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.

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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):

PLAYER YEAR WAR G AB HR BA OPS
Robin Yount 1973 77.3 2856 11008 251 .285 .772
Paul Molitor 1977 75.7 2683 10835 234 .306 .817
Gary Sheffield 1986 60.5 2576 9217 509 .292 .907
Ryan Braun 2005 45.2 1505 5782 308 .300 .899
Darrell Porter 1970 40.9 1782 5539 188 .247 .763
B.J. Surhoff 1985 34.4 2313 8258 188 .282 .745
Prince Fielder 2002 23.6 1611 5821 319 .283 .887
Geoff Jenkins 1995 21.9 1349 4700 221 .275 .834
Gorman Thomas 1969 19.8 1436 4677 268 .225 .772
Brett Lawrie 2008 15.1 588 2217 71 .261 .734
Rickie Weeks 2003 11.8 1324 4417 161 .246 .764
Bill Spiers 1987 10.2 1324 4417 37 .271 .711
Dion James 1980 6.2 917 2708 32 .288 .755
Mitch Haniger 2012 5.3 188 689 33 .270 .831
Dan Thomas 1972 0.8 54 175 6 .274 .820
Dave Krynzel 2000 0.2 21 48 0 .188 .486
Todd Dunn 1993 0.0 50 128 3 .224 .598
Tommy Bianco 1971 -0.2 18 34 0 .176 .469
Antone Williamson 1994 -0.8 24 54 0 .204 .513
Matt LaPorta 2007 -1.0 291 967 31 .238 .694
Dale Sveum 1982 -2.4 862 2526 69 .236 .676

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).

PITCHER YEAR WAR G W L SV ERA WHIP
Ben Sheets 1999 23.3 250 94 96 0 3.78 1.22
Dan Plesac 1983 17.0 1064 65 71 158 3.64 1.29
Cal Eldred 1989 15.9 341 86 74 9 4.42 1.40
Jake Odorizzi 2008 8.7 141 43 40 1 3.85 1.23
Jeremy Jeffress 2006 6.1 300 22 6 31 3.07 1.37
Jeff D’Amico 1993 5.6 139 45 52 0 4.61 1.34
Kelly Wunsch 1993 3.1 257 11 6 1 3.76 1.32
Taylor Jungmann 2011 1.1 30 9 13 0 4.54 1.38
Mark Rogers 2004 1.1 11 3 1 0 3.49 1.12
Kyle Peterson 1997 0.3 20 5 9 0 4.71 1.47
Butch Edge 1974 0.1 9 3 4 0 5.23 1.63
Jed Bradley 2011 0.0 6 1 1 0 5.14 1.86

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