Each year, the Major League Baseball Draft is supposed to have all of the best players taken from the first round, but things don’t always shake out that way. Instead, some of the best players in the MLB end up getting drafted much later, but there has still been a long list of great players selected in the first round, and that includes members of the Chicago Cubs.
When it comes to the first round of the draft, the Cubs have had a mixed bag of success. Some players ended up being cornerstones while others never made it to the bigs. Let’s take a look at the Cubs’ draft history and unveil the five best first round picks. For this list, we wanted to focus on their Cubs careers, as players like Josh Donaldson were great, but for other teams. The Cubs who just missed the list include Rafael Palmeiro, Nico Hoerner, Mark Prior, and Corey Patterson.
Indiana University isn’t really known for its baseball program, at least in terms of creating Major League talent. However, in 2014, Kyle Schwarber was one of the top prospects in the MLB Draft. Though he was slated to be a catcher, Schwarber was drafted to be an outfield by the Cubs, who used the fourth overall pick to acquire him. Schwarber didn’t have to wait long to make his debut, as he was called up in June 2015.
Schwarber proved early and often that he could mash the ball, hitting 16 home runs in 69 games during his rookie season. In just 551 games as a Cub, Schwarber was able to knock out 121 home runs before taking his bat to Washington in 2021.
There’s only one member of the list who was drafted first overall, and that’s shortstop/outfield Shawon Dunston. Though he had his ups and downs in Chicago, Dunston was still a fine ballplayer during his time on the Northside. Dunston was selected first in 1982 and made his debut at the start of the 1985 season.
Dunston spent a dozen seasons playing for the Cubs, and in that time had a .267 batting average and 107 home runs to go along with 175 stolen bases. Dunston had two different stints with the Cubs and was a two-time All-Star with the franchise.
The 2016 Chicago Cubs were one of the most beloved teams in baseball history thanks to a long list of characters who gelled together to bring the franchise its first title in 108 years. One of the more admired players was shortstop Javier Baez, who has been known throughout his career for his free-swinging at the plate, his exciting high-risk baserunning, and exemplary defensive plays. The Cubs selected Baez with the ninth overall pick in 2011, and he made his MLB debut three years later.
Baez hit home runs in some important spots, and by the time he got to his mid-20s was one of the MLB’s top players. Baez played for the Cubs in eight different seasons and was an All-Star in two of them and a Gold Glove winner in 2020. Baez finished with 140 home runs as a Cub and a .262 batting average.
There were many who thought that pitcher Kerry Wood would be the next Roger Clemens thanks to his insane velocity. The Texas native entered into the 1995 MLB Draft, and the Cubs used the fourth overall selection to take him. Wood was brought up to the Major League Roster for the 1998 season, and he certainly didn’t disappoint.
In his rookie season, Wood was dominant and took him the Rookie of the Year title, finishing with a record of 13-6 and an earned run average of 3.40. Wood also had the best single-game performance for a pitcher, tossing a 20-strikeout one-hit game. Wood spent a total of 12 seasons with the Cubs, finishing with an 80-68 record and 3.67 ERA, splitting time between starting and bullpen duties.
Las Vegas native Kris Bryant was tabbed as a surefire star ahead of the 2013 MLB Draft and he indeed proved to be a safe pick for the Cubs with the second overall selection. Bryant was brought in to primarily play third base, and he had an instant impact on the team while also improving chemistry alongside Anthony Rizzo.
Bryant won the Rookie of the Year title in 2015 thanks to his .275 batting average, 26 home runs, and 99 runs batted in. The following year, he led the Cubs to the World Series and won the Most Valuable Player Award. In seven seasons, Bryant slugged 160 home runs while maintaining a .279 batting average before being traded to the San Francisco Giants in 2021, marking the end of an era.