tommy John surgery and shoulder issues.

Angels: Reid Detmers, LHP (No. 8, 2020)
Detmers was the second-highest ranked lefty in the Class of 2020, and the third-highest college arm overall. The Louisville southpaw went No. 10 overall last June and while he’s yet to throw an official professional pitch, his polish and feel for pitching stood out at the Angels’ alternate training site last summer, as well as at Spring Training this year.

Astros: Mark Appel, RHP (No. 1, 2013)/Brady Aiken, LHP (No. 1, 2014)
The Astros used the top selections in 2013 and 2014 on the consensus highest-rated prospects, yet Appel and Aiken have turned out to be two of the worst No. 1 overall picks ever. Neither has pitched in the Majors and the odds are against them getting there, though they did wind up providing some value to Houston. Appel was part of a December 2015 trade for Ken Giles, the closer on the Astros’ 2017 World Series title team. Aiken didn’t sign after a post-Draft physical raised concerns about his elbow, and the compensation choice Houston received in exchange turned into Alex Bregman.

Mariners: Kyle Lewis, OF (No. 3, 2016)/Danny Hultzen (No. 3, 2011)
One hit, though it took a while, and one miss. Lewis was in consideration for the No. 1 overall pick as the top-ranked position player in 2016 and the Mariners were thrilled to get him at No. 11 overall. That early knee injury set him back, but he showed what he’s capable of when he took home American League Rookie of the Year honors last season. Seattle thought Hultzen, an advanced college lefty, would be quick to the big leagues and settle in behind Félix Hernández atop their rotation, but injuries kept him from reaching his potential. To his credit, he toiled away for years to finally make his Major League debut in a relief role with the Cubs in 2019 and is now working in Chicago’s front office.

Rangers: Dillon Tate, RHP (No. 5, 2015)
Tate rode a fastball that topped out at 98 mph and a slider that peaked at 89 to the No. 4 overall pick, though he has rarely shown that kind of stuff in pro ball. The Rangers soured on him quickly and sent him to the Yankees in a trade for Carlos Beltrán 13 months after signing him, and he bounced to the Orioles in a deal for Zack Britton two years later. He has been part of Baltimore’s bullpen since 2019 but has had trouble staying healthy.

Braves: Kyle Wright, RHP (No. 3, 2017)
Wright was the second college pitcher in our 2017 rankings, behind Louisville’s Brendan McKay. They went in that order, with McKay going to the Rays at No. 4 and Wright going one pick later to the Braves. He was in the big leagues a little over a year later, but has struggled to establish himself. It looked like he might be turning a corner late last year, but did not earn a spot in the rotation to begin the 2021 season, though he was called upon to fill in for an injured Drew Smyly.

Marlins: Tyler Kolek, RHP (No. 3, 2014)
Kolek matched the highest selection ever for a high school right-hander by going No. 2 overall, then quickly became a testament to the fact that velocity isn’t everything. Famous for repeatedly reaching 100 mph with his fastball as a prepster, he battled the strike zone for two years before having Tommy John surgery in April 2016 and pitching just 33 more innings while topping out in high Class A afterward.

Mets: Jarred Kelenic, OF (No. 10, 2018)
Look away, Mets fans. Kelenic became the highest Wisconsin high schooler ever drafted when New York swooped for him at No. 6, four spots ahead of his place in the MLB Pipeline rankings. Despite coming from a cold-weather state, the outfielder showed promising hit, run and arm tools on the showcase circuits, vaulting him up Draft boards. You know what came next. After one brief season in the Mets system, Kelenic was traded to the Mariners in the deal involving Robinson Canó and Edwin Díaz. He has since risen to become MLB Pipeline’s No. 4 overall prospect with above-average to plus grades on all five tools.

Nationals: Anthony Rendon, 3B (No. 2, 2011)
All-time Draft talents Stephen Strasburg (2009) and Bryce Harper (2010) both just missed the window we’re using for this piece, but Rendon from 2011 is a nice consolation prize. The Rice third baseman was lauded for his overall hitting and power potential in college, having produced a .327 average, .523 slugging percentage and 33/80 K/BB ratio as a junior. He was also considered a gifted defender at the hot corner. Ankle injuries may have dropped him to the No. 6 spot to the Nats, but all of those evaluations proved true. Rendon received MVP votes in four of his seven seasons with Washington and helped the club capture the 2019 World Series title before signing with the Angels.

Phillies: Mickey Moniak, OF (No. 5, 2016)
A huge spring as a high school outfielder in Southern California vaulted him close to the top of most Draft boards and he was the top-ranked prep bat in that year’s Top 200. The Phillies surprised some when they took him No. 1 overall and while he’s not come close to living up to the expectations of being the top pick, he did hit his first big league home run this week and is still only 22 years old.

Brewers: Corey Ray, OF (No. 6, 2016)/Garrett Mitchell, OF (No. 6, 2020)
Milwaukee snagged two athletic outfielders with the same MLB Pipeline Draft ranking four years apart, and the jury remains out on how much value they’ll get for either selection. Ray looked like a good hitter for both average and power during his days at Louisville but has really struggled to make contact in the Minors. The 2016 fifth overall pick is now the Brewers’ No. 24 prospect. Mitchell, a standout at UCLA, is already the fastest prospect in the system and is coming off a standout first Spring Training. He dropped all the way to 20th overall last year because of concerns around his Type 1 diabetes, but Milwaukee is hopeful he’ll be healthy enough to show off his above-average hit tool, plus-plus speed and impressive outfield defense in the pros.

Cardinals: Delvin Pérez, SS (No. 9, 2016)
It’s worth pointing out that the Cardinals haven’t drafted higher than 19th during this window of consideration. The only reason they got a top-10 talent in any Draft from 2011 to 2020 is because Pérez slid all the way to 23rd overall following a positive test for a performance-enhancing substance. Prior to that, the Puerto Rico native was seen as a gifted defender at shortstop and a player who could hit enough to get that glove in the lineup every day. Pérez, however, has yet to play above Low-A because of issues with the bat.

Cubs: Kris Bryant, 3B (No. 3, 2013)
Bryant had an incredible 2013 season at San Diego, where he not only led NCAA Division I with 31 homers but also outhomered 223 of the 296 teams at that level, while college baseball was in the midst of a dead-bat era. The Cubs have had no regrets after taking him No. 2 overall and paying him a franchise-record $6,708,400 bonus, as he won the National League Rookie of the Year Award in 2015, encored with a World Series ring and NL MVP Award and has remained one of their biggest stars ever since.

Pirates: Gerrit Cole, RHP (No. 1, 2011)
Pitching as UCLA’s ace on a staff with Trevor Bauer, Cole emerged as the clear choice to be the top pick in the Draft and was ranked as such. He established himself in the big leagues two years later, made an All-Star team with the Pirates and two more with the Astros while finishing in the top five in Cy Young Award voting four times.

Reds: Hunter Greene, RHP (No. 1, 2017)
While we had Greene as the top talent in the class, with his triple-digit fastball and ability to command it (not to mention his talents as a hitter, which would have landed him in the first round as well), we knew a high school right-hander had never gone No. 1 overall in the Draft. This seemed like a year it could have happened, but the Twins took Royce Lewis instead, allowing the Reds to nab Greene at No. 2. He was slowed by Tommy John surgery, but a fully healthy Greene should be unleashed on the Minor Leagues this season.

D-backs: Dansby Swanson, SS (No. 2, 2015)
Arizona had a number of options when they selected first overall in the 2015 Draft and chose to go the safe route with the Vanderbilt shortstop. In college, Swanson helped Vandy to its first College World Series title in 2014 and showed plus hit and run tools and plenty of defensive acumen to make evaluators believe he would stick to short. Curiously, the D-backs traded him to the Braves six months after the Draft in a swap involving Shelby Miller. Swanson is now a mainstay on the Atlanta infield, and though his bat hasn’t quite lived up to the hype, he is coming off a 2020 season in which he finished 18th in NL MVP voting.

Dodgers: Jeren Kendall, OF (No. 6, 2017)
The best athlete in the 2017 Draft, Kendall had a 25 percent strikeout rate as a Vanderbilt junior that worried many clubs, but the Dodgers thought they got a steal when he slid to them at No. 23. That whiff rate has ballooned to 32 percent in pro ball, where he has batted .233/.309/.413 and hasn’t advanced past high Class A.

Giants: Joey Bart, C (No. 6, 2018)
Bart matched Will Clark as the highest choice in franchise history when he went second overall, and he set a since-broken record for the largest up-front bonus for a position player ($7,025,000). He made his big league debut ahead of schedule in 2020 despite just 130 games of pro experience, currently ranks No. 20 on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 Prospects list and has the power and defensive ability to become an All-Star.

Padres: MacKenzie Gore, LHP (No. 4, 2017)
All of the pieces were there to make Gore a standout heading into the 2017 Draft, where he was selected third overall. The North Carolina native won three state titles in four years at Whiteville High School. His collective 0.35 ERA in that time was a state record. He showed four above-average pitches as a left-hander — all of which he threw with good control — and was touching the mid-90s as a senior. That remains the profile to this day for MLB Pipeline’s No. 6 overall prospect. Command issues may have held him back from a 2020 debut, but the Padres are confident that Gore will be a big piece of their future rotation.

Rockies: Brendan Rodgers, 2B (No. 1, 2015)
There were two shortstops atop our Top 200 in 2015. Rodgers and his bat speed got the top spot while Vanderbilt’s Dansby Swanson was ranked second. Swanson was the No. 1 pick in the Draft, taken by the D-backs, and traded that offseason to the Braves. When the Astros took Alex Bregman No. 2, that let the Rockies jump at the chance to get Rodgers. He’s been slowed by injuries, but he looked ready to establish himself this year with a huge Spring Training, only to be shelved by a hamstring issue.

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