These top-3 Draft picks never made MLB

July 15th, 2022

On June 29, 2022,  finally made his Major League debut.

The Phillies right-hander did so nine years after the Astros made him the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 Draft, capping an arduous jersey that included an "indefinite break" from the game. At 30 years and 349 days old, Appel became the oldest No. 1 pick to make his MLB debut. But he got there.

That triumph removed Appel from the short list of top-three picks who haven't made their way to the bigs. Here is a look at that group, which excludes recent selections who remain active.

No. 1 picks

2014: LHP Brady Aiken (Astros)
Aiken, a high school lefty from San Diego, was Houston's third consecutive top pick, coming on the heels of Carlos Correa and Appel. But he never made it into the organization, after failing a post-Draft physical that raised concerns over his elbow. One of three No. 1 picks in Draft history not to sign, Aiken wound up having Tommy John surgery before going back into the 2015 Draft. He was selected 17th overall by Cleveland but struggled to gain traction in the team's farm system, never rising above Class A. Still only 25 years old, Aiken last appeared in a professional game in April 2019.

(The Astros, meanwhile, fared well in the whole saga. Because they didn't sign Aiken, they received the second overall pick in the 2015 Draft as compensation and used that on Alex Bregman).

1991: LHP Brien Taylor (Yankees)
He was 6-foot-3 with a rocket arm and seemed to be a can't-miss star. The Yankees paid him a record $1.55 million signing bonus hoping for big things, and he appeared well on his way until he seriously injured his throwing shoulder in a bar fight in 1993. Taylor missed the entire '94 season, and it went sour for him quickly upon his return in '95, as he never pitched beyond Double-A ball before retiring for good in 2000. Taylor wound up being imprisoned on a federal drug charge, and he was released in '14.

1966: C Steve Chilcott (Mets)
Before Aiken and Taylor, Chilcott was the first No. 1 pick to fall short of the Majors. Picked by the Mets out of Antelope Valley (CA) High School, a shoulder injury suffered in Chilcott's second season at Class A wound up derailing his career. The No. 2 pick in that 1966 Draft? Mr. October, Reggie Jackson.

No. 2 picks

2014: RHP Tyler Kolek (Marlins)
One pick after Houston took Aiken, Miami grabbed another promising high school pitcher. Kolek looked the part -- a strapping 6-foot-5 right-hander from Texas who could reach triple digits with his fastball. But the command just never arrived for Kolek, who walked 124 batters over 163 2/3 Minor League innings, to go with a 5.66 ERA. He never made it to Double-A and last pitched in 2019.

1987: OF/1B Mark Merchant (Pirates)
The No. 1 pick that year is also in the Hall of Fame -- Ken Griffey Jr. Merchant was the No. 2 pick, and he toiled in the Minors for the better part of a decade, including the final three at Triple-A, before hanging them up in 1997.

1982: SS Augie Schmidt (Blue Jays)
The Majors' loss has been Carthage College's gain. Schmidt worked his way up the ladder to Triple-A before injuries and talent like Alfredo Griffin and Tony Fernandez in front of Schmidt left him short of the goal. He retired in 1986 after playing for his hometown Class A team in Kenosha, Wis. He has been the head baseball coach for Carthage College there since '88.

1980: SS Gary Harris (Blue Jays)
Another draftee at shortstop who didn't pan out for the Blue Jays, Harris was drafted one spot after Darryl Strawberry in 1980 and had topped out at Double-A by '83 -- his final year of pro ball.

1975: LHP Mike Lentz (Padres)
The 1975 Draft was topped by the only player to be drafted No. 1 overall twice -- Danny Goodwin -- and then Lentz led a run of picks Nos. 2-5 who all fell short of the Majors. Lentz topped out at Double-A, and after shoulder and knee injuries, he wound up finished with baseball in '79.

No. 3 picks

2009: OF Donavan Tate (Padres)
The Padres gave Tate $6.25 million to sign him away from playing both football and baseball at the University of North Carolina. Injuries and drug suspensions, not to mention an inability to make adjustments at the plate, derailed his career. He last played in 2016 and tried to return to football in '17 at the University of Arizona, but he left the school in December to move closer to home.

2003: RHP Kyle Sleeth (Tigers)
Sleeth had a great amateur resume coming out of Wake Forest University and was off to a good start to his career, making it up to Double-A and playing in the 2004 All-Star Futures Game. But then Tommy John surgery derailed him, and Sleeth called it quits at the end of Spring Training in '08.

2002: RHP Chris Gruler (Reds)
A big right-hander who signed out of high school, Gruler ran into shoulder problems and was released by '06 after reaching Class A ball. Other starters drafted in the first round that year include Zack Greinke, Scott Kazmir, Cole Hamels and Matt Cain.

1992: LHP B.J. Wallace (Expos)
After a stellar career at Mississippi State, Wallace was drafted by the Expos, only to top out at Double-A in 1994 after shoulder surgery knocked him off course.

1979: C Jay Schroeder (Blue Jays)
Yes, that Jay Schroeder. He played in the Blue Jays' system while going to UCLA, and he left baseball behind for a career as a quarterback in the NFL, winning a Super Bowl ring as backup QB for Washington in 1988.

1975: OF Les Filkins (Tigers)
After making his way up the ladder to Triple-A and going to Spring Training with the Major League club, Filkins was blocked by talented outfielders in Detroit, including Kirk Gibson. Filkins wound up taking a deal to play in Japan in 1983, his final year in pro ball.

1969: 3B Ted Nicholson (White Sox)
Nicholson was a high-school third baseman out of Mississippi, and he had made it to Class A in two years. But he missed two seasons due to military service, and he was done after trying to come back in '73.

1968: C Martin Cott (Astros)
Cott went 0-for-4 at Triple-A, but he otherwise played only at Class A and was done after 1970. Cott was picked one spot ahead of Thurman Munson, the catcher who went on to become a Yankees icon.