Ahead of the 2020 MLB Draft, we are taking a look at the greatest first overall picks in MLB history.
Going first on draft night comes with a bucket load of pressure. There’s the weight of expectation of a struggling franchise, every move made will be scrutinised, every game will be watched with anticipation unlike those taken later on. There’s a hefty signing bonus, too, of course, and the honour of joining an acclaimed list of first overall selections.
Here are the five greatest first overall picks in MLB history…
Ken Griffey Jr.
What is there to say about Ken Griffey Jr.?
The Kid is iconic. His appearance in a commentary box sends fans giddy to this day. His swing remains among the most beautiful the game has ever seen. He was the player to be selected first overall and make it into the Hall of Fame when he picked up over 99% of the vote in 2016.
Griffey’s spot on this list needs no justification. Some would name him in their all-time MLB line-up. With over 600 dingers and 13 All-Star appearances, he’s got a strong case to push Barry Bonds, Babe Ruth and Willie Mays for an outfield berth.
A PED suspension makes Alex Rodriguez controversial to this day. It would be an understatement to call him divisive.
Since being taken first overall by the Seattle Mariners in the 1993 draft, A-Rod has become one of the greatest players in MLB history, registering over 110 bWAR, almost 700 homers and over 300 stolen bases. He’s a three-time MVP, 14-time All-Star, and one of the best paid players in the history of all sport.
The raw numbers would put Rodriguez above Griffey here. There’s no doubt who wins a popularity contest, and Rodriguez’s PED suspension looms large over his MLB legacy despite an all-time great career.
Chipper Jones followed Bryce Harper into the Hall of Fame in 2018. Jones owns an impressive list of switch-hitting records, along with a career batting average north of .300, positional versatility and 85.3 bWAR.
While an MVP in 1999 and World Series four years earlier are the obvious highlights, Jones was part of some great Atlanta teams. His longevity was what gives him such an impressive CV -- his MVP winning year was the only season he made it into the top three of voting.
The Philadelphia Phillies will be hoping the next player on this list surpasses Jones in the not too distant future.
Taken first in the 2010 overall draft, Bryce Harper was one of the most anticipated prospects in MLB’s history. He lived up to the superstar mantle, hitting the cover off baseballs, his patented hair flick and love of the battle. Harper won Rookie of the Year in 2012 and MVP in 2015.
Harper’s free agency was as eagerly awaited as his MLB arrival. It was a circus, figures being thrown around, teams being linked, speculation relentless. His destination was ultimately the Phillies, leaving the Nationals (who won the World Series the following season). Harper is committed to Philadelphia for the rest of his Major League career.
With under 32 bWAR to his name, Harper isn’t a Hall of Fame lock as it stands, but he’s expected to head to Cooperstown if he continues on this path. The Phils will be hoping he can produce a few more seasons like his majestic 2015 campaign -- if he does, he could yet challenge for top spot on this list.
Darryl Strawberry and recently inducted Hall of Famer Harold Baines had a claim to this spot. Stephen Strasburg and Gerrit Cole might yet pip Joe Mauer here too, though that duo have plenty more to achieve in their Major League careers.
With over 55 bWAR to his name, Mauer was one of the game’s underrated players despite winning an MVP, three Gold Gloves and five Silver Sluggers. Aside from a home run surge in his MVP season, he never passed 13 homers in a single campaign. His career came at the right time, but he wasn’t a highlight reel hitter.
The Minnesota Twins never won a playoff game in Mauer’s long, one-franchise career. He was their leading player in four of those seasons, and was one of the best players in MLB through the end the noughties and early 2010s.