Dansby Swanson, if you didn’t already know who he is, was the No. 1 overall pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 2015 MLB Draft. Accent on the “was.”
Swanson, a shortstop out of Vanderbilt, made history before he ever fielded a ball or hit one in a D-backs uniform, as he was traded to Atlanta as part of the Shelby Miller deal. Swanson returns home (sort of; he’s from Marietta, Georgia) to probably more pressure than he can imagine.
Will he be another Chipper Jones, who starred at short for the Braves after being selected No. 1 in 1990? Or will his career path follow more along the lines of Matt Bush, who since being selected first overall by San Diego in 2004 has had personal and legal problems and just barely made it back on to a Big League roster as a member of the 2016 Texas Rangers, a full 12 seasons after his initial draft date.
Time will tell for Swanson, who seems very humble, family-oriented, and well spoken. He did manage to play in 38 games for the Braves in 2016, hitting .302 and knocking in 17 runs (although the team itself had an absolutely terrible 68-93 season, which is probably why they bothered to call up the rookie in the first place). He also racked up a quick six errors, showing that he still has plenty to learn about playing at the top level.
Here are 10 other No. 1 overall picks we think are the best ever, in chronological order from oldest to youngest.
10. Harold Baines, Chicago White Sox – 1977
No matter how many times he was traded away from the Chicago White Sox, Harold Baines just kept coming back to the team that drafted him first overall out of St. Michael’s High School in Easton, Md in 1977. Baines, who is still a spring training instructor with the Sox, spent parts of 22 years in the bigs and was traded three times by Chicago. He holds the major league record for games at designated hitter with 1,643 and held the home runs (236) and hits (1,688) records as a DH until they were broken by Edgar Martinez and David Ortiz, respectively. The six time All-Star and Silver Slugger award winner finished his career with 2,866 hits, 384 HR, 1,628 RBI, an overall WAR of 38.5 and a .289 batting average. Baines also batted .324 in 31 playoff games, including five homers and 16 RBI.
9. Darryl Strawberry, New York Mets – 1980
It’s a good thing Strawberry saved most of his off-field shenanigans for after he retired. The only man to have played for all four current or former New York City based teams — the Mets, Yankees, Giants and Dodgers — has had problems relating to drugs during his later playing career and since retiring in 1999, even spending time in jail. However, as a player, his first nine seasons were magical. He was Rookie of the Year in 1983, hitting .257 with the Mets, along with 26 HR and 74 RBI. For the next eight seasons, seven with the Mets and one with the Dodgers, Strawberry was an All-Star and got second and third place finishes for MVP. The four-time champion’s best season was 1988, when he hit 39 home runs and drove in 101, finishing a contentious second to Kirk Gibson in NL MVP voting.
8. Mike Moore, Seattle Mariners – 1981
Moore was a lanky righthander from Oklahoma, drafted out of Oral Roberts University by the Mariners in 1981. It wouldn’t be long until he made his major league debut, which happened on April 11, 1982. The Mariners weren’t much good then and despite being a reliable workhorse, Moore wouldn’t post a winning record until 1985, when he went 17-10, finishing 10th in American League Cy Young voting. In fact, Moore would lead the American League in losses twice, including 19 (against nine wins) in 1987. Moore, though, pitched 200 or more innings in nine of his 14 seasons and he also pitched an admirable 79 complete games (16 by shutout). Moore was very effective in the post season, going 2-0 in the 1989 World Series for the champion Oakland A’s, with 10 strikeouts in 13 innings pitched.
7. Ken Griffey Jr., Seattle Mariners – 1987
Six years after picking solid righthander Mike Moore No. 1, the Mariners would pick blue chipper Ken Griffey Jr. out of baseball factory Archbishop Moeller High School in Cincinnati. The son of former All-Star outfielder Ken Sr., would pay immediate dividends to a Mariners’ team in need of an identity. Junior would finish third in the Rookie of the Year race in 1989, and by 1994 he led the American League in homers with 40. He would go on to top the homer table three more times, from 1997-99 consecutively and finish his big league career with 630 dingers, which is sixth most all-time. He was an All-Star 12 times and the AL MVP in 1997. Griffey Jr. was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2016.
6. Chipper Jones, Atlanta Braves – 1990
Very few ball players end up spending their entire career with the team that drafted them. Chipper Jones was among the few. The Atlanta Braves superstar infielder was selected first overall out of The Bolles School in Florida and after a shaky start (he was injured and missed the 1994 season), made a splash in his first full big league season in 1995. He hit .265 that year, with 23 home runs and 86 RBI and was second in Rookie of the Year voting to pitcher Hideo Nomo. In all, Larry Wayne Jones would play 19 seasons, winning the National League MVP award in 1999 (.319, 45 HR, 110 RBI) and leading the league in hitting with a .364 average in 2008 at the age of 36. Jones also played in an incredible 93 playoff games, batting .287 and smacking 13 homers. He won a World Series with Atlanta in 1995 and is a good bet to be enshrined at Cooperstown in the near future.
5. Alex Rodriguez, Seattle Mariners – 1993
Not long after drafting Ken Griffey Jr. first overall, the Mariners would tab another “can’t miss” prospect in shortstop Alex Rodriguez out of high school in Miami. None could have foreseen the career he has had up to now. The former New York Yankees designated hitter started pounding American League pitching pretty much out of the gate, ripping an AL leading 54 doubles and 36 home runs in his first full campaign in 1995. A trade to Texas in 2001 would see him reap the benefits of a homer friendly park, leading the league in homers that year with 52 and for two more seasons after that. He would garner his first AL MVP in 2003 with the Rangers and win two more with the Yankees. As of today, the 20+ year veteran was finally pushed out of baseball by the Yankees in 2016, although they will still have to pay him $20 million in 2017 to sit at home. However, there was also that whole steroid mess that leaves a lasting tarnish on his career.
4. Josh Hamilton, Tampa Bay Devil Rays – 1999
Josh Hamilton’s story is one of rising and falling and rising and falling and rising, again. One constant, though, for most of his journey to the big leagues has been his outstanding play. Picked first out of high school in North Carolina, Hamilton’s early career was punctuated with injuries and subsequently extreme drug abuse and periods of homelessness until he straightened himself out. He never played with the Devil Rays, but surfaced with Cincinnati in 2007, hitting well enough to catch the eye of Texas Rangers’ scouts. He would have a breakout, All-Star season in 2008, hitting 32 homers and driving in a league-leading 130 runs. By 2010, the tattooed wonder was MVP and made a name for himself in the ALCS against the New York Yankees, hitting .350 with four homers and seven RBI. The five-time all-star had a relapse in 2015 after shoulder surgery, but still managed to play in the post-season with Texas (after being traded back from the Angels). He hasn’t been able to regain his MVP form for the Rangers, though, as injuries have largely kept him off the field since then. He didn’t appear at all for the Rangers in 2016, although remains in their minor league system for now.
3. Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins – 2001
In 2001, Joe Mauer became just the fifth (and last, so far) catcher taken first overall, and first since 1975. We can say with certainty that the 2009 AL MVP is the best of them and one of the greatest first overall selections ever. Mauer, tabbed No. 1 out of Cretin High School in St. Paul, didn’t set the world on fire for his hometown team, but it wouldn’t be long before he became a dominant force behind and to the side of the plate for the Twins. Mauer has led the AL in batting three times in his 12-season career, topping out at .365 in his MVP season. He has a .313 career batting average and owns a keen batting eye, also having led the AL in on-base percentage twice. Injuries have limited the six-time All-Star to first base and DH duties the last couple of years in Minnesota, but when he was calling the signals, he threw out runners at a career rate of 33 percent.
2. David Price, Tampa Bay Rays – 2007
It seems like a lifetime ago that high paid Boston Red Sox pitcher David Price was just breaking in with Tampa in 2009. From the outset, the 2012 Cy Young award winner was dominant, going 19-6 in 2010 and throwing the first of four consecutive seasons of 200-plus innings. By 2012, Price went 20-5 for Tampa with a league-leading 2.56 ERA and 205 strikeouts in 211 innings to capture the Cy. The 2015 season saw Price have a re-birth after a trade to Toronto from Detroit at the deadline. He was somewhat in the Cy Young conversation, going 9-4 for the Tigers in 21 games, but caught fire for the Toronto Blue Jays the rest of the way, posting a 9-1 record, with a 2.30 ERA in 11 games as Toronto captured its first AL East title in 22 seasons. He signed with Boston for big bucks in the following off-season, although his first year in Boston was a bit a disappointment, considering his salary.
1. Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals – 2010
Funny how former loudmouth teammate Jonathan Papelbon thought NL MVP Harper was dogging it in 2015, nearly choking him out in a dugout scrap. Papelbon did himself no favors going after the team and league’s MVP, yet he remained in a Nats uniform for 2016 before becoming a free agent. Harper didn’t let that brouhaha faze him, as he had a season for the ages in just his fourth campaign. The Nevada native led the league in several categories on his way the National League MVP award, including home runs (42), runs (118), on base percentage (.460), slugging (.649) and OPS (1.109). In just five seasons, the 2012 Rookie of the Year has a batting average of .279 (he hit a career high .330 in 2015), 121 homers, 334 RBI and 387 walks.