StaTuesday: History of Brewers 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 they do 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.
The MLB draft began in 1966, with the Milwaukee Brewers entering the league in 1969 (as the Seattle Pilots). In that time, the Brewers have had nine first-round picks (which they’ve signed — there’s another difference between baseball and other sports) — post a career WAR of 20 or higher, with a 10th just coming up short.
However, 10 of the signed first-rounders posted a WAR of less than 1.0 and 24 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):
Rick O’Keefe (1975), Nick Hernandez (1978), Isaiah Clark (1984), Gordon Powell* (1989), Ty Hill (1991), Gabby Martinez* (1992), Ken Felder (1992), Joe Wagner* (1993), Chad Green (1996), J.M. Gold (1998), Mike Jones (2001), Evan Frederickson* (2008), Kyle Heckathorn* (2009), Kentrail Davis* (2009), Eric Arnett (2009), Victor Roache (2012), Clint Coulter (2012), Jake Gatewood* (2014), Kodi Medeiros (2014), Nathan Kirby* (2015), Trent Grisham (2015), Corey Ray (2016), Tristen Lutz* (2017) and Keston Hiura (2017).
Milwaukee failed to sign four of their first-round picks, three of whom have appeared in the major league: Bill Bordley (1976), Ken Henderson (1991), Alex Fernandez (1988) and Dylan Covey (2010).
When it comes to players who have signed and reached the majors, the Brewers (and we suspect it’s a trend with most teams) have had far more success with hitters than pitchers.
Milwaukee had a lot of success with the No. 3 overall pick, nabbing both future Hall of Famers Robin Yount (1973) and Paul Molitor (1977) there. Both were selected as shortstops and among first-rounders who were drafted at that position, only Alex Rodriguez and Chipper Jones have higher career WARs.
Drafted as a third baseman, Ryan Braun has the seventh-highest WAR among players drafted at that position. Like Braun, not all of those above Braun in WAR stuck at third and some never played there. The six (in order of WAR): Manny Ramirez, Robin Ventura, Mark Teixeira, Evan Longoria, David Wright and Matt Williams.
Of course, Molitor appeared for teams other than the Brewers, as did other players, including guys like Gary Sheffield and Darrell Porter, both of whom were traded. With that being said, here’s the list of Brewers signed first-round position players in order of career WAR (through June 4, for those players who are still active):
Pitching, not surprisingly, can be harder to figure out in the draft. Milwaukee did get a gem in Ben Sheets, who is 45th in WAR among all the pitchers selected in the first round since 1966. (Fernandez, who Milwaukee selected at No. 24 in 1988 but didn’t sign and was drafted two years later at No. 4 by the White Sox, is one of them at 28.6.)
Dan Plesac has the ninth-most saves among first-round picks, but among those who turned out to be relievers in the majors, he has the third-highest WAR behind only Billy Wagner (27.7) and Roberto Hernandez (18.5).
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