First-round picks lay groundwork of success
Hitting on top selections is crucial to long-term team planning
This year's first-round pick could be the next decade's superstar. He could be next year's closer, the ace of the rotation two years from now, or one of several important pieces in a rebuilding process.
They don't all make it, of course, but the first round of the First-Year Player Draft is often where you'll find superstars -- past, present and future.
Live coverage of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft begins with a one-hour preview show on Monday, at 6 p.m. ET on MLB.com and MLB Network, followed by the first round and supplemental compensation round. MLB.com will provide exclusive coverage of Day 2 and 3, featuring a live pick-by-pick stream, expert commentary and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of every Draft-eligible player. You can also keep up to date at Draft Central and by following @MLBDraft on Twitter. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.
Recently, few other teams have seen seeing the first round bear fruit like the Royals, who have another high pick at No. 5 this year. The Royals already have six of their last 10 first-round picks in the Majors, with another on his way.
But, then, having top picks make the big leagues is the whole idea.
"We're going to draft 50 players this year, and we expect all 50 to make it to the Major Leagues," Royals general manager Dayton Moore said this past week.
A noble goal, to be sure, but nobody throws a perfect game like that, not even with first-rounders.
Indeed, being selected as the No. 1 overall pick doesn't guarantee lasting success. Starting with Chipper Jones' selection by the Braves in 1990 through 2010 pick Chris Sale of the White Sox, there are just 11 former No. 1 overall picks in the big leagues.
Pat Burrell, a No. 1 overall pick with the Phillies in 1998, said advice from a veteran player and coach, the late John Vuckovich, helped him deal with the unique sense of accomplishment and unparalleled pressure at the same time.
"I still find myself saying the same things he said to me a long time ago," said Burrell, now a veteran for his hometown Giants. "One thing he used to say was, 'There are no shortcuts out here.' It starts with the work. You have to put the work in."
Most First-Round Picks currently playing in the Majors
|Six teams at 6|
But there are 30 first-round picks, each with high expectations. With the 2011 First-Year Player Draft upon us, a glimpse at first-rounders currently in the Major Leagues provides a road map for how some organizations have built (or are building) their teams.
Research on the first round, not including the compensation round that follows, shows that 168 former first-round picks are currently on a Major League roster or disabled list, and 78 of those are with the team that drafted them.
In terms of first-round draftees who are still in the bigs somewhere, there are nine each selected by the Blue Jays and the Twins, followed by eight drafted by the Royals.
Most Homegrown First-Rounders currently playing in Majors
On the flip side, clubs such as the White Sox -- who boast 11 first-rounders, including just two of their own -- along with the Yankees and Red Sox are not surprisingly among the major importers of first-round talent.
With their core of top picks starting to mature into the Major Leagues, the Royals' first-round dreams are starting to come true as much as anyone in the big leagues. First baseman Eric Hosmer, the No. 3 overall selection in 2008, ran their total of first-round picks to six. And be it this year or the next, at least one more is poised to join the Majors -- third baseman Mike Moustakas (No. 2 overall in '07).
"The Draft's very unpredictable," said Moore, who has overseen four previous Royals drafts. "There's 30 Draft boards, 30 different opinions on every player that is judged throughout the entire season.
"Aaron Crow -- we didn't expect him to get to us at [No.] 12 [overall] in 2009, yet he was sitting there. Every year, there's a player there that you don't expect. So you learn each year to prepare a little bit more and expect the unexpected."
Suddenly, Crow is in the big leagues, now serving as the team's closer while Joakim Soria gets back on track. After making the Opening Day roster, Crow was followed into the big leagues by Hosmer in making his debut this year, joining Luke Hochevar (No. 1 overall in 2006), Alex Gordon (No. 2 overall in '05), Billy Butler (No. 14 overall in '04) and Mitch Maier (No. 30 overall in '03) in the Royals' first-rounders club.
The Royals aren't the only ones using a string of top Draft picks to rebuild toward a better future.
In Tampa Bay, two starters -- David Price (No. 1 overall in '07) and Jeff Niemann (No. 4 overall in '04) -- and two star position players -- Evan Longoria (No. 3 overall in '06) and B.J. Upton (No. 2 overall in '02) -- make up the remaining core of a team that underwent change last offseason but continues to contend in the American League East race.
In Washington, where last year 2009 No. 1 overall pick Stephen Strasburg made a remarkable rise to the Majors before undergoing Tommy John surgery, Drew Storen, selected at No. 10 overall in the same Draft has taken over as the team's closer. The Nationals also selected prep sensation Harper No. 1 overall last year.
In Pittsburgh, Pedro Alvarez (No. 2 overall in '08) is the latest in a recent line of contributors to the Pirates' rising future, including Neil Walker (No. 11 overall in '04) and Paul Maholm (No. 8 overall in '03).
Soon on the clock for the No. 1 pick, the Pirates know they have to make this first-round pick count as much as possible.
"Somebody is going to make an impact out of this Draft," Pirates GM Neal Huntington said. "We're going to turn around and somebody is going to be an All-Star. We're just doing everything we can to make sure we get him."
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. MLB.com reporter Chris Haft contributed to this article. This article was written based on research on MLB.com, baseball-reference.com and other sources. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.