History: Tigers far better off drafting No. 1 than 2 or 3

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Matt Anderson

Detroit -- Just about every year from 2006-16, the Tigers played meaningful baseball in September.

And, actually, they did again in 2017 -- just not the way they would've preferred. Instead of fighting for a playoff spot, they were on pace for the best-possible pick in next summer's MLB Draft, even if not doing so intentionally.

The Tigers were 6-24 in their final 30 games, securing them, on the very last day of the season, the No. 1 overall pick in the June draft. Over the final week, they were almost certain to get the No. 1, 2 or 3 overall pick, any of them a prize in their own right. But this also is true: History says you're significantly better off with the No. 1 pick than Nos. 2 or 3, even though it might seem like an insignificant difference.

There are exceptions, of course, but not all that many, not even in a draft that's considered, by far, the biggest crap shoot among the four major professional sports.

Consider this: There have been 53 MLB Drafts in June -- there used to be additional drafts, like one in January, but June always was the biggest, and now is the only one -- and the average WAR (Wins Above Replacement) for the No. 1 pick is 19.27. For No. 2, it's 12.33; for No. 3, it's 10.61.

More: Singer, De Sadas top options for Tigers No. 1 pick

Take it a step further, when you take the average of the top 15 players at each draft slot over the years, it's even more telling. The average WAR for the No. 1 overall pick is 47.8, for No. 2 it's 32.39, and for No. 3 it's 32.40.

To put that in perspective, the difference between No. 1 and Nos. 2 and 3 is approximately the difference between Joe Mauer and Andy Benes.

So, while the Tigers certainly weren't tanking to get the No. 1 overall pick -- playing Andrew Romine at all nine positions in the season's penultimate game might've raised some eyebrows, but it's worth noting the Tigers won that game -- the prize, while accidental, is substantial.

Of course, it's up to the Tigers' deep scouting staff to make good on the No. 1 pick, something the Tigers didn't do the last, and only time, they had the No. 1 pick. That was in 1997, when they drafted a hard-throwing right-hander out of Rice named Matt Anderson.

Anderson was in the majors the very next year, and impressed with his 103-mph fastballs. But in 2002, he tore a muscle in his shoulder – in a bullpen session, he says; in an octopus-throwing contest, urban legend says – and struggled to hit 90 after that, and was gone a year later. He's just 41, hasn't pitched in the majors since 2005, now lives in Kentucky with his six kids and is getting close to finishing up law school.

More: Poll: Tigers fans pulling for Justin Verlander to get his ring

Anderson finished with a career WAR of negative-0.6, one of the worst No. 1 busts of all-time. Taken at No. 2 that year was J.D. Drew, and No. 3 was Troy Glaus. So, yes, there are exceptions. Just like there was in the second June draft, when Steven Chilcott went No. 1 and never played in the major leagues, while Reggie Jackson went No. 2 and had a Hall-of-Fame career.

Prior to 2013, only two No. 1 picks never played in the major leagues: Brien Taylor (1991, Yankees) and Chilcott (1966, Mets). In the same time frame, five No. 2s never made it to The Show, and eight No. 3s never made it, including Tigers' picks Kyle Sleeth (2003) and Les Filkins (1975).

There also was 2004, when the Padres took a local shortstop and signable prospect named Matt Bush No. 1 overall, and he got a little more than $3 million. The Tigers then took a college right-hander named Justin Verlander No. 2, a pick that cost them about $5.6 million. Bush eventually flamed out as a shortstop and went to prison for more than three years for drunken driving before re-emerging as a star relief pitcher for the Rangers in 2016. Verlander, who won a Cy Young and MVP and threw two no-hitters for the Tigers before being dealt to the Astros this August, is likely Hall-of-Fame bound.

But, typically, the No. 1 pick has won out, even in the early days of the draft, when scouting wasn't as sophisticated, and detailed reports and video weren't as readily available.

Some of the biggest gaps between Nos. 1 and 2 came in 2010 (Bryce Harper-Jameson Taillon), 2000 (Adrian Gonzalez-Adam Johnson), 1993 (Alex Rodriguez-Darren Dreifort), 1990 (Chipper Jones-Tony Clark) and 1987, the all-time gapper (Ken Griffey Jr.-Mark Merchant, the latter never playing in the major leagues). Another big one was 1980, when Darryl Strawberry went No. 1, and some guy named Garry Harris went second, and never reached The Show.

There's another big reason why landing the No. 1 overall pick is so much better than even 2 or 3, and that's the total bonus pool teams have to spend on their first 10 draft picks. This past June’s draft, the Twins had $14.2 million to spend, while the Reds, with the No. 2 overall pick, had $13.7 million, and the Rays, with the No. 3 overall pick, had $12.5 million. The Tigers, who drafted 18th overall, had $6.5 million to spend on their first 10 picks.

Having a tighter draft-bonus pool can affect the players teams go after. For instance, the Tigers, with a smaller budget, drafted one college senior and one junior who'd been kicked off his college team among their first 10 picks, because they were considered "cheap" signs. That helped Detroit's brass free up some cash to go over the slot on a high school catcher, and their top pick, Florida junior right-hander Alex Faedo.

With more money to spend in 2018, the Tigers theoretically could go after some tougher signs later in the first 10 rounds, such as more college juniors or high school seniors.

Draft-bonus pool budgets are expected to be released in April, and should see a slight increase over the pools from 2016.


A look at the first three picks in each year's MLB Draft (* Indicates never played in major leagues, or hasn’t yet):

2017: Royce Lewis*; Hunter Greene*; MacKenzie Gore*

2016: Mickey Moniak*; Nick Senzel*; Ian Anderson*

2015: Dansby Swanson; Alex Bregman; Brendan Rodgers*

2014: Brady Aiken*; Tyler Kolek*; Carlos Rodon

2013: Mark Appel*; Kris Bryant; Jon Gray

2012: Carlos Correa; Byron Buxton; Mike Zunino

2011: Gerrit Cole; Danny Hultzen*; Trevor Bauer

2010: Bryce Harper; Jameson Taillon; Manny Machado

2009: Stephen Strasburg; Dustin Ackley; Donavna Tate*

2008: Tim Beckham; Pedro Alvarez; Eric Hosmer

2007: David Price; Mike Moustakas; Josh Vitters

2006: Luke Hochevar; Greg Reynolds; Evan Longoria

2005: Justin Upton; Alex Gordon; Jeff Clement

2004: Matt Bush; Justin Verlander; Philip Humber

2003: Delmon Young; Rickie Weeks; Kyle Sleeth*

2002: Bryan Bullington; Melvin Upton Jr.; Chris Gruler*

2001: Joe Mauer; Mark Prior; Dewon Brazelton

2000: Adrian Gonzalez; Adam Johnson; Luis Montanez

1999: Josh Hamilton; Josh Beckett; Eric Munson

1998: Pat Burrell; Mark Mulder; Corey Patterson

1997: Matt Anderson; J.D. Drew; Troy Glaus

1996: Kris Benson; Travis Lee; Braden Looper

1995: Darin Erstad; Ben Davis; Jose Cruz

1994: Paul Wilson; Ben Grieve; Dustin Hermanson

1993: Alex Rodriguez; Darren Dreifort; Brian Anderson

1992: Phil Nevin; Paul Shuey; B.J. Wallace*

1991: Brien Taylor*; Mike Kelly; Dave McCarty

1990: Chipper Jones; Tony Clark; Mike Lieberthal

1989: Ben McDonald; Tyler Houston;' Roger Salkeld

1988: Andy Benes; Mark Lewis; Steve Avery

1987: Ken Griffey Jr.; Mark Merchant*; Willie Banks

1986: Jeff King; Greg Swindell; Matt Williams

1985: B.J. Surhoff; Will Clark; Bobby Witt

1984: Shawn Abner; Bill Swift; Drew Hal

1983: Tim Belcher; Kurt Stillwell; Jeff Kunkel

1982: Shawon Dunston; Augie Schmidt*; Jimmy Jones

1981: Mike Moore; Joe Carter; Dick Schofield

1980: Darryl Strawberry; Garry Harris*; Ken Dayley

1979: Al Chambers; Tim Leary; Jay Schroeder*

1978: Bob Horner; Lloyd Moseby; Hubie Brooks

1977: Harold Baines; Bill Gullickson; Paul Molitor

1976: Floyd Bannister; Pat Underwood; Ken Smith

1975: Danny Goodwin; Mike Lentz*; Les Filkins*

1974: Bill Almon; Tommy Boggs; Lonnie Smith

1973: David Clyde; John Stearns; Robin Yount

1972: Dave Roberts; Rick Maning; Larry Christenson

1971: Danny Goodwin; Jay Franklin; Tommy Blanco

1970: Mike Ivie; Steve Dunning; Barry Foote

1969: Jeff Burroughs; J.R. Richard; Ted Nicholson*

1968: Tim Foli; Pete Broberg; Martin Cott*

1967: Ron Blomberg; Terry Hughes; Mike Garman

1966: Steven Chilcott*; Reggie Jackson; Wayne Twitchell

1965: Rick Monday; Les Rohr; Joe Coleman


A look at the Tigers’ picks among the top 10 overall in the MLB Draft (* Indicates never played in major leagues, or hasn’t yet):

1: 1997, RHP Matt Anderson, -0.5 career WAR

2: 2004, RHP Justin Verlander, 56.6

2: 1990, 1B Tony Clark, 12.5

2: 1976, LHP Pat Underwood, 1.0

3: 1999, 3B Eric Munson, -1.4

3: 2003, RHP Kyle Sleeth, N/A*

3: 1975, OF Les Filkins, N/A*

5: 1977, RHP Kevin Richards, N/A*

6: 2006, LHP Andrew Miller, 8.4

6: 1996, RHP Seth Greisinger, 0.0

8: 2002, SS Scott Moore, -0.8

8: 2000, RHP Matt Wheatland, N/A*

8: 1993, SS Matt Brunson, N/A*

9: 2009, RHP Jacob Turner, -1.8

9: 2016, RHP Matt Manning, N/A*

9: 1993, SS Matt Brunson, N/A*

10: 2005, OF Cameron Maybin, 13.0


A look at Hall-of-Famers to come out of the top 10 overall picks (* Selected in the January draft):

No. 1: Ken Griffey Jr. (1987); Chipper Jones eligible in 2018

2: Reggie Jackson (1966)

3: Robin Yount (1973), Paul Molitor (1977), Kirby Puckett (1982)*

4: Carlton Fisk (1967)*, Dave Winfield (1973), Barry Larkin (1985)

5: None

6: None; Barry Bonds eligible; Derek Jeter eligible in 2020

7: Frank Thomas (1989)

8-10: None