By Cliff Corcoran
Since the institution of the MLB Draft in 1965, every Major League team has drafted and signed at least one player who has gone on to compile more than 40 wins above replacement in his career, according to Baseball-Reference's formula (bWAR). Twenty-six of them have drafted and signed a player worth more than 60 wins above replacement, which is around the point that you can generate a legitimate Hall of Fame debate about a player. However, many of those players produced the bulk of their value for other teams.
What follows is a list of the best player ever drafted and signed by each of the 30 Major League franchises, ranked in ascending order of career bWAR. The list thus ends with the best players ever acquired through the Draft by this measure and only this measure. There is certainly a debate to be had for many of these entries on a more subjective basis and using other stats -- we included the most significant names as runners-up and honorable mentions, so you get the full picture -- but each team's placement on the list was still based on the player with the highest career bWAR.
Will one of this year's draftees crack this list? Check back in 2037 to find out.
30. Arizona Diamondbacks: Max Scherzer, RHP, 41.0 bWAR
Paul Goldschmidt is three years younger than Scherzer, has compiled 32.9 bWAR and may yet claim the title as the best player the D-backs ever drafted and signed (not bad for an eighth-round pick). For now, however, the two-time NL Cy Young Award-winning Scherzer has a comfortable lead. Drafted 11th overall in 2006, Scherzer posted a 117 ERA+ with 240 strikeouts in in 226 1/3 innings for Arizona in 2008 and 2009, a performance worth 2.6 bWAR. However, after just one year as a full-fledged member of the D-backs' rotation, he was shipped to Detroit with reliever Daniel Schlereth in the three-team trade that brought Ian Kennedy and Edwin Jackson to Arizona.
29. Miami Marlins: Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, 43.3
Gonzalez is the only player on this list never to play a Major League game for the team that drafted him. Selected out of his Southern California high school with the top overall pick in 2000, he hit well in his first few Minor League seasons but was struggling in his initial exposure to Triple-A in July 2003 when the contending Marlins sent him and two other Minor Leaguers to the Rangers for closer Ugueth Urbina. The significance of that blunder has been muted by the fact that the Marlins won the World Series with Urbina as their closer that fall and that the Rangers made a comparable mistake, trading Gonzalez to the Padres after the 2005 season. One expects that Giancarlo Stanton, a second-round pick in 2007, will ultimately eclipse Gonzalez here, passing Josh Beckett (35.8) on the way, but with both Stanton and Gonzalez still active and Stanton at just 29.3 bWAR, it may be a while before that happens.
28. Tampa Bay Rays: Evan Longoria, 3B, 48.1
The Rays can thank the Royals and Rockies for this one. In the first round of the 2006 Draft, Kansas City took right-hander Luke Hochevar with the top overall pick and Colorado followed by selecting righty Greg Reynolds. That allowed Longoria to fall to Tampa Bay, which had the third overall pick. Two years later, Longoria emerged as a transformative figure in Rays history, helping the 1998 expansion team to its first (and still only) pennant in 2008 in the first of six consecutive winnings seasons, which were also the first six winning seasons in franchise history. Still just 31 and under contract through at least 2022, Longoria seems likely to lift the Rays higher on this list.
27. San Francisco Giants: Will Clark, 1B, 56.2
Bobby Bonds was a 57.7 bWAR player, but he was signed as an amateur free agent one year before the institution of the Draft. Jack Clark, a 13th-round pick, finished with 52.8 bWAR. Buster Posey (35.9) is still looking up at Garry Maddox (36.7). Madison Bumgarner (30.3) hit the disabled list immediately after passing Gary Matthews (30.1). Clark was the second overall pick in 1985, after the Brewers selected B.J. Surhoff, and did indeed have his best years with the Giants, leading them to the postseason in 1987 and the World Series in 1989. But Clark had a disappointing walk year in 1993 and left as a free agent after that age-29 season.
26. Los Angeles Dodgers: Mike Piazza, C, 59.3 (Runner-up: Clayton Kershaw, SP, 57.3)
Kershaw trails Piazza, the greatest late-round pick in Draft history, by just 2.0 bWAR, a gap the reigning best pitcher in baseball should easily close this season. Hall of Famer Don Sutton (67.4) signed as an amateur free agent the year before the first Draft.
25. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Jim Edmonds, CF, 60.3 (Runner-up: Mike Trout, CF, 52.0)
Yes, clearly Trout is the best player the Angels ever drafted and signed, and with 52.0 bWAR, he's astonishingly close to Edmonds' career bWAR total already. However, as a result of his thumb injury, it may take Trout until next year to claim this spot and start the Angels climbing up these rankings. Between now and then, he'll pass lefties Frank Tanana at 57.9 bWAR and Chuck Finley at 58.4.
24. Colorado Rockies: Todd Helton, 1B, 61.2
The eighth overall pick in 1995, Helton spent his entire career with the Rockies. He is the all-time franchise leader in bWAR and the only player to have his number (17) retired by Colorado. There's an outside chance that Troy Tulowitzki, who has 43.8 bWAR at the age of 32, will surpass Helton in overall career value, but Helton's place in Rockies history, and on this list, should be safe for a long time.
23. Toronto Blue Jays: Roy Halladay, RHP, 64.6
Though his time with the Phillies remains fresh in the collective memory, Halladay, the 17th overall pick in 1995, spent just four years away from the Blue Jays. Two of those were marred by injury and collapse, leading to Halladay's decision to sign a one-day contract to retire as a Blue Jay. His difficult climb to stardom and relatively early retirement make him less than a slam-dunk for the Hall of Fame, but he was the best pitcher in baseball at his peak, and if he does go into the Hall, he'll do so as a Blue Jay. Honorable mentions: John Olerud (58.0), Dave Stieb (57.2), Jeff Kent (54.9) and David Wells (53.7)
22. Houston Astros: Kenny Lofton, CF, 68.1 (Runner-up: Craig Biggio, 2B, 65.2)
Lofton was a basketball player at the University of Arizona, but the Astros took a flier on his athleticism in the 17th round in 1988 and hit pay dirt. Unfortunately, it was easy come, easy go, as, having just filled center field with 26-year-old Steve Finley, they traded Lofton for pennies on the dollar after an underwhelming 20-game debut in 1991. Lofton quickly emerged as a centerpiece of the great Cleveland teams of the 1990s, remained productive through his age-40 season and deserved better than his one-and-done performance on the Hall of Fame ballot in 2013. After all, the runner-up for this spot, Biggio (65.2) is already in the Hall. All that said, we expect that Carlos Correa (selected first overall in the 2012 Draft) will one day be the Astros' representative here, as he accumulates bWAR over his career.
21. Texas Rangers: Kevin Brown, RHP, 68.3
Puerto Rican catcher and 2017 Hall of Fame inductee Ivan Rodriguez finished his career with 68.4 bWAR, but Puerto Ricans weren't eligible for the Draft until 1990, two years after Rodriguez signed with the Rangers as an amateur free agent. Brown, the fourth overall pick in 1986 and another player who deserved a longer look from the Hall of Fame voters, had his best years after leaving Texas as a free agent, but he still contributed 17.8 bWAR to the Rangers. At 54.5 bWAR, second baseman Ian Kinsler has a chance to catch Brown, but Kinsler will turn 35 later this month, so that last 14.2 bWAR is far from a given.
20. New York Yankees: Derek Jeter, SS, 71.8
Jeter, the sixth overall pick in the 1992 Draft, is the obvious choice here, though his relatively low ranking on this list is sure to engender complaints about bWAR as a measuring stick. Speaking of which, Robinson Cano isn't eligible for this list (having signed as an international amateur free agent), but having compiled 64.1 bWAR a third of the way through his age 34 season, he has a chance to finish with a higher career mark than his former double-play partner. Much of the cognitive dissonance here is caused by perceptions of Jeter's fielding. At the plate and on the bases, Jeter was worth 95.5 wins above replacement. Honorable mentions: Andy Pettitte (60.8), Fred McGriff (52.4)
19. Cleveland Indians: Jim Thome, 1B, 72.9
Thome went undrafted out of high school and wasn't selected out of his community college until the 13th round of the 1989 Draft. He quickly proved to be a steal, raking in Class A at 19 and in the Majors at 20, and eventually emerging as one of the most productive hitters on one of the most potent teams in baseball's most offense-oriented era. He edges out first-round pick and teammate Manny Ramirez (69.2).
18. Chicago White Sox: Frank Thomas, 1B, 73.4
The seventh overall pick in 1989, the hulking Thomas was a blue-chipper from Day 1 and spent 16 of his 19 seasons with the White Sox, though injuries prevented him from participating in their World Series win in his final season on the South Side in 2005. He made the Hall of Fame on his first ballot in 2014.
17. Detroit Tigers: Lou Whitaker, 2B, 74.8
A year after drafting Whitaker in the fifth round, the Tigers selected shortstop Alan Trammell (70.7) in the second round. They both reached the Majors in 1977 and remained double-play partners for 19 seasons. Both should be in the Hall of Fame but were overlooked on the writers' ballot, Whitaker criminally going one-and-done in 2001. As a result, the only Tigers Draft pick to make the Hall of Fame thus far is John Smoltz (69.5), who was traded before ever playing a game with Detroit.
16. Cincinnati Reds: Johnny Bench, C, 74.9 bWAR
Arguably the best player chosen in MLB's first amateur Draft to sign with the team that selected him (Tom Seaver was taken by the Dodgers in the 10th round but did not sign, while another 1965 draftee does appear higher on this list), second-round pick Bench is also widely regarded as the greatest all-around catcher in Major League history. He edges fellow Hall of Famer Barry Larkin (70.2). Current Reds first baseman Joey Votto is at 50.4 bWAR at age 33, but while he may yet join them in the Hall, he seems unlikely to catch Bench in career bWAR.
15. San Diego Padres: Ozzie Smith, SS, 76.6 bWAR (Runner-up: Tony Gwynn, RF, 68.8)
Smith, whom the Padres traded in a six-player deal for shortstop Garry Templeton and outfielder Sixto Lezcano after the 1981 season, beats Gwynn by 7.7 bWAR, but, of course, Gwynn spent his whole Hall of Fame career with the Padres and fans of the franchise will forever consider him the best player drafted, by any measure. It may surprise you that Gwynn has a lower bWAR than Smith, but the "Wizard of Oz" was the greatest fielder to ever play baseball's premier defensive position, and compiled nearly half of his value with his glove. Take that with a grain of salt, if you wish, but this is one instance in which a player's outsized reputation and the advanced metrics agree. Honorable mention: Dave Winfield (63.8)
14. Milwaukee Brewers: Robin Yount, SS, 77.0 bWAR (Runner-up: Paul Molitor, 2B-3B-DH, 75.7)
Yount was drafted one spot ahead of Winfield in 1973, third overall behind teenage lefty David Clyde (whom the Rangers rushed to the Majors to sell tickets) and catcher John Stearns (who helped the Phillies acquire Tug McGraw from the Mets before becoming a bright spot on some awful Mets teams in the late '70s and early '80s). Four years later, the Brewers again used the third overall pick on a future Hall of Famer, drafting Molitor (75.7) after the White Sox took Harold Baines with the top overall pick and the Expos took righty Bill Gullickson. Yount and Molitor led the Brewers to their only World Series appearance in 1982 and remain the two best players in franchise history.
13. New York Mets: Nolan Ryan, RHP, 81.8
After refusing to sign with the Dodgers in 1965, Tom Seaver was drafted by the Braves in January 1966, but that pick was voided over a technicality, and Seaver eventually became a Met as a result of open bidding and a lottery drawing. Thus, he never did sign with a team that drafted him, making him ineligible for this list. That drops the Mets entry to strikeout king Ryan, who was infamously traded to the Angels with three other players for shortstop Jim Fregosi after the 1971 season. To that point, Ryan had posted a league-average ERA while walking 6.1 men per nine over 510 Major League innings. In California, however, he blossomed into one of the game's most dominant pitchers, and his extreme longevity -- a record 27 seasons -- enabled him to surpass classmate Johnny Bench as the most valuable pick of the 1965 Draft, though Ryan wasn't taken until the 12th round.
12. Atlanta Braves: Chipper Jones, 3B, 85.0 (Runner-up: Tom Glavine, P, 81.5)
In terms of return on investment, Jones stands as the best No. 1 pick of all time, having contributed all 85 of those wins above replacement to the team that took him first overall in 1990. The Braves reached the postseason in 12 of Jones's 19 seasons. Jones will be an easy first-ballot inductee into the Hall of Fame in 2018.
11. Kansas City Royals: George Brett, 3B, 88.3
Few players are as synonymous with a team as Brett and the Royals. A second-round pick in the Royals' third-ever Draft in 1971, Brett reached the Majors in 1973 and soon emerged as the central figure in the franchise's greatest period of sustained success, as Kansas City made the postseason seven times in 10 seasons from 1976-85, including one World Series victory. He retired as a Royal in 1993 having never played for another team. In 1999, Brett became the first (and still only) player to wear a Royals cap on his Hall of Fame plaque. He attempted to buy the team in 1998, and in 2013 he was named a team vice president, putting him in a prominent position when Kansas City returned to glory in the 2014 and '15 seasons. Honorable mentions: Carlos Beltran (70.2), David Cone (61.8), Bret Saberhagen (59.2)
10. Minnesota Twins: Bert Blyleven, RHP, 95.3
Drafted out of high school in the third round in 1969, Blyleven was an above-average Major League starter the following year at the age of 19 and remained so into his late 30s. The Twins traded him in the middle of his age-25 season, but they reacquired him nine years later, and he helped Minnesota win its first championship in 1987 (though the Twins gave up shortstop Jay Bell, 37.6, in the process), eight years after Blyleven won his first with the We Are Family Pirates. Honorable mentions: Graig Nettles (67.9), Joe Mauer (51.0), Kirby Puckett (50.9)
9. Baltimore Orioles: Cal Ripken Jr., SS, 95.6
Ripken was drafted in the second round in 1978 by the organization that had employed his father and namesake since 1957, promoting him to third base coach at the Major League level in 1977. Cal Jr. spent his entire career as an Oriole, retiring in 2001 as the greatest player in the history of the franchise, dating back to its creation at the St. Louis Browns in 1901. Honorable mentions: Mike Mussina (83.0), Bobby Grich (70.9), Jim Palmer (69.4), Eddie Murray (68.0)
8. St. Louis Cardinals: Albert Pujols, 1B, 100.6
Pujols, who just reached 600 career home runs, is nothing less than one of the greatest hitters in Major League history. The highest-ranking active player on this list by mile (Kershaw will be second when he surpasses Piazza's 59.3 bWAR later this year), Pujols is still advancing up this list and has a real chance to be among the five most valuable players ever to emerge from the Draft before he retires. That makes it all the more astonishing that 401 players were drafted ahead of him before he was taken in the 13th round in 1999. Honorable mentions: Bob Gibson (62.5), Keith Hernandez (60.2)
7. Washington Nationals/Montreal Expos: Randy Johnson, LHP, 104.1
By far the most painful entry on this list, the second-round pick Johnson threw 55 2/3 innings for the Expos before being traded to the Mariners in a five-player deal for Seattle ace Mark Langston, a half-season rental who wasn't enough to get the Expos into the postseason in 1989. Worse yet, the runner-up here is Larry Walker (72.6), who spent his best years with the Rockies after reaching free agency at the conclusion of the strike-shortened 1994 season. If you want to limit this entry to players drafted by the Nationals, you get Ryan Zimmerman, drafted fourth overall in Washington's first Draft in 2005, at 36.2 bWAR. Bryce Harper, who has compiled 24.2 bWAR in less than half as many seasons, is hot on Zimmerman's heals, but is a long shot to ever catch Hall of Famer Johnson. Honorable mentions: Gary Carter (69.8), Tim Raines (68.9), Andre Dawson (64.5)
6. Chicago Cubs: Greg Maddux, RHP, 104.8
Maddux won 95 games, three Gold Gloves and his first NL Cy Young Award with the Cubs before leaving as a free agent to join a Braves team that had won the previous two pennants. He also returned to Chicago in his late 30s for a victory lap. Honorable mentions: Rafael Palmeiro (71.6), Rick Reuschel (68.2)
5. Philadelphia Phillies: Mike Schmidt, 3B, 106.6
A second-round pick in 1971, Schmidt was nothing less than the greatest third baseman in Major League history and the greatest player in the history of a franchise that dates back to 1883. A career-long Phillie, Schmidt helped lead the formerly moribund franchise to six postseason appearances over an eight-year span from 1976-83 and its first World Series championship in 1980, winning 10 Gold Gloves and consecutive NL MVP Awards, and hitting 548 home runs over an 18-year career. Honorable mentions: Scott Rolen (69.9), Ryne Sandberg (67.7), Chase Utley (65.4)
4. Kansas City/Oakland A's: Rickey Henderson, OF, 110.7
A unique player, in performance and personality, Henderson was the greatest basestealer in Major League history by a considerable distance. He was also a tremendously productive all-around hitter, an on-base machine who provided power from the leadoff spot, collected 3,055 career hits and owns the Major League record for runs scored in a career. He was a good outfielder in his youth, as well. Having grown up in Oakland, Henderson had four distinct stints with the team over his 25 year career, setting the base paths on fire under the tutelage of manager Billy Martin in his first stint and helping the team win its most recent championship and winning the 1990 AL MVP Award in his second stint after spending 4 1/2 seasons with the Yankees, two of them also under Martin. Honorable mentions: Reggie Jackson (73.7), Mark McGwire (62.0), Sal Bando (61.5)
3. Seattle Mariners: Alex Rodriguez, SS, 117.7 (Runner-up: Ken Griffey Jr., CF, 83.4)
In terms of overall production, Rodriguez was the greatest No. 1 pick ever, but his final season with the Mariners came at the age of 24, and his post-Mariners career, great as it was in terms of on-field accomplishments, was undermined by admitted and alleged performance-enhancing drug use. Honorable mention: Mark Langston (50.3)
2. Boston Red Sox: Roger Clemens, RHP, 140.3
Along with Maddux, Seaver and Johnson, Clemens -- a college star drafted 19th overall in 1983 -- is in the conversation about the best pitcher of all time (although he also has detractors because of suspected PED use). Boston has the most impressive list of high-bWAR draftees of any club. Though they cut bait too early on several of these players, the list of Red Sox draftees in addition to Clemens includes Wade Boggs (91.1), Curt Schilling (79.9), Jeff Bagwell (78.8), Carlton Fisk (68.3), Dwight Evans (67.2), Dustin Pedroia (51.4), Fred Lynn (50.0), Ellis Burks (49.6) and Jim Rice (47.4).
1. Pittsburgh Pirates: Barry Bonds, OF, 162.5
Bonds was the sixth overall pick in the 1985 Draft -- following Surhoff, Clark, righty Bobby Witt (Rangers), Larkin, and Kurt Brown (White Sox), a catcher who never made the Majors -- but he's the top overall man on this list, which makes Bonds the greatest player ever to be acquired through the Draft. Overall, he's fourth all-time in bWAR behind Babe Ruth (183.6), Cy Young (168.4) and Walter Johnson (165.6). Again, there are PED caveats to be had, but it's difficult to argue that Bonds wouldn't still top this list, no matter what. Coming off his injury-plagued 1999 season, he had 103.4 career bWAR and was heading into his age-35 season.
Bonds was a Pirate for only seven seasons, but he won two NL MVP Awards and led the team to three postseason appearances in that time. The runner-up for the Pirates trails him by more than Cal Ripken Jr.'s entire career value. That would be second baseman Willie Randolph (65.6), a seventh-round pick in 1972 who was traded to the Yankees after just 30 Major League games with Pittsburgh.
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Cliff Corcoran is a Sports on Earth contributor and a regular guest analyst on the MLB Network. An editor or contributor to 13 books about baseball, including seven Baseball Prospectus annuals, he spent the last 10 seasons covering baseball for SI.com and has also written for USA Today and SB Nation, among others.