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Ken Medlin

The strange history of MLB's No. 3 picks

Posted July 10

After hearing Carlos Rodon had agreed to a contract with the Chicago White Sox, I started wondering how other players drafted third overall in the MLB draft fared over the years.

So, I looked it up – and what I found really surprised me.

I expected to find a steady stream of All-Stars, but instead I found only three players that truly fit the mold of “great.” A couple more players have a chance to hit those heights before their careers end, and a handful of other players fit just outside of “greatness” territory.

The rest of the group? Well, some had solid careers in MLB, but quite a few of the players drafted No. 3 overall faded into obscurity.

So, if Rodon – the best collegiate pitcher I’ve ever seen in this area, and one of the best period – becomes a starter in the majors, he’ll have to buck the No. 3 trend.

Major League Baseball held its first amateur draft in 1965. That year the Washington Senators drafted pitcher Joe Coleman, who went on to a solid career (142 wins) and once struck out 14 batters in an ALCS game, but he may be best known around here for his seven seasons as pitching coach for the Durham Bulls.

In the five decades since that initial draft, two Hall of Famers have been selected third overall. Ironically, they were drafted by the same team. The Milwaukee Brewers picked Robin Yount in that spot in 1973, then snagged Paul Molitor at No. 3 four years later.

Most teams have been nowhere near that fortunate. For every Molitor and Yount you’ll find a Martin Cott (1968), a Les Filkins (1975) and a Kyle Sleeth (2003).

For that matter, how many people remember names like Theodore Nelson (1969), Tommy Bianco (1971), Drew Hall (1984) and Dewon Brazelton (2001)?

It all goes to show that drafting in baseball is far from an exact science. Players generally take longer to develop for MLB than they do in the NBA or even the NFL, and even a “sure thing” might turn out to be something other than “sure” as the years go on.

Not all of the No. 3 club were busts, of course. Evan Longoria (2006) is likely on his way to Cooperstown, and Manny Machado (2010) just might join him there. Matt Williams (1986) was a fearsome hitter for years, and so was Troy Glaus (1997). And guys like Lonnie Smith (1974) and Steve Avery (1988) were post-season fixtures.

Rodon’s also not the only local player drafted No. 3 overall. Johnston County native Barry Foote came off the board third in 1970, heading north of the border for Montreal. Foote played 10 seasons in the majors, hitting .230 with 57 career home runs.

Don’t get me wrong, I think Rodon was a steal for the White Sox. But his predecessors at No. 3 have shown nothing is guaranteed.

Here’s a list of the players picked third overall, in order from 1965 – I’m guessing you'll find quite a few unfamiliar names, although there is a pitcher-turned-third baseman and a Super Bowl champ in the list:

Joe Coleman, Wayne Twitchell, Mike Garman, Martin Cott, Theodore Nelson, Barry Foote, Tommy Bianco, Larry Christenson, Robin Yount, Lonnie Smith, Les Filkins, Kenneth Smith, Paul Molitor, Hubie Brooks, Jay Schroeder, Ken Dayley, Dick Schofield, Jimmy Jones, Jeff Kunkel, Drew Hall, Bobby Witt, Matt Williams, Willie Banks, Steve Avery, Roger Salkeld, Mike Lieberthal, David McCarty, Billy Wallace, Brian Anderson, Dustin Hermanson, Jose Cruz, Jr., Braden Looper, Troy Glaus, Corey Patterson, Eric Munson, Luis Montanez, Dewon Brazelton, Christopher Gruler, Kyle Sleeth, Philip Humber, Jeff Clement, Evan Longoria, Josh Vitters, Eric Hosmer, Donovan Tate, Manny Machado, Trevor Bauer, Mike Zunino, Jon Gray and… Carlos Rodon.

Here's hoping Carlos is the exception and not the rule.

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  • jhilfiker2001 Jul 10, 8:20 a.m.

    "So, if Rodon – the best collegiate pitcher I’ve ever seen in this area, and one of the best period"

    Matt Harvey?

  • heels2 Jul 10, 8:49 a.m.

    A "steal" at #3?

  • meep Jul 10, 8:55 a.m.

    I saw both pitch in college, and Harvey was good, but not as good as Rodon. Harvey, 22-7 on teams with run support versus Rodon, 25-10, with 7 of those losses coming last year due to no run support (State scored 1 run or less in 6 of those losses).
    Harvey's UNC ERA was 3.75 and Rodon's closer to 2.5.
    Harvey had 263 career K's in college, where Rodon had 369.
    Hands down Rodon is one of the best collegiate pitchers, ever, and this comes from a Tar Heel.
    I am looking forward to how their MLB careers stack against each other. Harvey is a great MLB pitcher, and should he come back from TJ as he was before, could go into the HOF. Rodon has the ability to become a great MLB pitcher, but that's where time will tell.

  • dave437 Jul 10, 9:16 a.m.

    is that the same Jay Schroeder who was QB for the Redskins and Raiders?

  • Hammerhead Jul 10, 9:44 a.m.

    is that the same Jay Schroeder who was QB for the Redskins and Raiders?

    — Posted by dave437

    Yup.

  • Gunnstigator Jul 12, 9:03 p.m.

    I saw both pitch in college, and Harvey was good, but not as good as Rodon. Harvey, 22-7 on... View More

    — Posted by meep

    Good analysis, meep. I had thought Harvey was better as well, but after reading the stats you posted, it's hard to argue that Rodon is even better. I wish them both well in their professional careers. Hopefully Harvey will return next season fully healed from his TJ surgery.

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