Predicting Bryce Harper’s Future Based On No. 1 MLB Draft Picks’ Past

Bryce Harper seems like an unprecedented prospect. But, I don’t know, Ted Williams was probably pretty phenomenal coming out of amateur ball too. Three years later, The Kid arrived in Boston, fully baked, and he didn’t stop raking for another 20 years.

But that’s expecting a bit much. So let’s look to more recent comparisons, and a larger sample size. Here are the 30 hitters who, like Harper, were drafted No. 1 overall.

As you’ll see, a position player drafted No. 1 is more likely to become a star/Hall of Famer than he is a bust by a ratio of 4:3. And if you cut it off at the past 25 years, that ratio improves to 6:1. Pretty, pretty good.

The most likely outcome, however, is that Harper will become a solid player/All-Star. A B.J. Surhoff-type. And there’s no shame in that. With a record-setting $9.9 million contract, though, I wonder if that would be enough. Probably not. Time will tell.

BUSTS (six)
Matt Bush (2004) — Converted pitcher hasn’t progressed past A ball.
Shawn Abner (1984) — Never hit at the big-league level.
Al Chambers (1979) — Only had 120 big-league at-bats.
Danny Goodwin (1975, 1971) — Never played a full season.
Dave Roberts (1972) — Had one decent year.
Steve Chilcott (1966) — Never made it to the bigs. Mr. October went No. 2.

Justin Upton (2005) — An All-Star at 21.
Delmon Young (2003) — Currently batting .316. Brother of Dmitri.
Pat Burrell (1998) — 277 career home runs.
Darin Erstad (1995) — Two All-Stars, three Gold Gloves.
Phil Nevin (1992) — Had a few big years with San Diego.
Jeff King (1986) — Four seasons of 90-plus RBI.
B.J. Surhoff (1985) — One of my all-time faves.
Shawon Dunston (1982) — The Shawon-o-Meter!
Bob Horner (1978) — Big bopper for most of the ’80s.
Bill Almon (1974) — Borderline bust. Had a couple of solid seasons.
Mike Ivie (1970) — Another borderline bust. Had some decent years.
Jeff Burroughs (1969) — 1974 MVP.
Tim Foli (1968) — 16-year career.
Ron Blomberg (1967) — Could hit alright. Didn’t last long.
Rick Monday (1965) — 241 career home runs.


Joe Mauer (2001) — Best catcher in baseball.
Adrian Gonzalez (2000) — One of baseball’s top hitters.
Josh Hamilton (1999) — Three-time All-Star. Having a monster season.
Alex Rodriguez (1993) — 604 career home runs.
Chipper Jones (1990) — One of the best of the past 20 years.
Ken Griffey Jr. (1987) — Legend.
Darryl Strawberry (1980) — One of the best from ’83-’91. Also, cocaine.
Harold Baines (1977) — 2,866 hits, six All-Star appearances.

Tim Beckham (2008) — Hasn’t hit much in the minors.

6 thoughts on “Predicting Bryce Harper’s Future Based On No. 1 MLB Draft Picks’ Past”

  1. It would be a huge disappointmrent if Harper turned out to be a Surhoff type. Surhoff was solid, and had a long career, but was nothing special. BJ played 19 seasons, hit only 188 HRs (his power numbers spiked up in the late 90’s while playing on the o’s with Palmeiro, Belle, Anderson… hmmmm.), only had more than 90 RBIs twice, had a lifetime OBP of only .332. It would be a huge letdown if Harper did not crush these #s. BJ was an all star at crying after being traded though.

  2. 30 years is a long time. Scouts these days have more tools to work with than ever before. How many of these position player picks in the 30 year player sample were a unanimous choice to be drafted #1 overall? I’m guessing A-Rod, Mauer, Griffey Jr. for sure, Strawberry, maybe Larry Jones …Harper was a no doubt pick, one that you didn’t even need to think about. I would make a new player sample of no-doubt #1 overall picks, and make Harper predictions based on their successes. The Astros GM quit after they drafted Nevin. He wanted Jeter. To put players like Nevin in the mix is not very realistic. So basically, I think Harper will be a combination of A-Rod, Griffey, Mauer, Strawberry and Larry Jones. That’s definitely out of Surhoff’s league.

  3. I agree that scouting has become more advanced over time (see: five of the six busts being pre-’85 selections) and that more is expected of an obvious choice like Harper (see: his record-setting contract).

    My personal expectation is that he’ll be a star-level guy, but I’m looking out for bust.

  4. I don’t disagree with the analysis, but throwing Matt Bush into that mix needs clarification. No one thought he was the top talent in that draft, he was taken because he would sign for way under slot money. Notice Verlander went 2nd overall.

    I think Harper will end up being a tremendous player, and maybe it’s the hype surrounding him as a a prospect talking, but I think anything less than an Adrian Gonzalez
    like career arc will be a dissapoibtment.

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