MLB draft
(MLB Network)

With the draft long behind us, and summer in full swing, Major League Baseball (MLB) is officially on the clock, with opening day only six days away.

The defending World Series Champions Washington Nationals will host the New York Yankees, with both teams sending out their top guns to open the season, Max Scherzer and Gerrit Cole, respectively.

Continuing with part two of this two-part article lets take a look at the first overall picks from the 2011-20 drafts and how they faired.

2011: Gerrit Cole

The aforementioned Yankees ace, Cole, is clearly no longer with Pittsburgh. Originally drafted by New York 30th overall in 2008, Cole decided to head off to UCLA in an attempt at improving his draft stock, and he did more than that, clearly. 

Cole signed with the Pirates for a record $8 million signing bonus, with then Pirates General Manager (GM) Neil Huntington saying:

“It’s essentially the largest signing bonus ever given an amateur player. Sometimes, it’s more advantageous for a player to take a minor league contract with a bonus that can be spread over nine months than a major league contract that would be spread out over four years.”

His time in Pittsburgh had highs and lows, with Cole’s best season coming in 2015, where he recorded a 19-5 record to go along with a 2.60 Earned Run Average (ERA). 2015 also marked Cole’s lone all-star appearance while in Pittsburgh. 

For the Pirates, even though they traded him for next to nothing during the 2017 offseason knowing they could not afford him in the following off-seasons free agency, drafting Cole was a major success. In his rookie season, the team broke a 20-year playoff drought, and they went back to the next two. Since 2016, the Pirates have not been to the playoffs.

2012: Carlos Correa

There’s not much of a debate in who would go first overall in 2012 if one were to do a redraft. Like any draft, there are notable selections throughout the rounds, like Alex Bregman, a high school senior second baseman who was selected by the Boston Red Sox in the 29th round. We’ll talk about him a little later on, but suffice it to say, Boston now wishes they’d signed him.

Carlos Correa was a 17-year-old from the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy and High School. A projected top-10 pick, he shot up the draft boards just before draft night. After going number one to the Houston Astros, Correa joined a very select group- Latino’s to be the first overall pick in the draft. He joined Alex Rodriguez and Adrian Gonzalez, but unlike them, Correa was the first Puerto Rican and Latin American-born player to do so.

“We’re very excited to add a player of Carlos’ caliber. He profiles as a power-hitting middle-of-the-field guy, and to get that type of power at shortstop — his work ethic, how he was brought up and the family environment he comes from, the student he is — it’s a great pick for us, as well as a great long-term investment for the Astros.”

Bobby Heck, then Astros’ assistant general manager/scouting director, said after the draft

Since his promotion to the big leagues in 2015, Correa has done anything and everything to help the franchise succeed. Houston, which was marred by years of misery and losing, has not won fewer than 84 games since Correa’s promotion to the big leagues, including three seasons of 100+ wins. The 2015 AL Rookie of the Year, and 2017 all-star, was a big reason the Astros went the distance in 2017 and lifted the commissioner’s trophy as World Series Champs. Not bad, no?

2013: Mark Appel

In 2012, the Astros were projected to pick Appel first overall, until they didn’t, partially due to sign-ability reasons. Houston went way below draft slot with Correa and was able to use that money elsewhere. Appel went eighth to the Pirates and decided to return to Stanford. The following year, his decision to go back to school worked wonders for him and boom, first overall. 

Within two weeks of going one overall, Appel was signed, pocketing $6.35 Million, and was off to Class A-Short Season New York-Penn League. He was quickly promoted to Class A Midwest League, where he was teammates with Correa. 

By 2015, Appel was starting the All-Star Futures Game and pitching in Class AAA Pacific Coast League. He’d never reach the majors. That offseason, along with four other prospects, Appel was shipped to the Philadelphia Phillies for closer Ken Giles and another player.

Within two years, the Phillies designated him for assignment, and on February 1, 2018, Appel announced his retirement. He was 26. Future ROY, MVP, World Series Champion, all-star, and all-around great player, Kris Bryant was the next pick. Oh, what could have been.

“I’m 26, I have a Stanford degree, I have many interests beyond baseball, which I still love, but I have a lot of things I care about. I enjoy challenging my mind. My last four years in baseball have challenged my mind.”

Appel in an interview with Bleacher Report after announcing his retirement

2014: Brady Aiken

This one is an interesting case. A flame-throwing high school pitcher, destined for stardom, and a hefty payday. Houston once again had the pleasure of selecting first thanks to their sheer lack of skill. Draft analyst Keith Law had Aiken pegged as the first pick, three months before the draft.

Houston took Aiken and offered him $6.5 Million, but during the physical, the team noticed inflammation in the elbow of his throwing arms and quickly reduced the offer to $5 Million. Aiken rejected the deal and went unsigned through the signing deadline. He eventually enrolled at IMG Academy for a postgraduate season, and in the first inning of his first start, blew out his elbow and was forced to have Tommy John surgery. The following year, Aiken was selected 17th overall by the Cleveland Indians, signing for $2.5 Million. 

“It was just one pitch, first inning, and it just kind of clicked a little bit. I was like, ‘Oh, man, that’s kind of weird.’ It didn’t really hurt too bad. I just kept throwing, and it progressively got worse to the point where, yeah, this doesn’t feel the greatest.”

Aiken told Bleacher Report’s Scott Miller in 2017

Aiken did not pitch in 2018 and only made two starts in 2019 before stepping away for unknown reasons. Safe to say Houston fumbled this one. BUT, there’s a massive silver lining. Because Houston was unable to sign Aiken, they were awarded the second overall pick in the 2015 draft as compensation, which they used on that kid Boston selected back in 2012, Alex Bregman. He had switched to third base, and eventually became a two-time all-star while helping Houston win the 2017 World Series. Not a bad second chance for the Astros.

2015: Dansby Swanson

Arizona made two costly errors with this pick. Swanson was a great shortstop at Vanderbilt University, helping lead the team to a victory over the Virginia Cavaliers in the 2014 College World Series while garnering College World Series Most Outstanding Player. 

While great in college, Swanson’s production at the major league level has been nothing to write home about. But Arizona never even got to see him player at the top level, dealing him six months after the draft, along with Ender Inciarte and Aaron Blair, for starting pitcher Shelby Miller. 

“It didn’t hurt that Dansby Swanson was born and raised five minutes from our new ballpark and was an all-world guy at Vanderbilt and was a No. 1 guy in the Draft that our guys loved.”

Then Braves president of baseball operations John Hart

Miller was coming off a 6-17 season in 2015. That’s not the type of player you deal a first-round draft pick for, let alone the first overall pick. Things only got worse once he got to Arizona. In Millers’ three years with the D-Backs, he went 5-18 with a 6.35 ERA. 

A man mentioned twice already, Alex Bregman, who was picked right after Swanson, would have been the better pick for Arizona. Alas, as the knight in Indiana Jones said, the D-Backs “chose poorly.”

2016: Mickey Moniak

Heading into the 2016 draft, the Philadelphia Phillies already had a top-5 ranked farm system thanks in part to luck while drafting, and the Ken Giles trade. Despite the team’s horrible record the previous season, having a great farm system to go along with the first overall draft pick, was the icing on the cake for the Phillies.

Philly ended up selecting Moniak, an outfielder from California. In the three full seasons since being drafted. Moniak has yet to advance past the Reading Fighting Phils of the Class AA Eastern League. He appeared in 14 games with the Phillies in 2020 during Spring Training before it was shut down due to COVID-19. Hints of offensive potential have peaked through over the years, but not enough for possible talks of bust to go away. 

As of the 2020 season, only two players from the 2016 draft have been all-stars, New York Mets first baseman Pete Alonso, who broke the rookie record for home runs in a season with 53, and Indians pitcher Shane Bieber. They, along with the up and coming possible star, Bo Bichette of the Toronto Blue Jays, would have been much better choices for Philly. 

2017: Royce Lewis

It’s at this point where there’s not much detail on each prospect and juries are still out on what will be for the players. Draft picks of the 2017 class have only had two full seasons, ’18 & ’19. Despite this, Twins selection Royce Lewis quickly rose through the low levels of the minor league system, making it as high as Double-A in 2019. 

Lewis, who according to MLB.com is the number nine ranked prospect in all of baseball, was recently among the players added to Minnesota’s summer camp. The 60-man pool will be cut down to 30 before the season gets underway, but with minor league baseball not operating this season, this provides a great opportunity for the organization to help grow and nurture the former first-round draft pick.

2018: Casey Mize

In his first full professional season, the former Auburn University pitcher breezed through the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League and the Class A-Advanced Florida State League, finding himself with the Erie SeaWolves of the Class AA Eastern League. In his first start at Double-A, Mize threw a no-hitter.

Already ranked the seventh-best prospect in baseball, it’s safe to say Detroit should have no regrets with this selection. 

“But I just think he’s very poised, he knows what he needs to do and wants to do, and it’s fun watching him pitch. He’s in control, and he has a great plan on what he needs to do to be successful.”

Current Tigers manager, Ron Gardenhire

2019: Adley Rutschman

There’s not much that can be said about a player who’s only spent one half-season playing professional ball. Baltimore selected the catcher out of Oregon State University after leading his team to victory in the 2018 College World Series, for which he was named the College World Series Most Outstanding Player. Rutschman was also named the 2019 Collegiate Baseball Player of the Year by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper

In his limited play in the minors, Rutschman’s stroke looked a bit off as he bounced between the lower rungs of the minor leagues. But the switching-hitting catcher more than made up for the offensive struggles, with his defense behind the plate.

Expect the fourth-ranked prospect in baseball to make an appearance in the big leagues the 2021 season come roster expansions in September. 

“With Rutschman, I talked to a bunch of scouts [and asked] how does he stack up and my conclusion from talking with people was this is the best catching prospect of that period, the last 30+ years that I’ve been covering it.”

MLB Pipeline’s draft analyst Jim Callis

2020: Spencer Torkelson

Detroit, selecting first for the second time in three years selected the power hitting third baseman from Arizona State, despite Torkelson’s junior season being cut short due to COVID-19. 

Torkelson quickly signed with the Tigers, for a record $8.4 million signing bonus. Almost immediately after signing, he was added to Detroit’s, 60-man player pool and was crushing balls out of Comerica Park like he had been playing there his entire career. 

”His first couple of rounds of batting practice have been pretty impressive. He could definitely do some things. You see why a guy goes number one – right away.”

Current Tigers manager, Ron Gardenhire

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While Houston drafted first, three times during the decade, only one of those picks actually worked out for the franchise, showing that going first does not always equate to success. Detroit chose first two times during the decade, both coming in the last three years, so neither player has come close to producing at the major league level. 

Overall, some of the players picked first have gone on to great success, Cole and Correa, while others are already out of baseball, Appel, and Aiken. It’s funny how life works sometimes. Houston whiffed on pitchers back to back years and managed to make up for it by drafting Correa and Bregman, amongst many others. 

Houston was by the far the biggest loser of the first half of the decade, and one of the biggest winners of the second half. Not bad for a bunch of garbagemen.