While the answers might be a little more obvious in other sports, choosing the best MLB Draft picks ever is never easy. After all, the draft dates back to 1965 and includes hundreds if not thousands of picks every year.
It’s common that the greatest baseball draft picks weren’t among the top players selected in a given year or even first or second-round picks. That doesn’t even take into account the best MLB draft class ever or the top compensation picks, which is a whole other bag of worms to explore.
Best MLB Draft picks ever
When ranking the best MLB Draft picks of all time, it’s essential to keep in mind what the player accomplished but also where they were selected. That’s why we said some of the greatest baseball draft picks weren’t early-round selections.
That being said, we went back through thousands of picks over countless years and came up with a ranking of the 10 best MLB Draft picks ever.
10. Raul Ibanez
It doesn’t get much later than the 36th round or the 1,006th overall pick, but that’s exactly where the Mariners found Raul Ibanez in 1992. Of course, players drafted that late barely get an opportunity to play.
But the son of Cuban immigrants took that small opportunity and ran with it, playing 19 seasons in the majors. While he was only an all-star once, Ibanez finished his career with over 2,000 hits and 305 home runs, making him one of the best MLB draft picks to come out of the late stages of the draft.
9. Jeff Kent
He may not be a Hall of Famer, but Jeff Kent is arguably the best offensive second baseman in baseball history. To be fair, the guy was kicked off his college team as a junior, and that was after he hit .193 as a sophomore. Knowing that, it’s reasonable that teams passed on him until the Blue Jays took him 523rd overall in the 1989 MLB Draft, making him a 20th-round pick.
Kent only appeared with the Blue Jays briefly in 1992. But they did trade him for David Cone, who helped them win a World Series that year, so it worked out for everyone, as Kent became a five-time all-star and MVP.
8. Jacob deGrom
With the 272nd overall pick in the 2010 MLB Draft, the Mets found Jacob deGrom, who was both a pitcher and a shortstop in college. He would soon require Tommy John surgery and fall even more off the radar until making his MLB debut in 2014, winning Rookie of the Year that season and becoming one of the game’s elite pitchers.
With two Cy Young Awards on his resume, deGrom is one of the great pitchers of his generation. But unlike most of the other pitchers on his level, deGrom wasn’t drafted particularly high, giving the Mets incredible bang for their buck based on his draft position.
7. Mark Buehrle
Kudos to the White Sox for taking Mark Buehrle in the 38th round of the 1998 MLB Draft. There was no reason for him to be on anyone’s radar, as he came from a small college in Missouri and was actually cut from his high school team as a sophomore.
But they took a chance on him and it worked out. Despite 1,138 players going ahead of him, Buehrle would go on to win 214 games in the big leagues, pitching both a no-hitter and a perfect game during a career that also included five all-star selections and four Gold Gloves.
6. John Smoltz
In defense of the teams that passed on John Smoltz until the Tigers took him 574th overall, the 1985 class was one of the best in MLB history. The likes of Barry Bonds, Randy Johnson, and Barry Larkin were all selected.
But those players were on the radar of most teams while Smoltz fell to the 22nd round. He’s actually from the Detroit suburbs, so it would have been foolish for the Tigers to miss him.
Of course, they traded him to the Braves for Doyle Alexander two years later. Smoltz would become a huge part of Atlanta’s rotation during their dominance during the 1990s and would later become a top-notch closer. With eight all-star appearances and a Cy Young on his resume, Smoltz was a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 2015.
5. Mike Trout
Just because he was the 25th overall pick in 2009 doesn’t mean that there wasn’t a ton of value in the Angels drafting Mike Trout. He’s going to end up being arguably the best player of his generation, so of course, Trout qualifies as one of the best MLB draft picks ever.
In this day and age, it should impossible to miss a big fish like Trout (pun intended). Of course, the Angels were smart enough to grab him even though he went to high school in New Jersey on the other side of the country. Despite being a first-round pick, Trout has far exceeded expectations for the 25th overall pick.
4. Jim Thome
Jim Thome had been playing both baseball and basketball at a community college when Cleveland drafted him in the 13th round of the 1989 Draft, using the 333rd overall pick on him. The club didn’t think much of him, but while he was in the minors, Thome met Charlie Manuel, who saw something in Thome and became a mentor to him.
Less than two years later, Thome made his big league debut and a Hall of Fame career was born. During his career, Thome blasted over 600 home runs and was a five-time all-star, making him a rather valuable player for someone taken in the 13th round.
3. Nolan Ryan
Not only is Nolan Ryan one of the greatest pitchers ever but he’s also one of the best MLB Draft picks ever.
He was selected in the 10th round of the inaugural MLB Draft in 1965. The youthful Mets grabbed him with the 295th overall pick with Ryan reaching the big leagues quickly enough to contribute to the Miracle Mets winning the 1969 World Series, earning a save in Game 3.
It would take a little longer for Ryan to develop into an elite pitcher, which is perhaps why teams didn’t gravitate to him when he was drafted. But as most fans know, Ryan owns the all-time record for strikeouts and no-hitters. Somehow, he was an all-star just eight times despite leading his league in strikeouts 11 times. In any event, he was a steal in the draft and arguably the best pitcher of all time.
2. Albert Pujols
There was almost no interest in Albert Pujols heading into the 1999 MLB Draft. The Cardinals eventually took a chance on him in the 13th round, using the 402nd overall pick to get him. However, a scout from the Rays named Fernando Arango had taken a keen liking to Pujols.
In fact, he quit his job when the Rays ignored him and declined to draft him. Of course, less than two years after being drafted, Pujols was in the big leagues. He would go on to win Rookie of the Year honors after putting together one of the best rookie seasons ever seen.
Before all was said and done, Pujols would be a 10-time all-star and a three-time MVP. He has amassed over 3,000 hits and nearly 700 home runs, making him a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
1. Mike Piazza
There’s no question that Mike Piazza is the most valuable MLB Draft pick ever. He was selected in the 62nd round of the 1998 draft and was only one of seven players selected in that round because most teams had stopped making selections by that point. Piazza was the 1,390th overall selection.
Just try to wrap your head around that many players being selected, much less being selected ahead of Piazza. The only reason he was drafted at all is because Dodgers’ manager Tommy Lasorda was Piazza’s Godfather and a close friend of Piazza’s father.
In other words, Piazza was drafted as a favor to a friend. Of course, that 62nd round pick from Miami-Dade Community College turned into a Hall of Famer and the greatest hitting catcher of all time. It’s one of the great stories in all of sports, clearly making Piazza the best pick in MLB Draft history.