The lure of the seventh pick is obvious. In 2006, the Dodgers took Clayton Kershaw. However, Clayton is not at this point the most valuable player chosen seventh overall. Though it’s probably only a matter of time (Kershaw still being only in his twenties), that honor currently belongs to Hall of Famer Frank Thomas, chosen by the Chicago White Sox in 1989, and who played 16 seasons for them. Only one of the six men chosen before him, was worth even two bWAR, #1 pick, pitcher Ben McDonald.
If we look at the 52 picks in this spot, since the draft as we know it began in June 1965, here is the breakdown of their resulting careers to date. Some of which, of course, are still ongoing affairs: I think Nick Markakis, the 2003 choice, is the oldest still truly active in the majors [Prince Fielder, from 2002 is not technically retired, but resides on the 60-day DL, effectively permanently]
- 3 did not sign that year
- 13 did not/have yet to reach the majors [inc high-schoolers signed in 2012, 2013 and 2016]
- 12 had careers at or below replacement level by bWAR
- 8 were between 0-3 bWAR
- 5 were between 4-10 bWAR
- 5 were between 10-20 bWAR
- 3 were between 20-30 bWAR
- 3 were greater than 30 bWAR - Frank Thomas, Clayton Kershaw and Troy Tulowitzki.
Based on the above, here’s how you can generally think of the #7 slot. Roughly, one quarter won’t reach the majors; another quarter will be replacement level or worse; a third quarter will have between 0-10 bWAR. There’s only about a 20% chance, your selected player will be worth more than ten bWAR. Let’s break down each category, with a look at some specific examples.
The never made-its
The most recent #7 not to sign was 2000, when the Rockies selected Matt Harrington. Negotiations (with future Arizona GM, then Colorado assistant GM, Josh Byrnes) broke down, because Harrington wanted almost $5 million; for comparison, the #1 pick that year, Adrian Gonzalez, signed for $3 million. Baseball America wrote, “You’ll never find a more protracted or nastier holdout.” Harrington was selected four more times, from 2001-04, each time further down the draft: in 2001, another future D-backs GM, Kevin Towers, picked him in the second round. But on each occasion, Harrington failed to reach an agreement. He was last heard of earning $11.50 an hour at Costco.
In 1974, outfielder Scot Thompson was drafted out of Knoch High School in Butler County, PA, despite the high school not having a baseball team. [He played American Legion and prep ball] But as measured by bWAR, he isn’t just the worst number #7 pick of all time. Thompson’s -5.5 bWAR ranks among the ten worst players of the integrated era. [He just missed playing on the 1985 Expos with #1 Doug Flynn, released two months earlier] His eight-year MLB career perhaps shows how player evaluation has changed. Thompson came third in the 1979 Rookie of the Year voting behind Rick Sutcliffe, despite a -0.5 bWAR, his .289 average concealing a multitude of sins.
The average players
Archie Bradley, chosen by the D-backs the only time they had a seventh pick previously, fits into this group, currently having been worth 1.0 bWAR. There are a few other names here you might also recognize: Mike Minor (2009, Braves), Homer Bailey (2004) and Yonder Alonso (2008, both Reds). But if we’re lucky, we could get someone like Andrew Benintendi, who fits in this band for now, despite being the #1 consensus prospect in baseball before this season. He was chosen by the Red Sox in 2014, and made his major-league debut fourteen months later. Benintendi could have been an Astro, but they opted for Kyle Tucker instead. So it seems even Houston are fallible...
You can’t do better than Kershaw here - though his arrival on the Dodgers was only the final result of a series of dominoes, beginning with an inability to sign their own supplemental first-round pick in 2005. That was Luke Hochevar, who thus re-entered the draft and went #1 overall the following year to Kansas City. The choice left Andrew Miller available to the Detroit Tigers at #6 - they had previously been set to pick Kershaw, and how different the NL West might be, otherwise. But that 2006 first round was a beast, also giving the baseball world the likes of Evan Longoria, Tim Lincecum and (sob...) Max Scherzer.
That’s one of the infuriating beauties of the MLB draft. There are few “sure things”; you can never tell how players will develop, who will blossom and who will flame out. Below, you’ll find a chart showing the career bWAR values of all the #7 picks from Ray Fosse - best known for being plowed over by Pete Rose at home-plate in the All-Star game - through to Archie. Which way will the D-backs go this year? We’ll know in just a few weeks. But I’ll follow up in a bit, looking at the history of our other picks in the top hundred (#44, #68 and #82) and see what the chances are of finding diamonds in the rough with those slots.