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Using the relative strength of each draft class can help us determine whether Brien Taylor really is the worst first-overall pick in history.

To date, six of the 46 players taken with the first-overall pick in baseball’s annual Rule 4 draft have not played in the major leagues. Gerrit Cole, Bryce Harper, and Tim Beckham—the top choices in three of the last four drafts—remain active, while a fourth, Matt Bush, currently resides in Charlotte County (Fla.) jail as police investigate a series of hit-and-run accidents on March 23 that left a 72-year-old motorcyclist comatose.

Only two former number-one picks have retired from the game without reaching the big leagues: catcher Steve Chilcott, taken by the Mets in 1966, and left-hander Brien Taylor, the Yankees’ top choice in 1991. Both players’ careers were derailed by injury, though Chilcott’s performance, even when healthy, inspired little confidence in his major-league future. Taylor, on the other hand, quickly established himself as an elite prospect before tearing the labrum in his left shoulder during an altercation in December 1993. Rehabilitation cost Taylor the 1994 season, not to mention eight miles an hour from his fastball, and the arm that changed the draft never realized the potential of what some consider the greatest high school pitcher they’ve ever seen.

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Homo sapiens emerged from Neanderthal man about 38,000 BCE. It took another 31,500 years or so for the Sumerians to invent the wheel. There were 315 centuries of watching stones rolling downhill, fallen trees being pushed aside, dates falling off the table, before experience and observation could be transformed into principles (Hey! Round stuff rolls! Round stuff that rolls might be useful to have!) and those principles then put into practice (We should try to make round stuff that rolls!). Of course, as with all good ideas, some people never bought in. The Western Hemisphere did without the wheel until the Europeans showed up. Either the locals were too busy eating the corn to roll the cobs or they just didn't think much of wheels. As with the wheel, so too with the amateur draft, which kicked off in 1965 as a way to finally bring down those annoyingly persistent Yankees. Many of the lessons that have been taken away the draft--high school pitchers are riskier bets as college pitchers, don't draft high school catchers, etc.--were there to be found after the first few drafts, but it took several more years before experience hardened into a set of principles.

As with the wheel, so too with the amateur draft, which kicked off in 1965 as a way to finally bring down those annoyingly persistent Yankees. Many of the lessons that have been taken away the draft--high school pitchers are riskier bets as college pitchers, don't draft high school catchers, etc.--were there to be found after the first few drafts, but it took several more years before experience hardened into a set of principles.

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