The 2010 amateur draft officially launched the pro careers of several of the modern game’s biggest stars, and since we’re almost a decade removed from that draft class, it seems like a natural time to look back at what ended up being a particularly fascinating draft in hindsight.
Of course, it’s very easy to pick apart any draft with the benefit of years of hindsight, which is why we’re stopping short of any full mock redraft. First off, given the long period of minor league seasoning that every prospect requires and the fact that virtually every team deploys a “take the best player available” approach, it’s hard to look back at each team’s 2010 roster and try to re-draft by positional needs at the time. Secondly, that long minor league process is such a major element in how a player develops, it’s quite possible that any of the superstars at the top of this list might have fallen into obscurity (to say nothing of an injury or some other random setback) had they come up in another organization’s farm system.
So in short, perhaps the simplest method is just to list the top 43 players from 2010 by bWAR, stopping at the somewhat arbitrary cutoff point of 3.0 bWAR. (The actual 2010 first round consisted of a whopping 50 players, thanks to an unusually long 18-pick sandwich round of compensatory picks, as per the old Type A/Type B free agent designation system). We will also only be listing the drafted players who actually signed with their teams, so such notables as 546th overall pick Kris Bryant or 935th pick Aaron Judge aren’t included.
As a refresher, here’s a list of the actual first round of the 2010 draft. As a further reminder of how the draft is in many ways a crapshoot, consider that of the 50 real life first-rounders, 18 never reached the big leagues, and 13 have yet to generate anything beyond a replacement-level 0.0 bWAR at the Major League level. The Rays had three first-round picks (Josh Sale, Justin O’Conner, Drew Vettleson) who never made it to the Show, yet they struck gold on a future Gold Glove winner in the 31st round.
1. 45.3 bWAR: Chris Sale (13th overall, White Sox)
2. 36.7 bWAR: Manny Machado (3rd, Orioles)
3. 36.3 bWAR: Andrelton Simmons (70th, Braves)
4. 35.5 bWAR: Jacob deGrom (272nd, Mets)
5. 31.8 bWAR: Christian Yelich (23rd, Marlins)
6. 31.8 bWAR: Bryce Harper (1st, Nationals)
7. 25.7 bWAR: Kevin Kiermaier (941st, Rays)
8. 19.3 bWAR: Adam Eaton (571st, Diamondbacks)
9. 18.4 bWAR: J.T. Realmuto (104th, Marlins)
10. 17.2 bWAR: Yasmani Grandal (12th, Reds)
11. 15.7 bWAR: Noah Syndergaard (38th, Blue Jays)
12. 15.7 bWAR: Kole Calhoun (264th, Angels)
13. 13.3 bWAR: Whit Merrifield (269th, Royals)
14. 13.3 bWAR: James Paxton (132rd, Mariners)
15. 13.0 bWAR: Corey Dickerson (260th, Rockies)
16. 10.9 bWAR: Joc Pederson (352nd, Dodgers)
17. 10.8 bWAR: Drew Pomeranz (5th, Indians)
18. 10.7 bWAR: Eddie Rosario (135th, Twins)
19. 10.3 bWAR: Matt Harvey (7th, Mets)
20. 9.7 bWAR: Nicholas Castellanos (44th, Tigers)
21. 9.2 bWAR: Drew Smyly (68th, Tigers)
22. 8.9 bWAR: Aaron Sanchez (34th, Blue Jays)
23. 8.9 bWAR: Jedd Gyorko (59th, Padres)
24. 8.8 bWAR: Robbie Ray (356th, Nationals)
25. 8.5 bWAR: Evan Gattis (704th, Braves)
26. 8.2 bWAR: Jameson Taillon (2nd, Pirates)
27. 6.7 bWAR: Adam Duvall (348th, Giants)
28. 6.1 bWAR: Mark Canha (227th, Marlins)
29. 6.0 bWAR: Alex Claudio (826th, Rangers)
30. 6.0 bWAR: Addison Reed (95th, White Sox)
31. 5.8 bWAR: A.J. Griffin (395th, Athletics)
32. 5.8 bWAR: Taijuan Walker (43rd, Mariners)
33. 5.7 bWAR: Michael Lorenzen (221st, Rays)
34. 5.6 bWAR: Sam Dyson (126th, Blue Jays)
35. 5.3 bWAR: Delino DeShields Jr. (8th, Astros)
36. 5.2 bWAR: Vince Velasquez (58th, Astros)
37. 5.2 bWAR: Derek Dietrich (79th, Rays)
38. 4.9 bWAR: Mike Foltynewicz (19th, Astros)
39. 3.8 bWAR: Tyler Thornburg (96th, Brewers)
40. 3.8 bWAR: Jimmy Nelson (64th, Brewers)
41. 3.3 bWAR: Greg Garcia (229th, Cardinals)
42. 3.2 bWAR: Brandon Workman (57th, Red Sox)
43. 3.0 bWAR: Chad Bettis (76th, Rockies)
A few more observations….
- It’s fun to imagine a world where the Nationals follow up drafting Stephen Strasburg with the #1 overall pick in 2009 with another ace in Chris Sale in 2010, though Harper was widely considered the top player available a decade ago. Many scouts at the time felt Sale was a risk for a future arm injury, which led to his drop to the White Sox at the 13th overall spot. While Sale recently went under the knife for a Tommy John procedure, his decade of near Cooperstown-level performance made his selection of the best picks in White Sox history.
- The Blue Jays still end up with Noah Syndergaard in this reality, as the Jays had the 11th overall pick of the 2010 draft. Syndergaard was the headliner of a four-prospect package sent by Toronto to the Mets in December 2012 in the trade that brought R.A. Dickey to the Jays.
- Even in the modern era of heavy player movement, it stands out that so few of the players on the list are still with the teams that originally drafted them. DeGrom, Kiermaier, Merrifield, Pederson, and Rosario are the only players in the top 25 who are still playing with their original teams, and Pederson came seemingly within a hair of being dealt to the Angels this past offseason.
- Upon seeing Matt Harvey in the 19th spot on this list, Mets fans may immediately question the logic of re-ordering the draft solely by bWAR. Needless to say, in a strict re-draft, Harvey would certainly drop a lot lower given the uncertainty surrounding his future. That said, Harvey’s solid bWAR total is perhaps a reminder of just how good the Dark Knight was before injuries curtailed his status as one of baseball’s top pitchers.
- Left-hander Dean Kiekhefer, the 1099th overall pick, was the lowest-drafted player to reach the majors. Kiekhefer climbed from the 36th round to appear in 30 MLB games with the Cardinals (his drafting team) and Athletics from 2016-18.