Prospect Watch: Looking back at the past decade’s top MLB draft picks

With Major League Baseball’s draft now less than a month away (Sunday, July 17), CBS Sports has begun previewing the upcoming class. We have already ranked the top 30 prospects; mocked the first round; and interviewed the most polarizing players. We’ll have more preview footage over the coming weeks leading up to the Baltimore Orioles making their third #1 overall pick in franchise history.

The past few months have been eventful for recent top picks. Namely: Carlos Correa signed a massive free-agent deal; Dansby Swanson has won a World Series and is trying to set up his own payday; Casey Mize and Royce Lewis suffered season-ending injuries; Spencer Torkelson and Adleyrutschman made their big league debuts; and Mark Appel has positioned himself to do the same.

With that in mind, today’s Prospect Watch is dedicated to looking back at the past decade of No. 1 picks: how they worked, where they are now, and how things would have been different had the team in question decided to go a different route .

Correa, the first and (by far) most successful of Houston’s three consecutive No. 1 picks, is now a member of the Minnesota Twins. Well, he’s still on course to end up as one of the most prolific top overall winners in league history. Already a two-time All-Star, he has amassed approximately 36 wins over backup before the end of his season at the age of 27. For reference, Adrián González ranks fifth among the #1 picks in WAR with a 43.5 for his career. So there’s a real chance Correa will crack the top 5 before he turns 30. As an added bonus, the Astros’ decision to acquire Correa over Byron Buxton helped popularize the “portfolio approach,” the same philosophy the Orioles have followed past and may again when they make their pick this July.

2013: Mark Appel, RHP, Houston Astros

The Astros again saved money up front by picking Appel over Kris Bryant. (Bryant, who was drafted second by the Chicago Cubs, received a signing bonus worth a few hundred thousand more than Appel’s.) Appel was expected to be a safe, agile No. 2 or 3 starter, but injuries and poor performance plagued him. The Astros threw in the towel relatively quickly and sent him to the Philadelphia Phillies as part of the Ken Giles trade after the 2015 season. Appel later retired from the sport before reaching the majors; He’s since returned and has done well enough in a supporting role this season to envision him making it onto The Show before the end of the year.

2014: Brady Aiken, LHP, Houston Astros

Here we have reached the most controversial #1 of the decade. The Astros didn’t sign Aiken after a post-draft exam revealed an abnormality in his ulnar collateral ligament (also known as Tommy John’s ligament). This decision had other ramifications, as it prevented the Astros from making agreed-upon deals with other players in their class and violating MLB rules. (The Astros had to come to terms with these players, but there is no record of the league penalizing them.) Aiken spent a year at IMG Academy before being selected by the Cleveland Guardians in the middle of the first round. He never recovered and was released last fall after just 43 professional appearances (none above A-ball). Aiken hasn’t settled anywhere else and hasn’t played in the regular season since 2019. He will celebrate his 26th birthday in August but it’s fair to ask if his career is over. The Astros, by the way, received second place in the 2015 class as compensation. They used that pick to select Alex Bregman, who has since become a franchise cornerstone.

As good as Vanderbilt’s baseball program is and always has been, Swanson was only the second commodore to be selected with the top pick. (The first was David Price in 2007.) Swanson spent six months as a member of the Diamondbacks organization before being traded to the Atlanta Braves as part of the ill-advised deal with Shelby Miller. For much of his career, he was more of a decent role player than a star-level contributor; He’s been doing his best lately to change that perception: He’s in the middle of an amazing year of walks and has been considered for the 2020 Most Valuable Player award. It remains to be seen whether Swanson can maintain this level of production; Regardless, it’s fair to conclude that the D-Backs probably wished they had kept him — or, more likely, that they had picked and held the aforementioned Alex Bregman him.

2016: Mickey Moniak, OF, Philadelphia Phillies

There wasn’t a clear No. 1 pick in 2016, so the Phillies settled on Moniak, a well-rounded prep outfielder with few weaknesses. It did not work. Including this season, he has a career 21 OPS+ in 38 major league games. Moniak has been more successful with the little ones and he’s still young enough (24 years old) to think he could develop into a reserve. If there’s a bright spot, then the Phillies can’t worry about passing a Bregman or a Bryant. The top 10 overall, including Moniak and No. 2 pick Nick Senzel, has produced seven players who either didn’t make the majors or made it and have since recorded less than 0.1 WAR. In fact, the most prolific first-rounders in this class are Will Smith (32nd pick), Cal Quantrill (8th), Ian Anderson (3rd), and Dakota Hudson (34th).

2017: Royce Lewis, SS, Minnesota twins

There are some similarities between the 2016 and 2017 draft. Both featured a high school positional player who went 1st, and both have seen the mid to late portions of the round make the day. (The three most productive players in the first round of 2017 have so far been picked with the 24th, 13th, and 20th picks.) It’s not a full copy-and-paste job, however, as Lewis had louder tools and a bigger one better than Moniak . He also had rougher fractures. Lewis missed the entire 2021 season after tearing the ACL in his right knee, delaying his arrival until this season. Unfortunately, he just tore that ACL again, 12 games into his big league career and 16 months after the first injury. He’s expected to be out for around a year, meaning his best-case scenario would be to return just before the 2023 All-Star Game.

Speaking of injuries and years lost, Mize underwent Tommy John surgery in June that will sideline him for at least 12 months. He has made 39 big league starts to date and amassed respectable grades, including a 101 ERA+ and a 2.64 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He will be 26 next time he throws a pitch and it will be interesting to see where his career takes him from there. From the looks of it, he’s not missing bats or suppressing contact quality well enough to predict him becoming more than a mid-rotation starter. Despite this, Mize still ranks among the top five most productive first-rounders of 2018, despite ranking third among collegiate guns thanks to the emergence of Shane McClanahan (No. 31 pick) and Logan Gilbert (No. 14).

2019: Adleyrutschman, C, Baltimore Orioles

Rotschman fought his way through the top flight before he even started his career, but there’s no need to panic just yet. He was a slam dunk no. 1 pick based on a profile that scouts thought might have four plus or better tools in maturation. Unlike the previous classes, this draft still appears loaded at the top: Bobby Witt Jr., Andrew Vaughn, Riley Greene, CJ Abrams, and Nick Lodolo represented five of the next six picks (JJ Bleday, the fourth pick, disappointed ). Meanwhile, teams selected Josh Jung, Alek Manoah, Corbin Carroll, George Kirby, Daniel Espino, Anthony Volpe and Seth Johnson for the remainder of the first round. We’ll see where life takes them, but this class appears to have the potential to produce several All-Star Caliber players, including some reps.

2020: Spencer Torkelson, 1B, Detroit Tigers

As withrutschman, Torkelson’s rookie year got off to a bad start. Judging by just the WAR version of Baseball Reference (a counting stat, mind you), he was the least productive player in the majors. There’s no point in overreacting to games in the ’60s, but Torkelson’s lack of positional value gives him a lower margin for error than someone likerutschman. The expectation on draft night was that Torkelson would morph into a medium order force; He has to do it to justify being the first right-handed first baseman ever to be picked with the top pick.

The Pirates followed the cleat brands of the Astros and Orioles by adopting the portfolio approach last summer. Davis may have been the first name off the board, but he only received the fifth highest signing bonus (and more than a million fewer than Jack Leiter, who was number 2); Pittsburgh, in turn, redistributed the savings by taking three other players who had cracked CBS Sports’ top 50 pre-draft. Davis has already reached Double-A, and barring an injury, he should make the majors next summer once the Pirates successfully rigged his tenure.

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