B.J. Upton, the No. 2 overall pick by the Devil Rays in the 2002 draft, collected his 1,000th MLB hit on Saturday on a ground ball against Mike Leake and the Reds. But while Upton has had a long and lucrative MLB career, he hasn’t reached the heights of other players drafted later that year.
The Devil Rays did fare better than other teams drafting in the top five in ’02. The Pirates took Ball State righty Bryan Bullington with the first overall pick, and Bullington turned out to be a journeyman. Third, fourth and fifth overall picks Chris Gruler (Reds), Adam Loewen (Orioles) and Clint Everts (Expos) didn’t turn out much better.
Where that draft really got interesting was with the sixth pick, where the Royals took Zack Greinke. One pick later, the Brewers grabbed Prince Fielder. Later in the first round went Scott Kazmir, Nick Swisher, Cole Hamels and Matt Cain. Joey Votto, Jon Lester and Brian McCann went in the second round; Curtis Granderson headed to the Tigers in the third, and Josh Johnson went to the Marlins in the fourth. Howie Kendrick and Russell Martin went in the late rounds.
We’re nearly 12 years removed from that draft now, and most of the top players involved are now in their late primes. Some have moved on to other teams. So which team fared the best? Here are some possibilities, but feel free to peruse Baseball Reference’s draft database on your own.
Angels. The Angels got solid value from Joe Saunders at No. 12 overall, then scored with Kendrick in the tenth round.
Athletics. The A’s got several good players in their famed “Moneyball” draft, although this was partially, or perhaps even primarily, a function of opportunity — they had seven of the first 39 picks. Swisher (24.1 bWAR) and Joe Blanton (8.8 bWAR) turned out well, but other members of Oakland’s unconventional draft class (including John McCurdy, Ben Fritz, and Jeremy Brown, all selected in the first round) didn’t. The A’s signed Jared Burton in the late rounds, although they lost him in the Rule 5 Draft in 2006. They also picked Brad Ziegler and Jonathan Papelbon, but didn’t sign either of them.
Braves. First-round pick Jeff Francoeur spent most of his best years with the Braves, finishing third in Rookie of the Year balloting in 2005. Supplemental pick Dan Meyer was a key part of the Tim Hudson trade with the Athletics. Second-rounder Brian McCann became a superstar behind the plate. And third-rounder Charlie Morton helped the Braves land Nate McLouth, before becoming a sinker-balling mainstay in the Pirates’ rotation.
Brewers. The Brewers only managed to get much from Fielder (23.1 bWAR). They would have had a better case here if they hadn’t released late-round picks Tom Wilhelmsen and Craig Breslow before they went on to productive careers elsewhere, or if they’d signed 40th-rounder Hunter Pence.
Dodgers. The Dodgers got great value throughout the draft, taking James Loney in the first round, and then Martin, Jonathan Broxton, James McDonald, and Eric Stults later on. Martin accumulated 15.9 bWAR in his five seasons in Los Angeles, then continued his fine career in New York and Pittsburgh.
Giants. First-rounder Matt Cain was a huge hit, and the Giants also got reasonable value from second-rounder Fred Lewis and fourth-rounder Kevin Correia. Eighth-rounder Clay Hensley helped them land reliever Matt Herges. And unlike some teams on this list, the Giants didn’t have a mess of compensation picks, selecting just once in each round.
Phillies. Philadelphia got Hamels and little else, but in terms of WAR value, they did very well in this draft. This wasn’t an unfamiliar pattern for the Phillies, who two years later had taken Chase Utley with their first pick in a draft that otherwise turned up very little for them. When drafting, quality is far more important than quantity, and the Phillies rode their quantity-light but quality-heavy drafts to a World Series title in 2008.
Reds. Gruler was a huge miss at third overall, but the Reds more than made up for that by snagging Votto (34.7 bWAR) 44th overall. They only got two big-leaguers in ’02, but the other one, Chris Denorfia (19th round) also turned out to be a solid contributor. The Reds, however, didn’t reap the benefits, shipping Denorfia to the A’s for Marcus McBeth and a minor-leaguer in 2007.
Red Sox. Boston didn’t pick until No. 57 overall, but took Lester, one of the best pitchers in the draft, when their turn came. They also took Brandon Moss, who they sent to Pittsburgh in the Manny Ramirez / Jason Bay swap in 2008.
Royals. Like the Phillies, the Royals got little in the late rounds. But Greinke was a big hit, and he continues to pay dividends years after being traded — they still have Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar left over from that deal, and Jake Odorizzi helped them land James Shields (albeit in a trade that is controversial for reasons that have little to do with Odorizzi).