I love looking back at old draft lists. It's a guilty pleasure to see "what could have been" and to imagine the players your favorite team could have selected.
Keith Law just unveiled his first mock draft for the upcoming June draft. Let's hope some of those players eventually make a list like this: the best players ever selected at each of the 30 first-round draft slots. (The draft began in 1965.)
No. 1 -- Alex Rodriguez, Mariners (1993). As Jim Caple recently relayed to me, under current draft rules, the Mariners wouldn't have been able to select Rodriguez OR Ken Griffey Jr., the first pick in 1989. Back then, the No. 1 pick alternated between the worst team in the AL and NL, rather than just going to the worst overall team. Seattle lucked into the right years, although it didn't have the worst record in 1988 or 1992. Only three No. 1 picks have had Hall of Fame careers -- A-Rod, Griffey and Chipper Jones (with Joe Mauer on the rise).
No. 2 -- Reggie Jackson, A's (1966). The player selected ahead of him, a high school catcher from California named Steve Chilcott drafted by the Mets, never reached the majors. Justin Verlander is the best choice in the last decade.
No. 3 -- Robin Yount, Brewers (1973). David Clyde and John Stearns went 1-2, ahead of Yount and Dave Winfield. Four years later, the Brewers got another Hall of Famer with the third pick in Paul Molitor.
No. 4 -- Barry Larkin, Reds (1985). A University of Michigan product, but a hometown kid. Slight edge over Winfield and Kevin Brown. Although you'll see in a moment that the Reds passed on another pretty good college product.
No. 8 -- Todd Helton, Rockies (1995). Sixteen years, and he's still here. Not bad for Peyton Manning's backup at the University of Tennessee.
No. 9 -- Kevin Appier, Royals (1987). One of the most underrated pitchers of the '90s.
No. 10 -- Tim Lincecum, Giants (2006). I'll go out on a limb here and project 10 more awesome seasons from our favorite under-6-foot pitcher. The safe choices: Mark McGwire, Robin Ventura, Ted Simmons, Tim Wallach or Eric Chavez. The next year, the Giants took Madison Bumgarner with the 10th pick. The six pitchers taken ahead of Lincecum: Luke Hochevar, Greg Reynolds, Brad Lincoln, Brandon Morrow, Andrew Miller and Kershaw.
No. 11 -- Greg Luzinski, Phillies (1968). Andrew McCutchen, the door is open.
No. 13 -- Manny Ramirez, Indians (1991). Two talented, hard-throwing pitchers who could have been all-time greats if they hadn't hurt their arms also went here: Frank Tanana and Gary Nolan. So did Rick Leach, another college football player (like Gibson) who the Tigers took in 1979.
No. 14 -- Jason Heyward, Braves (2007). The Mariners had success here with Tino Martinez and Jason Varitek. Too bad they ended up doing their most damage somewhere else. Also Derrek Lee, originally drafted by the Padres.
No. 15 -- Chase Utley, Phillies (2000). Over Jim Rice? Yes, over Jim Rice.
No. 16 -- Lance Berkman, Astros (1997). The Tigers took Lance Parrish in 1974, one of a string of great picks they made in the mid-'70s. Mark Fidrych also went in '74, Lou Whitaker and Jason Thompson in '75, Alan Trammell, Jack Morris, Dan Petry and Ozzie Smith in '76 (although they failed to sign Ozzie), and Gibson in '78. Bill Lajoie was the team's scouting director from 1974 until 1978,
No. 18 -- Willie Wilson, Royals (1974). Turned down a football scholarship to the University of Maryland. I still think he's the fastest major leaguer I've ever seen.
No. 19 -- Roger Clemens, Red Sox (1983). Ten pitchers were drafted ahead of Clemens. They won a total of 204 major league games (146 by No. 1 pick Tim Belcher). The Mariners and Expos both had two picks before Clemens was selected. Seattle took pitcher Mike Campbell and catcher Terry Bell. The Expos took pitchers Rich Stoll and Brian Holman.
No. 21 -- Rick Sutcliffe, Dodgers (1974). Jason Varitek also drafted here by the Twins, but he didn't sign.
No. 24 -- Chad Billingsley, Dodgers (2003). Good bet to surpass Alex Fernandez down the road.
No. 26 -- Alan Trammell, Tigers (1976). Dave Henderson and Dan Plesac are the only other careers of major note. Well, besides Todd Cruz, Stan Papi and Mike Stenhouse. P.S.: Can we get Trammell some Hall of Fame love, please?
No. 27 -- Vida Blue, A's (1967). How's this for a string of draft: In '65, the A's got Rick Monday, Sal Bando and Gene Tenace; in '66 they got Reggie; and Vida in '67.
No. 28 -- Lee Smith, Cubs (1975). Colby Rasmus was a steal with the 28th pick in 2005.
No. 29 -- George Brett, Royals (1971). Brett was a second-round pick back then. The Phillies had the next pick. They took ...
No. 30 -- Mike Schmidt, Phillies (1971). Of the 24 players taken in the first round in 1971, only four had a significant major league career: Rice, Tanana, Rick Rhoden and Craig Reynolds.