Last week, ESPN invited a group of 30 contributors – including myself and Jonah Keri – to take place in what they called the Franchise Player Draft. The directions were straight forward – throw out real life contracts and situations specific to Major League Baseball and simply evaluate the players for their abilities, deciding which one you would most want to build a franchise around if you were starting from scratch. We picked 1 through 30 and selected the player we would most want as our cornerstone going forward.
The concept was a lot of fun, and after the picks were revealed, many of you guys suggested that FanGraphs should do our own version – so we did. This week, we conducted an internal version of the same concept, asking 30 of our writers to pick the player left on the board that they would most want as their franchise player.
The results of that draft are below. I’m sure that, just like the ESPN version, you won’t agree with all 30 selections, but this is undoubtedly a fun exercise and hopefully gives some insight the perspectives of a variety of the staff members here.
1-1: Matthew Carruth
Evan Longoria. He was the first name to pop into my head when told I had the first pick and though I considered others, nobody knocked him off. Really wanted to take Felix, but couldn’t justify a pitcher at 1/1 and frankly, Longoria is just more valuable.
1-2: David Appelman
Troy Tulowitzki. He’s still young (26) and at shortstop he has a great bat, and is a good fielder. The only thing not to like is his injury history, but none of them have been of the lingering variety. I probably would have snagged Longoria if he didn’t go first, but it would have been a tough call.
1-3: Carson Cistulli
Mike Trout. I recognize this could very well be a reach at No. 3, but the combination of sheer athleticism and baseball-specific skills (i.e. plate discipline) — combined with the fact that HE’S ONLY 19 (and raking at Double-A) — is incredibly promising. Also, will likely be good from marketing perspective. For all those reasons, could have picked Jason Heyward, too.
1-4: Matt Klaassen
Ryan Zimmerman. Matthew and The Dark Overlord took my first two choices, and I’m not quite brave enough to go the prospect route like Carson and pick Bryce Harper. I guess I’ll have to “settle” for Zimmerman despite his injury. I wanted a relatively young hitter at a tough position, and Zimmerman is only 26. The only thing Tulo really has on him is positional value — Zimmerman is a great defender, excellent hitter (who seems to be getting better, and good baserunner. It was tough to pass on guys King Felix, Hanley, Votto, and Chen, but once I thought about Zimmerman, I had to take him.
1-5: Dave Allen
Joey Votto. I am a little wary going with a guy whose value comes solely from the bat, but Votto is too good to pass up. He is just 27, has a history of good health, and is as good a bet to crush the ball over the next couple years as anyone in baseball.
1-6: Jack Moore
Albert Pujols. Sure, his last two months weren’t exactly Albert Pujols months, but come on — he still has a 135 wRC+ in what is pretty much the worst he could possibly do in two months. I know he’s 31, but you’re not going to find me betting on anybody — certainly not one of the top pitchers left like King Felix or Lincecum, and probably not even Jason Heyward — for anything more than 5 years down the road. He’s a .400 and possibly even .420 wOBA guy for the next 5 years, and I’ll take that to start a team.
1-7: Steve Slowinski
Carl Crawford. Maybe I’m just homesick, but I keep coming back to Crawford. I want to minimize risk as much as possible, so I’m steering away from pitchers, and I tend to think Craw gets criminally underrated by most people. He’s in his peak, has a skill set that generally ages well, and he’s a very well-rounded player: fast, great at defense, great on the basepaths, hits for average, and has some pop.
Plus, if I’m going to jinx one player to flop over the next five years, it might as well be a Red Sox.
1-8: Erik Hahmann
Jose Bautista. It’s hard to pass up a guy who on pace to far surpass his amazing 6.9 WAR 2010 season. He doesn’t have the sustained track record of the other picks, sans Trout of course, but I’m a believer in his newly found success. The changes he’s made in his swing and plate approach are amazing. I’ll take a .420-450 wOBA hitter for the next five plus years to start my team. Sign me up.
1-9: Niv Shah
Miguel Cabrera. As much as I want to grab a pitcher here, a bat as good as Cabrera’s simply cannot be ignored. He’s only 5 months older than the #5 pick Joey Votto and he’s been steady at first base since 2004. The only hitters ahead of him in WRC+ since 2008 are Pujols and Votto. I also considered King Felix and Hanley, but Hanley’s recent dip has me nervous on him and while Felix is Felix, he’s also a pitcher.
1-10: Tommy Rancel
Ryan Braun. Selecting an ace was tempting, but the allure of an elite hitter entering his prime won out. Braun’s fielding is a negative; however, not enough to scare me away. Offensively, he has the 7th highest wOBA since his 2007 debut. In addition to the power, he has increased his walk rate in each season while lowering his amount of whiffs. On top of that, he is decent baserunner and has played at least 150 games in each of the past three years. As the cherry on top, he will not turn 30 until after the 2013 season.
1-11: Paul Swydan
Clayton Kershaw — First pitcher comes off the board. I was tempted to go with a center fielder — Hamilton, McCutchen and especially Kemp — as well as Halladay, but Kershaw’s blend of youth and results won out. This season the 23-year-old lefty has pumped up his K/9 while reducing his BB/9, and his offspeed offerings are fast becoming the Majors’ most dominant (wSL/C and wCH/C both top five in Majors currently). With a road FIP under three both this year and last, he is no Dodger Stadium creation, and he won’t be 30 until well after the Rapture.
1-12: Eric Seidman
Bryce Harper — he is 18 years old and on pace to be a major league starter by the end of next season. On May 12 his slash line was .396/.472/.712, which was actually bogged down since he wasn’t wearing contact lenses for the first few weeks of the season. Word is he will move on up to Double A sometime soon — a .456 wOBA at Hagerstown likely merits that promotion — and if the Nationals are impressed with his production it won’t take long for further promotions. Ryan Zimmerman was handled much the same way. I considered other players in this spot — Felix, Hamels, McCann, J Upton, C Santana — but ultimately decided to take a risk on a player without a single major league plate appearance. Hard to see how Harper won’t be a legit stud.
Note: David Laurila, who did not have a selection in this draft, tried to perform a coup and draft Jay Bruce here. He had to be restrained by security and locked away until the draft finished.
1-13: Eno Sarris
Hanley Ramirez – Let’s not let his slow start keep us from remembering how great Hanley Ramirez really is. He has power. He has speed. He walks. He doesn’t strike out. He plays the most important defensive position on the infield. Of course, there are a few flaws in his game that people may point out. His defense isn’t great, yes. To which I would ask – if he was a better defensive third baseman with the same offensive stats, wouldn’t you want him on your team still? Lastly, he might have some concentration issues. With age comes wisdom, and even if it doesn’t, he’s been pretty sweet so far, even with those supposed issues. Ramirez is sixth in WAR since he joined the league full-time in 2006, and everyone ahead of him is older than him. Sign me up for a 27-year-old shortstop with all the tools, even if he’s on the DL right now.
1-14: Jesse Wolfersberger
Jason Heyward – I have to say, I’m surprised that Heyward is still here. He was Baseball America’s #1 prospect last year, and – unlike many top prospects – successfully made the adjustment to major league pitching. The 21-year-old has defense, baserunning, power, ridiculous plate discipline (14.1-percent walk rate), and one 5+ WAR season already under his belt. His current injury is the only red flag here, but he is too young and talented to let slip any farther.
1-15: Mike Axisa
Andrew McCutchen – Couldn’t be happier with this pick; I’m getting a true five-tool guy still shy of his 25th birthday. McCutchen does it all, with increasingly gaudy walk (12.5%) and power (.207 ISO) numbers that compliment his speed and standout defense (now that the Pirates have stopped with the no-triples alignment) at a premium position. McCutchen has never missed anything more than a handful of days due to injury as well, so his durability is a plus. He’s poised to go on a run of multiple 6+ wins seasons.
1-16: Jason Catania
Adrian Gonzalez. After debating alternatives like King Felix and Jose Reyes, I decided on A-Gon for his proven big-league stability, consistency and production. He just turned 29, putting him smack dab in the middle of what should be a long prime given his position and durability (he’s played at least 156 games in each of the past five seasons). And with the game increasingly shifting toward pitching, speed and defense, there’s a premium on power; so I want a lefty-hitting masher like Gonzalez — his already-impressive numbers were suppressed by Petco — who can also hit for average and get on base (.372 career wOBA) to anchor my lineup for years. And he’s a plus defender, to boot.
1-17: Joe Pawlikowski
Jay Bruce. I was going back and forth between him and Reyes, but he’s bringing the power at a time when it’s down in general. He’s living up to all that No. 1 prospect hype, and even though he plays a non-premium position he’s going to be a middle of the order bat for years to come.
1-18: Dave Cameron
Felix Hernandez. I was pretty relieved when David Schoenfeld took Felix Hernandez one spot ahead of me in the ESPN Franchise Player Draft, which made it an easy call to go for a position player with the #4 pick. It would have been hard to justify taking any pitcher ahead of of MVP caliber position players, but here at #18, I’ll do backflips over getting Felix. While pitchers are substantially greater risks, a hard-and-fast “no pitchers” rule misses out on the balance between risk and reward, and Felix is the value selection in this spot. If he’s not the best pitcher in baseball, then he’s really close, and none of the position players left on the board hold that kind of edge over their peers. He might break down, but it’s not like Jose Reyes, Justin Upton, or Carlos Santana come without their fair share of risk. I’ll take my chances with Felix.
1-19: Zach Sanders
Matt Kemp — This came down to Kemp or Jose Reyes, but Reyes’ injuries and other medical problems scared me off a bit. Kemp is still only 26, so it’s entirely possible the best is yet to come. Sure, he’s not a great defensive center fielder, but you can always move him to one of the corners and his value doesn’t fall too far. His combination of power, speed, and youth is just too much to pass up in the second half of the draft.
1-20: Chris Cwik
Justin Upton – I still believe Upton is a true 5-tool player with a legitimate chance to get better. He’s still only 23 years old, and his ceiling was sky high entering last season. It seems like his down year in 2010, caused by a shoulder injury, has caused people to temper their expectations for Upton. He’s the one player I hoped would be here when I picked, so I’m extremely satisfied with this selection.
1-21: Jeff Zimmerman
Eric Hosmer. That’s all he said, so we’re assuming that he’s either going to let Hosmer’s talents speak for themselves, of Laurila got free and took Jeff out moments after this selection occurred.
1-22: Navin Vaswani
Roy Halladay — You say he’s 34. I say he transcends age. While Doc will likely go down as the oldest player selected in this draft, the bottom line is: he’s getting better. There’s no other ace I’d want to mentor my staff, in terms of preparedness, work ethic, and, well, pitching. Doc’s strikeout rate is on the rise, and he remains the groundball pitcher of my dreams. And, on top of it all, he mastered his craft in baseball’s toughest division. If, as Mr. Keri rightly points out, we could all be dead tomorrow, I’m going out with Roy Halladay.
1-23: Patrick Newman
Joe Mauer — I assume that Mauer wouldn’t have made it this far if he was healthy. He’s had a historically great bat at catcher thus far in his career, and though he’s got a bit more wear and tear than most of the guys on this list, he’s still only 28. I will say that I’m kind of banking on the assumption that his injuries aren’t career threatening.
1-24: Alex Remington
Since Jeff took Hosmer, I’ll take Robinson Cano. If I were a bit more bold I’d have gone for Verlander, but it’s hard not to take the best under-30 middle infielder left on the board. I’d hope that his improvement in walks last year is legitimate, as he’s a spectacular contact hitter with plus power who appears to have improved his glove from leaden to adequate. He’s just 28, so he should have another half-decade of fine work.
1-25: Bradley Woodrum
Gimme summa dat Mike Stanton! No, not either of the two now-retired middle relievers by that same name; I want Mike Stanton, 21-year-old outfielding phenom. He wowed us with a 118 wRC+ as a 20-year-old rookie last year, adding some nearly 9 runs of defensive awesomeness to boot. This year, he’s walking more, striking out less, and — oh yeahz — straight-murdering the ball (on pace for 34 homers). His 141 wRC+, good-to-great defense, and jawline that could slice a diamond scream “franchise keystone.”
1-26: David Golebiewski
Brian McCann. McCann has quietly racked up more WAR than any catcher not named Mauer over the past three calendar years, and he hasn’t experienced anywhere near the same physical problems as Mauer. McCann’s plate patience and power are very hard to find from a capable backstop. And, at 27 years old, he should have several productive seasons left in the tank.
1-27: Howard Bender
Starlin Castro — What better way to build the foundation of a franchise than starting with a shortstop who could conceivably play another 15-20 years? The talent is raw and in need of some refinement both at the plate and in the field, but Castro is only 21 years old and will continue to improve across the board. There’s not a lot of power and just modest speed, but he is a pure contact hitter, both inside and outside the zone, and doesn’t strike out very often. Potential batting champion here who will grow to be one of the top shortstops in the near future.
1-28: Marc Hulet
Stephen Strasburg — I debated a number of different names including young shortstop Elvis Andrus but – with one of the last picks in the round – I decided to take a risk on Strasburg. Had he been healthy, I imagine he would have been gone in the first five picks. When healthy, Strasburg showed a once-in-a-generation arm. With Tommy John surgery where it is today, most pitchers come back as strong – or stronger – than before the surgery. In five years, this move will either be hailed as one of the smartest baseball moves ever, or I’ll be out of a job and possibly the punch line for late night talk show hosts. Strasburg turns 23 years old in July and should be back on the mound for April, 2012 and has the potential to be an ace for the next decade or more.
1-29: Jonah Keri
Tim Lincecum — I get the risk aversion method, that pitchers break down, that most long-term contracts for pitchers end in misery, plagues, and death. But value is value, and Timmah is valuable. He struggled for a stretch last season. There were some worries about reduced fastball velocity, command wasn’t quite as stellar as it had been. He rebounded down the stretch, finished with three strikeouts for every one walk, struck out more than a batter an inning, kept the ball in the park, and was worth more than 5 wins to his team. That’s an off-year. This season he’s dialed his velocity back up, trimmed his walk rate, and is on pace to approach a 6-win campaign. You can count the number of pitchers who are likely to repeat that for the next 5+ years on one hand.
1-30: Reed MacPhail
Colby Rasmus. Marc picked my pocket by taking Strasburg, but I’ll settle for a 24 year-old centerfield who impacts the game in a lot of ways. Rasmus is an above-average defender, a solid baserunner, and I love that he’s walking more and striking out less this season. He’s not a real sexy pick, but he should provide a lot of 5+ win seasons. I also considered Carlos Santana and Carlos Gonzalez, but the wear-and-tear of catching and the transition from Coors scarred me off.
There you have it – a Franchise Player Draft according to FanGraphs. Which picks diverge the most from what you expected? Who got the biggest steal? We’re sure you guys will have plenty of opinions, so fire away.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.