Franchise Player Mock Draft

I understand ESPN presented its annual franchise player mock draft today. I’d link to it, but I want to make my picks in a similar draft before I see who their experts picked. When I’m done, I’ll check out ESPN’s results and compare.

The rules are simple. If I were a major league GM and could have any player, regardless of cost, to start a new team entering MLB today, who would I pick. The first pick is easy, so I’ll try my hand at the top 30. Most of these players will be young, but I’ll steer clear of those who haven’t played a game in the majors yet.

1. Mike Trout (age 21)
Already the best player in the world, wouldn’t Trout love to play for another team, even if it were an expansion team full of nobodies? A star in every facet of the game, Trout’s been worth 13.7 fWAR in 237 games, or .058 wins/game, in his young career. Willie Mays was worth .050 throughout his career.

2. Bryce Harper (20)
How amazing is it, after Trout’s rookie season for the ages in 2012, that someone is already challenging his throne? Harper hasn’t shown great judgment or durability, but he’s excelled at the plate, in the field, and on the bases for almost a full year now.

3. Manny Machado (20)
Another kid? Why not? Still just 20, Machado trails only teammate Chris Davis and the ridiculously talented Miguel Cabrera in fWAR in 2013. Move him from third base to shortstop and his value will only grow as the power tool develops.

4. Clayton Kershaw (25)
The first player on my list who can rent a car without paying an age-based fee, and the first with any hardware on his shelf (Rookies of the Year aside), Kershaw has been among the best pitchers in the National League each of the last three seasons and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.

5. Yu Darvish (26)
The world’s best strikeout pitcher has averaged almost 11 per nine innings in his time in America. His 3.56 ERA will come down in real life, and if he could take him out of Arlington, it might drop by a full run.

6. Giancarlo Stanton (23)
Stanton’s been ineffective, hurt, or both all year so far, and this malaise may last until he’s freed from the hell that is Miami, but he’ll pass 100 homers before his 24th birthday, and he should have plenty more in the tank in the years to come.

7. Buster Posey (26)
In three major league seasons, Posey has won a Rookie of the Year and World Series title, been injured and had his team miss the playoffs, and won an MVP and another World Series title. There’s more to a championship than one player, but a catcher with power, patience, and a great glove goes a long way. If the position weren’t so demanding, Posey would challenge for number two on this list.

8. Andrew McCutchen (26)
A consistent 30/30 threat who can get himself on base (.400 OBP in 2012), McCutchen is a great centerpiece, even if the metrics are mixed on his center field defense.

9. Felix Hernandez (27)
I’m not sure if I’d rather have a 27-year-old pitcher in his ninth major league season because he’s proven himself durable, or if I’d prefer the next guy, who may have a lot more innings in his arm because he hasn’t pitched as much.

10. Stephen Strasburg (24)
I might have felt better about Strasburg before the Nationals allegedly told him to stop trying to strike hitters out, but I suppose it doesn’t matter if I’m the GM of this team and can tell him to take full advantage of the skill at which he’s the best in the National League.

11. Evan Longoria (27)
The oldest player on the list so far, and perhaps the most injury-prone, Longoria is also the most accomplished, at least among position players, with 32 career fWAR on his ledger. He also has 140 homers, 323 walks, and perhaps the best glove of any big league third baseman.

12. Matt Harvey (24)
Harvey’s already pitching better than Strasburg (2.17 ERA, 2.27 FIP), and he might just be the better pitcher over their whole careers, but the league tends to take some time to adjust to a young pitcher, and that might just be what’s happening with Harvey, who’s simply dominated the NL so far.

13. Chris Sale (24)
And the pitchers take over. In 356 big league innings Sale has 369 strikeouts and 104 walks. Those numbers aren’t far from Strasburg’s, and he’s compiled them in the American League.

14. Joey Votto (28)
Still only 28, Votto is the best offensive player in baseball and projects to be among the best for another decade.

15. Jurickson Profar (20)
This pick is based entirely upon age and hype. If I had to make the decision the Rangers will soon, whether to install Profar at short and ship Elvis Andrus away, I don’t know what I’d do. But in this exercise, I get a supreme two-way talent for a long time without such worries.

16. Justin Upton (25)
It’s hard to get a read on Upton’s true talent. He was a 6-win beast in 2011, then fell off in every facet of the game in 2012. This April, he hit 12 homers and looked like the best player in the NL, then hit .211 with two homers in May. The talent is there. If he can find the focus, I don’t see why he can’t be McCutchen or Stanton.

17. Matt Wieters (27)
He’s not a baby anymore, but he’s not an underachiever anymore either. Wieters has been an above-average hitter the past three years, but more importantly, he’s been perhaps the best defensive backstop in the American League, and has seen the young Orioles rotation finally develop under his guidance.

18. Matt Moore (23)
Moore is 8-0 with a 2.18 ERA so far in 2013 despite poor peripherals (2.04 K/BB, 1.02 HR/9). This is odd because he built his reputation as a K-man in the minors, striking out more than 11.5 per nine at every stop. He’ll only get better from here.

19. David Price (27)
The way Moore has pitched this year, it’s easy to forget that the defending AL Cy Young winner (whether he deserved it or not) pitches in the same rotation and came up with even more hype. When Price’s home run rate returns to normal this year, he’ll keep striking out a batter an inning with great control and return to the top of the game.

20. Jason Heyward (23)
It seems like a long time ago that Heyward and Posey duked it out for Rookie of the Year in 2010. While Posey’s made his presence felt since then, Heyward’s been quietly excellent, racking up 13 fWAR despite a career .253 batting average. And he’s still only 23.

21. Shelby Miller (22)
Like Profar, this one’s almost all projection, but we do have 12 starts with a 1.73 ERA on which to judge Miller. So far, he’s been an expert in every facet of run prevention, from strikeouts (9.54/9) to walks (2.28/9) to homers (0.43/9) to BABiP (.268).

22. Jean Segura (23)
I may be reading too much into a hot start, but Segura has shown power (8 homers in 233 PA), speed (15 stolen bases in 17 attempts), and on-base ability (.382) this season. Did I mention he’s a 23-year-old shortstop?

23. Yoenis Cespedes (27)
The batting average isn’t there yet, but Cespedes has shown power, speed, patience, and the occasional great defensive play and he’s less than 200 games into his big-league career.

24. Troy Tulowitzki (28)
If not for several injuries, Tulowitzki may have been the best player in baseball for the last several years. He’s an excellent defensive shortstop with a .376 career wOBA. Put him on a better team and keep him healthy and you’ve got a superstar for a long time.

25. Paul Goldschmidt (25)
He’s one-dimensional, and didn’t burst through the minors with the same hype as most of the names above him here, but Goldschmidt has done nothing but rake in the majors, hitting .290/.368/.511 over his first 249 games.

26. Justin Verlander (30)
The only 30-year-old you’ll see on this list is the guy with five straight seasons of FIPs below three.

27. Starlin Castro (23)
I keep hearing that Castro will win a batting title someday. That skill seems to have faded some (he’s hitting .258 this year with a .294 OBP), but he seems to be finding his glove, has flashed some power (30 career homers), and is still just 23.

28. Andrelton Simmons (23)
Can you tell I think it’s a good idea to start a team with a catcher or a shortstop? I also considered slick-fielding shortstops Alcides Escobar and Jose Iglesias, but Simmons might be the only one who develops into an above-average hitter (.301 career wOBA to-date).

29. Salvador Perez (23)
It’s the glove that will make this catcher a franchise centerpiece, but he’s been surprisingly productive with the bat as well, batting .311 over the first 156 games of his career.

30. Domonic Brown (25)
Brown’s only weaknesses are spelling, an inability to immediately live up to great hype, and a lack of patience, and he can hardly be blamed for the first two. He didn’t draw a single walk this May, but he can be forgiven, having hit 14 home runs.

Second round (alphabetically)
Brandon Beachy (26)
Ryan Braun (29)
Clay Buchholz (28)
Miguel Cabrera (30)
Robinson Cano (30)
Aroldis Chapman (25)
Tony Cingrani (23)
Patrick Corbin (23)
Johnny Cueto (27)
Chris Davis (27)
Ian Desmond (27)
Carlos Gonzalez (27)
Gio Gonzalez (27)
Alex Gordon (28)
Cole Hamels (29)
Matt Harrison (27)
Chase Headley (28)
Derek Holland (26)
Matt Kemp (28)
Craig Kimbrel (25)
Lance Lynn (26)
Mike Minor (25)
Dustin Pedroia (29)
Yasiel Puig (22)
Anthony Rendon (22)
Anthony Rizzo (23)
Carlos Santana (27)
Kyle Seager (25)
Michael Wacha (21)
Jordan Zimmermann (27)

Post-script:
I checked out ESPN’s list. The top three were the same as mine, in order, and our lists had 22 of the first 30 picks in common. A few major differences:

Darvish, fifth on my board, was picked 13th by Dan Szymborski at ESPN.

Stanton, my sixth pick, went 12th to Jon Sciambi.

Strasburg, my ninth pick, went 25th to Jim Bowden. I don’t know what’s a bigger sign that I may have missed on Strasburg- that the first 24 GMs passed on him, or that Bowden wanted him.

Verlander was the only 30-year-old in my first round. The ESPN crew picked Miguel Cabrera (9th), Robinson Cano (14th), Verlander (16th), David Wright (22nd), Joe Mauer (27th), and Jose Bautista (29th). Pedroia and Kemp, the other two players on ESPN’s board that I held until the second round, are 29 and 28, respectively.

Younger players on my board that weren’t first round picks in ESPN’s mock included Sale, Wieters, Moore, Segura, Goldschmidt, Castro, Perez, and Brown. All but Perez and Brown went in David Schoenfield’s second round. Looking back, I’d take most of my second round and a few Jose Fernandez/Madison Bumgarner types before those two.

Who would you pick?

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