Some of the best performers in the history of MLB have come from different backgrounds: under-the-radar amateur free agent signings, unheralded draft picks, or players with modest college production who unlocked their potential with work and some changes.
However, there are also number one picks who were always expected to succeed and have done it even with larger-than-life expectations.
Here are the three best MLB number one draft picks in the last 20 years.
3. Gerrit Cole
Before MLB’s crackdown of foreign substances being used on baseballs, Gerrit Cole had a case to be considered the second-best pitcher in baseball.
After the crackdown, he has an ERA over 4.00 and his control hasn’t been the same, but if there is a talented pitcher with several weapons with the ability to adjust and rebound, that’s Cole.
The New York Yankees ace, who was selected number one overall in 2011 by the Pittsburgh Pirates, is having a good 2021 season overall, with a 2.91 ERA in 105 innings.
That may be good enough to compete for the AL Cy Young award.
At 30 years old, his career is far from over, and we can confidently say that he has been one of the best and most talented number one overall draft picks in the last 20 years.
Right-hander Stephen Strasburg was strongly considered for this position, but Cole enters the top three by virtue of his better peak (his best season yielded 7.3 Wins Above Replacement, while Strasburg’s top campaign had a 5.9 mark).
If he pitches well for the rest of his contract with the Yankees, wins some Cy Young awards and World Series, Cole has the potential to top this list when all is said and done.
2. Joe Mauer
While Joe Mauer could never fully develop his game power tool (his max was 28 home runs) he was clearly one of the best hitters of his generation.
Selected with the first pick in the 2001 MLB Draft, he had an amazing career that included several All-Star appearances and the 2009 AL MVP.
He won three Gold Glove awards, five Silver Slugger awards, and was a three-time batting champion.
A catcher who has the hitting ability to be a batting champion is rare enough, let alone someone who can do it three times.
Mauer retired with a .306/.388/.439 line with 143 home runs and 2,123 hits.
He was an extraordinary hitter with the ability to hit the ball with authority to all fields.
— Daren Willman (@darenw) November 9, 2018
He was truly one of a kind, and it’s a shame he couldn’t lift a World Series trophy.
He retired with the cool distinction of playing his entire career with the Minnesota Twins.
He has a good case to be selected to the Hall of Fame one day.
1. Bryce Harper
Bryce Harper was once the wonderboy, the player who could do it all as a baseball player, a generational talent.
In 2010, the Washington Nationals selected him first overall in a move that would give the franchise an enormous boost.
Bryce Harper is generational
— year 19 (@johnrivers131) August 19, 2020
Still just 28, he is a six-time All-Star (2012, 2013, 2015–2018), a National League MVP (2015), an NL Rookie of the Year (2012), a Silver Slugger Award winner (2015), and was the home run leader in 2015.
His career line is .276/.387/.514, and he has 247 home runs and 105 stolen bases.
If he ages gracefully, which he should since he is a terrific athlete, the Philadelphia Phillies slugger could finish his career with some monster numbers.NEXT: Why We May Never See Another Player Like Shohei Ohtani