Each year, Major League Baseball’s Draft gives teams a chance to dream about what direction their organization may be headed a few years down the road.
There’s no way to know at the time how Draft picks will pan out; in fact, hindsight is the only sure thing when evaluating the success or failure of any particular Draft.
That said, every team has that blue-chip former pick that it can acknowledge now for being a real difference-maker. Some were selected in high rounds. Others were not taken until later in the Draft, as diamond-in-the-rough types who far exceeded expectations.
In the American League Central division, players identified as their team’s best former Draft pick covers a wide range of territory. Let’s examine:
Indians: Francisco Lindor
While Shane Bieber is certainly becoming a strong candidate for the Tribe’s best use of a Draft pick, we can’t ignore the face of its franchise. Lindor’s impact on the club is evident and his talent speaks for itself. As the eighth overall pick in the 2011 Draft, Lindor made his debut on June 14, 2015, and since the start of that season through present day, he has accumulated the sixth-best bWAR (27.6) in the Majors.
“Frankie’s one of the best players in the game,” Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said at the end of last season. “That’s clear and he’s demonstrated that over the past few years.”
The 26-year-old is one of eight big leaguers in history to score at least 120 runs, hit 35 homers, record 40 doubles and steal 20 bases in a single season (2018). He ranks second in club history for most hits in the first five years of a career (835) behind Earl Averill and trails just Hal Trosky in most homers within the first five years with 130. In 82 games, he recorded 100 hits, which is the sixth fastest to reach that milestone in team history. No matter how long Lindor remains in an Indians’ uniform, the footprint that he’s left isn’t disappearing any time soon. -- Mandy Bell
Royals: Alex Gordon
Who is the current best Royals’ Draft pick? One could argue Whit Merrifield was the shrewdest as he was a ninth-round pick in 2010 who has developed into perhaps the premier and most dynamic super utility man in the game.
But the best Draft pick on the Royals’ roster remains Gordon, and it will stay that way until he retires. Gordon was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2005 Draft, and as Royals fans will recall, he had a rocky start.
Gordon, drafted out of Nebraska as a third baseman, was close to being a bust until he was converted to left field in 2010. From there, Gordon resurrected his career and eventually became the face of the franchise.
Gordon has won seven Gold Glove Awards and has been the Wilson defensive player of the year three times. He also has been to three All-Star Games. And he has had some iconic postseason moments, including his game-tying home run in the ninth inning of Game 1 of the 2015 World Series.
But perhaps more than anything has been Gordon’s influence on his teammates.
“Everyone in this locker room looks up to Alex,” Merrifield said. “If you want to know how to conduct yourself as a professional baseball player, you just have to look at Alex’s daily routine. He gives everything he’s got every minute he’s at the ballpark.” -- Jeffrey Flanagan
Tigers: Tarik Skubal
While former top overall Draft pick Casey Mize ranks as the Tigers' top prospect by MLB Pipeline, Skubal is unquestionably their best Draft pick. The former Seattle University left-hander, selected eight rounds after Mize in the same 2018 Draft, owns a 2.11 ERA and 13.2 strikeouts per nine innings in a season and a half in the Tigers system, vaulting to 46th on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 list. After a standout Spring Training in Tigers camp that showcased his upper-90s fastball, he could be an option for Detroit's rotation sooner rather than later. -- Jason Beck
Twins: José Berríos
While many of the Twins' more productive contributors from recent Drafts have manifested in the current bullpen, the most prominent player among the group has to be Berríos, a proud son of Puerto Rico who was selected with the 32nd pick of the 2012 MLB Draft and has started to grow into the ace potential that had been foretold as he rose through the organization, with decreasing ERAs in the 3 range in each of the last three seasons amid increasing innings counts and more frequent spurts of utter dominance on the mound. There's still some more consistency and stamina to be gained, but the talent is absolutely there, and he's been honing it more effectively on an upward trajectory throughout the course of his career.
Raw talent-wise, no Twins draftee can match Byron Buxton, who was selected first overall in that same 2012 Draft, but the center fielder hasn't been able to translate his five-tool potential to the field over a full season despite flashes of brilliance and another promising step of development at the plate in '19.
With all that said, the success of the Twins' current young core is a testament more to the club's strong international signings than its strength in the Draft, with Miguel Sanó, Jorge Polanco, Max Kepler and Luis Arraez prominent among the homegrown fixtures who should carry this lineup into the future. But that could change soon, with recent first-round selections Royce Lewis, Alex Kirilloff, Trevor Larnach and Brent Rooker all seemingly ready to impact the Major Leagues within the next two seasons. Frankly, there's an argument to be made for choosing any of Lewis, Kirilloff or Larnach as the Twins' best current Draft pick in terms of possible future upside, but Berríos' proven success at the MLB level wins the day for now. -- Do-Hyoung Park
White Sox: Tim Anderson
When Anderson was taken 17th overall in the 2013 Draft, he was a raw baseball talent with one exceptional season behind him on the diamond for East Central Community College in Mississippi. Anderson was selected as a shortstop, but there was some talk a player of his vast athleticism could even move to the outfield. Seven years later, Anderson not only has made shortstop his own, with 30 home run and 30 stolen base capabilities, but is coming off of a 2019 campaign where he won the AL batting title and had the highest qualifying average in baseball.
Anderson raised his average from .240 in 2018 to .335 in ’19, marking the biggest jump from year-to-year in franchise history. Although Anderson made a Major League-high 26 errors, he has shown great range defensively and a commitment and strong work ethic to improve. Anderson has developed into the heart and soul of the team, while becoming a fixture in the Chicago community working with youth causes and other charitable endeavors, not to mention adding his bat-flipping flair and on-field intensity. Aaron Bummer, one of the best left-handed relievers in the game in ’19, also deserves a mention as a 19th-round pick in the 2014 Draft. -- Scott Merkin