Rebuilding With First Picks

Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

The Astros will have the unique benefit of three 1-1 draft picks to build the team; have other teams used first picks to reverse their fortunes?

We sometimes hear people describe the Astros' rebuilding effort as an "experiment." But baseball teams have gone through rebuilding cycles throughout MLB history. However, the Astros ability to rebuild with three consecutive first picks is unique. In that sense, there is no comparable rebuilding effort, no historical precedent.

In fact, prior to 2005, it was impossible for MLB teams to have two consecutive 1-1 picks. Under the old rules, the first pick alternated between the AL and NL each year. So, it's not surprising that teams were unable to stockpile consecutive 1-1 picks in the same way as the Astros. As Astros' fans, we are hoping to see Correa, Appel, and the 2014 first pick working together on a future major league team, helping to bring playoffs and championships.

Have other teams drafted multiple 1-1 players who, together, turned the team into contenders?

I can find only one team which drafted multiple first picks who, together, helped turn their team into a playoff team in the next few years. That organization is the Seattle Mariners of the 1990's, which had two first picks. The Washington Nationals has two first picks playing together, but they have not yet.played together on a Nationals' playoff team. (List of all No. 1 picks here.)

90's Mariners and Current Nationals

Mariners

In 1987, Seattle selected high school CFer Ken Griffey, Jr. with the first overall pick. Two years later, he made his ML debut. In 1993, Seattle drafted high school shortstop Alex Rodriguez with the first pick. By 1995, a 19 year old Rodriguez joined Griffey, whose gold glove defense and HR power helped lead the Mariners to the AL Championship Series. By 1997, Rodriguez and Griffey were among the best players in baseball, and led the Mariners to the league division series against the Orioles.

That 1997 Seattle team nearly had three first picks, since Jose Cruz, the Mariners' third pick (1-3) of the 1995 draft joined first picks Griffey and A-Rod on the major league squad in 1997. Those three young, talented players combined for over 16 WAR for the 1997 Mariners. Griffey, by himself, had 9.1 WAR, followed by A-Rod with 5.6 WAR.

Nationals

In 2009 and 2010, the Washington Nationals owned consecutive first picks and selected Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. It's still too early to know whether this combination will bring playoffs to the nation's capital. Strasburg pitched on the 2012 Nationals squad which became the NL East champions. Harper joined Strasburg on the major league team last year, but that squad didn't get into the playoffs, even though they won 86 games. In 2013, Harper produced 3.5 WAR and Strasburg generated 3.1 WAR.

Like the Mariners' 1997 team, the Nationals have another contemporaneous high draft pick joining the two first picks---second baseman Anthony Rendon. Rendon, the sixth pick in 2011 (1-6), is a starter for the Nationals this season, along with Strasburg and Harper. Ryan Zimmerman, the 4th pick in 2005, is another high first round pick playing with Stransburg, Harper, and Rendon. However, given Zimmerman's age and injuries, it is questionable whether he will be a core player of the same caliber as the other three, in the future.

Perhaps the Nationals' ability to combine Strasburg, Harper, and a high first pick like Rendon early in their careers is most similar to the Astros' future ability to put all three first picks on the same ML team. All three of the Nats' high level players have shown vulnerability to injuries, but if Strasburg, Harper, and Rendon can stay healthy, future playoffs will likely be in the Nationals' future.

CLOSE, BUT NOT QUITE THE SAME

Maybe I can get a few more examples by looking at first picks who were joined by a Top 10 first round pick to turn their team into contenders. This isn't quite the same as the Astros' situation, but it shows how the cream of the first round can be used to rejuvenate a team.

Mid-80's New York Mets

In 1980, the Mets picked Daryl Strawberry, an outfielder, with the first pick. Three years later, he made his debut as a strong, hard hitting right fielder for the Mets. In 1982, the Mets used the 5th pick (1-5) to draft Florida high school pitcher Dwight Gooden. By 1986, both players were driving forces for a Mets team which won 108 games, got past Mike Scott and the Astros in a nail biter NL playoff series, and then won the World Series over the Boston Red Sox. The 22 year old Gooden and 24 year old Strawberry combined for over 8 WAR that season. Beyond the WAR numbers, both players had intimidating talent. Gooden could be flat untouchable. As an Astros' fan during that 1986 series, I remember the forboding each time that Strawberry, with his 6-6 frame,came to the plate, twirling his bat like a toothpick.

Strawberry and Gooden would lead the Mets to five straight winning seasons after 1986, including a NL championship series.

1970's Oakland A's

The Kansas City Athletics made center fielder Rick Monday the first pick of the first ML draft in 1965. In the next season, the A's had the second pick of the draft (1-2) and selected outfielder Reggie Jackson. Both outfielders were drafted out of Arizona State.

Later the A's would move to Oakland. And, in 1971 both players were key forces on an A's team that won 102 games, losing the AL championship to the Orioles. Monday and Jackson combined for 8.8 WAR in 1971. That began a string of A's teams which approached dynasty status in the AL. From 1972 - 1975, the A's won three World Series and lost an AL championship series.

Early 2000's Angels

In 1995, the Angels tabbed center fielder Darin Erstad as the 1-1 pick out of the University of Nebraska. In 1997, the Angels drafted third baseman Troy Glaus with the third pick (1-3) out of UCLA, They both debuted in the majors during their second seasons (1997 and 1998). Both Glaus and Erstad were on the 2002 Anaheim Angels team which won 99 games and beat the Giants in the 2002 World Series. In 2002, Erstad and Glaus combined for 10.7 WAR.

Tampa Bay Rays (last 5 years)

The Rays could have been the team which used three first picks to drive its rebuilt ML team. In the span of five years, the Rays drafted three first picks. But a funny thing happened on the way to the rebuild---the first two of those picks were disappointments. Delmon Young was supposed to be an all-world hitting outfielder, and he has been below replacement level. Tim Beckham, the high school shortstop drafted first in 2008, has barely seen the majors and is currently playing in AAA. But David Price, selected with the 2007 first pick out of Vanderbilt, has been one of the most successful pitchers drafted at 1-1.

Price combined with two very high (1-3 and 1-2) draft picks, Evan Longoria, the third pick of the 2006 draft, and B.J. Upton, the second pick of the 2002 draft, to turn around the Tampa Bay franchise. Price made his brief debut in 2008, and had an impact as a relief pitcher in the playoffs that year. Price, Longoria, and Upton combined for more than 9 WAR in 2008. The first pick Young indirectly had an effect too, since he was traded for Matt Garza, who produced an additional 3.4 WAR in 2008. For the 2010 Rays, Price produced 4.2 WAR, and the combination of Price, Longoria, Upton produced over 13 WAR.

Honorable Mention

The Atlanta Braves drafted Chipper Jones as a shortstop with the first pick in 1990. Unlike the teams, above, Chipper didn't start out in the majors with other top 10 draft picks, much less first picks. So, he doesn't qualify for our examples of teams using multiple high first round picks to rebuild. (However, Jones did play with a 20 year old international prospect, Andruw Jones, in 1997, and both Joneses would be key home grown stars for the Braves.) Jones was part of one of the stronger rebuilds in recent history. This SI article contends that Chipper Jones had the most impact among 1-1 picks on the drafting team. From the article: "Jones compiled 85 WAR for Braves teams that made the postseason in 12 of those 19 seasons and won the World Series in his rookie year of 1995."

The Astros have an opportunity to do something none of these teams have done: combine three No. 1 picks on the same major league team. Are you excited about the possibility?

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