A Modern History Of Unsigned First-Rounders

Modern draft history was made Friday when No. 1 overall pick Brady Aiken did not come to terms with the Astros, marking the first time since 1983 that the first overall pick in the draft did not sign.

After a stretch from 2003-2007 when only one first-round pick did not sign (Wade Townsend; 2004) in five drafts, this marks the seventh straight season that at least one first-round pick did not agree to terms, spanning back to the 2008 draft. This marks the longest streak of unsigned first-rounders in draft history.

History shows that pitchers have proven to be the tougher signs, as 13 of the last 15 players (87 percent) to go unsigned in the first round have been pitchers, dating back to 2000. The majority of those unsigned (73 percent) come from the high school ranks. With a sample of 26 players overall since 1987, 73 percent of the unsigned first-rounders have been pitchers.

So how have the unsigned first-rounders faired on their subsequent passes through the draft?

Here is a list of every unsigned first-rounder since 1987, when the draft went to a single phase, with the round they were drafted in when they signed and their bonus. A few players were drafted more than twice. Although many of the unsigned players did not reach terms because of money, there are instances of injury, such as in 2010 with Barret Loux, who is the only player on this list who did not reenter the draft after being declared a free agent. For these purposes, the four high school players drafted in the top 12 picks who became free agents because of a loophole have been excluded.

The range of outcomes for the unsigned pitchers is vast with many player who improved their draft stock, Mark Appel and Gerrit Cole, who both become No. 1 overall picks. But there are also quite a few that saw their draft stock fall, with two of those recent examples in Karsten Whitson and Dylan Covey, the top unsigned prep arms from the 2010 class. Whitson, who bypassed more than $2 million, went in the 11th round last month and signed for $100,000. Covey, who found out he had diabetes following his post-draft physical after being drafted No. 14 overall, signed for $370,000 in the fourth round last year.

On the extreme end of negative outcomes is Matt Harrington, who turned down nearly $5 million as the seventh overall pick in 2000 and was drafted four more times without agreeing to a contract. Of the 17 pitchers who re-entered the draft (excluding Cal State Fullerton righthander Phil Bickford and Loux, who signed as a free agent), nine again went in the first round, equating to 53 percent of the sample.

All five of the college pitchers went in the first round again, having built up a multi-year track record for evaluators. Only one of these five, John Burke, saw his stock fall significantly within the first round, dropping from No. 6 in 1991 to No. 27 in 1992. Mark Appel improved his draft slot from No. 8 in 2012 to No. 1 in 2013. Wade Townsend‘s draft slot held steady at No. 8 in 2004 and 2005, and Aaron Crow‘s largely remained the same from No. 9 in 2008 to No. 12 in 2009. Brad Duvall went No. 15 in 1987 and then No. 23 in 1988.

Only four of the 12 high school pitchers (33 percent) were drafted again the first round, although Matt Purke received first-round money ($2.75 million) in the 2011 third-round. 2011 No. 1 pick Gerrit Cole is the best case scenario, having gone No. 28 in the 2008 draft. Two others went in the top 10 picks, Alex Fernandez (No. 4; 1990) and Jeremy Sowers (No. 6; 2004). Tyler Beede, who went No. 14 last month after going No. 21 in 2011, is the only other high schooler in the group.

Of the eight that didn't go in the first round again, one went in the second (Chad Hutchinson, who went on to play quarterback in the NFL), third and fourth rounds, while two went in the fifth and 11th rounds. Harrington went in the 36th to the Yankees, but they did not offer him a contract.

There are significantly fewer position players who have not signed in the first round (seven), which provides fewer opportunities for a wide range of possible draft and career paths. But the seven players who fit into this category have produced a much smaller range of outcomes, with significantly less downside risk than the pitchers.

Both of the college position players, J.D. Drew and Jason Varitek, increased their draft slot and received handsome bonuses.

Four of the five high school position players were again taken in the first round. The lone player who did not is LeVon Washington, went from the back of the 2009 first round (No. 30) to the fifth pick in the 2010 second round (No. 55). Tyrell Godwin was drafted three times, going in the first round (No. 24) his first time, supplemental first round (No. 35) his second time and the third round his final time.

The only other times that the No. 1 pick went unsigned was in 1983 and 1971, and both went in the same spot in subsequent drafts. Tim Belcher (1983) then went first overall in the January phase of the 1984 draft. Danny Goodwin (1971) became the top pick again in 1975 after a college career at Southern University.

Although Godwin and Belcher are from a different draft era, they provide the closest historical analog to Aiken, whose talent at the time of the draft relative to his class far exceeds most other examples.

Only time will tell how the career path of Aiken, who hales from the most volatile first-round demographic, will compare to his unsigned first round contemporaries.

Year Player Selection HS/COL Next Time Bonus
2014 Brady Aiken, lhp 1 HS ? ?
2013 Phil Bickford, rhp 10 HS ? ?
2012 Mark Appel, rhp 8 COL 1.01 (2013) $6,350,000
2011 Tyler Beede, rhp 21 HS 1.14 (2014) $2,613,200
2010 Barret Loux, rhp 6 COL FA (2010) $312,000
2010 Karsten Whitson, rhp 9 HS 11.29 (2014) $100,000
2010 Dylan Covey, rhp 14 HS 4.25 (2013) $370,000
2009 Matt Purke, lhp 14 HS 3.6 (2011) $2,750,000
2009 Levon Washington, of 30 HS 2.5 (2010) $1,200,000
2008 Aaron Crow, rhp 9 COL 1.12 (2009) $1,500,000
2008 Gerrit Cole, rhp 28 HS 1.01 (2011) $8,000,000
2004 Wade Townsend, rhp 8 COL 1.08 (2005) $1,500,000
2002 John Mayberry, of 28 HS 1.19 (2005) $1,525,000
2001 Jeremy Sowers, lhp 20 HS 1.06 (2004) $2,475,000
2001 Alan Horne, rhp 27 HS 11.29 (2005) $400,000
2000 Matt Harrington, rhp 7 HS 36.28 (2004) $-
1997 J.D. Drew, of 2 COL 1.05 (1998) $3,000,000
1997 Tyrell Godwin, of 24 HS 3.15 (2001) $480,000
1995 Chad Hutchinson, rhp 26 HS 2.05 (1998) $2,300,000
1993 Jason Varitek, c 21 COL 1.14 (1994) $650,000
1991 Kenny Henderson, rhp 5 HS 5.02 (1995) NA
1991 John Burke, rhp 6 COL 1.27 (1992) $336,000
1989 Charles Johnson, c 10 HS 1.28 (1992) $575,000
1989 Calvin Murray, of 11 HS 1.07 (1992) $825,000
1989 Scott Burrell, rhp 26 HS 5.23 (1990) NA
1988 Alex Fernandez, rhp 24 HS 1.04 (1990) $350,000
1987 Brad Duvall, rhp 15 COL 1.23 (1988) NA