We have recently been taking a look back at No. 1 overall draft picks from previous decades. After focusing on 2000-09 and the 1990s, let’s go back to the ’80s. As you’ll see below, most of these top choices had respectable careers. However, one player was far better than the rest.
1980 – Darryl Strawberry, Mets (41.5 fWAR in 6,326 plate appearances):
- We don’t need to rehash Strawberry’s many off-field issues. Let’s instead focus on what the outfielder did on the diamond, where he often thrived with the Mets, Dodgers, Giants and Yankees from 1983-99. Strawberry was an NL Rookie of the Year winner who made eight All-Star teams, took home four World Series titles and batted .259/.357/.505 with 335 homers and 221 steals during his time as a major leaguer. In other words, he lived up to his draft selection.
1981 – Mike Moore, Mariners (34.7 fWAR in 2,831 2/3 innings pitched):
- Moore was seldom spectacular, but he did carve out a nice career for himself among the M’s, A’s and Tigers from 1982-95, during which he made 440 starts and logged a 4.39 ERA/4.27 FIP. He was also a key playoff contributor for the A’s World Series-winning team in 1989 – the same season he made his lone All-Star team.
1982 – Shawon Dunston, Cubs (7.4 fWAR in 6,276 plate appeaances):
- Four picks before the Mets selected Dwight Gooden, the Cubs went with Dunston, a shortstop/outfielder who had a long career but wasn’t a high-impact player. Dunston appeared in the majors in each year from 1985-2002, and though he totaled 150 HRs and 212 steals, he was just a .269/.296/.416 hitter who never reached the 2.0-fWAR mark in a single season.
1983 – Tim Belcher, Twins (30.3 fWAR in 2,442 2/3 innings pitched):
- While Belcher enjoyed a nice major league career with a slew of teams, the righty wouldn’t sign with the Twins. The Yankees then selected Belcher in the 1984 supplemental draft, but they lost him to the A’s in the compensation pool. That reportedly left then-Yankees owner George Steinbrenner fuming. Belcher, meanwhile, went on to post a 4.16 ERA/4.27 FIP from 1987-2000.
1984 – Shawn Abner, Mets (minus-1.2 fWAR in 902 plate appearances):
- Abner, an outfielder, was a .227/.269/.323 MLB hitter who never even played for the Mets. They sent him and Kevin Mitchell to the Padres in a trade for outfielder Kevin McReynolds, who had a few productive seasons in New York. But Abner was a disappointment, concluding his time in the majors with just 11 homers. Mark McGwire, who went nine picks after him, finished with 583.
1985 – B.J. Surhoff, Brewers (31.4 fWAR in 9,106 plate appearances):
- Surhoff went one pick before Will Clark and five ahead of Barry Bonds, who turned out to be far better players. But that’s not to say Surhoff was a failure. He started his career as a catcher, later became a corner infielder/outfielder, and wound up a .282/.332/.413 hitter with 188 HRs, 141 steals, and an All-Star appearance between 1987-2005 with the Brewers, Orioles and Braves.
1986 – Jeff King, Pirates (17.0 fWAR in 4,812 plate appearances):
- King lasted from 1989-99 between the Pirates and Royals, with whom the infielder combined to hit .256/.324/.425 with 154 homers and 75 steals. No shame in those numbers, but fellow high picks Greg Swindell (No. 2), Matt Williams (No. 3), Kevin Brown (No. 4) and Gary Sheffield (No. 6) proved to be better players.
1987 – Ken Griffey Jr., Mariners (77.7 fWAR in 11,304 plate appearances):
- Here’s the best No. 1 pick of the ’80s – now a Hall of Famer and a sports icon. The sweet-swinging Griffey hit 630 home runs – the seventh-highest total ever – and made 13 All-Star teams in a career divided among the M’s, Reds and White Sox from 1989-2010.
1988 – Andy Benes, Padres (36.2 fWAR in 2,505 1/3 innings pitched):
- Benes was a capable righty and a onetime All-Star who combined for a 3.97 ERA/4.08 FIP with the Padres and three other organizations from 1989-2002. The workhorse threw at least 220 innings in a season five times. He also led the NL in strikeouts (189) in 1994.
1989 – Ben McDonald, Orioles (20.5 fWAR in 1,291 1/3 innings pitched):
- Neither McDonald nor picks 2-6 in this draft earned a single All-Star nod. Those six teams overlooked Frank Thomas, who went seventh. Oops. To McDonald’s credit, though, he had a decent career, as he thrice exceeded the 220-inning mark in a season and hung it up with a quality 3.91 ERA/4.08 FIP between Baltimore and Milwaukee after pitching in the bigs from 1989-97.