The Cubs are likely to get a very good, if not great, major-league player with the No. 2 pick in the draft that begins Thursday night, no matter who they choose.
This hasn't always been the case, and some teams have missed badly while drafting that high, even in recent seasons.
This post will look at the No. 2 pick in every draft starting a bit over 30 years ago -- I figure that gives us a good enough sample -- and ending with the 2009 draft, since many players from 2010 and later are still working their way through minor-league systems. Then I'll list some players from the remainder of the first round along with the slot they were chosen -- again, figuring those are the top talents as seen pre-draft -- who might have turned out to be better than the No. 2 pick. All "better" listed players had a higher career WAR than the No. 2 pick that year. Remember that the numbers listed here after the player's nameAd is the number the player was drafted overall in the first round, not the number of the round. All WAR numbers are from baseball-reference.
Ready? Here goes.
1982: Augie Schmidt (Blue Jays). Better: Dwight Gooden (5), Duane Ward (9), Ron Karkovice (14), Todd Worrell (21). In fact, everyone, because Schmidt never played in the majors and was a huge bust.
1983: Kurt Stillwell (Reds). Better: Roger Clemens (17), Dan Plesac (26). The '83 first round didn't produce many impact players.
1984: Bill Swift (Mariners). Better: Jay Bell (8), Mark McGwire (10), Shane Mack (11), Terry Mulholland (24).
1985: Will Clark (Giants). Clark was a very good player, but three others drafted in that first round had higher WAR: Barry Larkin (4), Barry Bonds (6), Rafael Palmeiro (22). Might have been the deepest first round ever.
1986: Greg Swindell (Indians). Better: Matt Williams (3), Kevin Brown (4), Gary Sheffield (6). Another deep first round.
1987: Mark Merchant (Pirates). Better: everyone, since Merchant never played in the majors. Significant other picks after Merchant: Jack McDowell (5), Kevin Appier (9), Craig Biggio (22).
1988: Mark Lewis (Indians). Better: almost everyone; Lewis had a negative career WAR. Significant: Robin Ventura (10), Tino Martinez (14), Brian Jordan (30).
1989: Tyler Houston (Braves). Better: Frank Thomas (7), Charles Johnson (10), Mo Vaughn (23), Chuck Knoblauch (25).
1990: Tony Clark (Tigers). Better: Alex Fernandez (4), Jeromy Burnitz (17), Mike Mussina (20), Rondell White (24).
1991: Mike Kelly (Braves). Better: almost everyone. Significant: Joey Hamilton (8), Manny Ramirez (13), Cliff Floyd (14), Shawn Green (16).
1992: Paul Shuey (Indians). Better: Derek Jeter (6), Jason Kendall (23), Johnny Damon (35) -- note that there were more picks than the number of teams in some years due to compensation-pick rules.
1993: Darren Dreifort (Dodgers). Better: Billy Wagner (12), Derrek Lee (14), Chris Carpenter (15 -- the Cardinals' Carpenter), Torii Hunter (20).
1994: Ben Grieve (Athletics). Better: Nomar Garciaparra (12), Paul Konerko (13), Jay Payton (29).
1995: Ben Davis (Padres). Better: Kerry Wood (4), Todd Helton (8), Geoff Jenkins (9), Roy Halladay (17).
1996: Travis Lee (Twins). Better: Mark Kotsay (9), Eric Chavez (10), R.A. Dickey (18), Jake Westbrook (21).
1997: J.D. Drew (Phillies). Of course, Drew never signed with the Phillies, but this was a pretty deep draft. Only Lance Berkman (16) had more career WAR than Drew from the first round.
1998: Mark Mulder (Athletics). Better: Drew (drafted again, by the Cardinals, at 5), Carlos Pena (10), CC Sabathia (20).
1999: Josh Beckett (Marlins). Not a deep round, but just one player has had more career WAR from it than Beckett: Barry Zito (9).
2000: Adam Johnson (Twins). Better: everyone; Johnson had a negative career WAR. Significant players: Chase Utley (15), Adam Wainwright (29), Kelly Johnson (38).
2001: Mark Prior (Cubs). I think we already know enough about this one.
2002: B.J. Upton (Rays). Upton's good (or at least he was until this year), but these guys were better: Zack Greinke (6), Prince Fielder (7), Nick Swisher (16), Cole Hamels (17), Matt Cain (25). The Cubs picked Bobby Brownlie with the 21st choice in this round; obviously, they could have had Cain.
2003: Rickie Weeks (Brewers). Better: Nick Markakis (7), John Danks (9), Aaron Hill (13), Chad Billingsley (24).
2004: Justin Verlander (Tigers). Um... that one worked out OK. Next from that draft in WAR is Jered Weaver (12). The first pick in 2004 was Matt Bush, by the Padres -- that's one of the worst No. 1 picks in MLB history.
2005: Alex Gordon (Royals). He's good, but these guys picked later are better: Ryan Zimmerman (4), Ryan Braun (5), Troy Tulowitzki (7), Andrew McCutchen (11).
2006: Greg Reynolds (Rockies). Another guy with negative career WAR. Best from this draft: Evan Longoria (3), Clayton Kershaw (7), Tim Lincecum (10).
2007: Mike Moustakas (Royals). Some -- and I'm in this camp -- think Moustakas will still become a good MLB player. As of now, these players from that first round are among those who have more career WAR: Matt Wieters (5), Madison Bumgarner (10), Jason Heyward (14). I am among those who wish the Cubs would have taken Wieters at 4 instead of Josh Vitters.
2008: Pedro Alvarez (Pirates). Alvarez is decent and could improve, but these guys have more career WAR: Buster Posey (5), Gordon Beckham (8), Brett Lawrie (16).
2009: Dustin Ackley (Mariners). Ackley has declined and was recently sent to Triple-A, but just two players from that draft have more career WAR: the No. 1 pick, Stephen Strasburg, amd Mike Trout (25) -- which means 24 teams passed on Trout.
As you can see, there are a number of good players selected over time with the No. 2 pick, and some not so good. Many players were passed over by as many as 20-25 teams who turned out to be stars. Drafting science has improved, and some of the picks were made the way they were for signability reasons.
Still, the point remains: the Cubs are likely to get a very good player with the No. 2 selection Thursday night. Even so, there will be better big-league players selected later -- it happens every single year.