Who is MLB’s Equivalent to Trevor Lawrence?

When is the last time MLB had a can't-miss superstar go No. 1 overall?

Not all top picks are created equal.

When is the last time the No. 1 overall pick in the MLB draft was viewed as a sure thing to develop into a superstar, the way that new Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence is talked about after he was the top pick in this year’s NFL draft?

It’s too soon to tell whether recent picks Spencer Torkelson (2020) and Adley Rutschman (2019) will deliver on their draft status, and both players have a chance to be future faces of the franchise for rebuilding teams, but they fall a bit short of being viewed as generational talents. Casey Mize (2018) has struggled early on in his MLB career and might be more of a middle-of-the-rotation workhorse long-term than a true ace, while Royce Lewis (2017) and Mickey Moniak (2016) were both part of draft classes that lacked a slam dunk top overall talent.

Shortstop Dansby Swanson (2015) has settled in as a solid everyday shortstop for the Atlanta Braves, and he showed some flashes of taking his game to another level last year, but in his age-27 season, he has not yet joined the top tier of players at his position.

It doesn’t get any better from there.

Left-hander Brady Aiken (2014) did not sign with the Houston Astros and wound up dealing with arm issues once he finally began his pro career. Right-hander Mark Appel (2013) flamed out before ever reaching the majors and called it a career after the 2017 season, though he’s in the midst of a comeback attempt.

Florida catcher Mike Zunino and Georgia high school outfielder Byron Buxton were widely regarded as the best players in the 2012 draft, but the Houston Astros instead reached for Carlos Correa to save money for an above-slot deal for Lance McCullers Jr. later on. That worked out in their favor, but Correa still doesn’t fit the bill as a no-brainer future superstar from the jump.

We’re getting a bit warmer with Gerrit Cole (2011), who was part of a pitching-rich draft class that included Dylan Bundy and Archie Bradley at the high school level and Danny Hultzen and Trevor Bauer from the college ranks, but even then scouts were split on whether Cole was the best choice at No. 1 overall.

The 2010 draft finally brings us to our answer: Bryce Harper

Everything that Trevor Lawrence is for the Jacksonville Jaguars, Harper was for a Washington Nationals team coming off a 103-loss season and one year removed from selecting another hyped prospect at No. 1 overall in right-hander Stephen Strasburg.

The teenage phenom skipped his final two years of high school and enrolled at the College of Southern Nevada, where he hit .417/.509/.917 with 23 home runs in 180 at-bats as a 17-year-old, leading Sports Illustrated to dub him “The Chosen One” on their cover. With all due respect to Jameson Taillon and Manny Machado, there was zero doubt as to who would go No. 1 overall in the 2010 draft.

The nature of draft pick development meant that Harper didn’t make the same Day 1 impact Lawrence is expected to make in Jacksonville, but it didn’t take him long to make his mark. The precocious slugger was an All-Star and the NL Rookie of the Year before his 20th birthday, and the Nationals reached previously unfounded levels of success.

The team posted a winning record for the first time since leaving Montreal during his debut in 2012, finishing 98-64 to win just the second division title in franchise history. In his seven years with the team, the Nationals finished first or second in the NL East standings every year and reached the postseason four times.

They didn’t make it over the hump to win a World Series title until after he departed for Philadelphia in free agency, but he deserves as much credit as anyone for turning a team that was once a perennial afterthought into a sustainable contender.

Harper has faced as much scrutiny and criticism as any player in the sport during his career, but with a 139 OPS+, 239 home runs, and 35.4 WAR under his belt at the age of 28, he is undeniably a superstar in the sport.

A similar challenge to turn the organizational tides and live up to lofty expectations awaits Trevor Lawrence as he begins his NFL career.

Joel Reuter

Aside from his work at Pitcher List, Joel is also in his 10th year as a National MLB columnist at Bleacher Report and the author of a weekly column for Beckett Media.

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