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2012 FanGraphs Franchise Player Draft

Last week, ESPN conducted their second annual Franchise Player Draft, where they recruited thirty of their contributors to select players to theoretically build a team around. When they did this last year, we thought it was a fun idea, so (with their permission), we did one ourselves. Obviously, our guys have a slightly different perspective than many of the ESPN guys, so while the idea is the same, the theories behind the picks are not. It won’t take very long for you to see where some of the ideological differences begin to display themselves.

The draftees were given fairly simple instructions — everyone is starting a franchise from scratch, so it’s up to you to decide how to value short term versus long term wins. You’re not currently in either rebuilding or win now mode, but what pick you make might determine which path you go down. You will control the player’s rights for 10 years, and the actual contract they are signed to in MLB does not come into play. This is solely based on expected future production, so there is no cost analysis that needs to be done. That’s the game — take the guy that you would most want to build around for the next 10 years.

So, without further ado, let’s get to the picks.

#1 — Mike Axisa: Matt Kemp, OF

I place a lot more value on the first five years of this ten-year span than the second five years, and Kemp’s the best all-around player in the game. He hits for average, hits for power, draws walks, steals a ton of bases, and had shown tremendous durability up until this recent hamstring injury. His defense isn’t the greatest but I’ll gladly take the hit knowing I’ve got this guy at age 27 and through his peak years.

#2 — Dan Wade: Bryce Harper, OF

I toyed with the idea of taking a pitcher here, Clayton Kershaw most likely, but I just don’t see the gap between the type of pitcher who is available here and the ones available in a hypothetical round two or three being as wide as the gap between Harper and the next set of outfielders. The difference between he and Mike Trout, to me, is almost a coin-flip at this stage of their careers; Harper’s edge is his age. The extra year isn’t a huge deal, but when almost everything else between is equal, something has to be the tipping point.

#3 — Erik Hahmann: Troy Tulowitzki, SS

It’s hard to not love a 28-year-old who has a .393 wOBA over the past three-plus seasons. It’s especially hard when he’s also an excellent defensive shortstop. Like Axisa with Kemp, I put more weight on the first five years of the deal. Tulowitzki has been the best all-around shortstop in baseball for years now and it hasn’t been remotely close. He hits for average and power and is in the midst of his prime seasons.

#4 — Wendy Thurm: Mike Trout, OF

This 20-year-old can do it all and would make the perfect cornerstone for a franchise for the next ten years. In a little over a month in the majors, Trout’s made a major positive impact on the Angels’ offense and defense. He hits for average, takes walks, and hits for power. His speed is a tremendous asset, both on the base paths (stealing bases, taking extra bases on hits) and in the outfield, where he runs down even tricky fly balls with ease. Trout is a fantastic all-around ballplayer.

#5 — Paul Swydan: Evan Longoria, 3B

Since the start of the 2010 season, the third baseman has been one of the five-seven valuable position players in the game. Longoria provides both superb offense and defense, and he does so at a premium defensive position. What’s more, he is head and shoulders better than any under-30 third baseman, as the next best player — Ryan Zimmerman — has been worth over four wins less. And at just 26 years old, Longoria is just entering his prime. The only problem is that I can’t have two of him.

#6 — Steve Slowinski: Ryan Braun, OF

This isn’t exactly a daring or risky pick, but hey, I’m not complaining. Braun is 28 years old, has plenty of his prime ahead of him, and he’s one heck of a hitter. Since the beginning of the 2011 season, he’s been the best hitter in all of baseball — he narrowly nudges out Matt Kemp, according to wRC+ — and he’s still among the top five if we go all the way back to the beginning of 2010. His defense isn’t anything to write home about, but he’s become an average corner outfielder; combine that with above average baserunning, and Braun should be a perennial contender for MVP for a long time coming. Considering how rare (and expensive) pure hitters of his caliber are, I simply can’t pass him up.

#7 — Chris Cwik: Justin Upton, OF

I agonized over taking Upton or Andrew McCutchen with this pick. While it was incredibly tough to choose, there were a few areas I felt Upton was superior. He’s still just 24-years-old, plays above-average defense in right field and has shown more power than McCutchen. Upton’s numbers have been suppressed this year due to a thumb injury, but that shouldn’t affect his future performance. Last season, hit 31 home runs, stole 21 bases and was worth 6.4 WAR. That’s the real Upton, and the one I expect to anchor my team for years to come.

#8 — J.P. Breen: Clayton Kershaw, SP

Though Andrew McCutchen remains on the board and any single pitcher carries inherent risk, Clayton Kershaw is the pick. He is just 24-years-old and already has an impressive track record of dominance at the big league level. Since 2009, his 2.61 ERA ranks the best of any qualified starter, and his FIP has never climbed above 3.12 in any single season within that time frame. He is one of the top two or three pitchers in baseball as we speak, and the left-hander has not even reached his prime. I will gladly take a 24-year-old Cy Young winner who has churned out sub-3.00 ERAs in three-consecutive seasons and is currently on pace to make it four.

#9 — Brandon Warne: Giancarlo Stanton, OF

Stanton or McCutchen? McCutchen or Stanton? I agonized over these two overnight before taking the prodigious power of Stanton, who is three full years younger than ‘Cutch and will be 22 for the entire 2012 season. Stanton plays a capable right field, possesses arguably the best power tool in the entire game, and has seen his K rate tumble ~ 5 percent in each season of his three-year career. With an iso approaching .300, Stanton may well have his first of many 40 home run seasons in 2012, so I’ll gladly take him on my club for the next decade.

#10 — Alex Remington: Andrew McCutchen, OF

The best all-around player left on the board, I’m thrilled to be able to select him here. He’s in just his fourth season, and he’s a year younger than Adam Jones. When you want to build a team it’s hard to go wrong with a guy who can do it all in center field. Still an underrated superstar.

#11 — Mike Newman: Elvis Andrus, SS

Check the FanGraphs leaderboards and only two current shortstops are all but guaranteed to still be playing the position a decade from now barring injury. One is Alcides Escobar, the other is Elvis Andrus. At 23, Andrus is already a 4-5 win players and projects for more as he grows into a .300/.380 hitter with what I hope will be double-digit home run upside. Add his already plus defense and what’s left is an elite up-the-middle talent with an extremely high floor. This pick will be a lightning rod for sure, but from making the minor league rounds, I’m convinced power and arms are easier to find than shortstops who contribute on both sides of the ball.

#12 — Mike Petriello: Stephen Strasburg, SP

I really, really didn’t want to take a pitcher in the first round, given the inherent injury risks involved, but with most of the young offensive talent I would have considered here gone – the other contender for this pick was Joey Votto, though 1B isn’t exactly a premium position – it’s hard to go against the 2009 #1 pick who has somehow exceeded the overwhelming hype that accompanied his entrance into the league. His return from Tommy John surgery has been one of the most impressive we’ve seen, given that he’s hardly missed a beat in stuff or control, currently third on the K/9 leaderboards. You could argue for Justin Verlander here, having the best year of a fantastic career, but Verlander is nearly six years older with about 1400 more professional innings on his odometer. Risk or not, no available starting pitcher is better equipped to lead my team into the next decade than the 23-year-old Washington phenom.

#13 — Carson Cistulli: Joey Votto, 1B

The Ideal Franchise Player would, it seems, possess three traits: youth, the ability to play a premier defensive position, and an excellent offensive game. The 28-year-old Votto has some of the first and less of the second, but is such a talented hitter as to render the other considerations moot. The only player currently projected by ZiPS to end the present season with a higher WAR is Josh Hamilton, who’s two-and-a-half years older than Votto. Also, it’s scientifically proven that Italian men grow only stronger and handsomer with age, which will be of great benefit to my totally real franchise that I own.

#14 —J.D. Sussman: Carlos Gonzalez, OF

Whether or not my franchise will by playing in Coors Field, I’m ecstatic slotting Carlos Gonzalez into my daily lineup. Since making his major league debut at age 22, Cargo has proven himself to be a legitimate middle of the order hitter. Of course, like any Colorado Rockie, he has a home/road split but that doesn’t undermine the pick. Gonzalez is still just 26 and is the perfect balance of production and youth that should beget a strong performance for the next 10 seasons.

#15 — David Wiers: Jay Bruce, OF

When looking for a franchise player you want talent and stability. For the next 10 years, Bruce offers plenty of both. Since the 2010 season, Bruce’s BB% is a robust 10.0% and he is tied for the 17th most home runs in baseball. Just now in his age 24-25 season, Bruce already has a 30 home run season under his belt and is on pace to do it again this year. His ISO is at an all time high right now and one can reasonably expect him to maintain an ISO among the league leaders. Several 30 HR and 30 double seasons aren’t a stretch of the imagination for Bruce. Now, by no means are his talents limited to the dish either; in every qualified season he rates as a positive base runner and his career UZR/150 is 7.4. Bruce contributes is a variety of different ways on both sides of the ball: just as any franchise player should.

#16 — Benjamin Pasinkoff: Starlin Castro, SS

Before the draft I told myself that I wanted a young player at a premium position and I believe I have found just that in Starlin Castro. Of course Castro has his warts – he doesn’t play defense particularly well (career -3.0 UZR/150) or walk much (career BB% of 4.8%) but young, every day shortstops that hit above average don’t really grow on trees, or in many farm systems for that matter. Castro is just 22 years old and since 2010 he has already been one of the most valuable shortstops in the league (7.2 WAR). For what it’s worth, Cincinnati Reds prospect Billy Hamilton is getting a ton of hype at High-A ball and Castro is only six months older. So, while Hamilton is putting up numbers in the low minor leagues (with questions of moving him to center field), Starlin Castro was making his mark on the league in his second season (109 wRC+). Defensive concerns may move Castro off of shortstop, but I’m confident he can stay at the position as there is precedent for young, good hitting/poor fielding shortstops having successful careers at the position. Castro has already proven that he has a great, reliable floor and I’d only expect him to improve over the next 10 years, I’m glad to have him on my team.

#17 — Bradley Woodrum: Matt Wieters, C

Last year, I had Giancarlo Stanton fall into my lap, but this year I had to really work for it. There are a slew of good candidates for this slot, but I’m taking the first catcher. Wieters is not the best offensive catcher in the league, nor the best fielder, but he’s young (26), he does a little bit of everything, and unlike Buster Posey, Wieters should stay a catcher for a long time.

#18 — Ben Duronio: Miguel Cabrera, 1B

I’ll take the player with the highest overall wRC+ since 2009 with the 18th pick. Cabrera is on the older side for this type of list, but his overall skills at the plate should allow him to be productive at least until his mid-30’s. Not many players can combine the type of contact skills Cabrera has with the tremendous power he displays daily. If the question were over the next five years, I would be tempted to take Cabrera first overall, so I am more than happy with grabbing him this late in the draft.

#19 — Eric Seidman: Robinson Cano, 2B

At this point of the draft the decision boiled down to an elite hitter nearing the tail-end of his prime or an upper echelon starting pitcher. In my view, Cano was the last somewhat younger elite hitter on the table absolutely worth taking ahead of a pitcher. He has improved his defense quite a bit and has really come into his own over the last few seasons. Since 2009, he is about average in the field, a plus-baserunner, and a .376 wOBA hitter. Put everything together and his 18.6 WAR ranks 10th among the 248 qualifying players in the span. Second baseman don’t age particularly well but he shouldn’t have trouble sticking at the position and tallying 4+ WAR for the next five years.

#20 — Jason Catania: Felix Hernandez, SP

I would have taken either Miguel Cabrera or Robinson Cano — the last two elite, proven hitters, in my opinion — had one of them dropped to me, but the pendulum has swung so far to the hitter’s side (17 of 19 picks) that it’s nearly impossible to pass up the value of a 230-inning horse with a résumé like Hernandez’s here. While his decline in velocity to start this season is a bit worrisome, it also could be a non-issue by the All-Star break, and I seriously doubt that a man who goes by King would have lasted this long otherwise. Although Justin Verlander might be the better pick for the next two or three years, Hernandez is still in his age 26 season (Verlander: 30 before next season), making Clayton Kershaw the only other pitcher I’d rather have over the long haul (i.e., 5-10 years) at this moment. Let that debate begin.

#21 — Jack Moore: Justin Verlander, SP

I value present value much higher than future value. It’s hard enough to project a year out, much less four years and forget about anything beyond that. With Miguel Cabrera and Robinson Cano off the board, pretty much all the elite hitters are gone, and Verlander is the best pitcher going currently. Four straight years (including 2012) with a FIP under 3.00 and an ERA under 3.50. Sure, he’s 29, and it’s tough to bet on him beyond age 33, but there just isn’t a better short-term value to be found at this point in the draft.

#22 — Bill Petti: Manny Machado, SS

Picking at 21, most of the proven offensive anchors were off the board. And while there are certainly live arms left out there, a pitcher’s life span is as short as it is unpredictable. So I’ll take a different risk and be the first to select a minor league player. Keith Law recently ranked the 19-year-old Orioles farmhand as the fourth-best prospect in all of baseball. And with Harper, Trout, and Moore all moving on to regular roles with their major league clubs, Law moved Machado up to third just last month. Machado projects as an excellent hitter, with significant upside in terms of power. He has also shown great plate discipline, which is an excellent sign in a hitter so young. He’s currently a shortstop, but may grow out of the position as his body matures. Regardless, he’s likely an average defensive shortstop that will provide stability up the middle for the first half of his career. As he ages, he’ll still provide value as a corner infielder. And given his age, 10 years of control means he’ll just be 29 when he hits the market.

#23 — Zach Sanders: Mike Moustakas, 3B

Moustakas is posting a .358 wOBA in his age-23 season, and reports on his defense have been surprisingly glowing. Finding a third baseman that’s an offensive weapon while being more than serviceable at the hot corner is extremely difficult, so pouncing on Moustakas was necessary. At 23-years old, I’m getting Moose through his prime without much mess on the other side. I strongly considered Brett Lawrie, but opted to go with Moustakas since he swings from the left side of the dish.

#24 — Jeff Zimmerman: Dustin Pedroia, 2B

I never considered going with a pitcher with my chose. Just too much unpredictability. I was stuck this late in the draft by either choosing a young, unproven hitter (like my Hosmer pick last year) or someone that has a few miles on them. Instead of rolling the dice that a younger player would pan out, I went with the experienced player this year. I limited my search to players under the age of 30 that played a premium position. Of the players not already taken, Dustin was the best available player. Over the last 3+ he is 12th in the majors in total WAR. For the reason of age (28 years-old), premium position (2B) and good fielder and hitter, I feel Pedroia was the best player for me at this point in the draft.

#25 — Dave Cameron: Brett Lawrie, 3B

If he had struggled last year and then was hitting like a monster this year instead of the other way around, I have a feeling he might have gone quite a bit higher. As it is, I’ll be building around a 22-year-old who has posted a 122 wRC+ in a half season of big league time, and is flashing better defense at third base than anyone expected. ZIPS thinks he’s already a true talent +4 win player and he’s got the physical skills to max out as a legitimate superstar. I also considered Jurickson Profar here, but in the end, Lawrie’s combination of present value and upside was simply too much to pass up.

#26 — Matt Klaassen: Eric Hosmer, 1B

Like Lawrie, if Hosmer’s 2011 and 2012 lines were reversed, he probably would have gone much higher. Actually, if we had had this draft two months ago, he would have gone much higher. Hosmer’s 2012 season has been pretty awful so far, and it would be too simplistic to simply dismiss his problems as “bad BABIP luck.” With that said, I feel pretty comfortable saying (on the basis of his prior major- and minor-league track record) he probably is not a true talent .215 BABIP hitter. His power numbers are about the same as last year, and his plate discipline has actually been better. Hosmer almost universal generated raves two months ago, and I do not see how a little over 200 plate appearances should change things all that much. Keep in mind that Hosmer will not turn 23 until after the regular season is over.

#27 — Chad Young: Buster Posey, C

For a while there, I thought Brett Lawrie might fall to me, but with him out of the way, I turned my attention to two young catchers – Posey and Carlos Santana. Posey is a year younger and provides better defense. Posey is on pace to crack 4 WAR again this year (as he did in 2010 and would have done in 2011 if not for injury). Getting solid defense and well-above-average offense out of a premium position from a 25 year old is just too good to pass up this late. Sure, he may have to move out from behind the plate at some point during this contract, but this late in the round, I’ll gladly take that risk.

#28 — Michael Barr: Jurickson Profar, SS

It wasn’t my preference to hang my hat on a 19 year old with no experience beyond double-A, but Jurickson Profar was just too enticing to pass up. Like many others, I wanted to avoid the fickle tendencies of pitcher health but most of the offensive options I had in mind way down here at the barrel bottom were gone. But with Profar, I have a potential impact bat playing a premium position, under team control before he even sniffs 30 years of age. At double-A Frisco, Profar is currently hitting .286/.355/.484 with 26 extra base hits, including six home runs plus seven stolen bases in just 53 games. He has great command of the strike zone, has drawn walks in over 10% of his minor league plate appearances, and has demonstrated good power despite being listed at just 165 lbs. Profar rates as having excellent range and a plus arm on defense, should hit for a good average with double digit home runs and steals. It’s the “should” in the prospecting which makes me nervous, but Profar has all the tools to be a true star in the major leagues. And he just turned 19 in February.

#29 — Eno Sarris: Jason Heyward, OF

My priorities were to avoid putting the future of my franchise on the elbow ligament of a pitcher or the knee ligament of a catcher, all while picking an established talent in order to avoid the possibility that the player has a flaw that the major leagues would expose. Oh, and I wanted the player to play up the middle. Pick down here at 29, though, and something has to go. So out goes up-the-middle defense at least. While some would argue that the 22-year-old Heyward is not yet established as an elite talent, his five-win rookie season at 20 years old was once fodder for breathless predictions, and the 650 PAs since shouldn’t take all of the wind out of his sails. He still has athleticism in the field and on the basepaths, emerging power, and that elite-level patience. A .730 OPS for a franchise cornerstone corner outfielder might raise some eyebrows, but a slowly developing batted ball mix, as well as excellent minor league numbers, gives hope that Heyward’s power will catch up to other facets of his game, which are already very exciting.

#30 — Howard Bender: Nolan Arenado, 3B

Similarly to everyone else picking down here at the bottom, with the prime offensive weapons off the board and the lack of desire to go with a pitcher, hoping for the best with respect to arm troubles and life span, the idea of grabbing a young third baseman with strong defensive skills and developing power was the most enticing. I thought about David Wright here, but at nearly 10 years Arenado’s senior, I thought youth was the better way to begin a franchise. Defensively, Arenado is rock solid. He’s got great hands, a strong arm, great instincts and good lateral mobility. Being 6′ 1″ and 205 lbs at just the age of 20, he should fill out which might hinder some of his defensive capabilities, but it will also help with his power so there’s some give and take as he starts to near his prime. He’s got a good eye at the plate with a modest walk rate but doesn’t strike out very often. He makes good, strong contact when he’s up there and, as stated before, has strong power that will continue to develop. His ISO should average around the .180 mark, so don’t let the slow start at Double-A this year deter you. He’s going to be a star at the hot corner for years to come.