Just like you can't always tell which of your first round picks will let you down and sometimes take the legs out from under your franchise, every once in a while you land a good player. Sometimes, even a great one. In counterpoint to last night's worst first round picks of all time by the Twins, I present you with the best of the best.
Right-Handed Pitcher: Matt Garza (#25 Overall, 2005)
The two right-handers who had better careers than Garza (according to Baseball Reference), Tim Belcher and Dick Ruthven, didn't actually sign with the Twins. Belcher, as we know, refused to sign with Minnesota. Ruthven, meanwhile, chose not to go pro after high school and instead went to college and was drafted a few years later. Garza, meanwhile, has accumulated 19.0 fWAR in his career. Unfortunately, he was one of a number of mistakes the team made in Bill Smith's tenure.
Runner-Up: Todd Ritchie, I guess (#12 Overall, 1990)
Left-Handed Pitcher: Glen Perkins (#22 Overall, 2004)
Perkins is the biggest reason why the 2004 draft, which saw Minnesota with five picks between the first and first supplemental rounds, isn't a complete bust. Trevor Plouffe has an opportunity to make it a bit more palatable, but on his own Perkins has a chance to be one of the best closers in franchise history. He wants to be in Minnesota, and he wants to be a Twin. Those things help to push him into the top spot, because going purely on value the runner-up still tops him...barely.
Runner-Up: Mark Redman (#13 Overall, 1995)
Catcher: Joe Mauer (#1 Overall, 2001)
You know how you don't screw up the number one overall pick? By taking the best player at the position in franchise history, and one of the better-hitting catchers of all time.
Runner-Up: Jeff Reed? If we have to pick one? (#12 Overall, 1980)
First Base: Scott Stahoviak (#27 Overall, 1991)
Stahoviak was drafted as a third baseman but played first with the Twins - mostly from 1995 to 1997. In '96 he batted .284/.376/.469, and that's easy to forget because of the teams on which he played. But honestly, there was just nobody else to select. Travis Lee refused to sign with the Twins, Dave McCarty was a massive bust, and Hank Sanchez was a non-prospect. That's the list.
Runner-Up: Hank Sanchez, because at least he didn't give another team all his value and at least the team never considered him to be integral to their future (#39 Overall, 2005)
Second Base: Chuck Knoblauch (#25 Overall, 1989)
The only second baseman who was better than Knoblauch, in the history of the organization, is Rod Carew. Knobby was drafted as a shortstop but spent his time in Minnesota at second, winning Rookie of the Year, attending four All-Star games, winning two Silver Sluggers, and a Gold Glove to boot. In his career, he was worth 39.8 fWAR.
Runner-Up: Todd Walker, who is the only true second baseman ever drafted by the Twins in the first round (#8 Overall, 1994)
Third Base: Gary Gaetti (#11 Overall, 1979 - Secondary Phase)
It's a good thing we're counting any phase of the amateur draft, because there were no good third basemen ever drafted in the traditional Rule 4. Gaetti was integral in giving the Twins offense a real power threat in the early to late 80s, and was of course an integral member of the 1987 World Series championship team. He's one of only seven Twins to ever hit more than 200 homers with the club.
Runner-Up: Trevor Plouffe (#20 Overall, 2004)
Shortstop: Jay Bell (#8 Overall, 1984)
After whiffing on five shortstops between 1970 and 1978, the Twins dipped their hands in once again in '84. They struck gold this time, with Bell being worth 37.9 fWAR in his career. But the Twins packaged him with Curt Wardle and Jim Weaver and sent him to Cleveland to get Bert Blyleven back. Nine years after Bert flipped off the crowd in his last start at the Met. Because the fans were idiots. Blyleven threw a three-run complete game and took the loss, but hey, don't let that stop idiot fans from being idiots. But hey, nine years later, the Twins realized their mistake and brought Blyleven back. It only cost them the best shortstop they ever drafted.
Runner-Up: Absolutely not.
Outfield: Kirby Puckett (#3 Overall, 1982 - January Phase), Torii Hunter (#20 Overall, 1993), Denard Span (#20 Overall, 2002)
The competition for the top three spots isn't particularly strong, although one of the runners-up may have an argument for the third spot. Kirby perhaps, like Gaetti, gets in on a default, simply because of the nature of these alternative draft phases that are no longer in existence. But it also seems unfair to exclude him, considering how rarely great players were found in January phase drafts.
Torii was the second coming of Puckett, or at least he tried to be. Rarely great but almost always good, it's actually Hunter who, according to bWAR, has provided the Twins with the most value as a first round draft pick in the regular June phase. His 49.0 bWAR tops Mauer (44.6) and Knoblauch (44.6), and only Kirby's 50.9 is technically higher in career value.
Finally there's Denard, who comes in seventh overall - and fourth if you only count players who actually played for the Twins. He's never lived up to the expectations set by his first couple of seasons in the Majors, but he's had a good career and continues to be a regular in Washington.
Runners-Up: Michael Cuddyer (#9 Overall, 1997), Ben Revere (#28 Overall, 2007), Byron Buxton (#2 Overall, 2012)