StaTuesday: History of Twins’ first-round draft picks
Major League Baseball’s draft is unlike the other pro sports — beyond the fact it lasts 40 rounds.
When it comes to first-round picks, there’s a lot of waiting around. Unlike the NFL and NBA, and sometimes the NHL, first-round picks don’t emerge with the big club for some time, often taking years to reach the major leagues, if at all.
There is no instant impact. In fact, only one No. 1 overall pick has been inducted in the Hall of Fame, Ken Griffey Jr. (Chipper Jones, who goes in this summer, will join him soon). But that doesn’t mean there isn’t any impact.
Since the MLB draft began in 1966, the Minnesota Twins have had five first-round picks (which they’ve signed — there’s another difference between baseball and other sports) — post a career WAR of 25 or higher.
However, 10 of the signed first-rounders posted a negative WAR and 28 of their signed first-round picks never reached the majors (or have yet to, although some are on the horizon).
First, here’s a list of the signed first-rounders yet to play in the bigs, along with the year they were drafted (* – supplemental round or compensatory pick):
Bob Jones (1966), Alexader Rowell (1968), Dave Soderholm (1971), Ted Shipley (1974), Paul Croft (1977), Kevin Brandt (1979), Mikde Sodders (1981), Jeff Bumgarner (1985), Johnny Ard (1988), Kelcey Mucker* (1993), Marc Barelo* (1993), Ryan Mills (1998), B.H. Garbe (1999), Matt Moses (2003), Jay Rainville* (2004), Hank Sanchez* (2005), Shooter Hunt* (2008), Carlos Guitierrez (2008), Matt Bashore* (2009), Hudson Boyd* (2011), Travis Harrison* (2011), Levi Michael (2011), Kohl Stewart (2013), Nick Gordon (2014), Tyler Jay (2015), Alex Kiriloff (2016), Brent Rooker* (2017) and Royce Lewis (2017).
Minnesota failed to sign seven of their first-round picks, all of whom were later drafted by other teams and played in the major leagues: Eddie Leon (1965), Dick Ruthven (1972), Jamie Allen (1976), Tim Belcher (1983), Jason Varitek (1993), Travis Lee (1996) and Aaron Heilman* (2000).
When it comes to players who have signed and reached the majors, the Twins have had far more success with hitters than pitchers.
Joe Mauer has the second-highest WAR among catchers taken in the first round. And before you say that Mauer has played a lot of first base recently, know that the player ahead of him is Craig Biggio, who caught just 428 games in the majors (Mauer has more than double, 920).
Torii Hunter has the seventh-highest WAR among outfielders selected in the first round, trailing only Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr., Reggie Jackson, Rafael Palmeiro (drafted as an outfielder), Mike Trout and Johnny Damon.
Even Chuck Knoblauch is 10th in WAR among players drafted as shortstops in the first round. Of the nine players with a higher WAR, most did not spend much time at short in the majors: Alex Rodriguez, Chipper Jones, Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, Derek Jeter, Bobby Grich, Barry Larkin, Gary Sheffield and Chet Lemon.
Of course, Hunter and Knoblauch played for other teams besides the Twins, as did other players, of course, including Jay Bell, who was traded to Cleveland before ever making it to Minnesota. But here’s the list of Twins signed first-round position players in order of career WAR (through games of June 4, for those players who are still active):
Pitching, not surprisingly, can be harder to figure out in the draft. Minnesota hasn’t had any breakout stars among its first-round picks — yet.
Two current Twins, Kyle Gibson and Jose Berrios, certainly could make a name for themselves, especially Berrios. After a tough rookie season, he posted a 1.8 WAR in 2017 and already has a 1.3 WAR this year.
Dave Heller is the author of Ken Williams: A Slugger in Ruth’s Shadow (a Larry Ritter Book Award nominee), Facing Ted Williams – Players From the Golden Age of Baseball Recall the Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived and As Good As It Got: The 1944 St. Louis Browns