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Thinking About The No. 1 Pick: Nick Williams And Outfield Success

How long will it take Houston to contend if they take a high school outfielder first overall?

There are about five weeks left in the major league baseball season. The Houston Astros will likely finish that stretch with the No. 1 overall pick in the June draft for just the second time in team history. We don't really know which players will be in the running for that pick right now. We have some ideas, but there is a lot of time for all that to shake out.

Obviously, we've been playing up Galveston Ball outfielder Nick Williams here. He's local, he has potential to be a five-tool guy and could be the face of this franchise for years to come. But, he's also a high school outfielder with a long time between him and the big leagues.

That's what drew my attention and prompted this post. I don't want to analyze Williams' chances at landing at No. 1 overall yet. I just wanted to kick off a series of articles on different positions taken No. 1 overall, how long it took each player to make the majors, how much they contributed to their teams and how long it took those teams to contend again. 

Since Williams is a high school outfielder, I thought we'd limit our search this time to just those players. Since the draft was implemented in 1965, there have been seven No. 1 picks who fit those criteria. Because the Rays have two of those picks, I thought I'd throw in Justin Upton to this list, too, even though he was listed as a shortstop when he was drafted. Let's start out in chronological order: 

1969 - Jeff Burroughs, Washington Senators (Texas Rangers)

Reached majors: 1970 (14 games)

Career WAR: 17.2 bbWAR; 21.6 fWAR

WAR with drafting team: 9.4 bbWAR; 8.4 fWAR

First contending season for drafting club: 1974

Notes: Burroughs, the father of future first-round pick Sean Burroughs, had a nice career, but only had two good seasons with Texas. He had two of his best seasons in '73 and '74, hitting 55 home runs in those two seasons. Burroughs also had a very solid walk rate and didn't strike out that much. He was never a good fielder, but Burroughs did enough to help his team fairly quickly.

1979 - Al Chambers, Seattle Mariners

Reached majors: 1983 (31 games)

Career WAR: -0.7 bbWAR; -0.4 fWAR

WAR with drafting team: -0.7 bbWAR; -0.4 fWAR

First contending season for drafting club: None

Notes: Chambers was one of the few busts on this list, playing just 57 career games over three seasons and never posting a positive WAR. The Mariners also couldn't win more than 75 games in his time there. 

1980 - Darryl Strawberry, New York Mets

Reached majors: 1983 (122 games)

Career WAR: 42.9 bbWAR; 43.2 fWAR

WAR with drafting team: 37.7 bbWAR; 36.7 fWAR

First contending season for drafting club: 1984

Notes: Strawberry was a legitimate superstar. He might have ended up in the Hall of Fame if not for unfortunate substance abuse problems. While his defensive components to his WAR were not great (based on Total Zone and not necessarily accurate), Straw had 76 career assists and was freakishly athletic. I imagine if he were playing now, his WAR would be even higher.

1984 - Shawn Abner, New York Mets

Reached majors: 1987 (16 games)

Career WAR: -1.3 bbWAR; -0.8 fWAR

WAR with drafting team: None

First contending season for drafting club: None

Notes: Abner was the other bust on this list, but he didn't do it with the team that drafted him. The Mets traded Abner with Kevin Brown, Kevin Armstrong, Kevin Mitchell and Stan Jefferson to the Padres for Kevin McReynolds and Gene Walter. Abner may have been the jewel of that trade when it happened, but Brown proved to be the best payer of the bunch. 

1987 - Ken Griffey, Jr., Seattle Mariners

Reached majors: 1989 (127 games)

Career WAR: 78.5 bbWAR; 83.9 fWAR

WAR with drafting team: 67.5 bbWAR; 73 fWAR

First contending season for drafting club: 1995

Notes: We've got a Hall of Famer now. Griffey is legitimately famous and was brilliant when he was in Seattle. He had defensive greatness, he was an impact player at the plate and the first one on this list to post double-digit WAR numbers in a single season. Plus, he played center field, thus becoming the golden standard for someone like Williams down the road.

1999 - Josh Hamilton, Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Reached majors: 2007 (90 games)

Career WAR: 19.0 bbWAR; 19.1 fWAR

WAR with drafting team: None

First contending season for drafting club: None

Notes: Hamilton is proof that talent always gets multiple chances. Couldn't be happier for Hamilton after he got his life back on track, but he didn't help the team that drafted him at all. He also took a very long time to reach the majors, but has proved quite valuable for the Rangers.

2003 - Delmon Young, Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Reached majors: 2006 (30 games)

Career WAR: 0.1 bbWAR; 1.8 fWAR

WAR with drafting team: -1.3 bbWAR: 0.9 fWAR

First contending season for drafting club: None

Notes: The jury is still out, but it looks like Young could be the third bust on this list. He's not proven very valuable in the field and his bat has never shown itself as special as it looked in the minors. He'll get a chance to prove it with the Tigers now, but the fact he's already been traded twice is telling. At least, Young helped the Rays contend two years after reaching the majors by returning Matt Garza from the Twins, who helped the Rays get to the World Series.

2005 - Justin Upton, Arizona Diamondbacks

Reached majors: 2007 (43 games)

Career WAR: 11.3 bbWAR; 14.4 fWAR

WAR with drafting team: 11.3 bbWAR; 14.4 fWAR

First contending season for drafting club: 2007

Notes: Still very early in his career, but it looks like he's going the route of Burroughs, Strawberry and Junior. It's also a little misleading that Arizona contended in his first season in the majors, but they also finished second in the AL West in 2008. The D'Backs didn't really contend, though, until this season.

Conclusions: With eight different players to look at, we've got four success stories, two busts, one possible success and one possible bust. Most of these players reached the major three years after they were drafted, with the best of the best taking just one full season in the minors before forcing themselves into the lineup. 

What's scary for Houston is that only two of these guys contended quickly and only three contended at all. While Houston has a chance to pick a very good player if they go with Williams, they're also not likely to reverse their fortunes in the standings by doing that.

Unless, of course, he turns into Darryl Strawberry...

Images by eflon used in background images under a Creative Commons license. Thank you.