The Dodgers had mixed success in the first three years of the Draft, sandwiching lackluster efforts in 1965 and 1967 around finding three All-Stars (Charlie Hough, Bill Russell, Billy Grabarkewitz) and a Rookie of the Year (Ted Sizemore) in 1966. Los Angeles slid from a World Series championship to an eighth-place finish during that time, which placed even more importance on getting the 1968 Draft right.
Al Campanis, the club's director of scouting since it moved from Brooklyn in 1958, decided to seek advice from local officials in football, the sport that instituted the first pro draft in 1936. Campanis spoke with Los Angeles Rams owner Dan Reeves and San Diego Chargers coach Sid Gillman, and Gillman sent Campanis to Chargers director of player personnel Al LoCasale.
"He actually showed me how to draft," Campanis told MLB.com's Ken Gurnick in a 1988 story for Baseball America. "He explained the difference between drafting the best athlete or going for need. He showed us how to rank players on a scale of 100 based on fundamental skills. He took a neophyte and taught me how to approach a draft, and I think this helped us."
LoCasale's influence and a decision to focus on position players resulted in the best Draft any team ever has had. MLB staged separate January and June drafts back then, each with distinct regular and secondary phases, and in 1968 the Dodgers signed six future All-Stars and the nucleus of clubs that would win four pennants and one World Series from 1974-81.
Below, we present each team's top Draft effort, ranging from the Athletics and Reds in the first Draft in 1965 to the Marlins in 2010. We only considered players who actually signed pro contracts as part of a club's Draft haul, and all Wins Above Replacement figures come from Baseball Reference.
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
It will forever be known as the start of the Cal Ripken Jr. era. The Orioles didn’t get the Aberdeen High School product until their fourth pick (their third second-round selection) of that June Draft. Getting the Hall of Famer alone might make this their best Draft, but they also got Mike Boddicker and his 31.3 WAR in the sixth round and Larry Sheets in the second. Keep an eye on the 2019 class, with Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson leading the way to eventually making a case for consideration.
Red Sox: 1983
The Red Sox have drafted consistently better than any other team. Their Drafts in 1976 (Wade Boggs, Bruce Hurst, John Tudor), 1989 (Jeff Bagwell, Mo Vaughn, Paul Quantrill) and 1968 (Cecil Cooper, Ben Oglivie, Bill Lee, Lynn McGlothen, John Curtis) each could rank as the best for several clubs, but they all have to take a back seat to Boston's 1983 crop. Many teams rated Texas right-hander Roger Clemens as the best college pitcher available entering the spring but he slumped in May and wound up being the seventh one selected (No. 19 overall) in June. Ranger (Texas) JC outfielder Ellis Burks, a first-rounder in January, made two All-Star teams in an 18-year big league career. The Red Sox found four other fringe big leaguers as well, but Clemens and Burks alone accounted for 189 WAR -- more than any Draft effort ever except for the Dodgers in 1968.
Blue Jays: 1989
Roy Halladay’s 1995 class could give this one a run for its money, but 1989 netted Toronto not one but two future 50-WAR players. John Olerud, a two-way star at Washington State, came in the third round and famously jumped straight to the Majors, where he lasted for 17 years (eight with the Jays) and amassed a career 58.2 WAR as an on-base machine. Jeff Kent signed as a 20th-round shortstop out of Cal but only managed 65 games with Toronto in 1992 before being shipped to the Mets in a deal for David Cone. His 377 career homers are the most among Major League second basemen all-time.
Baseball's old draft-and-follow rule allowed teams to control the rights of players who attended junior college. The Yankees used it to perfection in 1990, taking Texas high school left-hander Andy Pettitte in the 22nd round and Calhoun (Ala.) CC shortstop Jorge Posada in the 24th, then signing them the following spring for a combined $115,000. Carl Everett (first round, No. 10 overall) played in two All-Star Games, while fellow prep outfielders Ricky Ledee (16th) and Shane Spencer (28th) contributed to a pair of World Series championships in New York.
Picking third overall in 2006, Tampa Bay grabbed Long Beach State star Evan Longoria and developed him into the most productive player in the history of the franchise. As of July 2023, the third baseman still leads the franchise in career WAR (51.2), hits (1,480), homers (261) and games played (1,435). As if that wasn’t enough, the Rays also picked up Alex Cobb (fourth round) and outfielder Desmond Jennings (10th) to round out the trio of big-league contributors. Don’t sleep on 2008 (Shane McClanahan, Joe Ryan, Taj Bradley, Matthew Liberatore) taking up this mantle someday.
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL
No need to overthink this. The ’71 Draft brought Kansas City its franchise player in California high-school infielder George Brett. Amazingly in retrospect, Brett came to the Royals as a second-rounder and was taken one spot ahead of the Phillies’ pick of Mike Schmidt. Brett enjoyed 13 straight All-Star honors between 1976 and 1988, won the 1980 AL MVP and finished his Hall of Fame career with 3,154 hits. Mark Littell turned into a solid Major League reliever as a 12th-rounder, even finishing 24th in AL MVP voting himself in 1976, to give the group another name to know.
Alan Trammell and Jack Morris both entered the Hall of Fame via the Modern Baseball Era committee in 2018. They also both entered the Tigers system in the same year, Trammell in the second round and Morris in the fifth. The former spent his entire career in Detroit and won four Gold Gloves, three Silver Sluggers and the 1984 World Series MVP award. Morris won three titles with the Tigers, Twins and Blue Jays (including his own Word Series MVP with Minnesota in 1991) and was a five-time All-Star in his 18-year career. Fourth-rounder Dan Petry also started two games for the ’84 Tigers team and spent 13 seasons in the bigs with Detroit, California, Atlanta and Boston. The Tigers also drafted but couldn’t sign Ozzie Smith as their seventh-round pick, in case anyone in Detroit wants to imagine what a Trammell-Smith-Lou Whitaker infield could have done in the 1980s.
Cleveland chose Texas high school outfielder Calvin Murray 11th overall, apparently unaware that he had told the Major League Scouting Bureau he had no intention of signing, a gaffe that cost scouting director Chet Montgomery his job. Montgomery deserved a raise, however, because he selected and signed 10 future big leaguers, highlighted by a Hall of Famer in the 13th round (Illinois Central JC shortstop Jim Thome), a two-time All-Star in the 17th (California high school outfielder Brian Giles) and four pitchers who had lengthy careers: Louisiana State right-hander Curtis Leskanic (eighth), Virginia Commonwealth left-hander Jerry Dipoto (third), Seminole State (Okla.) JC righty Robert Person (25th) and Washington prep lefty Alan Embree (fifth).
Not only did the Twins draft a lot of big leaguers in 1989, they got them to the big leagues in a hurry. First-rounder Chuck Knoblauch was the American League Rookie of the Year in 1991. Fourth-round pick Scott Erickson led the AL in wins in that 1991 season and finished second in Cy Young voting. Lefty Denny Neagle also made it up in ’91, while Mike Trombley (14th round) began his 11-year big league career in 1992 and Marty Cordova (10th round) was the AL Rookie of the Year in 1995. Knoblauch and Erickson were key parts of that 1991 World Series-winning Twins team.
White Sox: 1990
This might be the closest decision among any of the 30 clubs. We're going with 1990, when the White Sox procured five solid big leaguers: North Carolina high school second baseman Ray Durham (fifth round), Miami-Dade CC South right-hander Alex Fernandez (first, No. 4 overall), Wisconsin-Whitewater righty Bob Wickman (second), North Carolina prep righty James Baldwin (fourth) and Middlesex (Mass.) CC righty Jason Bere (36th). Durham collected 2,054 hits, while the four pitchers combined for 320 wins and 269 saves. Arguments also can be made for Chicago's classes of 1998 (Mark Buehrle, Aaron Rowand, Kip Wells, Josh Fogg) and 1970 (Goose Gossage, Terry Forster, Bucky Dent, Jerry Hairston).
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST
The A’s, then still in Kansas City, really hit the ground running in the first year of the Draft’s existence. Taking the first-ever Draft pick as the Kansas City A's, they nabbed Rick Monday, who was in the big leagues by the end of the 1966 season. But he comes in third according to WAR, with his 33.1 career total coming behind sixth-rounder Sal Bando (61.5) and 11th-round pick Gene Tenace (46.8). Bobby Brooks and Joe Keough also signed and made it to the big leagues from this Draft.
Right-hander Kevin Brown went from unrecruited Georgia Tech walk-on to the No. 4 overall choice in the 1986 Draft, and the Rangers followed taking the borderline Hall of Famer with a pair of All-Stars in Texas high school righty Roger Pavlik (second round) and Florida prep shortstop Dean Palmer (third). California high school shortstop Rey Sanchez (13th) was a standout defender for 15 years in the Majors.
Though Kenny Lofton got just one at-bat as an outfielder at Arizona and was better known as a point guard on four NCAA tournament teams, area scout Clark Crist loved his speed and persuaded Houston to sign the future six-time All-Star for $12,000 in the 17th round. The Astros whiffed on their first two choices (Texas prep outfielder Willie Ansley, Cal State Los Angeles shortstop Mica Lewis) but hit big on Lofton, South Alabama first baseman Luis Gonzalez (fourth round) and Creighton catcher Scott Servais (third).
This is another example of one player more or less making an entire Draft. Yes, Alex Rodriguez is a polarizing figure, but there’s no question the Mariners nailed it by taking him with the No. 1 pick in 1993. Seattle actually drafted and signed a couple of other big leaguers in later rounds that June (10th-rounder Matt Crow and 13th-rounder Rafael Carmona), but A-Rod’s 117.5 career WAR makes up the vast majority of the WAR accrued from this Draft class (118.3, the top amount in any year for the organization).
As if we could pick any other Draft. Getting Mike Trout and his 85.2 WAR with the 25th overall pick that June would be more than enough for this to be the franchise’s best Draft. But the Angels also drafted and signed future big leaguers in Randal Grichuk (taken one pick before Trout), supplemental first-round picks Garrett Richards and Tyler Skaggs, as well as Patrick Corbin (2nd round).
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
The Phillies took right-handed pitcher Roy Thomas in the first round of the 1971 Draft out of the California high school ranks and he went on to spend parts of eight seasons in the big leagues, though none of them with the Phillies. But they really struck gold in Round 2, getting Ohio University shortstop Mike Schmidt. He moved to third and was in the big leagues by September of 1972, the start of his illustrious Hall of Fame career. The Phillies also found big leaguers in the eighth round with Mac Scarce and the first round of the June secondary draft this year with Dane Iorg.
Dwight Gooden’s selection at fifth overall gets the bulk of attention in this class, as well it should. The Doc led the Majors in strikeouts his first two seasons in the Majors, won an NL Cy Young award and led New York to a 1986 World Series title, all before his 23rd birthday. Only David Wells (53.4) had a higher career WAR than Gooden’s 53.0 among 1982 pitchers who signed. But in case that wasn’t enough, the Mets drafted and signed 10 future Major Leaguers in 1982, also including future closer Roger McDowell (who earned the win in Game 7 of the 1986 Series) and Expos/Phillies starter Floyd Youmans.
The Stephen Strasburg (2009) and Bryce Harper (2010) picks will go down as two of the best picks in franchise history, but if we’re considering depth of class for this, consider that the 2000 Draft netted then-Montreal third-rounder Grady Sizemore (27.8 WAR), fourth-rounder Cliff Lee (43.2) and 22nd-rounder Jason Bay (24.8) as part of a well-rounded group. Lee and Sizemore were both parts of the 2002 blockbuster that brought Bartolo Colon over from Cleveland while Bay was dealt three times before really latching on with the Pirates as the NL Rookie of the Year in 2004. On top of Bay, the class could have had even more of a Canadian flavor had the Expos signed 35th-rounder and local kid Russell Martin.
The Braves have Draft classes with higher combined WAR than this class, namely 1984 (the Tom Glavine Draft) and 1990 (the Chipper Jones Draft), but to be fair, members of the Class of ’07 are still producing in the big leagues. That was the year where they added the tremendous 1-2 punch of Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman in the top two rounds. The next two picks, Brandon Hicks and Cory Gearrin, also reached the big leagues and while 33rd-rounder Craig Kimbrel didn’t sign in 2007, it did help establish a relationship that allowed him to join the organization as a third-rounder in 2008.
The Marlins were able to grab a future MVP (albeit not for them) with the 23rd overall selection because Christian Yelich was a California high schooler playing out of position at first base and there were questions about his power. They also stole one of baseball's best catchers in J.T. Realmuto in the third round, correctly projecting that the Oklahoma prep shortstop's athleticism would ease his transition behind the plate. California outfielder Mark Canha was another good value in the seventh round.
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL
Who was the Reds’ first-round pick in the first-ever Draft? It’s OK if you don’t remember because they got Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench in the second round that year. But they got high school third baseman Bernie Carbo with their first selection and he was a big part of the 1970 World Series team as an outfielder before getting traded in 1972. They also got Hal McRae in the sixth round and while his best years came with the Royals, he contributed to the Big Red Machine in the early '70s.
Chicago blew the No. 3 overall pick on Morehead State left-hander Drew Hall but recovered to find a pair of pitchers whose record for combined victories by draftmates may never be broken. Nevada high school right-hander Greg Maddux (second round) and St. Joseph's lefty Jamie Moyer (sixth) totaled 624 wins between them -- 161 of those with the Cubs -- and Spartanburg Methodist (S.C.) JC outfielder Dwight Smith (third, June secondary) finished second in the 1989 National League Rookie of the Year balloting. The 1984-85 Cubs rival the 1975-76 Tigers for having the best back-to-back Drafts, with Chicago finding Rafael Palmeiro and Mark Grace in 1985.
To date, the 1985 Draft has one of the highest collective WARs of any Draft in history. The top four picks of that year all went on to successful big league careers of varying degrees, highlighted by Hall of Famer Barry Larkin. The No. 5 pick that June was Kurt Brown, who never made it to the big leagues, and then the Pirates drafted Barry Bonds out of Arizona State. His 50.3 WAR with the Pirates alone would put him fourth among first-rounders from that year. He picked up two of his NL MVP Awards with the Pirates and led them to the postseason three years in a row from 1990-92.
Few in his era could pick up hits like Paul Molitor, who finished with 3,319 of them over his 21-year career in the Majors. Milwaukee scouts identified that early in the University of Minnesota product and selected the infielder third overall behind Harold Baines and Bill Gullickson, whose career WARs add to 62.1 (short of Molitor’s 75.7). The Crew kept the solid picks coming with second-rounder Kevin Bass, who is remembered for his 10 years with the Astros after being traded by Milwaukee in a 1982 deal for future Hall of Famer Don Sutton.
Consider this: St. Louis’ first two picks (Chance Caple, Nick Stocks) in 1999 never made the Majors. And yet, the organization’s selection of junior college infielder Albert Pujols in the 13th round elevates this class to special status and remains one of the best finds in recent Draft history. Pujols retired last year as the fourth member of the 700-homer club and with 3,384 hits over 22 years in the bigs. As if he wasn’t enough, the Cards selected Coco Crisp (28.9 career WAR) in the seventh round before moving him three years later for Chuck Finley. Chris Duncan, a contributor on the 2006 World Series team, was St. Louis’ third-rounder.
NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST
Los Angeles signed six future All-Stars who would combine for 23 All-Star Game appearances, both Draft records, as was its total of 236 WAR generated by 10 big leaguers. The Dodgers' two best picks were college third basemen in the June secondary phase: Michigan State's Steve Garvey (first round) and Washington State's Ron Cey (third). Their other All-Stars were Washburn (Kan.) University outfielder Davey Lopes in the second round of January's secondary phase, and Alabama prep right-hander Doyle Alexander (ninth round), California high school first baseman Bill Buckner (second) and Houston outfielder/defensive back Tom Paciorek (fifth) in the regular June Draft. Pacific outfielder Joe Ferguson (eighth, June), Michigan left-hander Geoff Zahn (fifth round, January secondary) and Connecticut high school outfielder Bobby Valentine (first, No. 5 overall, June) also had long big league careers.
San Francisco found an entire starting outfield in El Camino (Calif.) JC's George Foster (January, third round) and California high schoolers Garry Maddox (January, second) and Gary Matthews (June, first, No. 17 overall). That trio combined for three World Series championships, an MVP award, six All-Star Game selections and eight Gold Gloves -- but none for the Giants.
Mr. Padre became a Padre this year. The organization didn’t have to go far to take the San Diego State standout in the third round and developed him into the franchise leader in WAR (69.2), games played (2,440), hits (3,141), walks (790), doubles (543), triples (85) and RBIs (1,138) among many other categories. Sixth overall pick Kevin McReynolds (30.1 career WAR) is remembered more for his time with the Mets in the late 1980s but managed a Top 20 NL MVP finish with San Diego in 1984.
The 1998 Draft is the Rockies’ highest in terms of WAR (68.7) and that’s with virtually nothing to show for their picks in the early rounds. Outfielder Jody Gerut, their second second-round pick, is the first from this class to produce a positive WAR, but it’s a pair of future outfielders taken in later rounds who really make this Draft successful. Colorado got speedster Juan Pierre in the 13th round out of the University of South Carolina, but the real steal was getting Matt Holliday to sign out of the Oklahoma high school ranks in the seventh round, then see him make three straight All-Star teams in 2006-08 as a Rockie.
Paul Goldschmidt is a borderline Hall of Famer well before his career is over, making it all the more amazing Arizona selected him in the eighth round and signed him for $95,000 out of Texas State. Since then, the now-Cardinals first baseman has an MVP, seven All-Star honors, five Silver Sluggers and four Gold Gloves to his name. The organization also made a solid pick much higher at No. 17 overall where it selected Notre Dame outfielder AJ Pollock, who was a 2015 All-Star and Gold Glover in his own right for Arizona. Chris Owings, Keon Broxton and Chase Anderson round out the group with career WARs above 1.0.