The biggest miss at each of the top 30 Draft slots

July 15th, 2022

Any time a first-round Draft pick doesn’t pan out, it hurts. But when one of those unsuccessful selections is followed immediately by another that blossoms, it stings all the more.

These situations are an inevitable part of a Draft in which finding stars is an inexact science, and even sound decisions have a habit of backfiring. With the luxury of hindsight, though, we can look back on some of these missteps -- the type teams will hope to avoid when the 2022 Draft gets started on Sunday.

Here is a breakdown of the biggest miss at each of the top 30 Draft slots, which now make up the first round. These choices are based upon the careers of both the player chosen with that pick, and the player chosen next. For the former, only those who have accrued little to no wins above replacement (WAR), per Baseball-Reference, were considered.

Both players are listed with their career WAR entering Thursday, while those who never reached the Majors are designated “DNP.”

No. 1) Padres (2004): Matt Bush (2.7)
No. 2) Tigers: Justin Verlander (74.2)

The funny thing is that San Diego apparently wasn’t even considering Verlander, the right-hander from Old Dominion. Rather, the club was looking at three other college players, pitchers Jered Weaver (No. 12, Angels) and Jeff Niemann (No. 4, Devil Rays) and shortstop Stephen Drew (No. 15, D-backs). Concerned about their signability, the Padres instead opted for Bush, who had a friendlier asking price and was a local kid, from Mission Bay High School. “There were some college players that would have gotten to the big leagues sooner,” then-general manager Kevin Towers said. “But we liked the idea of going with someone in our own backyard.” Bush did eventually make the Majors, but it was as a Rangers reliever in 2016, following years of struggles, on and off the field.

In another infamous pick, the Mets took high school catcher Steven Chilcott -- who never made the Majors, due to a shoulder injury -- over Reggie Jackson in 1966.

No. 2) Rockies (2006): Greg Reynolds (-1.5)
No. 3) Devil Rays: Evan Longoria (57.6)

Longoria played with Troy Tulowitzki at Long Beach State, and the two could have shared the left side of the infield at Coors Field, too. But Colorado apparently felt set at the hot corner with Garrett Atkins and Ian Stewart, and turned its attention to pitching. Reynolds, a lefty from Stanford, wound up with a 7.01 ERA in 123 1/3 big league innings.

No. 3) Astros (1968): Martin Cott (DNP)
No. 4) Yankees: Thurman Munson (46.1)

Houston took the high school catcher from Buffalo, N.Y., instead of the college catcher from Kent State. Cott logged only two games above Class A and last played professionally at age 19 in 1970, the same year Munson was the AL Rookie of the Year for the Yankees.

No. 4) Twins (1982): Bryan Oelkers (-0.9)
No. 5) Mets: Dwight Gooden (53.0)

Oelkers was an accomplished collegiate lefty, the 1982 NCAA Pitcher of the Year at Wichita State. Taking him “was an obvious choice,” then-Twins vice president for scouting George Brophy told The AP in 1989. But it was Gooden, the risky high school righty, who became a Major League superstar within two years. Oelkers pitched 103 1/3 MLB innings.

No. 5) White Sox (1985): Kurt Brown (DNP)
No. 6) Pirates: Barry Bonds (162.8)

A catcher, Brown was USA TODAY’s High School Player of the Year in 1985, and he got picked just after college stars B.J. Surhoff, Will Clark, Bobby Witt and Barry Larkin -- and just ahead of another (Arizona State’s Bonds). “Bonds is the famous pick and I’m the infamous pick,” Brown told USA TODAY in 2007, long after a seven-year pro career that featured a .631 OPS.

No. 6) Cardinals (1989): Paul Coleman (DNP)
No. 7) White Sox: Frank Thomas (73.8)

Coleman was a high school outfielder from tiny Frankston, Texas. “We’ve been looking for a power hitter, and we think Coleman is the type of guy who is going to come through,” Cardinals scouting director Fred McAlister told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, comparing his build to none other than Bo Jackson. Coleman hit 19 home runs in five Minor League seasons; Thomas hit 521 in the Majors.

No. 7) Rangers (1995): Jonathan Johnson (-1.0)
No. 8) Rockies: Todd Helton (61.8)

A star right-hander at Florida State, Johnson appealed to Texas as being close to Major League-ready. He actually did get there in 1998, but only for one game, and wound up scattering 77 1/3 big league innings over parts of six seasons. Helton spent 17 seasons as the Rockies’ first baseman.

No. 8) Dodgers (1987): Dan Opperman (DNP)
No. 9) Royals: Kevin Appier (54.5)

Opperman apparently had experienced arm problems in high school, and he underwent Tommy John surgery before making his pro debut. Injuries persisted, limiting him to barely 300 Minor League innings, while Appier logged more than 2,500 over 16 MLB seasons.

No. 9) Giants (1984): Alan Cockrell (-0.1)
No. 10) A's: Mark McGwire (62.1)

McGwire, the USC slugger, had been a candidate to go No. 1 overall to the Mets. Instead, New York took high school outfielder Shawn Abner, and McGwire slid all the way to 10th, past where Bay Area counterpart San Francisco had snagged Cockrell, an athletic outfielder who had been a star quarterback at Tennessee. Cockrell’s only nine MLB games came as a 33-year-old.

No. 10) Padres (2011): Cory Spangenberg (4.7)
No. 11) Astros: George Springer (32.7)

Spangenberg, a junior college infielder, was seen as something of a signability pick. And he did play 387 games for the Padres through ‘18, before moving on to the Brewers last year, and then to Japan. (He's now with the Cardinals in Triple-A). Springer had some swing-and-miss issues at Connecticut, but eventually refined that in the Majors while becoming a World Series MVP and four-time All-Star.

No. 11) Pirates (1994): Mark Farris (DNP)
No. 12) Red Sox: Nomar Garciaparra (44.3)

Farris was a two-sport high school star from Texas who had signed to play baseball and football at Texas A&M. Pirates GM Cam Bonifay projected him as a middle-of-the-order third baseman comparable to Robin Ventura. Instead, the bat never developed, and Farris gave up on baseball to play quarterback for the Aggies from 1999-2002. Meanwhile, Garciaparra went to Boston and was AL Rookie of the Year in ‘97.

No. 12) Astros (1971): Neil Rasmussen (DNP)
No. 13) Angels: Frank Tanana (57.1)

Rasmussen was a high school shortstop from California who lasted only three seasons in the Houston organization. He topped out at Double-A and had a .611 OPS in the Minors. Tanana pitched more than 4,000 innings over 21 MLB seasons, including eight for the Angels.

No. 13) Indians (2007): Beau Mills (DNP)
No. 14) Braves: Jason Heyward (38.6)

Mills was a record-setting slugger at Lewis-Clark State, where he set an NAIA single-season record with 38 homers, but he only got as far as Triple-A. Heyward went from local Georgia high school pick to Braves All-Star in just three years.

No. 14) Orioles (2000): Beau Hale (DNP)
No. 15) Phillies: Chase Utley (64.5)

Baltimore was disappointed to lose out on Rocco Baldelli, who went sixth to Tampa Bay, but was pleasantly surprised to find Hale -- a hard-throwing righty from Texas -- still available. Then Hale encountered shoulder problems and never got past Double-A. Utley overcame the defensive questions he faced coming out of UCLA to become an all-around star for the Phillies.

No. 15) White Sox (1997): Jason Dellaero (-0.9)
No. 16) Astros: Lance Berkman (51.9)

A power-hitting shortstop at South Florida, Dellaero slugged .349 in the Minors and got to the Majors for all of 11 games with the White Sox in 1999. “I think I just lost my confidence,” he told the Chicago Tribune in 2001. “It’s tough to get it back.” Berkman, a college star at Rice, became a hometown pick in Houston, where he hit 326 home runs.

No. 16) Giants (1995): Joe Fontenot (-0.8)
No. 17) Blue Jays: Roy Halladay (64.2)

Both were high school right-handers, but that’s where the similarities end. Fontenot was traded to the Marlins in the Robb Nen deal in November 1997, made eight starts with a 6.33 ERA in ‘98, and dealt with shoulder issues, last pitching in ‘99. Halladay had some early-career setbacks but developed into a two-time Cy Young Award winner and Hall of Famer.

No. 17) Mets (1974): Cliff Speck (0.3)
No. 18) Royals: Willie Wilson (46.2)

Speck struggled in the Mets’ system, was released in 1978 and became a baseball vagabond. He lasted 15 seasons in pro ball, which included all of 13 games (one start) with the 1986 Braves. Meanwhile, the Royals’ gamble on Wilson -- a superb athlete with a football scholarship to Maryland -- netted them a longtime leadoff man.

No. 18) Dodgers (1983): Erik Sonberg (DNP)
No. 19) Red Sox: Roger Clemens (139.2)

The Dodgers wanted a left-hander and picked Sonberg out of Wichita State. He battled arm problems and posted a 6.20 ERA in six Minor League seasons. Clemens, the Texas righty, made it to Boston within a year and was a Cy Young and MVP winner by 1986.

No. 19) Giants (1990): Eric Christopherson (DNP)
No. 20) Orioles: Mike Mussina (82.8)

Mussina was an All-American at nearby Stanford, yet the Giants opted for Christopherson, a San Diego State catcher who never made the Majors. The Orioles nabbed Mussina, whom they had previously drafted in the 11th round out of high school in 1987, and he built the foundation for a Hall of Fame career in Baltimore.

No. 20) Red Sox (1974): Eddie Ford (DNP)
No. 21) Dodgers: Rick Sutcliffe (33.9)

Ford is the son of Hall of Fame Yankees pitcher Whitey Ford. The switch-hitting South Carolina shortstop played only four seasons in the Minors with a .594 OPS. Sutcliffe, a high school righty from Missouri, was the 1979 NL Rookie of the Year for the Dodgers and later a Cy Young Award winner.

No. 21) Tigers (1987): Steve Pegues (-0.7)
No. 22) Astros: Craig Biggio (65.5)

This one stings double because Detroit had both the 20th and 21st picks, using the former on high school catcher Bill Henderson, who never made the Majors. Pegues, a speedy high school outfielder from Mississippi, told the Detroit Free-Press he expected to last until the second round. By the time Pegues got to the Majors for 100 games in 1994-95, Biggio was an established star in Houston, where he converted from catcher to second base.

No. 22) Rangers (2010): Kellin Deglan (DNP)
No. 23) Marlins: Christian Yelich (35.1)

Texas also drafted Jake Skole, a high school outfielder, 15th. Deglan, a Canadian high school catcher, followed. Neither made it to the Rangers, although Deglan remains active in the Minors. Yelich, a sweet-swinging high school first baseman, developed into a stellar outfielder who won 2018 NL MVP honors in Milwaukee.

No. 23) Cardinals (2015): Nick Plummer (-0.1)
No. 24) Dodgers: Walker Buehler (13.2)

The book is hardly closed on this one, but the Buehler has emerged as one of the most talented starters in MLB, despite needing Tommy John surgery after the Dodgers plucked him from Vanderbilt. Plummer, a Michigan high school outfielder, finally made his MLB debut with the Mets this year.

It’s also worth noting that in 2009, the White Sox took LSU outfielder Jared Mitchell 23rd. The Angels then used the first of back-to-back picks on Randal Grichuk before snagging Mike Trout 25th.

No. 24) Mets (1989): Alan Zinter (-0.8)
No. 25) Twins: Chuck Knoblauch (44.6)

One thing Zinter had was persistence. He finally made his MLB debut in June 2002, a month after his 34th birthday -- and only a few months before Knoblauch played the final game of a four-time All-Star career. The college catcher from Arizona ultimately logged 18 seasons in the Minors and one in Japan.

No. 25) Astros (1976): Phil Klimas (DNP)
No. 26) Tigers: Alan Trammell (70.7)

This was the beginning of the second round at the time, and Houston took Klimas, a third baseman from St. Xavier (Ill.) University. Despite hitting well in the Minors (.828 OPS), Klimas never rose above Double-A, while Trammell played 20 seasons in Detroit and became a Hall of Famer.

No. 26) Astros (1967): Jay Schlueter (0.0)
No. 27) A's: Vida Blue (45.1)

Schlueter finished as a .333 Major League hitter, but that was in three at-bats, all in 1971. The high school outfielder from Arizona otherwise spent nine seasons in the Minors. The big question for Blue was whether the flamethrowing Louisiana lefty would choose baseball or football. The former path led him to AL Cy Young and MVP honors in 1971.

No. 27) Tigers (1975): John Murphy (DNP)
No. 28) Cubs: Lee Smith (28.9)

Murphy, a prep lefty from Brooklyn, reached Triple-A with Detroit in 1978 but never made it to the big leagues. Smith had to be signed away from playing college basketball at Northwestern State but developed into the Cubs’ closer, going on to save 478 games over a career that eventually took him to Cooperstown.

No. 28) Expos (1971): Dan Warthen (0.6)
No. 29) Royals: George Brett (88.6)

Warthen would make a bigger impact in the Majors as a pitching coach than as a player, having thrown 307 innings over four seasons for Montreal, Philadelphia and Houston. It was a double whammy for Montreal, considering that the next two selections -- Brett and Mike Schmidt -- turned into two of the greatest homegrown Draft picks in MLB history.

No. 29) Red Sox (1982): Kevin Romine (-1.4)
No. 30) Blue Jays: David Wells (53.5)

A collegiate star at Arizona State, Romine did appear in seven MLB seasons for Boston as a reserve outfielder, although he posted a .631 OPS over 331 games. These days, he might be best known as the father to two more big leaguers: Andrew and Austin. Wells’ first of two stints with Toronto was a mixed bag, but he ultimately pitched 21 MLB seasons and was a three-time All-Star.

No. 30) Mariners (1984): Mike Christ (DNP)
No. 31) Cubs: Greg Maddux (106.6)

Maddux was a talented high school pitcher from Las Vegas, but as a right-hander with a scrawny 5-11, 155-pound frame, faced considerable questions about his size and durability. Those would prove unfounded, to say the least. Christ, a righty from Jacksonville University, pitched five seasons in the Seattle system, mostly below Triple-A.