When you go back throughout history and look over the first round of each MLB Draft, there are some players that immediately stand out for their greatness. There are others that are total head-scratchers, making you wonder what could’ve been if an organization had made a different selection. The first round of the MLB Draft is where the future of the sport is shaped, determining eventual champions and perennial losers. I look back at the most impactful moves in the past five drafts, showing how just one pick can change a franchise.
Houston Takes Carlos Correa, Not Byron Buxton
In the days before the draft, Byron Buxton looked like a near-lock to go first overall to the Houston Astros. Buxton was one of the top prep-stars in the past decade, displaying legendary speed and defense while providing evidence that he could develop into a plus-hitter as well. On draft day, though, Houston settled on Puerto Rice Baseball Academy shortstop Carlos Correa because he was willing to sign for less money. Correa has become a star and is in the midst of a tremendous year, leading the Astros to the best record in baseball. Signing Correa at a discount also allowed Houston to spend more money on Lance McCullers Jr., who has developed into their number two starter. The Twins have also had success in 2017, but not because of Buxton. The 23 year-old holds a career .216 average with 227 strikeouts in just 194 games.
Pirates Take Mark Appel at 8
Mark Appel had a chance to go in the top five leading up to the 2012 MLB Draft, and was even considered the likely number one pick at one point, but he ultimately slid down due to signability concerns. Pittsburgh would draft Appel eighth overall, but the Stanford ace didn’t sign. So how did this benefit the Pirates? By not signing Appel, the Pirates received the ninth overall pick in 2013 as compensation, where they selected Austin Meadows. Meadows, a top prep-star at the time, has become one of the top five prospects in the game. Appel was the first overall pick in 2013, but his struggles led to him being traded to Philadelphia, where he has yet to live up to his high draft status.
Cubs Surprise Everyone, End Up With a Future MVP
Based on their lack of pitching depth in their farm system, many mock drafts predicted that the Cubs would select either Mark Appel or Jon Gray with the second overall selection. Appel went first overall, making Gray seem like the obvious choice. However, the Cubs instead selected San Diego standout Kris Bryant. The Cubs’ superstar was the best power bat in the draft class and has carried that power over to Wrigley Field. Bryant would go on to win the 2016 National League MVP Award and lead the Cubs to their first World Series since 1908.
Despite his toolsy makeup, Aaron Judge was very raw coming out of Fresno State. He had crazy power, but he couldn’t consistently put it to use. The Yankees decided to gamble on Judge with the 32nd overall pick, and they’ve won big so far. Judge currently leads the American League in all three Triple Crown categories, and has led the Yankees to first place in a loaded A.L. East division.
Chicago Reaches at Four
The Cubs made another shocking choice in 2014, selecting Indiana catcher Kyle Schwarber with the fourth overall selection. Schwarber was projected to be a first-round pick, but he was expected to go in the middle of the round. Many teams had concerns over his ability to stick defensively as a catcher. Chicago saw through his flaws and recognized an impact bat. Schwarber certainly made a huge impact last fall after returning from season-ending surgery. Schwarber went 7 for 20 with a .971 OPS in five World Series games, helping the Cubs break their 108 year drought.
2014 featured some highly-talented prospects going in the first round, but nobody could’ve guessed how many would eventually be traded before reaching the big leagues. Alex Jackson, Jeff Hoffman, Trea Turner, Sean Newcomb, Touki Toussaint, Brandon Finnegan, Grant Holmes, Justus Sheffield, and Michael Kopech have all been traded in the past three years. Some of the players involved in those deals- Wil Myers, Troy Tulowitzki, Johnny Cueto, Rich Hill, Andrew Miller, and Chris Sale- made major impacts for their new clubs at the time.
Dansby Swanson was the first overall pick in the 2015 MLB Draft, but just one year later, he wouldn’t be on the team who drafted him. Swanson was traded by the Diamondbacks in a multi-player deal for Shelby Miller of the Atlanta Braves. The trade was immediately scrutinized, and for good reason. Miller had put together one solid season, whereas Swanson had serious potential to be a franchise cornerstone. Miller has become irrelevant since joining Arizona. Swanson has struggled in his rookie year, but he has shown flashes of his amazing potential and still has plenty of time to make this trade a big win for Atlanta.
No Bo in the First
Players from the 2016 draft class haven’t had the time to make a difference for their respective big league clubs yet, but one second round choice is making a ton of noise in the minors. Bo Bichette, son of Dante Bichette, has torn up A-ball in 2017. At just 19 years of age, Bichette is batting .388 with a 1.088 OPS. Looking back, it’s shocking that Bichette fell out of the first round considering his offensive prowess.