Due to their 2020 record, the Diamondbacks will have the sixth overall pick in the 2021 draft, which gets under way on Sunday. There has already been much discussion about who might be available after the five teams ahead of them have had their choice, and in what direction Arizona might go. We will only know that when their choice is made public; for obvious reasons, GM Mike Hazen and his staff will keep their draft board close to their chests. But what we can do, is look at the previous picks in that spot, and that should then give us an idea of the production we can expect from the spot.
To do so, I’ve looked at the draft picks over a thirty-year span, beginning in 1985 and running through until 2014. Picks since then will not have had sufficient time to make much impact at the major-league level, and those prior to 1985 were in a different world, from a scouting point of view. Indeed, you could argue a decade later and I could see your point, but I’d rather go with a larger sample size of player. So, this give us 30 selections to look at. Here’s how they break down in terms of their bWAR production. We’ll start with the bad news first...
- 2 players did not sign
- 7 players did not reach the majors
- 7 players were replacement level or worse.
- 5 players were worth less than 5 bWAR
- 4 players were worth between 5-20 bWAR
- 1 player was worth 20-50 bWAR
- 4 players were worth over 50 bWAR
So, basically, there’s about a 50/50 chance that the #6 pick will end up being a bust. The Diamondbacks’ only previous pick in this slot was one of the “did not sign”, though that may or may not be considered a bust. This came in 2010, when the team selected pitcher Barret Loux. However, a post-draft physical showed elbow damage which caused the team not to make Loux an offer. Because of the oddness of the situation, MLB declared Loux a free-agent immediately, rather than having to wait until the following season. He ended up signing with the Rangers, but never made the majors. The physical ended up proving right; Loux had Tommy John surgery in March 2014, and was out of organized ball after 2016.
Under the rules then present, however, the Diamondbacks were not entirely out of luck. They received a compensation pick, immediately after the sixth selection in the following year’s draft. It was used to sign Archie Bradley, a move which... had its moments, I feel we can say [gestures vaguely in direction of playoff triple to left-center field]. The other non-signee at #6 was John Burke in the 1991 draft. He went in the first round again the following year, albeit considerably lower (#27), to the Rockies. He never amounted to much, reaching the majors for Colorado in 1996-97, but being below replacement level in both seasons.
While seven #6 picks did not reach the majors, it has been a while - the last during the period in question being back in 2003. However, just outside that block is 2015 pick Tyler Jay. Selected by the Twins and getting a $3.9 million bonus, he is now described by Wikipedia as a “former professional baseball pitcher”. Never getting above Double-A level, Jay appears to be out of the game after being released by the Reds in June last year. So, there are no guarantees. Alex Jackson, the sixth pick in the 2014 draft, has hardly covered himself in glory either, batting a Merrill Kelly-esque .070 in his 19 major-leage games to date. Though he is still only 25, so it would be premature to write him off just yet.
At the other end of the spectrum, based on these numbers, there is about a one in eight shot that they’ll be a Hall of Famer, or borderline thereof. The best recent pick is Anthony Rendon, who went to the Nationals in 2011 (the pick before Bradley) and has been worth 32.2 bWAR so far. As he has only just turned 31, there is likely more to come. But he is currently only the fifth-best player to arrive out of the sixth slot. Fourth goes to the 1986 pick, nine-time All-Star, Gary Sheffield, who racked up 60.5 bWAR. However, only 1.5 of that was for the team who drafted him, the Brewers. They dealt him to the Padres, but they only got 5.8 bWAR from him. It was as a Marlin and Dodger he had his greatest success.
Third is our first Hall of Famer, “Mr. November” [LOL!], Derek Jeter, at 71.3 bWAR - all, of course, for the team who drafted him, the Yankees. Admittedly they had to pay over $265 million over this career, but that’s still pretty good value. Second on the list is a player who should be familiar to Diamondbacks’ fan: Zack Greinke, who was the Royals’ pick at #6 in the 2002 draft. To this point, they have seen the greatest amount of production from Zack: 26.2 out of his current 68.9. But Arizona and Los Angeles both saw Greinke at the top of his game, and even as he approaches his 38th birthday, he’ll likely end up over 70 bWAR. Is he a Hall of Fame pitcher? Or just a Hall of Very Good one?
And then there’s #1. who has more than Greinke and Jeter combined. I speak of none other than Barry Bonds, arguably* the* greatest* hitter* in* the* history* of* the* game*. There, that’s enough asterisks. Much like Mike Trout only being a 25th pick, it’s kinda startling to realize there were five players deemed worthy of being picked before Bonds. Admittedly, they include some decent players (Barry Larkin and B.J. Surhoff). But immediately before Bonds was chosen by the Pirates, the White Sox went with catcher Kurt Brown, who never reached the majors. Few anecdotes demonstrate more effectively the thin line between triumph and disaster, through which Hazen and crew will seek to navigate on Sunday.