THT’s Franchise Player Draft: Intro and Picks 1-2

Mike Trout and Carlos Correa, to not much surprise, were the first two selections in this draft. (via Keith Allison and Michelle Jay)

Back in 2011, over at FanGraphs we did what we called a Franchise Player Draft. It was a concept borrowed from ESPN because it was simple and alluring — if you could start a franchise tomorrow, which player would you select to build around? Of course, every team can’t have the same player, so we set up a draft.

The only real rules are that you throw out current contracts and situations. After all, if we’re putting all the baseball players in the world right now back into one pot to pick from, we wouldn’t be honoring their past contracts, right?

So, we did the Franchise Player Draft in 2011, and then again in 2012. Here are the results of each of those drafts, for posterity.

FanGraphs Franchise Player Drafts, 2011-2012
2011 2012
 # Pick  # Pick
 1 Evan Longoria  1 Matt Kemp
 2 Troy Tulowitzki  2 Bryce Harper
 3 Mike Trout  3 Troy Tulowitzki
 4 Ryan Zimmerman  4 Mike Trout
 5 Joey Votto  5 Evan Longoria
 6 Albert Pujols  6 Ryan Braun
 7 Carl Crawford  7 Justin Upton
 8 Jose Bautista  8 Clayton Kershaw
 9 Miguel Cabrera  9 Giancarlo Stanton
10 Ryan Braun 10 Andrew McCutchen
11 Clayton Kershaw 11 Elvis Andrus
12 Bryce Harper 12 Stephen Strasburg
13 Hanley Ramirez 13 Joey Votto
14 Jason Heyward 14 Carlos Gonzalez
15 Andrew McCutchen 15 Jay Bruce
16 Adrian Gonzalez 16 Starlin Castro
17 Jay Bruce 17 Matt Wieters
18 Felix Hernandez 18 Miguel Cabrera
19 Matt Kemp 19 Robinson Cano
20 Justin Upton 20 Felix Hernandez
21 Eric Hosmer 21 Justin Verlander
22 Roy Halladay 22 Manny Machado
23 Joe Mauer 23 Mike Moustakas
24 Robinson Cano 24 Dustin Pedroia
25 Giancarlo Stanton 25 Brett Lawrie
26 Brian McCann 26 Eric Hosmer
27 Starlin Castro 27 Buster Posey
28 Stephen Strasburg 28 Jurickson Profar
29 Tim Lincecum 29 Jason Heyward
30 Colby Rasmus 30 Nolan Arenado

After 2012, we let the concept go, but as I was wasting time on the site recently, I stumbled over these, and I thought that a requisite amount of time had passed to resurrect the concept. Probably more than half of these players wouldn’t even sniff the draft this time around (our infatuation with Starlin Castro didn’t quite pan out, for instance).

This time though, I wanted to add a twist. We keep talking about Major League Baseball expanding. Maybe it won’t happen in the next five years, but I thought, what the hell, let’s be optimistic. So, we did the draft with 32 people instead of 30. We pulled the participants strictly from the ranks of THT’s pages, and once we had everyone enlisted, I put the names into a random draft order generator. Well, sort of. The generator went to only 30 teams, so I put myself last and I said that whichever of our editors replied to my Slack message first got to go first. Jason Linden took that honor. Here’s our lineup:

Today, we’ll break down our first two picks, and then for the next 10 publication days, we’ll divulge three picks per day. Our participants each wrote their own blurbs explaining/defending their pick. I’m very excited to see what you think of the choices. I was visibly excited by each pick as it was made. We hope you’ll follow — and argue — along with us!

— Paul Swydan, THT Managing Editor

Pick No. 1: Jason Linden selects Mike Trout

Hmmm, what to do, what to do? First pick in a draft from all possible players. If only there were a player in his mid-20s who’d already put together a borderline Hall of Fame career and who looked like his career floor was going to be something like Mickey Mantle. Know anyone like that?

Oh, right. Mike Trout. In a way, this is the toughest assignment in this draft, because what on earth do you say that everyone doesn’t already know? Well, you all probably know most of this already, but let’s go ahead.

First, he is the best player on the planet. That’s obvious and has been since his first full season. He is entering his age-26 season. He has 54.4 career WAR. Last year, by just about every metric, he also had his best offensive season. For the first time in his career, he walked more than he struck out. His plate discipline, while not Votto-esque is pretty damn excellent. If not for his injury this year, he would quite possibly have had his third 10-WAR season.

I suppose then, that the question is more who you put around him once he’s in place. This also presents a conundrum. Trout is ready now. He’s great now, but he’s also young, so he figures to be great for a while. Do you want a core that can grow around him or a bunch of guys ready to win now? I might be in the minority here, but I think I go young.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, I plan to win right now, but I’d rather have a young 90-win team than an old 100-win team. Let me see how long I can go without drafting a player in his 30s. I would likely aim for a pitcher with my second pick, since the offense is already off to a rousing start. Obviously, I don’t know who would be available by the time my second pick came around, if I’m really lucky, maybe I land Marcus Stroman. But realistically, it’s probably a notch or two below that. Good pitching is at such a premium right now, it’s going to be important to have someone who can at least think about holding down the top of the rotation.

But I want to stay consistent with my strategy. I don’t want a bunch of players who’re suddenly going to lose the battle with age and drop off. I’d much rather have a team with players who still have the potential to grow or, at the very least, maintain their performance for a long period of time. Mike Trout is going to be a superstar for a long time. I want a roster that can think about keeping up with him.

Pick No. 2: Adam Dorhauer selects Carlos Correa

When I was asked to participate in this, I started thinking about how I was going to put together a draft board. When do I start considering pitchers? How closely should I look at prospect lists? At what point does the immediate impact of a veteran star like Josh Donaldson outweigh the future upside of a younger, less established player? Where do international figures like Shohei Ohtani or Tetsuto Yamada fit in?

As I was going through all this in my head, we drew lots for the draft order. And, welp, turns out I didn’t need to do any of that. Because at No. 2, you don’t have to decide whether you want the best available player or the most promising future: Major league baseball is so loaded with young talent right now that those are mostly the same players. All you have to do is pick one of them.

The question is, which one? Kris Bryant has more fWAR than anyone but Mike Trout over the last three years, and he doesn’t turn 26 for another month. Manny Machado is potentially a generational defensive talent on the left side of the infield who looks about as much like Cal Ripken or Brooks Robinson as one can possibly look at 25. Bryce Harper is younger than either of them and already has a nine-win season.

Younger still, you have Corey Seager and Francisco Lindor conjuring up memories of A-Rod and Jeter and Nomar from the 1990s, when a lot of us thought we might never see another group like that again.

Younger than all of them, the youngest of baseball’s truly great players, is Carlos Correa.

Think about everything Kris Bryant has accomplished already in his career. He’s been a top prospect, a minor league player of the year, a Rookie of the Year, an MVP, a World Series champion. At 25, he’s firmly established among the game’s biggest stars.

Now think about everything Correa has done. In one month, Correa will be as old as Bryant was when Bryant made his major league debut. He’s that far ahead of the curve.

It’s not even so much that Correa is so young, though that’s definitely part of his appeal. I would gladly take someone like Bryant or Harper or Machado who already projects as one of the game’s best over a 22- or 23-year-old with a lot of promise. It’s that Correa is already among those guys at the top.

Steamer projects Correa for 5.9 WAR next season; that’s not the most of anyone in baseball after Trout, but it’s close. He’s already put up a season wRC+ over 150. He’s topped 20 home runs each of his three years in the majors, and two of those were in 99 and 109 games. And while he’s no Lindor (or Seager) in the field, he’s still a shortstop with good tools. Even if he eventually fills out and sacrifices some mobility for power as he matures, his arm strength would work well at third base, where he could still be a valuable defender.

Perhaps the most attractive aspect of building around Correa is how much flexibility it gives your entire organizational outlook without sacrificing anything in return. Correa does as much as anyone short of Trout at helping a team win now, but even if it takes years to build up a core around him, he could easily come out the other side of a rebuilding process still in his prime. You can wait and see how the rest of your roster shapes up before committing to a strategy, because Correa’s expected value is spread as broadly across the next decade as anyone’s in baseball.

It’s tempting to look at Correa’s age and think he’ll get even better. While that’s certainly possible, I think it might be somewhat optimistic to expect significant improvement from someone who is already one of the best players in baseball. Correa doesn’t need to get any better to justify his selection, though. The fact that he is already among the game’s elite while being the furthest from his expected decline phase cements him as both one of the safest and one of the highest-upside picks to build a franchise around.

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6 years ago

This is awesome! Thanks so much Paul.

6 years ago

Given the trajectory of Longoria and Kemp’s careers, I’m just going to preemptively blame you for Mike Trout being eaten by a water buffalo.

6 years ago

I’m looking forward to this. Also, who was that guy who picked Trout in the ESPN franchise draft when he was still in A ball? I believe this was the same draft where Rick Sutcliffe chose Jeff Samardzija as his franchise player.

Alex Remingtonmember
6 years ago
Reply to  tz

Carson Cistulli picked him in the Fangraphs draft when he was 19, before his debut, and I was amazed then and remain amazed now.

6 years ago

looking forward to reading the rest of this!!

6 years ago

This should be a fun series!

Always crazy to think how quickly some players status diminishes. Anyone else remember how Brandon Wood was supposed to be what Kris Bryant became?

Sonny Lmember
6 years ago

It’s a lot of fun to read the comments on Carson’s pick in 2011.

“…made the entire draft a joke. Trout. At #3. That’s what happens when you let a poet play GM.”

Let’s learn from this moment. Flood the front office with poets!

6 years ago
Reply to  Sonny L

Who would you rather have for the rest of his/their career(s):

Mike Trout or the rest of the 2011 Top 10?

If you took Votto out, it would be a no-brainer to take Trout.

Justin Cmember
6 years ago
Reply to  Sonny L

Cistulli’s explanation is a little suspect:

“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.”

Man, should have left out that last sentence.

6 years ago
Reply to  Justin C

Let’s not be silly. Heyward was worth 21.5 fWAR and 22.2 rWAR over his age 22-25 seasons after 2011, missing 58 games to injury in the one season in that stretch he was worth less than 5.1 WAR by either system in that stretch. Heyward was a fine pick at the time.

6 years ago
Reply to  Sonny L

Reading the comments in the previous lists is hilarious!!!

6 years ago

Wow. So looking back 5-6 years on the 2011-12 lists should teach us something about how to pick players this year.

Trout… good, we got the obvious one. Correa… so far so good. Bryce Harper… Well maybe we actually will see a list worth reading. Torres…. DOH…. Votto… WTF

The 2011/2012 iterations seem to have somewhere in the neighborhood of 15-20% of the selections worth still being on the list in 2017

How many franchises want to be built around players no longer at the top of the sport inside of 6 years? You all should be embarrassed.

The first 10 players off the board should be MLB players, younger than 27, that have at least 2 solid seasons of all star production.

Trout, Correa, Harper, Lindor, Seager, Altuve, Bryant, Jose Ramirez, Betts, Yelich, Gary Sanchez…. I can see not wanting to take a pitcher first, having them only play once every fifth day and being more injury prone with a higher chance of completely breaking. But to skip over a bunch of players on this list (not to mention a ton of rookies who had crazy first tastes of the league Bellinger/Judge/Hoskins) and take Torres, who as a prospect rated a slot behind Amed Rosario, is completely crazy. Votto is a bit more excusable, but you’re really stretching because there’s a pretty good shot that he wouldn’t be in consideration in a couple years.