In 2011 and 2012, FanGraphs, borrowing from ESPN, held a Franchise Player Draft. The Hardball Times revived the draft in 2017, and we thought we’d take a crack at it again now. The idea is a simple one: throwing out existing contracts, teams, and other real life sundry, which player would you most want to build a baseball franchise around if you were starting from scratch? These picks were based solely on the players’ abilities as they stand now; those participating got to decide on their own how to value wins now versus wins in the long-term. To maintain a bit of mystery for the No. 1 pick, today we’ll present picks 16-30. Tomorrow, the top half of the draft will be revealed. We hope you enjoy. — Meg Rowley
Ben Clemens, Pick 16: Juan Soto, Washington Nationals
I was overjoyed to see Soto still available at 16. He was in my personal top 10 — I thought there was no chance he’d fall this far. He’s still only 20, and at this point has two years worth of strong performance in the majors. He might never be a great defender, but he does so much at the plate that I don’t care. Hit for power? He has 34 extra-base hits already this year and a sterling .237 ISO. Control the plate? He walks 15.6% of the time for his career, nearly as often as he strikes out. Hit for average? He has a career .344 BABIP, and projection systems think he’ll stick around .330 for the rest of the year. It’s hard to imagine a more complete offensive player as a 20-year-old, short of Trout’s age-20 season. Maybe he won’t realize ZiPS’ lofty three-year projections, but almost no one is a better bet to be a great hitter five years from now than Soto. I considered Vlad in this spot as well, but they’re almost the same age and Soto has been excellent in the majors for longer, which I value more than Vlad’s prospect pedigree.
Sean Dolinar, Pick 17: Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies
My strategy for drafting a player to base a franchise around was to find a consistent performer; I also tried not to over-think this exercise. I wasn’t looking for a high-ceiling, high-variance pick like Bryce Harper or a prospect pick like Vladimir Guerrero Jr. I drafted Nolan Arenado for his consistent performance over the last three seasons: 20.8 total WAR with a standard deviation of only 0.5 WAR over that same span:
|Player||Total WAR||WAR Std|
That goes along with a really solid 14.5 WAR projection from our three-year ZiPS projections, which include this current season:
|Player||Total WAR||WAR by Season
(2019, 2020, 2021)
|Mike Trout||24.4||8.6, 8.1, 7.7|
|Francisco Lindor||21.2||6.9, 7.2, 7.0|
|Mookie Betts||19.7||7.0, 6.5, 6.2|
|Jose Ramirez||19.3||6.6, 6.6, 6.2|
|Juan Soto||19.3||5.1, 6.7, 7.5|
|Alex Bregman||16.9||5.7, 5.7, 5.5|
|Manny Machado||15.6||5.4, 5.2, 5.1|
|Christian Yelich||14.9||5.4, 4.8, 4.7|
|Giancarlo Stanton||14.5||5.1, 4.9, 4.5|
|Nolan Arenado||14.5||5.2, 4.8, 4.5|
|Jose Altuve||14.4||5.1, 4.8, 4.6|
|Aaron Judge||14.4||5.0, 4.8, 4.6|
|Bryce Harper||14.3||4.8, 4.9, 4.5|
|Ozzie Albies||14.3||4.1, 4.9, 5.3|
I personally value consistency over ceiling in many aspects of life, and I believe that is a good philosophy to start a franchise, since I would want to build a solid team and support from the city.
Craig Edwards, Pick 18: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Toronto Blue Jays
When it came time to pick, I was deciding between a group of proven sluggers heading to their late-20s or a potential phenom who hadn’t yet reached his 21st birthday. While Bryce Harper, Aaron Judge, and Kris Bryant were tempting, the trio has a combined seven more seasons in their 20s after this year, while Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has nine such seasons. If we had had this draft at some point last year or during the preseason, Guerrero would have been a much higher pick. I wasn’t going to let a rough 10-game stretch to kick off his major league career sway me.
Right now, Guerrero has a high walk rate, a low strikeout rate, and good power in a so-so half-season. He has the potential to be one of the game’s best hitters for a full decade, something I can’t possibly say about my other potential picks. He might not stick at third base, but his bat is so advanced at such a young age that he should anchor a lineup and provide a ton of wins regardless of his position. There were safer picks, but none with the same sort of long-term upside that could define a franchise.
Rachael McDaniel, Pick 19: Pete Alonso, New York Mets
Denied the physical and social benefits of actually playing a sport on a team, we hook our greedy fingers into random and talented strangers, leeching artificial feelings of fulfillment and joy from accomplishments to which we are wholly unconnected, passing our days in endless circular argument about which of these random strangers are good or bad — getting angry when they are bad, getting angry when someone we declared to be bad turns out to be good, angry when people are wrong about the game, angry about what’s wrong with the game, angry about other people getting angry about what’s wrong with the game. Forgetting why we ever thought this was fun. Waking up tired every morning.
Pete Alonso, a huge, powerful young man with a friendly smile, hits the baseball very hard and very far. He does this again and again and again, and he does not seem to be tired of it yet.
Jay Jaffe, Pick 20: Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers
At number 20, the most obvious choices — at least based on my interpretation of this exercise, and the need to balance short-term versus long-term concerns — were off the board, which is to say those who combine youth, high performance, and durability at a skill position. The players I strongly considered for this spot have all missed substantial time due to injuries over the past couple of seasons, namely Kris Bryant, Carlos Correa, Aaron Judge, and Seager; these apples all have some bruises. Bryant and Judge are both 27, which isn’t a problem if I’m drafting Mike Trout or thinking solely about a 2019-21 time frame, but if I’m looking beyond that window, I’d prefer to go younger, and the chance to select a franchise-centerpiece shortstop was too great to pass up. That the 25-year-old Seager was the majors’ most valuable shortstop by WAR in 2016-17, before his Tommy John and hip surgeries, and that he has generally held the defensive edge over Correa, led me to pick him despite him being five months older.
Justin Mason, Pick 21: Javier Baez, Chicago Cubs
After failing to trade up into the top 20 or down to gain more picks, I was really hoping that some of the other players who went earlier in the draft would fall to me at 21. Ultimately, I decided to go with Javier Baez. Baez is a nice player to build around. He plays plus defense at a premium position with the ability to play a number of other spots on the diamond and is an offensive powerhouse. He is still just 26 years old and is already one of the more recognizable players in the majors from a marketing perspective. Being able to lock down shortstop for the next 5-10 years with a stud player makes the rest of my franchise’s roster that much easier to construct.
Ariel Cohen, Pick 22: Aaron Judge, New York Yankees
Since I’m a projections guy at heart, the first piece of information I set out to gather was a projected WAR leaderboard. For this, I turned to the ZiPS projected WAR for the next 2.5 years (2019 ROS, 2020, and 2021). With the 22nd pick, the top options remaining were: Jose Ramirez (14.9 WAR), Chris Sale (13.5), Jacob deGrom (12.1), Ozzie Albies (11.7), Bryce Harper (11.4), Aaron Judge (11.4), and Kris Bryant (11.3).
I did not want to select a pitcher, for they exhibit far more risk in the long-term. The fact that both Sale and deGrom are over 30 years of age helped to confirm my feelings to shy away. Other than Albies, the rest of the players on the WAR leaderboard were all around 26-27 years of age. I gave Ozzie heavy consideration, but instead, I decided to go with the Yankee superstar.
With 50-homer upside each year and a high on-base propensity, Judge is a Statcast darling who knocks the cover off the ball when he makes contact — he boasts a near-50% hard-hit rate. He also has a fantastic outfield arm.
All rise for my franchise player selection – Aaron Judge.
Shelly Verougstraete, Pick 23: Xander Bogaerts, Boston Red Sox
I was excited to be asked to participate in the Draft, and then I saw my draft slot. Pick 23 out of 30?! I figured that everyone I really wanted would be gone by then. (I miss you, Alex Bregman.)
When it was my time to select, I knew I wanted to go with a hitter over a pitcher. Building a baseball franchise around a pitcher is far too risky in my opinion. There were quite a few interesting young hitters available when it was my turn to pick. I decided to pass on Carlos Correra and Trevor Story, mainly due to their annual injured list stints. I also decided to pass on Bryce Harper; even though I could probably procure some shampoo sponsorship for my ballpark, his hitting profile had me running scared.
So I decided to start my franchise with Xander Bogaerts. He’s having a breakout season this year. His lowest season WAR is 3.2, which is nothing to sneeze at. He also plays all the time (his 136 games played in 2018 was a career-low), which is something you want in a franchise player.
Meg Rowley, Pick 24: Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs
Exercises like this serve as an opportunity for me to grapple with my own cowardice. I long to make bold picks, striking picks, picks that are maligned by readers in the comments, but which, when they prove to be correct, suggest a deep well of wisdom, of baseball-knowing. Of prescience. But the thing is, I’m a scaredy-cat. I could say it is an attempt not to get too-cute, but that would be mendacity in service of pusillanimousness. But then you get pick 24, and things get simpler. You can’t feel guilty about how you lacked the fortitude to take an exciting but still largely unproven prospect when those exciting but still largely unproven prospects are already off the board. Instead, you turn to someone more reliable, someone unlikely to make you look immediately silly. You turn to Kris Bryant.
Since debuting in 2015, Bryant’s 26.6 WAR is third among qualified position players behind only Mike Trout and Mookie Betts; his 141 wRC+ is 11th. This season, he’s on his way to setting a new career low in strikeout percentage and tying a career-best wRC+. Perhaps more importantly, Bryant is fully healthy, after missing large chunks of 2018 and 2019 with shoulder inflammation that also swapped him of power. The injury history remains something of a concern, but even with that concern baked in, at 11.3 WAR, he’s still 17th in our three-year ZiPS projections, 14th among position players, and behind only Jose Ramirez, Ozzie Albies, and Bryce Harper among those position players still available at this pick, and even then, only by a hair.
This late in the draft, I considered a few pitchers who would better fit a win-now approach and anchor a franchise keen on quick contention, but when it came to it, I figured that Bryant afforded a chance for plenty of wins now and, as a 27-year-old position player, many wins later. Bryant is both good and affable, and at 24, feels like an excellent pick. And not just because I’m a scaredy-cat.
Alex Chamberlain, Pick 25: Blake Snell, Tampa Bay Rays
One could argue, given both the proliferation of hitters already drafted and of surprise breakout hitters recently, it’s easier than ever to find or develop a franchise cornerstone off the bump. Conversely, it’s harder than ever to identify young pitchers who could provide 2,000 elite innings over the next decade à la Max Scherzer or Justin Verlander.
At first glance, Snell and his 4.70 ERA don’t exactly fit the bill. I attribute such atrocity to the baseball gods’ wrath: Snell’s absurdly good luck in 2018 portended absurdly bad luck in 2019, validated by metrics both conventional (BABIP, strand rate) and new-age (xwOBA). Truth is, few, if any, other aces possess Snell’s rare combination of relative youth, filthy secondaries, and solid command. Snell’s swinging strike rate (18.7%) is the highest ever by a starter in a season’s first half. No one else has ever eclipsed 17%.
What Snell lacks is a truly elite fastball, a trademark of the success of Scherzer, Verlander, Jacob deGrom, Chris Sale, Gerrit Cole, and, namely, fellow youngster Walker Buehler. Said fastball is upper quartile, but it remains to be seen how well it ages. Still, Snell is as good a bet as anyone to pull a Verlander henceforth.
Brad Johnson, Pick 26: Bryce Harper, Philadelphia Phillies
I entered this exercise looking for three things – talent, youth, and a certain degree of media presence. Ideally, your star player is also a fan favorite. He sells seats and jerseys just by virtue of being on the team.
The perfect pick according to that criteria – Vladimir Guerrero Jr. – wasn’t available this late in the draft. I was forced to compromise on my list of wants, leaving me with a choice of Harper or Trevor Story. Harper, sans contract, promises a good four or more years of solid performances on the field to go with a powerful media presence. The fans shouldn’t be nearly as bitter about his slumps since I’ve magically reset his service clock and contract.
While this is a one-round endeavor, having Harper as the anchor probably pushes me towards a win-now mindset. In fantasy dynasty drafts, core performing veterans tend to be quite affordable. While my preference is to build for the long term, I didn’t really have that as an option.
Al Melchior, Pick 27: Trevor Story, Colorado Rockies
The players I was considering at the 27th pick were Trevor Story, Jose Ramirez, and Freddie Freeman. Freeman is the most accomplished of the three, as he is on pace for his fourth 5.0-plus WAR season. At 29, he could have a few more of these, but with Story and Ramirez being three years younger, I ruled him out. If we did this draft before the season started, I certainly would have taken Ramirez here, but now that he has had a solid year of diminished production, I settled on Story.
The reason I was somewhat hesitant to pick Story is likely the same reason he fell to the final picks of this draft: the time he missed with injuries in 2016 and 2017, and the elbow inflammation that turned up last September. Still, Story is worth the risk, as he could be a 30-20 home run hitter for at least a few more years. He gets the benefit of playing in Coors Field and is restrained enough in his pull tendencies to hit .280 or higher with a .350 OBP, all while providing solid defense.
Dan Szymborski, Pick 28: Carlos Correa, Houston Astros
For about a half-dozen picks, my plan was to take Walker Buehler in this spot; that was out of the belief that Carlos Correa would be off the board by this point. When he was not, there was no way I could pass up the opportunity.
Talking about Correa as an elite, young player almost seems passé these days. It has somehow been forgotten that Correa still hasn’t even turned 25 and has been worth five WAR per 150 games. The “per 150 games” provides a big clue to his standing in our draft, as Correa’s injury history isn’t a positive. He missed significant time in both 2017 and 2018, and now agan in 2019 after a rib injury, though it at least appears to be of the freak variety.
Before the broken rib, Correa seemed to be back on track, hitting .290/.360/.547 with a 141 wRC+ and 1.8 WAR in 50 games. 2018 was a definite down year, but the nagging back problems no doubt contributed to his unusual struggles in the field.
As a pitcher, Correa’s injury history would frighten me. As a hitter, I’m not at the stage yet where it could cause me to downgrade him enought to knock him out of the top 30.
Jeff Zimmerman, Pick 29: Jose Ramirez, Cleveland Indians
Once Dan drafted Carlos Correa, I knew I would not feel good about my choice. Like almost everyone, I was looking to take a young hitter at a premium defensive position. I was considering Trea Turner, Rhys Hoskins, and Royce Lewis, but I went with what I knew to be a controversial choice in Jose Ramirez.
If this draft had happened preseason, I would have not been surprised if Ramirez were a top 10 pick. Over the previous three seasons, his 19 WAR was the fourth highest total among hitters. Over the last two seasons, it was 15 WAR (third highest). Even taking into account his horrendous first half to his 2019 season, his three-and-half-year total ranks eighth. He had been one of the league’s best players — until 2019.
This year, his 70 wRC+ is the seventh-lowest among qualified hitters, but his rest-of-season WAR projection places him as the 11th-highest. So how much does recency bias needs to be weighed when making a choice for the future? That’s the big question. This pick doesn’t seem to have a middle ground. It’s either boom (all gets fixed) or bust (he remains a Billy Hamilton clone) for Ramirez. I’m willing to gamble on a rebound.
Kiley McDaniel, Pick 30: Rafael Devers, Boston Red Sox
This exercise makes the thinking baseball man (I’m occasionally one of those) lean toward the youngest hitter with some defensive value and years of proven offensive production. That narrowed things quickly to Devers, Ozzie Albies, and Yoan Moncada. I flirted with some different types like the now-ace (Gerrit Cole, Jacob deGrom, Chris Sale, Max Scherzer), the ace-on-the-come-up (Walker Buehler, Aaron Nola), the mature hitter (J.T. Realmuto, Freddie Freeman, George Springer, Trea Turner, Marcus Semien), or the un-categorizable Ketel Marte.
Ultimately, there’s a reason conventional wisdom says to take the young, multi-dimensional hitter, and Devers has the best combination of now and future offense and defense that’s still on the board. I don’t have to worry about my top pick losing effectiveness in a couple years, having bat-only profile pressure, or getting hurt and disappearing for a year or more. Him going particularly bonkers in the last few weeks also doesn’t hurt. While I’m more publicly tied to Moncada and Albies, my personal interaction with Devers was delightful in exactly the way that I’d hoped it would be. Devers also allows me to continue my patronage of elite pro athletes with the bodies of normal people.
Picks 1-15 will follow tomorrow.