Ranking The Top 25 College No. 1 Picks In The MLB Draft
The MLB draft is this week, and the expectation is that Arizona State first baseman Spencer Torkelson will be selected first overall by the Detroit Tigers.
And in the event that it’s not Torkelson, it would probably be Vanderbilt third baseman Austin Martin or Texas A&M lefthander Asa Lacy. Either way, it’s clear that the top player picked will be a college player for the third year in a row, after Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman was taken there in 2019 and Auburn righthander Casey Mize came off the board first in 2018.
There has been no shortage of star power among college players taken first overall in the draft’s history, with a number of players carving out careers that lasted a decade or longer and some current players who have been among the best in the game in recent years.
Here, we’ve ranked the top 25 college players taken first overall, based mostly on their accomplishments as a professionals, and in the case of players like Rutschman and Mize who haven’t debuted in MLB, their rankings have been bolstered by the projection of what they might be as big leaguers.
After a standout career at Vanderbilt that included winning the Golden Spikes and Baseball America Player of the Year honors as a junior, Price has gone on to a long and illustrious career in the big leagues that includes the 2012 AL Cy Young Award and five All-Star appearances. He leads all college first overall picks in career Wins Above Replacement.
2. Stephen Strasburg, San Diego State, 2009
Golden Spikes, National Player of the Year, 10 seasons in MLB, 3X all-star
Strasburg, a righthander who completely turned his future around as a prospect while at San Diego State, was one of the best college pitching prospects of all time when he went into the draft in 2009. He hasn’t disappointed as a pro, making three all-star games and twice finishing in the top five in Cy Young voting.
3. Gerrit Cole, UCLA, 2011
7 seasons in MLB, 3X all-star
One half of a dynamic rotation duo at UCLA with Trevor Bauer, Cole has proven to be as durable and dominant as expected as a professional. He’s been to three all-star games, and in 2019 with the Astros, he finished second in AL Cy Young voting after leading the majors in strikeouts with 326.
4. B.J. Surhoff, North Carolina, 1985
19 seasons in MLB, 1X all-star
A New York native, Surhoff played his college baseball at North Carolina, where he played on the 1984 Olympic team and set the UNC career batting average record (.392) before it was broken by Dustin Ackley in 2009. In 1987 with the Brewers, he began a productive 19-year career in MLB, highlighted by a 28-homer 1999 season with the Orioles that led to his only all-star appearance.
5. Rick Monday, Arizona State, 1965
19 seasons in MLB, 2X all-star
One of the earliest stars from an Arizona State program that was really beginning to flex its muscles in the 1960s, Monday is most famous for snatching an American flag away from two individuals who intended to burn the flag in the outfield of Dodger Stadium in 1976, but he also had an outstanding career that spanned 19 seasons in the majors. His best season was actually that 1976 season, when he hit a career-high 32 home runs for the Cubs.
6. Darin Erstad, Nebraska, 1995
14 seasons in MLB, 2X all-star, 3 Gold Gloves
After starring on the diamond and the football field as a punter for Nebraska, Erstad went on to become one of the most distinguished players in Angels history, going to two all-star games, winning two Gold Gloves, winning a World Series in 2002 and finishing eighth in AL MVP voting in 2000.
7. Andy Benes, Evansville, 1988
14 seasons in MLB, 1X all-star
An Evansville, Ind., native who chose to stay home to play his college baseball with the Purple Aces, Benes enjoyed a long career that spanned 14 seasons in the big leagues. He finished fifth in NL Rookie of the Year voting with the Padres in 1989, finished sixth in the NL Cy Young race in 1991, made his only all-star game in 1993, led the National League in strikeouts with 189 in 1994 and came in third in NL Cy Young voting in 1996.
8. Bob Horner, Arizona State, 1978
Golden Spikes, 10 seasons in MLB, 1978 Rookie of the Year
After winning the Golden Spikes award with Arizona State, Horner didn’t spend a single day in the minor leagues after being drafted first overall in 1978. The corner infielder was the 1978 NL Rookie of the Year, finished ninth in NL MVP voting in 1980 and was an all-star in 1982 on the way to a 10-year MLB career.
9. Ben McDonald, Louisiana State, 1989
Golden Spikes, national Player of the Year, 9 seasons in MLB
A true SEC legend for what he accomplished at Louisiana State, McDonald made his big league debut with the Orioles just a few weeks after being drafted in 1989. He joined the rotation in 1990 and ended up finishing eighth in AL Rookie of the Year voting. McDonald pitched in Baltimore through the 1995 season before capping his career with two seasons with the Brewers.
10. Pat Burrell, Miami, 1998
Golden Spikes, 12 seasons in MLB
Burrell was famously selected first overall in the 1998 draft while standing on deck for Miami at the College World Series. Once he got into pro baseball, he moved quickly and debuted with the Phillies in 2000, which began a solid 12-year career in MLB, headlined by a 2005 season that saw Burrell hit 32 home runs and finish seventh in NL MVP voting.
11. Mike Moore, Oral Roberts, 1981
14 seasons in MLB, 1X all-star
A star at Oral Roberts, Moore pitched for the Mariners, Athletics and Tigers in his 14-year big league career. His best season came in Oakland in 1989, when he went 19-11, 2.61 to make his only all-star appearance and finish third in AL Cy Young voting.
12. Floyd Bannister, Arizona State, 1976
15 seasons in MLB, 1X all-star
A pitcher who came a couple of seasons before Bob Horner at Arizona State, Bannister turned into a dependable big league pitcher for 15 seasons, most of which were spent starting games. His best season was with the Mariners in 1982, when he went 12-13, 3.43 and earned his only career all-star nod.
13. Tim Belcher, Mount Vernon (Ohio) Nazarene, 1983
14 seasons in MLB
A rarity as a highly-drafted player to play at a current non-Division I school, Belcher played his college baseball at NAIA Mount Vernon Nazarene College in Ohio. Belcher broke into the big leagues with the Dodgers in 1987 and began what would end up being a long, winding 14-year career that saw the righthander pitch for seven different teams.
14. Jeff King, Arkansas, 1986
11 seasons in MLB
A star at Arkansas, King spent 11 seasons at the big league level, most of them with the Pirates. In the mid-to-late 90s, he developed into a solid power hitter, clubbing 30 home runs for Pittsburgh in 1996 before hitting 28 and 24 for the Royals in 1997 and 1998, respectively.
15. Phil Nevin, Cal State Fullerton, 1992
Golden Spikes, National Player of the Year, 12 seasons in MLB, 1X all-star
After starring at Cal State Fullerton, Nevin played in the big leagues for the Astros, Tigers and Angels before finding his footing with the Padres in 1999. His best season was in 2001, when he hit .306/.388/.588 with 41 home runs, which helped him make his only all-star appearance.
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16. Kris Benson, Clemson, 1996
National Player of the Year, 9 seasons in MLB
Benson dominated in his final year at Clemson, going 14-2, 2.02 with 204 strikeouts in 156 innings before being selected first overall. The righthander didn’t develop into the ace that many hoped he would become, but he was an effective starting pitcher for most of his nine seasons in the big leagues. His best season came in 2000, when he went 10-12, 3.85 for the Pirates.
17. Adley Rutschman, Oregon State, 2019
Golden Spikes, National Player of the Year
An advanced defensive catcher who showed marked improvement offensively as his Oregon State career went on, Rutschman hasn’t had much time to make his mark on professional baseball, but as one of the best prospects to come out of the college game in recent years, there’s little doubt that he will in time.
18. Dansby Swanson, Vanderbilt, 2015
4 seasons in MLB
Swanson, who made a big leap with his bat as a junior at Vanderbilt, hitting .335/.423/.623 with 15 home runs in his final season in Nashville, has spent the last four seasons in the majors with the Braves. His best full season in the big leagues came in 2019, when he hit .251/.325/.422 with 17 homers.
19. Bill Almon, Brown, 1974
15 seasons in MLB
A product of Brown University, Almon was the top pick in the 1974 draft. Later that same year, after just 39 games in the minors, he was promoted to the big leagues with the Padres and started at shortstop. Almon spent 15 seasons in MLB and enjoyed a breakout season in the middle of his career in 1981, when he hit .301 with the White Sox and received MVP votes.
20. Casey Mize, Auburn, 2018
Mize, an elite strike thrower in college who also happened to have overpowering stuff, has moved quickly through the Tigers organization in a short period of time. In just his second season, he spent most of the year at Double-A, where he went 6-3, 3.20 in 15 starts.
21. Paul Wilson, Florida State, 1994
7 seasons in MLB
Wilson made two trips to Omaha with Florida State, including in his final year in Tallahassee in 1994. He first broke through to the big leagues with the Mets in 1996, going 5-12, 5.38. He spent the next three seasons mostly in the minors while also limited due to injuries, but came back up in 2000 and pitched six more seasons in the majors with the Devil Rays and Reds.
22. Dave Roberts, Oregon, 1972
10 seasons in MLB
Not to be confused with the recent big leaguer Dave Roberts who is currently the Dodgers’ manager, this Dave Roberts was the first pick of the 1972 draft by the Padres out of Oregon. He went straight to the major leagues after signing and spent ten seasons there, serving mostly as a reserve defensive player who could play any position on the field.
23. Bryan Bullington, Ball State, 2002
5 seasons in MLB
The first player from a MAC school to be selected first overall in any pro sports league’s draft, Bullington capped off his career at Ball State by going 11-3, 2.86 as a junior. He eventually pitched in parts of five seasons in MLB with four different teams, but he really found his stride pitching in Japan. In five seasons there, he went 45-45, 3.25 in 124 starts.
24. Matt Anderson, Rice, 1997
7 seasons in MLB
A Rice teammate of Lance Berkman, who was selected by the Astros 15 picks later, Anderson never quite made good on the potential that made him the top overall pick in 1997, but he did carve out a solid role in the bullpen for the Tigers from 1998-2003. In 245 career appearances in Detroit, he had a 4.89 ERA.
25. Danny Goodwin, Southern, 1975
7 seasons in MLB
Goodwin holds the distinction of being the only player to be drafted first overall in two different drafts. He was selected first overall by the White Sox coming out of high school in 1971, but chose to attend Southern instead. Four years later, he was the top pick of the Angels. Although he never lived up to the potential that made him a two-time top overall pick, Goodwin did play seven seasons in the big leagues for the Angels, Twins and Athletics.