The best pitching draft ever?

The 2011 first round could produce a historic quantity of elite arms

Updated: April 18, 2012, 1:48 PM ET
By Kevin Goldstein | Baseball Prospectus
Gerrit ColeCliff Welch/Icon SMI Gerrit Cole, the 2011 No. 1 overall pick, has the raw stuff to be a future big league ace.

Evaluating a draft is a difficult thing. Some say it takes three years -- others say five -- to really evaluate a pick, but in reality even those estimates might be low. Considering the time it takes a high school pick to get to the big leagues, as well as the six years of control at the big league level before free agency arrives, it could take a decade or more to totally realize the value from a selection.

Judging the quality of pitching in total can be equally daunting. What's the best first round of all time when it comes to pitching? Counting pure WARP (wins above replacement player), the answer is 1983, but the overwhelming majority of that comes from Roger Clemens, with Tim Belcher being the only other starter to have a significant career. And that points to the difficulty of finding pitching.

Think about a career of 100 wins. Of course, wins is a highly flawed statistic, but 584 players have reached triple digits in career wins, and no single first round (including supplemental picks) in draft history has produced more than three 100-game winners. That could change thanks to a pair of drafts in the past 10 years representing arguably the best in draft history for pitching.

The 2006 draft has already produced Cy Young winners in Tim Lincecum and Clayton Kershaw, and the 2004 draft has produced two aces in Justin Verlander and Jered Weaver, but it's the 2002 draft that could be the first to produce four triple-digit winners, as Joe Blanton, Matt Cain, Zack Greinke, Cole Hamels and Joe Saunders all have at least 70 wins.

And yet, the 2011 draft looks like it has a chance to be the most historic of them all for pitching.