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Tuesday, December 13, 2011
The Top 10 all-time prep draft picks

By Jason A. Churchill

Roy Halladay
Philadelphia Phillies right-hander Roy Halladay was the No. 17 overall pick in the 1994 Draft out of Arvada West (Arvada, Colo.).

The baseball draft has been around since 1965 and in many forms. At one point there was a draft held in January, one in June and another in August. This was to accommodate players at different stages of eligibility. Since 1987, there's been just one draft for amateur players and the high school talent has been a major part of its success, not to mention the success of specific organizations and Major League Baseball as a whole.

While prep player typically makes up less than half of the selections each year, the impact of those selections can be seen among the game’s brightest stars.

Here's a glance at the top 10 high school draft picks of all time — through 20-20 hindsight, of course.

NOTE: Wins Above Replacement, or WAR, is a statistical tool designed to attach a value to player performance by using all aspects of the game that the player in question impacts in a positive or negative manner. If a player has a 4.5 WAR, it simply means he's worth 4.5 wins above the value of a replacement player. A replacement player is the typical call-up from Triple-A or a player that a club can acquire for little to no trade value. I used this as a partial guide for the Top 10 below.

1. Alex Rodriguez, SS, Westminster Christian (Palmetto Bay, Fla.)
No. 1 overall pick, Seattle, 1993
A-Rod mashed his way to the big leagues before he turned 20, delivering an absurd line of .311/.359/.588 in Triple-A as an 18-year-old. He led the American League in hitting (.358) as a 20-year-old and joined the 40-40 club two years later with 42 homers and 46 stolen bases. Rodriguez has won three MVP awards, 10 Silver Slugger awards and two Gold Gloves and has been selected to 14 All-Star games.

He’s also the active leader in career home runs with 629, which is No. 6 on the all-time list, one behind Ken Griffey Jr. (see No. 6). Rodriguez turned out to be exactly what clubs thought he could be 18 years ago, and perhaps even more, justified the Mariners' efforts to sign him despite their lack of financial flexibility at the time.

2. Greg Maddux, RHP, Valley (Las Vegas)
Second-round pick (No. 31 overall), Chicago Cubs, 1984
Maddux made his big-league debut as a 20-year-old just two seasons after being drafted. He started his career off slow but then began more than 15 years of utter dominance that produced 295 victories from 1988-2004.

Despite the a lack of an ideal stature -- Maddux stood about 6-0 and weighed less than 200 pounds during his prime -- as well as the absence of a fireball heater, "Mad Dog" dazzled hitters en route to four straight Cy Young Awards (1992-95) and nine finishes in the top 10. He finished his career with 355 victories, and a better-than 3-to-1 strikeouts-to-walks ratio for his 23-year career. Maddux also won 18 Gold Glove Awards, including 13 in a row, and is known for possessing impeccable command of his pitches, which led to so many of his wins on the mound.

The fact that the Cubs snagged Maddux in the second round makes him not only one of the top high school draft picks ever, but one of the biggest steals of the draft, too.

3. Roy Halladay, RHP, Arvada West (Arvada, Colo.)
First-round pick (No. 17 overall), Toronto, 1994
Halladay, now 34, has been easily the best arm in the 1994 draft class. He’s already won two Cy Young Awards and finished in the top five on five other occasions. The right-hander, who mixes in terrific control, a plus fastball and three plus offspeed pitches, has not finished outside the top five in the Cy Young voting since 2005.

On top of his 188 victories and shiny accolades is his durability and smooth, easy mechanics that suggest he'll be a Cy Young candidate for the next handful of seasons. He's logged 220 or more innings for six straight seasons and the lack of effort in his delivery doesn’t spell an early exit for "Doc."

Halladay ended 2011 with a career WAR of 61.8, but that's certain to reach the 80s, if not the 90s, as he soldiers on in Philadelphia. He could challenge Maddux's 96.8 career WAR if he remains healthy over the next five or six years.

4. Cal Ripken Jr., SS, Aberdeen (Md.)
Second-round pick (No. 48 overall), Baltimore, 1978
Ripken, like Maddux, was a second-round pick and made his debut in the majors at age 20.  He was the American League Rookie of the Year in his first full season in 1982 at 21, and began a steady climb toward Lou Gehrig's record for most consecutive games played.

While Ripken's best known for his 2,632 straight games, besting Gehrig's mark by 502, he was, without a doubt, a sensational shortstop and one with a well above-average bat to go with his defense.

Ripken won the MVP at age 22 and again in 1991, his best season when he batted .323/.374/.566 with 34 home runs, 46 doubles and 53 walks to just 46 strikeouts. He won two Gold Gloves, though it should have been more, and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2007 after mashing 431 home runs in 21 seasons.

5. Chipper Jones, SS, The Bolles School (Jacksonville, Fla.)
No. 1 overall pick, Atlanta, 1990
Jones was the first pick in the 1990 draft and didn't disappoint, joining the majors three years later and hitting 23 home runs in 1995, his rookie season that took place after he missed all of 1994 with a knee injury.

He's played third base and left field in the big leagues, a move helped along by the injury, and won the National League MVP in 1999 when he slugged 45 long balls and posted a .441 on-base percentage. He's a switch hitter with high levels of production from each side of the plate and was a good athlete in his prime, swiping 149 bases, including 25 during his MVP campaign. Jones won the National League batting title in 2008 at age 36, hitting a career-high .364.

Jones, despite lingering injury problems, is still at it at age 39 -- 40 in April -- and even hit .275/.344/.470 in 126 games in 2011. He's a surefire Hall of Fame inductee, thanks to his longevity and star performance over most of his 18 seasons. He will begin 2012 with 454 home runs, third most by a switch hitter in baseball history.

6. Ken Griffey Jr., CF, Moeller (Cincinnati)
No. 1 overall pick, Seattle, 1987
Griffey was the No. 1 pick in 1987, and according to reports, wasn't the consensus choice for the Mariners, who also considered right-hander Mike Harkey. Griffey quickly made good on the choice, earning a spot on the 25-man roster out of spring training in 1989, hitting a double off Oakland A’s right-hander Dave Stewart in his first trip to the plate and launching an opposite-field home run off Chicago White Sox hurler Eric King in his first plate appearance in front of the home crowd.

Griffey was awarded just one Most Valuable Player award, but had several MVP-caliber seasons and hit 249 home runs from 1996 through 2000. He also made history with his father, Ken Griffey, Sr., by hitting yet another opposite-field home run in Anaheim, just moments after his father had done the same exact thing, off the same pitcher. The ball even landed in a similar spot beyond the fence in left-center field.

Junior tied the record for home runs in consecutive games with eight back in 1993, won 10 Gold Glove Awards -- all consecutively -- and ended his career with 630 home runs.

7. George Brett, 3B, El Segundo (Calif.)
Second-round pick (No. 29 overall), Kansas City, 1971
Brett was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1999 after winning three batting titles, leading the league in triples three times and hitting 317 home runs.

His season in 1980 is one for the ages. That year, Brett batted .390, flirting with .400 the entire season, and posted an OPS-plus of 203. He batted .300 or better 11 times and finished his career with 3,154 hits, 665 of which were doubles, which is No. 6 all time.

While Brett is famous for his Pine Tar Incident, he’ll always be most known as a great hitter who produced for 21 seasons.

8. CC Sabathia, LHP, Vallejo (Calif.)
First-round pick (No. 20 overall), Cleveland, 1998
Sabathia has earned a Cy Young (2007) and five All-Star appearances in his 11 seasons. He made his debut at 20 and won 17 games with 171 strikeouts that season,  finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting.

Sabathia has won 17 or more games six times, including 19, 21 and 19 the past three seasons as the New York Yankees' ace.  He's a durable arm, too, rolling out innings totals of 230 or more five seasons in a row.

The southpaw is just 31 and could have a shot to surpass both Roy Halladay and Greg Maddux on this list, but he's a big-bodied pitcher with a lot of wear and tear on his arm already, and may not be an ace into his mid-to-late 30s the way Halladay and Maddux were.

Sabathia has 176 wins in 355 starts and has already piled up more than 2,000 strikeouts. Those drafted ahead of Sabathia in '98 include Kip Wells by the Chicago White Sox, Seth Etherton by the Anaheim Angels and Tony Torcato by the San Francisco Giants. Think those three clubs would like to hop in a time machine and do this one again?

9. Rickey Henderson, LF, Oakland Tech (Oakland, Calif.)
Fourth-round pick (No. 96 overall), Oakland, 1976
Henderson, the all-time leader in stolen bases and runs scored, played 25 seasons and led the league in thefts with 66 at the age of 39 in 1998. Henderson, however, was far from one-dimensional.

The Man of Steal drew 2,190 walks and fanned fewer than 1,700 times in more than 3,000 games, and also belted 297 home runs. He was the American League MVP in 1990 when he batted .325, second in the league to Brett, and hit 28 home runs to go with his 65 steals and league-leading .439 on-base percentage.

He was never a Gold Glove fielder but held his own in left enough to play regularly, thanks to his on-base skills and speed. He swiped 100 bases or more three times, including a league-record 130 in 1982.

Henderson was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2009 and ended his career with a WAR of 113.1. He posted WAR totals of 10.0 in both 1990 and 1985.

10. Johnny Bench, C, Anadarko (Okla.)
Second-round pick (No. 36 overall), 1965
Bench is perhaps the greatest catcher to ever play the game. He was strong defensively and carried a big stick, hitting 30 or more home runs four times, including 45 in 1970 and 40 in 1972. He was the league MVP both seasons and the Rookie of the Year in 1968.

His showing in '70 is one of the best ever by a catcher as he added 148 RBI and a .293 batting average to his line.

Bench made good contact, tallying just 1,278 strikeouts in almost 8,700 plate appearances, and drew his share of walks -- 891. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1989 and finished his career with 389 long balls, 10 Gold Gloves and 14 appearances in the All-Star Game.

Just Missed the Cut

Also receiving strong consideration for the top 10 were New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter (No. 6 overall, 1992), Philadelphia Phillies slugger Jim Thome (13th Rd., 1989, Cleveland Indians), Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer (No. 1 overall, 2001) and Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw (No. 7 overall, 2006). Kershaw may have a shot to take on even Rodriguez on this list in 10-12 years. He won his first Cy Young this past season, is just 23 years of age and has already produced 16.9 WAR.

Jason A. Churchill covers scouting, player development and the MLB Draft for ESPN Insider, as well as Prospect Insider, where he's the founder and executive editor. You can follow him on Twitter @ProspectInsider and email him at churchill@prospectinsider.com.