On Wednesday I wrote a bit about the ESPN Franchise Draft whereby they had a one round draft under the premise of who you would start a franchise with if every single player was thrown back into a pool and the league essentially started from scratch. That piece focused on Doug Glanville’s ludicrous selection of Wilson Ramos and I proceeded to name 50 guys off the top of my head that I would definitely have taken ahead of Ramos.
Now I want to put myself within the draft and offer up my top 30 picks for a draft like this. There are so many things to consider in this exercise. Apart from the obvious of pure production on the field, there is age, position, health and marketability. I’m not sure how many people considered that last one within their equation, but I think there is at least a shred of it in the pie chart. After all, I’m building my franchise from the ground up, it doesn’t hurt to start off with a star on and off the field.
So here are my top 30 players to select if I was starting a major league franchise. Let me know what you think or what your own top 30 looks like in the comments or on Twitter (@sporer).
1. Evan Longoria (3B, 25 years old) – I think it’s a really a coin toss between Longo and the next guy as both play strong defense at premium positions with massive bats. Both are budding superstars with their best years ahead of them and while I’m not sure you can go wrong, my preference is for Longoria. I’m trading the step down in position importance (but better defense at it) for an extra year of age with this guy…
2. Troy Tulowitzki (SS, 26 years old) – Both of these first two guys have three elite seasons under their belt so far and are en route to a fourth and as I mentioned Tulow also plays elite defense at a cornerstone position. It’s also smart to build up the middle, except if it’s with Wilson Ramos, so that’s another checkmark in the pro column for Tulow. I can’t stress enough how close these first two are for that top spot and if I were picking second in this kind of draft with Longo going first I wouldn’t be the least bit upset “settling” for Tulowitzki.
3. Miguel Cabrera (1B, 28 years old) – I’m sorry, was hitting not a factor in ESPN’s draft? Cabrera DID NOT GET PICKED among the 30 selections in their draft. Look, I realize that first base is neither a premium defensive position nor a particularly thin one, but this isn’t an good-but-not-great first base type like Gaby Sanchez, Paul Konerko or Ryan Howard (and truly no offense to any of those three, they’d be pretty high round picks), this is a top three or four hitter in all of baseball who is just starting his prime. I realize my fandom for Tigers will make many think that’s where I’m coming from on this, but rest assured I’m really not. It’s common sense.
4. Jason Heyward (RF, 21 years old) – To be honest, I wouldn’t destroy someone for taking him #1 overall. This is a franchise foundation without question: he’s 21, he’s shown he can hang in the majors already over a reasonable sample (123 OPS+ in 187 gms) and he plays an important position. It’s not as important as the up the middle positions, but it’s not exactly left field/first base, either. Did I mention he can barely drink legally? This is a superstar in the making and in case you missed it, he’s five years younger than Tulowitzki.
5. Felix Hernandez (SP, 25 years old) – It might go a bit unnoticed because it is almost expected at this point, but Hernandez has done something a lot blue chip prospect starting pitchers or rather any position of blue chip prospect for that matter fail to do: he’s living up to the hype. Hype is a dangerous thing in today’s sport culture. The more you get heaped upon you, even if you didn’t ask for it, the shorter amount of time you have to live up to it. Hernandez began living up to it right out of the gate with a 2.67 ERA in 84 innings at age 19 back in 2005. He followed it up with a 4.52 ERA as he struggled with gopheritis (1.1 HR/9), but has shaved his ERA down significantly every year since: 3.92-3.45-2.49-2.27 all while adding innings. With a rock solid skill set and the proven capability to handle workloads easily exceeding 200 innings, King Felix is the kind of pitcher you can build a franchise around with minimal risk (not zero risk, ALL pitchers have risk… it’s an unnatural motion of the body).
6. Albert Pujols (1B, 31 years old) – I, for one, am not going to let two months of hitting like a mere mortal lead me to believe that Pujols is still the best pure hitter in the game and possibly ever. Even at 31, I think he gets back on track this year and then still has at least two more years among the elite and then another three or four as an All-Star stud. (See also: Rodriguez, Alex)
7. Justin Upton (RF, 23 years old) – It was a shock to see Upton last until the 29th pick in the ESPN draft. He is 23 years old with three above average seasons including one elite season (2009) and very strong defense in right field. A legitimate knock against him would be the fact that the has yet to play more than 138 games in his three full seasons, but his track record of nearly 2000 plate appearances of above average play at such a young age with legitimate defense is too much to pass up.
8. Andrew McCutchen (CF, 24 years old) – This is an overlooked budding star who plays an elite defensive position pretty well already and continues to improve. He is an across-the-board contributor offensively, too, capable of marked improvement as he gets older. He can bat first or third, too. He was another snub that surprised me.
9. Carlos Gonzalez (LF/CF/RF, 25 years old) – Currently a left fielder, CarGo can reasonably play any of the three outfield positions which increases his value for the team drafting him as both of the other positions are more valuable. His 2010 campaign showed us his upside with the bat while his downside is probably something like .280, 25 bombs and 20 steals with runs scored & driven in depending on the team you put around him. He was a three time top 32 (18th, 22nd, 32nd) prospect by Baseball America and he is showing why day after day.
10. Ryan Zimmerman (3B, 26 years old) – Perhaps he was forgotten because he is currently on the disabled list, but he was yet another stunning snub in ESPN’s draft. What doesn’t he bring to the table? Brilliant defense and excellent offense all wrapped up in a 26-year old package. If he wasn’t playing in Washington, he would definitely have a higher profile and perhaps get the recognition he deserves as an all-around star player. Harper & Strasburg get all the press, but Zimmerman is the franchise leader right now. Those two will join him and Jayson Werth to give them a great foundation for competing in the near future.
11. Joey Votto (1B, 27 years old) – I am a huge fan of Votto. I was before his MVP breakout last year and remain so now, but I don’t think he is a high-30s home run hitter going forward, not with the skills he has displayed throughout his career. That doesn’t mean he isn’t an elite force in middle a lineup, though. What he lacks in home runs, he makes up for with plenty of other base hits (.317 career hitter including a yearly rise since 2008: .297-.322-.324-.338) and a ton of doubles. Plus he is just 27 so he could realistically deliver a sustained power jump in the coming years.
12. Ryan Braun (LF, 27 years old) – His bat is so overwhelmingly awesome that his below average defense at a low-impact position barely matters. He plays an offense-heavy position and yet still outclasses his peers by no less than 30% in any given season (career 141 OPS+; low: 130, high: 161 so far in ’11, but 154 for a completed season). Throw in a tremendous work ethic and great personality and you have a superstar cornerstone to build your franchise around.
13. Tim Lincecum (SP, 27 years old) – It is frightening to think that he might be “boring” at this point as the next class of ace-potential young arms is making its presence felt in Year 2 of The Pitcher. Ho-hum all The Freak does is continue to strike out the world (three straight K titles) and post excellent, Cy Young-caliber numbers. After an un-Freak-like 3.43 ERA and 1.27 WHIP in 2010, Lincecum appears to have taken steps to ensure that doesn’t happen again and has come out with a career-best 2.6 BB/9 so far this season with very little cost to his strikeout rate (down from 9.8 to 9.5 K/9).
14. Mike Stanton (RF, 21 years old) – Taking a guy who hasn’t yet reached 600 plate appearances at the major league level is risky but his off-the-charts power potential, youth and big time defense are worth taking the plunge to build around.
15. Jay Bruce (RF, 24 years old) – Between he and Stanton it’s another coin toss tradeoff where personal preference plays a big role. Would you rather have more of a track record yet keep the power potential and star defense? OK, it only costs three years. Some would trade the years for the comfort of certainty. I went the other way in this instance.
16. Bryce Harper (RF, 18 years old) – It’s really hard to take any player who has yet to see a pitch in the major leagues and build your franchise around him, but everything I have seen from this kid suggests he is worth it. Still it’s a little scary starting your organization with someone who hasn’t even been to AA yet and then take him 17th overall, let alone 9th which is where Eric Karabell took him in ESPN’s draft.
17. Mike Trout (CF, 19 years old) – The only other prospect in my 30, Trout was also selected in the ESPN draft (12th) despite having never played in the majors. His potential is slightly more realized with a season and a half (spread across 3 years) of professional ball under his belt and 47 games of mashing AA (.306/.413/.514). He should no doubt hit AAA this year and could even debut for the Angels at some point in ’11. He is a tick below Harper for me, but like a few others, this one could go either way.
18. Jose Reyes (SS, 28 years old) – Kind of forgotten after the last two years in which he totaled just 169 games, but he was still an above average player at a great position to build around. He has only once been an elite defender, but he’s not a stone-handed, no-range shortstop, either. I prefer someone who can make plays as I would definitely favor groundball/strikeout pitchers so I need my infield to be able to pick it.
19. Stephen Drew (SS, 28 years old) – This one will no doubt surprise people, but he has an above average bat with good-to-great defense (higher defensive value than Tulowitzki last year) at the premium position. I would prefer as well-rounded a player as I can get depending on pick and who is available and Drew fits the bill nicely. As I mentioned with Reyes, my infield defense needs to be tight or else they will hurt my franchise’s pitchers so I will bypass this next guy, who might not even be a shortstop soon, for the non-elite, but still very good Drew.
20. Hanley Ramirez (SS, 27 years old) – His ranking here is not an overreaction to his struggling two months, it is because we aren’t doing a fantasy draft here so his horrible defense matters. Like I said, it might not even be sensible to leave him at short in a year or two which would cut into his overall value. The offensive numbers are great, but dwindling and we may have seen the best of Ramirez with his .342 average in 2009 and 33 home runs in 2008.
21. Jose Bautista (RF/3B, 30 years old) – He was tough to slot. He’s definitely become one of baseball’s best hitters in short order, but the track record remains scant with exactly a year and three months (starting in Sept. of ’09) of elite-level production. Alas nothing in his profile suggests he can’t continue to be a great player and he has the flexibility of right or third base. He is much better in right, but improvements at third suggest he wouldn’t kill you there if you acquired a big time right fielder later in the draft.
22. Adrian Gonzalez (1B, 29 years old) – Was his first basemenness (new word!) really enough to dissuade all 30 ESPN drafters from his five full seasons of 141 OPS+ coming into this season and a 149 mark so far this season now that he is out of Petco? I’m sorry, but aren’t we in a power drought these last two years? OK, enough questions… there is no question that Gonzalez is a top 30 pick for me.
23. Robinson Cano (2B, 28 years old) – A major-impact bat at an up-the-middle position is a premium get and Cano is in the midst of such an impressive prime with the bat that his lagging defense isn’t as concerning. What is somewhat concerning is a worry that second basemen fall off the table without warning as they reach their early 30s (Roberto Alomar and Brian Roberts to name a few; some fear Chase Utley is next) because of the strains the position puts on the body.
24. David Price (SP, 25 years old) – We are in a peak period for excellent young arms so I’m not inclined to chase one in with the first round pick, especially given the inherent risk associated with them, but there are still some who are a cut above and would earn my pick depending on slotting. Price is just scratching the surface of his potential and I think he is going to be something truly special.
25. Justin Verlander (SP, 28 years old) – The definition of a workhorse, Verlander piles up the innings with relative ease. With two no-hitters already to his credit, many believe he could add more as his career progress (more as in multiple, not just another one). Averaging nearly seven innings a start keeps him long enough to give up some garbage runs at times as he is very good at pitching to the situation, but it also has kept his ERA in the 3.00s throughout his career when he definitely the talent to post a sub-3.00 season or two and make a huge push for a Cy Young Award.
26. Carl Crawford (LF, 29 years old) – Unless I was playing somewhere like Fenway Park that robs a ton of his defensive value, Crawford is an elite all-around asset with plenty left in the tank. Had he stormed out of the gates in the first two months of the season, I’m sure he’d have been taken in the ESPN Draft, alas you only have one chance to take a closer or a backup catcher in the first round so Crawford was left out.
27. Shin-Soo Choo (RF, 28 years old) – This is a superstar from a pure numbers aspect, but playing for a last place team (until now) like Cleveland the last few years leaves him overshadowed and without the due he deserves. He is the classic .300/.400/.500 guy with power, speed and defense. A little older at 28, but hardly too old to build around at 28.
28. Buster Posey (C, 24 years old) – A pick here assumes that his recently-suffered injury won’t incapacitate him anymore than this year or cause a move out from behind the plate because that’s where his value is best, of course. He will never be a pure slugger contending for home run titles and that is what you would want out of a first baseman being picked to start your franchise.
29. Roy Halladay (SP, 34 years old) – Yes, he is the best pitcher in baseball right now, but I can’t only be focused on the here & now. He is 34 years old and I’m not sure it is the smartest thing to start a franchise with an arm that old. Of course, if I was saddled with a later pick in the first round, I would take Halladay and the build my team with a lean toward trying to win immediately. That doesn’t mean I’d take all old guys, but ties would be broken on who can help more immediately.
30. Carlos Santana (C, 25 years old) – He won’t last at catcher, but that’s OK because his bat is so great that you don’t want him automatically losing games due to the wear and tear of that position. However, he does have less value at first base because he isn’t a true slugger, at least not yet. I’ll take him now and enjoy another 2-3 years of him as a catcher/first base hybrid and then hopefully I’ll have a catcher in my organization to take over just as Santana enters his prime as a fully developed hitter.
So that’s my list. I’m sure there are disagreements, perhaps some agreements and plenty of thoughts so feel free to share them. For reference, here is the ESPN Franchise Draft & Chat.