The Indians hold the 5th pick in tonight's MLB Rule 4 Draft. It's their only pick among the first 78 selections in the draft and the team doesn't have a lot of high end talent in its minor league system these days, so there's a lot of pressure to end up with someone at #5 who pans out as a very good player (and yes, I know that such pressure pretty much always exists for this high a pick... but the Indians could really use a good one).
To give some perspective of what might be expected from a #5 pick, I thought I'd take a look at the players who've been drafted there before. A tip of my hat to Baseball-Reference, their draft database made putting this together much, much easier than it otherwise would have been, and whose WAR calculations are used in this post.
The MLB Draft began in 1965. In that first year the Red Sox held the 5th pick. By 1965 Tony Conigliaro had become a sensation in Boston, so it should come as no surprise that they chose Tony's younger brother, Billy Conigliaro with that 5th pick. Billy had promising seasons in 1969 and 1970, but didn't stick.
The Indians have had the 5th pick twice before: In 1973 they drafted Glenn Tufts, a high school 1B. He never made it higher than AA and last played professional baseball in 1977, when he was still just 22 years old. In 2010 they draftedDrew Pomeranz, who was the centerpiece of their deal for Ubaldo Jimenez. Pomeranz made 22 starts for the Rockies in 2012 and is currently playing for their AAA affiliate.
Of the 48 players chosen with the 5th pick over the years, 19 of them never made the majors. That number includes three players drafted in the last five years though, players who stand a good chance of making it, so it's probably most fair to say 16 of the 48 never made the big leagues. That works out to 1 out of every 3. The 48 players drafted at #5 have a combined total of 349 WAR, an average of 7.3. Of course, that total will rise, from a combination of 2 or 3 more of those 48 making the big leagues and contributing and those who are already there and still active adding to their totals.
Only ten players drafted 5th have compiled 10 WAR over the course of their career (which I think is about the minimum most Tribe fans would be happy with). Five other players still hold a reasonable chance of getting there. Take those five away from the 48, and you're left with a 10/43 success rate, 23%.
Here are those 10 players, the best 5th picks in the draft's history:
10) Kent Mercker, 1986 (12.5 WAR) - He had three seasons in which he was a bit better than average as a starter, and four or five in which he was a solid reliever. Never an All-Star
9) Matt Wieters, 2007 (12.8 WAR) - Massively hyped as a prospect, he's been a league average hitter for the Orioles in his career so far, which is good for a catcher (but not great). He's a 2-time All-Star, but is slumping in 2013.
8) Buster Posey, 2008 (14.3 WAR) - He's an All-Star, Rookie of the Year winner, and the reigning National League MVP. He's got a very good chance of climbing this list and might even someday be considered the best 5th pick ever.
7) Jack McDowell, 1987 (28.2 WAR) - A very good starting pitcher for the White Sox from 1991 to 1995, he was a 3-time All-Star and won the 1993 American League Cy Young Award (after finishing 2nd in 1992).
6) Vernon Wells, 1997 (29.6 WAR) - Five very good seasons for the Blue Jays for him between 2003 and 2010. He's a 3-time All-Star and appeared on MVP ballots in two different seasons, including an 8th place finish in 2003.
5) Ryan Braun, 2005 (35.1 WAR) - The Brewers left fielder is one of baseball's best players. A 5-time All-Star, he won the NL Rookie of the Year in 2007 and has received MVP votes every season of his career, winning in 2011. Like Posey, he's got a shot at being considered the best 5th pick ever.
4) J.D. Drew, 1998 (44.8 WAR) - From 1999 to 2010 he was a very good player, though he was named to the All-Star team just once (2008). In 2004 he put up an OPS of 1.006 and was one of the best players in baseball.
3) Dale Murphy, 1974 (46.3 WAR) - A 7-time All-Star, he won back-to-back NL MVP Awards in 1982 and 1983, was one of the 5-10 best players in baseball between 1980 and 1987, and seemed a lock for the Hall of Fame, but his time as a good player ended when he was just 31.
2) Mark Teixeira, 2001 (47.8 WAR) - Since his career began in 2003, only Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera have more total bases. He's a 2-time All-Star and has received MVP votes in 6 different years, included a 2nd place finish in 2009.
1) Dwight Gooden, 1982 (53.2 WAR) - He ran away with the 1984 NL Rookie of the Year Award and his 1985 campaign (when he won the NL Cy Young) has a case as the greatest pitching season in history. Sadly, drugs soon turned him from an incredible pitcher into merely a good one.