MLB draft: The 10 biggest first-round misses from the last 20 years

The Major League Baseball draft is happening this week and it’s glorious that we actually have something baseball-related happening. As we look forward to the first round coming on Wednesday, let’s look back with hindsight at some first-round picks that ended up being huge blunders. 

Some of these selections were bad at the time (sorry, Padres fans) and some turned worse once we saw how everything unfolded. Regardless, these 10 first-round picks from the last 20 years really hurt. By no means are these the only ones, just the 10 most prominent first-round slip-ups.

Let’s take a look, chronologically. 

2002: Reds, Orioles and Expos pass on Zack Greinke

Prior to the Brewers taking Prince Fielder seventh overall in the 2002 draft (which was an excellent pick), there was a string of four high school pitchers taken. The Reds took righty Chris Gruler, the Orioles took lefty Adam Loewen, the Expos took righty Clint Everts and then the Royals settled on a quirky right-hander out of Apopka High School in Florida by the name of Zack Greinke. Let’s also not let the Pirates off the hook for taking right-handed starter Bryan Bullington first overall out of Ball State University. 

We could also point out another high school hurler went 17th overall. A lefty named Cole Hamels. This is where the Reds, Orioles and Expos brass say “d’oh!” 

2004: Padres take Bush over Verlander

This one isn’t hindsight. Pretty much everyone at the time thought that Justin Verlander out of Old Dominion should be the top pick. The Padres, instead, decided on a high school shortstop named Matt Bush. After lots of off-field problems, Bush eventually made it to the majors as a reliever for the Rangers. Verlander is headed to Cooperstown five years after he decides to retire, and is as decorated a pitcher as we’ve seen in a while. 

2005: Mariners go with Clement

Four of the first five picks in the 2005 draft have at least 34 WAR. Justin Upton and Alex Gordon were the top two off the board. The Mariners then chose Jeff Clement, a catcher out of USC. He would post -1.2 WAR in his time in the majors. The next two picks were Ryan Zimmerman and Ryan Braun. Troy Tulowitzki went seventh. Andrew McCutchen went 11th. There are many factors that have contributed to the Mariners having the longest playoff drought in the majors. This is on the list. 

2006: Two whiffs at the top

The Royals took Luke Hochevar first overall and the Rockies followed with Greg Reynolds. Then came Evan Longoria. Oh, and Andrew Miller went sixth, Clayton Kershaw seventh, Tim Lincecum 10th and Max Scherzer 11th. That’s an awful lot of hardware, pennants and championships left behind for Hochevar and Reynolds. 

2007: D-Backs take the wrong high school arm

There were three left-handed pitchers taken before the Giants grabbed Madison Bumgarner in 2007, but college and high school prospects are a different animal. As much as I’d love to bash the Pirates for taking Daniel Moskos fourth and the Nats for taking Ross Detwiler sixth, for example, it’s just not the same (I mean, we can still bash them and that’s why I elaborated). The Diamondbacks at ninth overall took the first high school pitcher of the draft, nabbing Jarrod Parker out of Norwell High School in Ossian, Indiana. Think they would’ve rather taken the tall Southpaw from Hudson, N.C. named Madison Bumgarner? The Giants’ dynasty was greatly helped by others passing on perhaps the two biggest pieces in consecutive drafts … 

2008: Posey falls to five

Do teams sometimes get too cute? As a junior at Florida State, catcher Buster Posey hit .463 with 26 homers and won basically every award possible, including the Golden Spikes Award. There were no red flags at all. Still, four teams passed on him. The Rays took high school shortstop Tim Beckham first, the Pirates grabbed slugging Vanderbilt third baseman Pedro Alvarez, the Royals took high-school first baseman Eric Hosmer (I’m guessing they are OK with how this turned out, even if he’s a far inferior player) and the Orioles took University of San Diego lefty Brian Matusz. 

2009: Trout goes in the 20s

Stephen Strasburg was one of the top amateur prospects we’ve ever seen. He was always going to be the number one pick overall, no matter what else happened. As such, we can easily forgive the Nationals for missing on the man who went 25th overall in 2009: Mike Trout. As for the other 23 picks before Trout, including six players who never even made the majors. The Angels themselves even took Randal Grichuk before Trout. Shame on them all. Aside from Strasburg, the best players to go in front of Trout were Zack Wheeler, Mike Minor, Mike Leake and A.J. Pollock. 

2011: Top-five misses

The first round 2011 was absolutely loaded and there were two clear misses in the top five. Gerrit Cole went first, which was entirely reasonable. The Mariners then took lefty Danny Hultzen in front of Trevor Bauer and Dylan Bundy. Fifth overall, the Royals took high school outfielder — a local kid! — Bubba Starling. Aside from having an 80-grade name, Starling was a big miss. He was taken before, among others, Anthony Rendon, Francisco Lindor, Javier Baez, George Springer, Jose Fernandez, Sonny Gray and we’ll just stop there. Ouch. 

2013: Astros take Appel

The consensus heading into the 2013 draft was that there were three collegiate prospects head and shoulders above the rest of the group. Picking first overall for the second straight year (after hitting on Carlos Correa in 2012), the Astros elected to take Stanford senior Mark Appel. That left Kris Bryant for the Cubs and Jon Gray for the Rockies. So the progression went: 

  1. Never made the majors
  2. Rookie of the Year, MVP, World Series champ, multi-time All-Star
  3. Quality pitcher in Colorado


2015: Swanson over Bregman?

We’re getting into the range where there’s still time for things to even out, but it’s really hard to see that happening here. The Diamondbacks took Vanderbilt shortstop Dansby Swanson first overall in 2015 with LSU shortstop Alex Bregman going second. Let’s compare how the two college shortstops have done so far in the bigs. 

Swanson: .245/.318/.383, 84 OPS , 4.6 WAR, 81 2B, 40 HR, 192 RBI, 207 R
Bregman: .286/.384/.527, 144 OPS , 22.4 WAR, 140 2B, 99 HR, 320 RBI, 346 R

Bregman also is a two-time All-Star with fifth-place and runner-up MVP finishes as well as two pennants and a World Series title. 

Here’s hoping your favorite team doesn’t commit a blunder this week that’ll land them here in future years. 

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