If you’re looking for some of the toolsiest players in baseball, look no further than the outfield. That’s true across the big leagues and on prospect rankings over the years.
Sorting through the most hyped outfield prospects over the past 20 years provided a ton of options, with players who have gone on to win a whole lot of hardware at the big league level. Interestingly, a vast majority of the outfield prospects who made the list below entered pro ball at a young age. A total of 26 of the 30 were either international signees or high school Draft picks, and while Bryce Harper was technically a junior college product, he would make No. 27 if you're just looking at age.
The vaunted 2005 Draft was particularly productive. Starting with No. 1 overall pick Justin Upton, there are four high school outfielders taken in that year’s first round who made this group.
American League East
Blue Jays: Travis Snider
Snider impressed during his first big league exposure with Toronto in 2008, reaching the Majors at age 20, after a little more than two years in the Minors, and he opened the ’09 season as MLB.com’s No. 7 prospect, up from No. 15 the previous year. But the young outfielder never found his footing as an everyday player in Toronto, batting .248/.306/.429 over five seasons, and didn’t fare any better during subsequent stints with Pittsburgh and Baltimore. After playing for the Long Island Ducks in the independent Atlantic League in 2018, Snider returned to affiliated ball with Arizona last season and batted .294/.402/.497 at Triple-A Reno.
Orioles: Nick Markakis
Markakis was a very talented two-way standout from Georgia who was drafted twice by the Reds, first out of high school and again after his first year at Young Harris Junior College. Markakis went back to Young Harris for his sophomore season and catapulted himself into the first round of the 2003 Draft, taken No. 7 overall by the O’s. Giving up pitching and focusing on the outfield only has been a good move as he’s gone on to be an All-Star, a Silver Slugger and win three Gold Gloves for the Orioles and Braves.
Rays: Delmon Young
The first pick in the 2003 Draft ranked as MLB.com’s No. 11 prospect ahead of his first full season before spending three straight years (2005-07) atop the list as baseball’s No. 1 prospect. He finished second in the AL Rookie of the Year race in ’07, slashing .288/.316/.408 with 51 extra-base hits and 93 RBIs, only for the Rays to trade him to Minnesota after the season. He enjoyed his best offensive campaign in 2010, finishing 10th in AL MVP voting after slashing .298/.333/.493 with 21 homers, 46 doubles and 112 RBIs, and he ultimately batted .283/.316/.421 in 10 big league seasons.
Red Sox: Andrew Benintendi
Benintendi went seventh overall in the 2015 Draft out of Arkansas after leading NCAA Division I with 20 homers and winning every major college player of the year award, then reached Boston 13 months after signing for $3,590,400. MLB Pipeline's No. 1-rated prospect entering 2017, he finished second in the American League Rookie of the Year balloting that season and helped the Red Sox win the World Series in the next.
Yankees: Aaron Judge
Judge lasted 32 picks in the 2013 Draft out of Fresno State amid concerns that the naturally long swing that results from his 6-foot-7 frame would mitigate his massive raw power. Though he struck out 42 times in 95 plate appearances during his first taste of the Majors in 2016, he exploded for a then-rookie record 52 homers in 2017 and owns 110 dingers in 396 career games.
American League Central
Indians: Grady Sizemore
One of the best athletes in the 2000 Draft, Sizemore planned on playing football and baseball at the University of Washington until the Expos lured him away with a $2 million bonus in the third round. In one of the more lopsided trades of the millennium, Montreal sent him along with Cliff Lee and Brandon Phillips to the Indians as part of a trade for Bartolo Colon in June 2002. Sizemore emerged as one of the best prospects in the game soon afterward and then one of its best young big leaguers, earning All-Star Game selections at age 23, 24, and 25 before a series of injuries began to derail his career in 2009.
Royals: Billy Butler
The No. 14 overall pick in the 2004 Draft spent most of his Minor League career roaming the outfield but was moved to first base after making his big league debut as a 21-year-old in 2007, when he also ranked as MLB.com’s No. 13 overall prospect. While a .313/.373/.510 showing with 29 homers and 107 RBIs (both career-high totals) during an All-Star 2012 campaign represented the high point in Butler’s career, he still compiled a very solid .290/.354/.411 line in 1,414 games between the Royals, A’s and Yankees.
Tigers: Cameron Maybin
Taken by Detroit with the No. 10 overall pick in the 2005 Draft, Maybin checked in as MLB.com’s No. 6 prospect ahead of the 2007 season, when he made his Major League debut at age 20, and had moved up to No. 3 on the list when the Tigers packaged him with five other players to get Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis from the Marlins. Now 33, Maybin has been traded a total of six times and played in the big leagues for eight different teams during his 13-year career, batting .256/.324/.376 with 71 homers and 183 steals as a 14.1 WAR player.
Twins: Byron Buxton
The No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 Draft, Buxton’s overall tools made him one of the top prospects in baseball for a very long time. He was ranked No. 1 on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 list, preseason and midseason editions, five different times. Injuries have definitely hampered his development, but he’s still only 26 and has shown plenty of glimpses of what he can do when healthy, like he did during his standout 2017 season.
White Sox: Eloy Jimenez
The White Sox have had outfielders who ranked No. 3 on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects list heading into each of the last two years, with Jimenez getting the edge over Robert here because he had a longer track record of Minor League success. The top-rated talent on the 2013 international market, Jimenez signed with the Cubs for $2.8 million out of the Dominican Republic. He broke out as the low Class A Midwest League's MVP in 2016, went to the White Sox as the headline prospect in the Jose Quintana trade the following summer and bashed 31 homers as a rookie last year.
American League West
Angels: Mike Trout
The Angels were obviously thrilled to get Trout with the 25th pick in the 2009 Draft and even more excited when he hit .352/.419/.486 in his pro debut that summer. He became our No. 1 prospect prior to the 2011 season after a huge first full year in the Minors and he was top three again in 2012 before graduating off the list and winning AL Rookie of the Year honors that season. He’s obviously outperformed the hype since as he builds his Hall of Fame resume with 72.8 WAR, and he’s still only 28.
Astros: Kyle Tucker
The Astros had two of the first five picks in the 2015 Draft and scored with both, taking Alex Bregman at No. 2 and Tucker from a Florida high school at No. 5. Tucker recorded 20-20 seasons in 2017 and 2018, leading the Triple-A Pacific Coast League in slugging (.590) and OPS (.989) in the latter year, then upped the ante to 30-30 in 2019. After struggling in his first big league trial in 2018, he logged an .857 OPS with four homers in 22 games with Houston last September.
A’s: Nick Swisher
Swisher was the first A’s selection in the “Moneyball” Draft of 2002, taken No. 16 overall. The Ohio State product really broke out in 2004, hitting 29 homers and drawing 103 walks in Triple-A en route to earning his first big league callup. He landed on our 2005 Top 50, all the way up at No. 24, before hitting 21 homers that season while garnering Rookie of the Year votes. He went on to amass a 21.5 WAR in his career.
Mariners: Jarred Kelenic
The Mariners have an embarrassment of riches in terms of outfield prospects right now, and some might argue Julio Rodriguez belongs on this list. But Kelenic jumped on our 2018 midseason Top 100 at No. 69 after the Mets took the Wisconsin prep standout in the first round of that June’s Draft. He moved up to No. 56 on the 2019 preseason list and then proceeded to have a 20-20 year in his first full season across three levels of the Minors. That catapulted him to No. 24 on the 2019 midseason list and all the way up to No. 11 on our preseason list this year.
Rangers: Lewis Brinson
Brinson's raw tools got him drafted 29th overall by the Rangers out of a Florida high school in 2012 and helped him post a 20-20 season in his first year as a pro -- albeit with 191 strikeouts. Sent to the Brewers in 2016 as part of the Jonathan Lucroy/Jeremy Jeffress trade and then to the Marlins in 2018 in a package for Christian Yelich, he continues to display impressive athleticism and worrisome swing-and-miss tendencies.
National League East
Braves: Jason Heyward
This was a tough call, with Ronald Acuña Jr. definitely earning an honorable mention. But trying to put aside the louder hype machine that exists today along with recency bias, Heyward got the nod. The Braves’ first-round pick back in 2007 (No. 14 overall), the outfielder had a big first full season in the South Atlantic League and was our No. 3 prospect to start the 2009 season. He hit his way to Triple-A as a teenager that year, earning him the No. 1 spot on our list prior to the 2010 season and he lived up to the hype immediately, finishing second in NL Rookie of the Year voting that year while earning what’s been his only All-Star nod.
Marlins: Giancarlo Stanton
The Marlins have had four outfielders rank among baseball's 10 best prospects in the last two decades: Jeremy Hermida, Cameron Maybin, Stanton and Christian Yelich. The lone non-first-rounder in that bunch, Stanton was an outstanding California prep athlete with college football offers but struggled on the showcase circuit, so he lasted 76 picks in 2007. He hit 39 homers in his first full pro season, prompting the Red Sox to ask for him in a proposed trade for Manny Ramirez. He earned the 2017 National League MVP award, a pair of home run crowns and four All-Star selections before Miami traded him to the Yankees in December 2017.
Mets: Lastings Milledge
A 2003 first-rounder (No. 12 pick) who looked like the future of the Mets franchise when he ranked as MLB.com’s No. 21 and No. 14 overall prospect in consecutive years (2005-06), Milledge never developed the necessary consistency on either side of the ball to become a true everyday player in New York and was traded to the Nationals after the 2007 season. He had a respectable first full season in D.C., slashing .268/.330/.402 with 14 homers and 24 steals in 138 games, but appeared in only 180 games over the next three years with Washington, Pittsburgh and the White Sox.
Nationals: Bryce Harper
The former No. 1 overall pick (2010) was MLB’s No. 3 prospect in 2011 and No. 2 in ’12 -- the same year he took baseball by storm at age 19 en route to NL Rookie of the Year Award honors and his first All-Star selection. Since then, Harper has become one of the game’s biggest starts, garnering six All-Star selections, an MVP Award (2015) and an historic 13-year, $330 million contract in his first eight seasons. Overall, the 27-year-old has amassed 31.8 WAR, slashing .276/.385/.512 with 219 homers in 1,084 games.
Phillies: Domonic Brown
As has been well-documented, not all hyped prospects live up to advanced billing. Brown’s tools were all the rage as he made his way up the Phillies’ system. After hitting 14 homers and stealing 23 bases while reaching Double-A in 2009, Brown landed at No. 14 on our 2010 preseason Top 100 list. Another big Minor League campaign that year led to his big league debut and a boost up to No. 4 on the 2011 preseason Top 100. It never clicked for Brown in the big leagues and he’s spent the past few seasons playing in the Mexican League.
National League Central
Brewers: Lewis Brinson
The Rangers’ first-round pick from the 2012 Draft didn’t crack MLB Pipeline’s preseason Top 100 Prospects list until 2016, when he ranked as the sport’s No. 16 prospect. He became Brewers property at the Trade Deadline that year, acquired in the deal that sent Jonathan Lucroy and Jeremy Jeffress to Texas, and opened the ’17 season as MLB Pipeline’s No. 18 prospect. But Brinson’s struggles in his first taste of the Majors that summer (.106/.236/.277 in 55 PAs) prompted the Brewers to send him to Miami in the January 2018 Christian Yelich blockbuster, and he hasn’t fared much better with the change of scenery (.189/.238/.294 in 709 PAs).
Cardinals: Óscar Taveras
Signed by St. Louis In November 2008, Taveras quickly blossomed into one of the more gifted hitters in the Minors and ranked as MLB Pipeline’s preseason No. 3 overall prospect in back-to-back years (2013-14). After making his big league debut in May ’14 at age 21, Taveras performed increasingly well down the stretch and continued to produce in the playoffs, posting a 1.286 OPS across seven at-bats. Sadly, tragedy struck just a few weeks later when Taveras, just 22 at the time, died in a car accident in his native Dominican Republic.
Cubs: Corey Patterson
Signed to a then-record $3.7 million bonus as the No. 3 overall pick in the 1998 Draft out of a Georgia high school, Patterson raced through the Minors and debuted with the Cubs at age 20 two years later. He never could hone his raw tools into refined skills, however, and batted .252/.290/.400 in parts of 12 big league seasons with seven different clubs.
Pirates: Andrew McCutchen
McCutchen was taken one spot after Cameron Maybin and one spot before Jay Bruce in the 2005 Draft, and all three are on this list. Cutch spent three years in our top 15 from 2007-2009, peaking at No. 8 in 2009. He’s clearly been the best Major Leaguer of that trio of high school outfielders taken back in ’05, with an NL MVP, four Silver Sluggers, five All-Star appearances and a Gold Glove in his column.
Reds: Jay Bruce
The 2005 Draft will go down in history as one of the best ever and it was known particularly for its slew of high school outfielders taken in the first round. Bruce has been outperformed by some others taken in the round, but he was in our top 10 twice, at No. 8 prior to the 2007 season and then all the way up in the top spot in 2008 after he hit his way to Triple-A at age 20 and finished the 2007 season with a .962 OPS. His big league career has been a bit more up-and-down than that, but he still has over 300 home runs on his resume.
National League West
D-backs: Justin Upton
Selected by Arizona with the first overall pick in the 2005 Draft, Upton ranked as MLB.com’s No. 7 prospect in each of the next two years and made his big league debut at age 19 in August 2007. He was a two-time All-Star during his six years in the desert, slashing .278/.357/.475 with 108 homers and 80 steals. Overall, the 32-year-old outfielder has compiled a .266/.347/.476 career line and 298 home runs across 1,697 games between the D-backs, Braves, Padres, Tigers and Angels.
Dodgers: Joc Pederson
A California prep product, Pederson slid to the 11th round of the 2010 Draft amid signability concerns but accepted a $600,000 bonus to give up the chance to play baseball and walk on the football team as a wide receiver at Southern California. He hit everywhere he went in the Minors, capped by a 30-30 season and MVP Award in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League in 2014, and he has slammed 123 homers in five full years in the Majors.
Giants: Gary Brown
San Francisco has had just one outfielder rank among baseball's top 50 prospects in the last two decades, and Brown barely cleared that bar at No. 48 at the outset of 2012. A 2010 first-rounder out of Cal State Fullerton, he had blazing speed and the Giants valued him so highly that they refused the Mets' request for him in a trade for Carlos Beltran the following July -- giving up Zack Wheeler instead. Brown's offensive performance dropped precipitously when he got to Double-A in 2012 and he wound up collecting just seven at-bats in the big leagues.
Padres: Manuel Margot
Acquired from Boston along with Logan Allen, Carlos Asuaje and Javy Guerra in the November 2015 Craig Kimbrel deal, Margot was a two-time Top 100 prospect for the Padres who peaked at No. 23 on MLB Pipeline’s list in 2017. Though he would finish sixth in the NL Rookie of the Year race that year, tallying 13 homers and 17 steals as a 2.3 WAR player, Margot’s production backed up during the 2018-19 seasons (.240/.297/.385, 20 HR, 31 SB in 292 games), and the Padres traded him to Tampa Bay for reliever Emilio Pagan in February.
Rockies: Dexter Fowler
The Rockies were able to sign Fowler away from his Harvard commitment in the 14th round of the 2004 Draft and he didn’t jump on the top prospect radar until landing at the very end of our Top 50 prior to the 2008 season. A strong year in Double-A earned him his first callup to Colorado that year and also enabled him to jump in our rankings, up to No. 15 in our 2009 preseason list. Perhaps his big league career hasn’t lived up to that hype, but he has spent 11 full seasons in the big leagues, starting in 2009, with a 19.8 career WAR to show for it.
Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. Listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.
Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero.
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.