Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) -
You know what's great about the NBA Draft happening later this month? It's short. Two rounds, sixty picks and it's all over.
I imagine that's why so many people watch it. Of course, MLB's tedious 40- round affair is the complete opposite. Forty rounds multiplied by 30 teams ... that's 1,200 draft picks. Are there really 1,200 baseball players in this country worthy of being drafted each year? Even for an MLB junkie like me that's overkill.
But the first round still means something, which is why the Houston Astros, a team we don't normally discuss, are the talk of Major League Baseball. For the third consecutive year, Houston will pick first and there's a good chance whoever they select will be an All-Star someday.
Since 1994, eight of the 20 No. 1 overall selections have gone on to play in at least one All-Star Game. Two of those eight, Bryce Harper and Joe Mauer, were present at last year's game. Mauer (first pick in 2001) and Josh Hamilton (1999) are former MVPs and David Price was a Cy Young winner in 2012.
Not every No. 1 pick has panned out. In five big league seasons before heading to Japan, Bryan Bullington (2002) captured just one victory. In a similar display of failure, Tim Beckham has seen only seven major league at bats since getting drafted first overall in 2008. Luke Hochevar (2006) didn't live up to the hype either and Matt Bush, the Padres' first pick in '04, has never played at a level higher than Double-A. He's currently serving a prison sentence that lasts until 2016, effectively ending his career.
The Padres probably should have picked Justin Verlander, arguably the most dominant starting pitcher of his generation. That year the Tigers took Verlander at No. 2, one pick after Bush.
The Verlander example is one of many instances when the No. 2 pick has actually had a better career than the player drafted ahead of them. Since 1994, nine of the 20 No. 2 picks have played in at least one All-Star Game. A few of them include Josh Beckett (taken after Hamilton in '99), Pedro Alvarez (the pick immediately following Beckham in '08) and J.D. Drew, who was picked by the Phillies in 1997 but later refused to play for them. Hopefully that won't happen to whoever the Marlins select with the No. 2 pick this season.
Drew is worth mentioning because his draft class was one of the strongest we've seen in the past two decades. Including Drew, eight of the 31 first- round picks in 1997 have played in at least one All-Star Game. Two of them, Michael Cuddyer and Jason Grilli, were All-Stars in 2013. In the last 20 years, only the first round in 2005 has brought us more All-Stars. MVPs Andrew McCutchen and Ryan Braun were both in that draft class.
Many teams go for pitching with the first pick. In the last 20 years, nine pitchers (eight of them right-handed) have been drafted first overall with five outfielders, three shortstops, two first basemen and one catcher taken during that same span. No team has drafted a third baseman with the first pick since Phil Nevin in 1992. In 49 years of the draft, no second baseman has ever been taken first.
Sure, a few great players have slipped through the cracks. Albert Pujols' name wasn't called until the 13th round in 1999 and Mike Piazza wasn't taken until the 62nd round in 1988. But more often than not, the players who have the most success in MLB are drafted in the early rounds.
Of the 62 players selected for last year's All-Star Game, 19 of them were former first-round picks, 11 were second-rounders and four more went between rounds three and six. Only three All-Stars (two of them Blue Jays), were taken after the 19th round. Obviously, MLB's foreign influence has changed dramatically in recent years as 17 of the game's 62 participants in 2013 were signed as international free agents, bypassing the draft altogether.
So how long will it be before this year's No. 1 pick makes it to the show? If the last 20 drafts are any indication, not very long. Ten of the last 20 No. 1 picks have arrived in the majors within two years of getting drafted. Most of them have gone on to have lengthy careers with 14 logging at least five seasons in the major leagues. Four, including Darin Erstad (1995) and Adrian Gonzalez (2000), have played at least ten years in the majors.
There's plenty at stake in this year's draft. Just don't expect me to sit through the whole thing.