Best draft picks of all-time for every MLB team

The Major League Baseball draft is unique among professional sports drafts. The 30 organizations pick teenagers and college students who will not join their big league clubs for years—if ever.

These athletes will spend that time honing their craft in the minor leagues, where long bus rides and minuscule paychecks are the norm. A few will move quickly up the ranks, seizing playing time opportunities to advance their careers and making their names known to scouts, fans, and other observers around the country.

Some of the best will become MLB stars, but there’s minimal correlation to draft position. Four of the players on this list were picked after hundreds of other diamond darlings, and only two were #1 overall selections.

There’s also more than a handful who didn’t do much for the teams that drafted them, including superstars such as Nolan Ryan, Ozzie Smith, and Randy Johnson. Each of these players was traded before they evolved into Hall of Famers.

Still, calling the draft a “crapshoot” might be going too far. College players are “slightly more likely” than high schoolers to reach the revered stadiums of the majors, and third-rounders have a better chance than fifth-rounders, for example, though the margins are slim, as Vice reported. Teams not only make picks based on years-in-advance projections but also whether they can sign players, a step that must be completed before those youngsters begin playing professionally.

To see how clubs have fared since the inaugural draft in 1965, ATS.io compiled a list of the best draft pick by each franchise using data from Baseball Reference. The players were ranked using career wins above replacement, so not one recent choice was named. The amazing Mike Trout, a 32-year-old selected in 2009, is the youngest player. Unsigned picks were not considered, and players who were traded as picks were credited to their acquiring teams. Data is as of June 5, 2024.

Max Scherzer of the Texas Rangers pitches against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
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Arizona Diamondbacks: Max Scherzer

– Draft: 11th overall pick in 2006
– Position: Pitcher
– Games played: 457
– Career stats: 214 wins, 3.15 earned run average, 1.08 walks plus hits per inning
– College/HS: University of Missouri (Columbia, Mo.)
– Wins above replacement: 75.0

Chipper Jones of the Atlanta Braves hits against the Cincinnati Reds.
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Atlanta Braves: Chipper Jones

– Draft: 1st overall pick in 1990
– Position: Shortstop
– Games played: 2,499
– Career stats: 468 home runs, .303 batting average, .930 on-base plus slugging
– College/HS: The Bolles School (Jacksonville, Fla.)
– Wins above replacement: 85.3

Cal Ripken Jr. #8 of the Baltimore Orioles runs the bases.
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Baltimore Orioles: Cal Ripken Jr.

– Draft: 48th overall pick in 1978
– Position: Third baseman
– Games played: 3,001
– Career stats: 431 home runs, .276 batting average, .788 on-base plus slugging
– College/HS: Aberdeen HS (Aberdeen, Md.)
– Wins above replacement: 95.9

Roger Clemens, pitcher for the Boston Red Sox prepares to throw a pitch.
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Boston Red Sox: Roger Clemens

– Draft: 19th overall pick in 1983
– Position: Pitcher
– Games played: 709
– Career stats: 354 wins, 3.12 earned run average, 1.17 walks plus hits per inning
– College/HS: University of Texas at Austin (Austin, Texas)
– Wins above replacement: 139.2

Greg Maddux of the Chicago Cubs pitches during an MLB game.
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Chicago Cubs: Greg Maddux

– Draft: 31st overall pick in 1984
– Position: Pitcher
– Games played: 744
– Career stats: 355 wins, 3.16 earned run average, 1.14 walks plus hits per inning
– College/HS: Valley HS (Las Vegas, Nev.)
– Wins above replacement: 106.6

Frank Thomas of the Chicago White Sox eyes the ball as he swings his bat.
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Chicago White Sox: Frank Thomas

– Draft: 7th overall pick in 1989
– Position: First baseman
– Games played: 2,322
– Career stats: 521 home runs, .301 batting average, .974 on-base plus slugging
– College/HS: Auburn University (Auburn, Ala.)
– Wins above replacement: 73.8

Johnny Bench of the Cincinnati Reds bats during a game against the Philadelphia Phillies.
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Cincinnati Reds: Johnny Bench

– Draft: 36th overall pick in 1965
– Position: Catcher
– Games played: 2,158
– Career stats: 389 home runs, .267 batting average, .817 on-base plus slugging
– College/HS: Binger HS (Binger, Okla.)
– Wins above replacement: 75.1

Jim Thome of the Cleveland Indians at bat against the Texas Rangers.
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Cleveland Guardians: Jim Thome

– Draft: 333rd overall pick in 1989
– Position: Shortstop
– Games played: 2,543
– Career stats: 612 home runs, .276 batting average, .956 on-base plus slugging
– College/HS: Illinois Central College (East Peoria, Ill.)
– Wins above replacement: 73.1

Todd Helton of the Colorado Rockies looks on during a game against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
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Colorado Rockies: Todd Helton

– Draft: 8th overall pick in 1995
– Position: First baseman
– Games played: 2,247
– Career stats: 369 home runs, .316 batting average, .953 on-base plus slugging
– College/HS: University of Tennessee (Knoxville, Tenn.)
– Wins above replacement: 61.8

Justin Verlander #35 of the Detroit Tigers throws a pitch.
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Detroit Tigers: Justin Verlander

– Draft: 2nd overall pick in 2004
– Position: Pitcher
– Games played: 518
– Career stats: 260 wins, 3.25 earned run average, 1.12 walks plus hits per inning
– College/HS: Old Dominion University (Norfolk, Va.)
– Wins above replacement: 81.7

Kenny Lofton of the Cleveland Indians bats against the Kansas City Royals.
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Houston Astros: Kenny Lofton

– Draft: 428th overall pick in 1988
– Position: Outfielder
– Games played: 2,103
– Career stats: 130 home runs, .299 batting average, .794 on-base plus slugging
– College/HS: University of Arizona (Tucson, Ariz.)
– Wins above replacement: 68.4

George Brett #5 of the Kansas City Royals watches his ball fly and starts to run.
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Kansas City Royals: George Brett

– Draft: 29th overall pick in 1971
– Position: Shortstop
– Games played: 2,707
– Career stats: 317 home runs, .305 batting average, .857 on-base plus slugging
– College/HS: El Segundo HS (El Segundo, Calif.)
– Wins above replacement: 88.6

Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels watches the flight of a third inning solo home run.
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Los Angeles Angels: Mike Trout

– Draft: 25th overall pick in 2009
– Position: Centerfielder
– Games played: 1,518
– Career stats: 378 home runs, .299 batting average, .991 on-base plus slugging
– College/HS: Millville Senior HS (Millville, N.J.)
– Wins above replacement: 86.1

Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw follows through after delivering a pitch.
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Los Angeles Dodgers: Clayton Kershaw

– Draft: 7th overall pick in 2006
– Position: Pitcher
– Games played: 425
– Career stats: 210 wins, 2.48 earned run average, 1.00 walks plus hits per inning
– College/HS: Highland Park HS (Dallas, Texas)
– Wins above replacement: 79.7

Giancarlo Stanton #27 of the Miami Marlins runs the bases after hitting a home run.
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Miami Marlins: Giancarlo Stanton

– Draft: 76th overall pick in 2007
– Position: First baseman
– Games played: 1,589
– Career stats: 417 home runs, .258 batting average, .874 on-base plus slugging
– College/HS: Notre Dame HS (Sherman Oaks, Calif.)
– Wins above replacement: 44.3

Robin Yount running during a Milwaukee Brewers game.
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Milwaukee Brewers: Robin Yount

– Draft: 3rd overall pick in 1973
– Position: Shortstop
– Games played: 2,856
– Career stats: 251 home runs, .285 batting average, .772 on-base plus slugging
– College/HS: William Howard Taft Charter HS (Woodland Hills, Calif.)
– Wins above replacement: 77.4

Bert Blyleven of the Minnesota Twins pitches against the California angels.
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Minnesota Twins: Bert Blyleven

– Draft: 55th overall pick in 1969
– Position: Pitcher
– Games played: 692
– Career stats: 287 wins, 3.31 earned run average, 1.20 walks plus hits per inning
– College/HS: Santiago HS (Garden Grove, Calif.)
– Wins above replacement: 94.5

Nolan Ryan #30 of the New York Mets pitches during circa late 1960's.
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New York Mets: Nolan Ryan

– Draft: 295th overall pick in 1965
– Position: Pitcher
– Games played: 807
– Career stats: 324 wins, 3.19 earned run average, 1.25 walks plus hits per inning
– College/HS: Alvin HS (Alvin, Texas)
– Wins above replacement: 81.3

Derek Jeter #2 of the New York Yankees runs to first base after hitting a single.
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New York Yankees: Derek Jeter

– Draft: 6th overall pick in 1992
– Position: Shortstop
– Games played: 2,747
– Career stats: 260 home runs, .310 batting average, .817 on-base plus slugging
– College/HS: Central HS (Kalamazoo, Mich.)
– Wins above replacement: 71.3

Oakland A's Ricky Henderson runs during a game.
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Oakland Athletics: Rickey Henderson

– Draft: 96th overall pick in 1976
– Position: Outfielder
– Games played: 3,081
– Career stats: 297 home runs, .279 batting average, .820 on-base plus slugging
– College/HS: Oakland Technical HS (Oakland, Calif.)
– Wins above replacement: 111.1

Mike Schmidt of the Philadelphia Phillies prepares to bat.
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Philadelphia Phillies: Mike Schmidt

– Draft: 30th overall pick in 1971
– Position: Shortstop
– Games played: 2,404
– Career stats: 548 home runs, .268 batting average, .908 on-base plus slugging
– College/HS: Ohio University (Athens, Ohio)
– Wins above replacement: 106.9

Barry Bonds of the Pittsburgh Pirates bats during a Major League Baseball game.
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Pittsburgh Pirates: Barry Bonds

– Draft: 6th overall pick in 1985
– Position: Outfielder
– Games played: 2,986
– Career stats: 762 home runs, .298 batting average, 1.051 on-base plus slugging
– College/HS: Arizona State University (Tempe, Ariz.)
– Wins above replacement: 162.8

Ozzie Smith #1 of the San Diego Padres catches a line drive to his right circa 1980.
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San Diego Padres: Ozzie Smith

– Draft: 86th overall pick in 1977
– Position: Shortstop
– Games played: 2,573
– Career stats: 28 home runs, .262 batting average, .666 on-base plus slugging
– College/HS: California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo (San Luis Obispo, Calif.)
– Wins above replacement: 76.9

Will Clark of the San Francisco Giants plays in a Major League Baseball game.
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San Francisco Giants: Will Clark

– Draft: 2nd overall pick in 1985
– Position: First baseman
– Games played: 1,976
– Career stats: 284 home runs, .303 batting average, .880 on-base plus slugging
– College/HS: Mississippi State University (Mississippi State, Miss.)
– Wins above replacement: 56.5

Alex Rodriguez of the Seattle Mariners bats during a season game.
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Seattle Mariners: Alex Rodriguez

– Draft: 1st overall pick in 1993
– Position: Shortstop
– Games played: 2,784
– Career stats: 696 home runs, .295 batting average, .930 on-base plus slugging
– College/HS: Westminster Christian School (Miami, Fla.)
– Wins above replacement: 117.6

Albert Pujols #5 of the St. Louis Cardinals gestures to the applause of the crowd.
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St. Louis Cardinals: Albert Pujols

– Draft: 402nd overall pick in 1999
– Position: Third baseman
– Games played: 3,080
– Career stats: 703 home runs, .296 batting average, .918 on-base plus slugging
– College/HS: Metropolitan Community College-Maple Woods (Kansas City, Mo.)
– Wins above replacement: 101.4

Evan Longoria #3 of the Tampa Bay Rays fouls off a pitch against the Minnesota Twins.
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Tampa Bay Rays: Evan Longoria

– Draft: 3rd overall pick in 2006
– Position: Third baseman
– Games played: 1,986
– Career stats: 342 home runs, .264 batting average, .804 on-base plus slugging
– College/HS: California State University, Long Beach (Long Beach, Calif.)
– Wins above replacement: 58.6

Kevin Brown #41 of the Texas Rangers delivers the ball during a June 1990 game.
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Texas Rangers: Kevin Brown

– Draft: 4th overall pick in 1986
– Position: Pitcher
– Games played: 486
– Career stats: 211 wins, 3.28 earned run average, 1.22 walks plus hits per inning
– College/HS: Georgia Institute of Technology (Atlanta, Ga.)
– Wins above replacement: 67.8

Roy Halladay #32 of the Toronto Blue Jays pitches against the Baltimore Orioles.
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Toronto Blue Jays: Roy Halladay

– Draft: 17th overall pick in 1995
– Position: Pitcher
– Games played: 416
– Career stats: 203 wins, 3.38 earned run average, 1.18 walks plus hits per inning
– College/HS: Arvada West HS (Arvada, Colo.)
– Wins above replacement: 64.2

Randy Johnson #51 of the Seattle Mariners pitches during a game.
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Washington Nationals: Randy Johnson

– Draft: 36th overall pick in 1985
– Position: Pitcher
– Games played: 618
– Career stats: 303 wins, 3.29 earned run average, 1.17 walks plus hits per inning
– College/HS: University of Southern California (Los Angeles, Calif.)
– Wins above replacement: 101.1

Data reporting by Karim Noorani. Story editing by Carren Jao. Additional editing by Kelly Glass. Copy editing by Robert Wickwire. Photo selection by Clarese Moller.

This story originally appeared on ATS.io and was produced and distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.