The Twins are on the precipice of an incredible opportunity as the holders of the No. 1 overall pick in Monday’s MLB draft.
But much like the average plate appearance in baseball, it likely will end in something short of success.
While it is possible to get a historically good player with the first overall pick in the MLB draft — let’s define that as someone who winds up in the Hall of Fame, just for the sake of simplicity and comparisons — it also is quite possible to wind up with a player who doesn’t pan out.
Analytics have helped teams do a better job of projecting which talented players will grow into successful major league players, but this fact remains: Having the top choice in the baseball draft is the hardest No. 1 pick in sports.
Ranking the four traditional major men’s pro sports from best to worst when it comes to wanting and having the No. 1 overall pick, my list would go like this: NBA, NHL, NFL and MLB. I posed the question on Twitter, and responses were almost unanimous in agreement.
(If we mixed the WNBA in, it would go near the top with the NBA. The Lynx have picked No. 1 overall twice and netted Seimone Augustus and Maya Moore, two of the biggest sure things in the history of pro sports.)
There are 14 former NBA No. 1 overall picks who are in the Basketball Hall of Fame — including three from the Class of 2016 (Yao Ming, Shaquille O’Neal and Allen Iverson). The NFL has 13 former No. 1 picks in Canton (with two more No. 1 AFL picks enshrined). The NHL has eight.
Major League Baseball? One. And for the longest time, it was zero until Ken Griffey Jr. was elected in 2016. Former No. 1 picks Chipper Jones should join him in 2018, while Alex Rodriguez has the numbers to suggest he could make it to Cooperstown if voters change their minds about the PED era.
Active players? Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg, Carlos Correa and David Price all were No. 1 picks and have flourished in the majors. The last time the Twins picked No. 1 overall in 2001, they did quite well to land Joe Mauer — who was perhaps on a Hall of Fame trajectory with three batting titles and an MVP Award as a catcher before he turned 27.
For every Griffey, though, there is a Brian Bullington (2002 No. 1 pick who amassed one career MLB victory as a pitcher). Every sport has its down years in the draft (see: 2013, NBA, No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett), but MLB is a particular crapshoot.
And even when MLB picks work out, there is an element of hold-your-breath fortune involved because it typically takes a while for them to make an impact. You could guess Harper would be a great player, but there were no guarantees. LeBron James? There was no doubt.
If you “miss” on your No. 1 overall pick in the NBA, NHL or NFL, you likely still will get a useful player. In MLB, you might get someone who barely contributes. Of the seven MLB No. 1 picks made between 2002 and 2008, five of them have a career WAR (Wins Above Replacement) of 3.1 or less.
So this isn’t like when the Timberwolves had the No. 1 pick two years ago and got Karl-Anthony Towns. Maybe that was a hard decision since Jahlil Okafor also was in the conversation, but this No. 1 pick for the Twins is the most difficult one in sports.
It’s a good problem for Derek Falvey and other Twins executives to have, but that doesn’t make it any easier to solve.