Major League Baseball will conduct its 2020 first-year player draft beginning on Wednesday. The five-round sprint will conclude the following day, with teams then having a few days off before the opening of the undrafted free-agent signing period. The Detroit Tigers hold the No. 1 overall pick for the second time in three years, and are expected to choose Arizona State University first baseman Spencer Torkelson, in the class thanks to his offensive aptitude.
Before the Tigers can make their selection official, we wanted to revisit the 10 most recent No. 1 picks, highlighting what they’ve accomplished and where they are now. Below is a list of the last 10 players to get picked first overall, along with their draft year and original team. Some are household names, some have fizzled out and some are hoping to become All-Stars before long.
2010: Bryce Harper, OF, Washington Nationals
It’s a little hard to believe it’s been a decade since the Nationals popped Harper, who at the time was considered a generational talent due to his prodigious power. He would debut in the majors less than two years later, as a 19-year-old, and in the time since he has authored a quality career that includes a Most Valuable Player Award and six All-Star Game appearances, as well as more than 30 Wins Above Replacement and 219 home runs. Harper left D.C. after the 2018 season, signing a 13-year contract worth $330 million with the Philadelphia Phillies. In his first spin around the sun with the Phillies, he hit .260/.372/.510 (125 OPS+) with 35 home runs and 15 stolen bases (on 18 tries).
2011: Gerrit Cole, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates
The rule of thumb whenever a hitter and pitcher are considered about even in talent level is to go with the hitter. The Pirates disobeyed that notion when they chose Cole over Anthony Rendon, and whatever regrets they might have about Cole aren’t tied up to his selection. Rather, they have to do with the 2018 trade that sent him to the Houston Astros in exchange for Joe Musgrove, Colin Moran, Michael Feliz, and Jason Martin. Cole has since established a new standard of performance, posting a 164 ERA+ and 5.38 strikeout-to-walk ratio in his last 65 starts. He signed a nine-year contract worth $324 million with the New York Yankees during the offseason, and is expected to serve as their ace for years to come.
2012: Carlos Correa, SS, Houston Astros
Correa represents the first of three consecutive No. 1 picks made by the Astros. He’s by far the most successful of the trio, too, having hit .277/.356/.489 (129 OPS+) in five seasons. Correa has dealt with some injury concerns in recent years, but when he’s healthy he’s an All-Star-caliber shortstop. This represents the first year the Astros used their patented portfolio strategy, as they signed Correa for millions under the recommended slot value
2013: Mark Appel, RHP, Houston Astros
For as well as things worked out for the Astros in 2012, that wasn’t the case the following year. Houston selected Appel ahead of Kris Bryant and Jon Gray with the belief that he could develop into a frontline starter. He did not. Instead, the Astros shipped him to the Philadelphia Phillies as part of the Ken Giles deal after two full seasons. The change of scenery didn’t help Appel, who walked away from the game after the 2017 season with a career minor-league ERA of 5.06. He was the first No. 1 pick to not appear in the majors since 1991, when Brien Taylor accomplished the feat for the New York Yankees. Appel can take solace in knowing he won’t be the last, however, because….
2014: Brady Aiken, LHP, Houston Astros
….Aiken also seems highly unlikely to reach the Show. He never so much as appeared in a professional game with the Astros organization, as negotiations between the two sides collapsed when Houston tried to reduce his signing bonus based on an irregularly small ulnar collateral ligament they discovered during the medical screening process. Aiken would be drafted the ensuing summer by Cleveland, but took a leave of absence from baseball last year after years of poor performance and injury. The Astros received a compensatory pick in the 2015 draft, and they used it on a college infielder named Alex Bregman.
2015: Dansby Swanson, SS, Arizona Diamondbacks
Swanson hasn’t been nearly as successful as Harper, Cole, or Correa, but he is the final member of this list to have played in the majors to this point in time. Over four seasons, he’s hit .245/.318/.385 (84 OPS+) while accumulating 4.6 Wins Above Replacement. Swanson’s claim to fame at this point is that he was traded to the Atlanta Braves roughly six months after he was selected as part of a five-player deal that sent Shelby Miller to Arizona. Swanson has been the second-most productive player of those involved (behind outfielder Ender Inciarte), though that says more about the others than it does about him.
2016: Mickey Moniak, OF, Philadelphia Phillies
The success of Nick Senzel, who the Cincinnati Reds selected No. 2 overall in 2016, will go a long way in determining if the Phillies erred or if they had the misfortune of selecting at the top of a relatively weak class. Moniak had his best season yet as a professional last year, hitting .252/.303/.439 against Double-A pitching. He has five tools that deviate around average, but his swing-happy approach may limit him to fourth-outfielder status.
2017: Royce Lewis, SS, Minnesota Twins
Whereas Moniak’s stock improved last year, Lewis’ declined. He hit .236/.290/.371 with 85 more strikeouts than walks across High- and Double-A. Lewis did pick up his play during a stint in the Arizona Fall League, but throughout most of the year he looked uncomfortable with a modified swing. His shortstop defense remains below average, meaning he could in time be forced to move off the position, likely to center field. Lewis still has the physical tools to be a star, and time remains on his side — after all, he won’t turn 22 until next June.
2018: Casey Mize, RHP, Detroit Tigers
Mize might’ve debuted in the majors last season were it not for injury and the Tigers’ general helplessness. In 26 professional starts to date, he’s racked up a 2.71 ERA and 4.62 strikeouts per walk, suggesting he’s a cut above his minor-league competition. Mize has a quality arsenal that includes a nasty splitter, and he has shown an appreciable feel for pounding the zone. The only thing holding him back is his body.
2019: Adley Rutschman, C, Baltimore Orioles
The Orioles were in the Tigers’ cleats a year ago, when they chose a Pac-12 star. Rutschman, out of Oregon State, is a switch-hitting backstop with the potential for four plus or better tools — and that doesn’t include the other elements of his game that earn praise, like his framing or his command over the strike zone. It’s too early to know for sure, but Rutschman has a chance to develop into an All-Star, and for now he represents the crown jewel of the O’s system.