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Who are the past no. 1 overall picks in the MLB draft and where are they now?

Jackson Holliday just became the latest no. 1 pick in the MLB Draft after being selected by the Baltimore Orioles, joining a list full of both stars and busts.

LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 17:  A view of the draft board and stage after the selection of Jackson Holliday as the first pick overall during the 2022 Major League Baseball Draft at L.A. Live on Sunday, July 17, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
Daniel ShireyGetty

The first couple of rounds of the 2022 MLB Draft are over. It will take years to see which of the star prospects that teams have put their hopes in will end up flourishing, but Jackson Holliday will have the most pressure. After upstaging no. 2 Drew Jones and re-drafted pitcher no. 3 pick Kumar Rocker, the High School shortstop was the one selected at the top of the draft by the Baltimore Orioles. As Holliday tries to work his way into a star player and not become one of those whose major league careers never got far, this is how some of the no. 1 picks in past drafts have fared:

Bryce Harper (2010), the modern star

Selected by the Washington Nationals out of High School, Harper is just 29 but he has already won a couple of MVPs and has amassed the sixth most WAR (42.6) ever by a number one pick. He is the prototypical no. 1 pick, a phenom since before he ever signed with a major club. The outfielder from Las Vegas won Rookie of the Year at 19 en route to seven All-Star appearances and a $330 million contract with the Phillies when he became a free agent following the 2018 season. Harper will most probably be a Hall of Famer and have more than 500 homers when his career is finished, certainly a successful no. 1 pick, and yet Mike Trout has ensured that he will not be the best player from his draft class.

Bryce Harper when he was still with the Nationals
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Bryce Harper when he was still with the NationalsGreg FiumeAFP

The most recent pìcks, too early to tell

Henry Davis, the catcher picked first overall by the Pirates in 2021, is still climbing through the minor leagues on his way to the majors, but he is already on Double-AA and up to #17 in MLB Prospect Rankings. Davis will try to follow the path opened by Adley Rutschman, the only other catcher selected first in the last two decades, in 2019 by the Orioles, as he has already gotten to the majors and is playing well, marking the beginning  of what is supposed to be a spectacular career in one of the most important positions, an anchor for the hopefully resurgent O’s.

Spencer Torkelson, the first/third baseman picked first by the Tigers in 2020 out of college, and Royce Lewis, Twins 2017 no. 1 pick, just made their debuts in MLB this season, but Detroit’s player has been optioned back to Triple-A due to poor play and the shortstop has been injured, making it too early to know how their careers will fare. 2018 first overall pick, Casey Mize, was having more success as a starting pitcher with the Tigers as well, but he could only start two games this season before needing Tommy John surgery that will keep him away from the field for more than a year.

Griffey Jr. and A-Rod, Mariners luck

The Seattle Mariners have never won a title and have not reached the playoffs in two decades, but they are excellent first pick overall drafters, getting the two best players ever to be selected at the top spot and two of MLB greatest ever in Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodríguez. Both ended up leaving Seattle at some point of their careers, with Griffey going to the Reds before retiring back in the M’s and Rodríguez going to the Rangers and later the Yankees, but the years in the 90s when each of them was the best outfielder and and infielder in the world (in a team with Randy Johnson and Edgar Martínez, the game’s best pitcher and DH) makes Seattle drafting history a successful one. Griffey Jr., already a Hall of Famer, recently bough a stake in the Mariners while A-Rod is co-owner of the NBA team Minnesota Timberwolves, and is kept out of the HoF due to steroid use even if he has 117 WAR.

Hall of famer Griffey Jr.
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Hall of famer Griffey Jr.Jonathan DanielGetty Images

Moniak, Aiken, Appel, the busts among the stars

2016 first pick Mickey Moniak was as much of a phenom as Harper before he was picked by the Phillies, but he has gotten stuck in the minor leagues for half a decade. Moniak has a total of -0.9 WAR, and he has had injuries this year as he bounces between the majors and the minors.

Brady Aiken and Mark Appel are two first overall pick pitchers drafted by the rebuilding Astros in straight years, back in 2014 and 2013 respectively. The first one did not even sign with the Astros, being re-drafted by Cleveland at #17 a year later, and he has not pitched professionally since 2019. Appel has a total WAR of 0.2 and was traded to the Phillies a few years ago. The Astros rebuild got them a title and multiple playoff runs, but not thanks to these draftees.

The clear cut successes: Correa, Cole, Swanson, Price, Strasburg…

All of these players have been successful in MLB at some point or other, and the fact that they were picked number one overall does not seem crazy. Gerrit Cole almost won a Cy Young, even if not with the Pirates, who drafted him in 2011, and is a multiple time All-Star. Correa was the right pick for the Astros back in 2012, as the shortstop, now on the Twins, improved their outfield with stellar offensive and defensive play. Dansby Swanson just won a World Series as the Braves shortstop and is having consecutive good seasons. David Price and Stephen Strasburg, 2007 and 2009 first overall drafted players, are starting pitchers that have won a Cy Young award and a WS MVP respectively. All of them are close to what their franchises wanted them to be when they drafted him, which is already a achievement in a game as difficult to scout as baseball.


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