Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Paul Skenes (30) delivers a pitch during the first inning of his MLB Debut against the Chicago Cubs Saturday evening at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, PA.

Are MLB’s Number One Picks Living up to Expectations?

On May 11, less than a year after the Pittsburgh Pirates selected him first overall in the 2023 Major League Draft, flamethrowing right-handed pitcher Paul Skenes pitched in his first Major League Baseball (MLB) game. Will he live up to the high expectations like fellow number one draft picks who have excelled in their craft, or wash out without making the requisite impact like other rising stars from the past 12 drafts?

MLB Draft Overview

Like other sports, baseball’s amateur draft is an inexact science. All 30 teams extensively scout the top high school and college players nationwide and then put those they feel are strong organizational fits on their draft boards. While some of the numerous draftees have the hard work and skillset to climb the ladder to the top level, others get stuck at a certain minor league level, and many players leave the sport without even getting a glimpse of what it is like to be a Major League player. Usually, the earlier a player is taken, the greater the chance that he will develop and contribute to the MLB team in some fashion. That is especially true for number-one picks, who are supposed to have transformative, franchise-altering impacts; yet even some fail to pan out as hoped. 

Top Pick Tiers


Dansby Swanson, Carlos Correa, and Adley Rutschman are all elite-level talents who have fully lived up to their status as the number-one pick. Swanson and Correa are talented shortstops who have moved on to new teams (Chicago Cubs, Minnesota Twins) after playing major roles in their former teams (Atlanta Braves, Houston Astros) journey to win the World Series. These two veteran players have received many accolades and look set to continue their success for the next few years. In contrast, Rutschman is more or less just getting started. The San Francisco Giants’ turnaround coincided with Buster Posey’s promotion just like the Baltimore Orioles and Rutschman’s. He has become one of the best young catchers in the league and a pivotal part of an Orioles’ squad with big expectations this season. 


Mark Appel/Brady Aiken

The Astros’ recent success is hard to imagine considering how badly they botched two straight years of drafting their first overall pick in 2013 and 2014. Mark Appel is arguably the biggest draft bust in recent years. The Stanford University alum had all sorts of draft drama before the Astros selected the right-handed pitcher first overall in 2013. He was seen as a sure thing to succeed, given his collegiate success but failed to make the Majors with his original team. The 32-year-old has only appeared in six games with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2022, not what anyone expected of him. The Astros’ first overall pick the next year, high school left-hander Brady Aiken, rejected signing with the team, never made the Majors, and is no longer in professional baseball.

Mickey Moniak

The Phillies’ choice with the 2016 Draft’s first selection, outfielder Mickey Moniak, did not do well with limited playing time with them from 2020-2022. He is now in his third year with the Los Angeles Angels, seeking to carve out a bigger role with superstar outfielder Mike Trout out of action.

Players on Bust Watch if they don’t improve 

Henry Davis

Henry Davis, the Pirates’ selection first overall in 2021 out of the University of Louisville, entered this season as the team’s starting catcher. Last year, he debuted, mostly playing right field because of defensive question marks at his primary position. Davis has performed badly on offense this Spring and is now back at Triple-A trying to right the ship. 

Spencer Torkleson 

The Detroit Tigers selected slugging first baseman Spencer Torkelson first overall in 2020, thinking the record-setting Arizona State University alum could quickly rise to the Majors to inject needed power into their lineup. He took some rookie lumps in 2022 before breaking out last year with a team-leading 31 home runs and 94 RBIs. However, the 24-year-old is slumping once again to start his third season, off to a slow start with zero home runs in 143 at-bats, a worrisome sign for a player whose power is his calling card and a team in need of offensive production.

Too Early to Tell: Part 1-Small Sample Sizes

Paul Skenes

The Paul Skenes rocket has lifted off in Pittsburgh, with the team hoping that the electrifying 21-year-old pitcher can take the team to a new stratosphere. Skenes burst onto the radar at the Air Force Academy, winning the 2022 John Olerud Player of the Year award as the best two-way player in college baseball. In 2023, the Southern California native transferred to Louisiana State University, leading the school to a national title as the best pitcher in college baseball. The Southeastern Conference (SEC) single-season strikeout leader’s dominance has carried over to the professional ranks. He started the season on the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians, using his high-octane stuff to strike out 45 hitters and only allow four runs over seven starts. Finally, the Pirates promoted their top prospect, and Skenes appears poised to live up to the hype. His 100 mph fastballs and filthy sliders were displayed in his highly-anticipated MLB debut. He pitched four innings, striking out seven, but allowing three runs on six hits. This is just the start for Skenes, who has the potential to be one of the best pitchers in the league as well as a multi-time All-Star and Cy Young Award winner. Skenes, fellow rookie Jared Jones, and Mitch Keller form a stellar first three members of a starting rotation for a Pirates’ team looking to return to contention. Not to be forgotten, Skenes’ relationship with social media sensation Olivia Dunne can also help boost his team and the league’s marketability.

Jackson Holliday

A year before Skenes was drafted, the Orioles chose prep shortstop Jackson Holliday, the son of longtime MLB player Matt Holliday, with the first overall pick. Like Skenes, Holliday ascended through the minor leagues, even more impressive as Holliday bypassed college baseball to become professional. The 20-year-old made his MLB debut a month ago after starting this season on fire for the Orioles Triple-A team Norfolk Tides. Much to Orioles’ fans’ disappointment, Holliday’s lauded hitting ability failed to translate as he struggled against tougher Major League pitching in his first ten games, collecting two hits and one RBI in 34 at-bats before being optioned back to Triple-A. Holliday still has youth on his side and his top prospect pedigree, both of which give him time to figure things out so that he can contribute more when he inevitably gets recalled sometime this season to help an Orioles’ squad continue its playoff push. Facing adversity for the first time in his professional career will only help this young prospect in the long run.

Part 2: Injury-prone

Casey Mize

The Tigers selected Casey Mize first overall in 2018 on the heels of his impressive final collegiate season at Auburn University. At the time, the Tigers had high hopes for Mize, thinking he could help replace the hole Justin Verlander left atop their starting rotation. The former Auburn ace got hit around by MLB hitters in his first seven starts in 2020. Mize rebounded, competing in his first full season in 2021, going 7-9 with a 3.71 ERA in 30 starts. Then, he missed most of 2022 and all of 2023 with Tommy John and back surgeries. Healthy once again, the 27-year-old is looking to pick up where he left off and cement himself as a viable starting pitcher. So far, so good as Mize has a 1-1 record with a 3.58 ERA through seven starts, most recently limiting the Houston Astros to one run in six innings on May 10.

Royce Lewis

Royce Lewis, the Twins’ first pick out of a Southern California high school in 2017, has played like a blossoming superstar when he is on the field, something that has not happened much due to various injuries. He lived up to his pick status by dominating the minor leagues, but his development stalled when he lost two seasons due to the COVID pandemic in 2020 and then ACL injuries to the same knee in 2021 and 2022. Despite this, Lewis has made a habit of coming up clutch in big situations, evidenced by his MLB record five grand slams out of his first 16 career home runs. However, he is on the injured list again, a big blow for a Twins’ team that needs his and fellow injury-prone starter Byron Buxton’s bats in the lineup to stay competitive in a better-than-expected American League Central division.

The 2024 Draft commences in a couple of months. The number one prospect across most prospect ranking sites, University of Georgia slugger Charlie Condon is breaking college baseball records left and right. Whether he or someone else gets drafted first, they will have high expectations just like every player who came before them.

Main Image: © Michael Longo/For USA Today Network / USA TODAY NETWORK

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