The best college and high school players in the country are set to find their new homes on Sunday night, as the first two rounds of the 2023 MLB Draft get underway from Qwest Field in Seattle. With the LSU duo of Paul Skenew and Dylan Crews leading the way, this is could very well turn out to be one of the best draft classes of all-time.
But that got us thinking: Just who are each team’s best draft picks ever? Over nearly 60 years of the MLB Draft, every team has had more than their fair share of both hits and misses — and we dug through them all to bring you the ultimate list of homegrown stars. Where does your squad rank? Read on to find out. And remember: Any player signed before 1965 — the first year of the draft — or who signed internationally will not be included here. (Each player’s given WAR is the Baseball-Reference wins above replacement accrued while playing for the team that drafted them.)
Arizona Diamondbacks: Paul Goldschmidt, 8th round, 2009 (39.9 WAR)
Corbin Carroll may have something to say about this when all is said and done, but for now, we have to give the nod to the man who was an All-Star in each of his last six seasons in the desert — with a top-three finish in NL MVP voting in the final three of those years.
Atlanta Braves: Chipper Jones, first round, 1990 (85.3 WAR)
One of the very best one-team stars — and homegrown first-rounders — ever, Chipper spent all 19 seasons of his Hall of Fame career in Atlanta, beating out other worthy draft picks like Tom Glavine and Dale Murphy.
Baltimore Orioles: Cal Ripken Jr., second round, 1978 (95.9 WAR)
This was an easy one. Ripken was Mr. Baltimore, a native of Aberdeen, Maryland who played more than two decades with his home-state squad. He captured two MVP awards and a World Series ring over his time with the O’s.
Boston Red Sox: Roger Clemens, first round, 1983 (80.8 WAR)
This might be the most acrimonious relationship between player and team on this list, but it’s hard to deny the Rocket’s Boston resume: a 3.06 ERA, three Cy Young Awards and an MVP over 13 seasons, while tying Cy Young’s franchise wins record in the process. His sustained dominance gets the nod over Wade Boggs, despite the fact that Clemens was so upset by his departure from Boston — he felt the Sox never made a serious effort to resign him in free agency after the 1996 season — that he struck out 16 in his return to Fenway Park, staring up at GM Dan Duquette after every half-inning.
Chicago Cubs: Greg Maddux, second round, 1984 (34.7 WAR)
Sure, Maddux is best remembered as a Brave, but he was originally drafted by the Cubs, the franchise with whom he spent the first seven years of his remarkable career (and won his first of four straight NL Cy Young awards). Other draftees like Rick Reuschel and Mark Grace spent more time on the North Side, but Maddux is far and away the most talented player in Chicago’s draft history.
Chicago White Sox: Frank Thomas, first round, 1989 (68.3 WAR)
Another no-doubter, it took the Big Hurt exactly seven months to go from starring at Auburn to starring on the South Side. Thomas was a force from day one for Chicago, eventually winning back-to-back AL MVP awards in 1993 and 1994 and hitting 448 of his 521 homers for the team before departing in 2006.
Cincinnati Reds: Johnny Bench, second round, 1965 (75.2 WAR)
Befitting a team with such a long and storied history, this was a stiff competition — but with all due respect to Barry Larkin and Joey Votto, Bench’s resume is pretty unimpeachable. Taken in the very first MLB Draft back in 1965, the catcher from Binger, Oklahoma, had won a Rookie of the Year and two MVPs before the age of 25, propelling the Big Red Machine to two World Series titles.
Cleveland Guardians: Jim Thome, 13th round, 1989 (48 WAR)
Incredibly, Thome was a shortstop when Cleveland took him in the 13th round out of Illinois Central College, a JUCO in East Peoria. The slugger took a little while to find his footing in the Majors, not playing in more than 100 games in a season until 1995 — but once he got settled, he became one of the most feared sluggers of the 1990s. The man who hit behind Thome, Manny Ramirez, is also worthy of consideration here, but Thome spent more time in Cleveland before leaving in 2002.
Colorado Rockies: Todd Helton, first round, 1995 (61.8 WAR)
Peyton Manning’s backup at the University of Tennessee, Helton made the wise choice to stick with baseball, becoming Colorado’s fourth-ever first-round pick in 1995. By the time he retired 17 years later, he owned just about every franchise record.
Detroit Tigers: Justin Verlander, first round, 2004 (55.6 WAR)
It’s awfully tempting to go with either part of the famed Alan Trammell-Lou Whitaker double-play combo, taken one year apart in 1975 and 1976, but Verlander’s peak was just a bit higher — even if the three-time Cy Young winner while wind up ending his career elsewhere.
Houston Astros: Craig Biggio, first round, 1987 (65.5 WAR)
While Biggio’s Killer B’s partner, Jeff Bagwell, broke into the Majors with Houston, he was originally a Red Sox draft pick. The 22nd overall pick out of Seton Hall, Biggio spent his entire 20-year career with the Astros, one of just six players ever to collect at least 400 steals and 250 homers.
Kansas City Royals: George Brett, second round, 1971 (88.6 WAR)
Maybe the easiest choice on this whole list, Brett has almost twice as much WAR as any other player in Royals history, spending his entire 21-year career in Kansas City. The third baseman won an MVP and a World Series with the club, and he very nearly hit .400 back in 1980.
Los Angeles Angels: Mike Trout, first round, 2009 (72.8 WAR)
If Brett isn’t the easiest choice, Trout is, topping the franchise’s all-time WAR list by his seventh season. The three-time AL MVP finished as the runner-up four more times, and we just hope he gets well soon.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Clayton Kershaw, first round, 2006 (67.9 WAR)
Kershaw was somehow the sixth pitcher taken in the 2006 draft. The five ahead of him? Luke Hochevar, Greg Reynolds, Brad Lincoln, Brandon Morrow and Andrew Miller. Yikes.
Miami Marlins: Giancarlo Stanton, second round, 2007 (35.7 WAR)
Despite the fact that he looks like if Wolverine decided to play baseball, a whopping 75 players were drafted ahead of Stanton back in 2007. He’d go on to hit 267 homers and capture an MVP award before being dealt to the Yankees in 2020.
Milwaukee Brewers: Robin Yount, first round, 1973 (77.3 WAR)
Yount played exactly 64 Minor League games in his career, none higher than High-A, before breaking camp with the Brewers in 1974. He’d go on to rack up 3,142 hits and win two AL MVP awards, getting Milwaukee to its first and only World Series in 1982.
Minnesota Twins: Joe Mauer, first round, 2001 (55.3 WAR)
All due respect to Kirby Puckett, it’s hard to beat a hometown prodigy who goes No. 1 overall — and then manages to live up to the hype. Injuries and the rigors of the catching position have left Mauer somewhat underrated in MLB history, but he won three batting titles and an MVP in 2009.
New York Mets: David Wright, first round, 2001 (49.2 WAR)
Before you start wondering where Tom Seaver is, New York actually managed to luck into The Franchise as an amateur free agent through an improbable series of events. Wright is the Mets’ career leader in at-bats, runs, hits, doubles, total bases, walks and RBIs — basically every offensive category you can think of — and that longevity gives him the nod over Doc Gooden and Darryl Strawberry.
New York Yankees: Derek Jeter, first round, 1992 (71.3 WAR)
The four guys ahead of Jeter on the Yankees’ all-time WAR list: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio, all of whom debuted well before the institution of the draft. The Captain’s main competition here is the likes of Andy Pettitte and Ron Guidry.
Oakland Athletics: Rickey Henderson, fourth round, 1976 (72.7 WAR)
Nobody ran like Rickey, who stole more than 100 bases a whopping four times — and brought an AL MVP and World Series trophy back to Oakland in 1989, during his second of four stints with the A’s.
Philadelphia Phillies: Mike Schmidt, second round, 1971 (106.9 WAR)
Schmidt is the player who’s accrued the most WAR for the team that draft him in MLB history, a two-way force for pretty much the entirety of his 18 years in Philly. In a bit of draft kismet, he was taken 30th overall — right after the Royals selected Brett.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Andrew McCutchen, first round, 2005 (40.4 WAR)
McCutchen didn’t rack up as much WAR as Barry Bonds did in Pittsburgh, and he was a lesser player in just about every respect. But Cutch is the Pirates, almost single-handedly dragging them to relevance en route to five straight All-Star nods and an MVP award in the early 2010s. Call me a sentimentalist, but I think most Pirates fans would agree with me here.
San Diego Padres: Tony Gwynn, third round, 1981 (69.2 WAR)
A San Diego guy through and through, Gwynn played college ball at SDSU before spending his entire 20-year career with the Padres — compiling more than twice as much WAR as anyone else in franchise history. (Dave Winfield, the team’s top pick in 1983, was quite the player himself, but spent most of his time with the Yankees.)
San Francisco Giants: Buster Posey, first round, 2008 (41.8 WAR)
The man whose hugs became known around the baseball world, Posey narrowly edges Madison Bumgarner and Will Clark here, largely due to the central role he played in San Fran’s three World Series titles in the 2010s — not to mention his MVP award.
Seattle Mariners: Ken Griffey Jr., first round, 1987 (70.6 WAR)
Griffey couldn’t even legally drink by the time he cracked the Majors, debuting with Seattle at age 19 less than two years after going No. 1 overall. In 1988, he made the first of what would eventually be 10 straight All-Star nods and Gold Glove awards, along the way redefining what it meant to be a cool baseball player in the 1990s.
St. Louis Cardinals: Albert Pujols, 13th round, 1999 (86.6 WAR)
The single biggest oversight on this list, 401 players were selected before the Cards finally popped Pujols — at the time just a stocky third baseman from Kansas City’s Maplewoods Community College. I think it worked out okay.
Tampa Bay Rays: Evan Longoria, first round, 2006 (51.8 WAR)
Two years after going first overall, Longoria was winning AL Rookie of the Year honors and helping the Rays reach their first-ever World Series. He was among the game’s most reliable two-way stars for nearly a decade, slashing .271/.344/.490 with three All-Star nods and three Gold Gloves.
Texas Rangers: Ian Kinsler, 17th round, 2003 (35 WAR)
Texas has had a somewhat checkered history with the draft, but they struck gold in 2003, taking Kinsler out of the University of Missouri with the 496th overall pick. He’d go on to make four All-Star teams and was one of the driving forces behind the team’s run to the World Series in 2010 and 2011.
Toronto Blue Jays: Roy Halladay, first round, 1995 (56.8 WAR)
You could just as easily make an argument for Dave Stieb here, especially considering that the Jays’ franchise wins and strikeouts leader wasn’t drafted until the fifth round in 1978. But Halladay had the slightly more impressive career, albeit with some of that coming in Philadelphia. He won two Cy Young awards and finished top-five in voting five more times.
Washington Nationals: Ryan Zimmerman, first round, 2005 (38.5 WAR)
If you want to include the Montreal Expos years, Gary Carter, Tim Raines and Andrew Dawson would almost certainly be the choices, but we’ll limit this to just the D.C. era and take Zimmerman. With all due respect to Bryce Harper, Zimmerman’s emergence gave the Nats their first true star since relocating, providing some much-needed legitimacy. (Of course, it helps that the Virginia native stayed for his whole career.)