THT’s Franchise Player Draft: Picks 15-17

Cody Bellinger’s youth, Trea Turner’s speed and Nolan Arenado’s bat/glove combination make them logical choices here. (via TonyTheTiger, Jennifer Linnea, David B. King and Michelle Jay)

Pick No. 15: Chris Mitchell selects Cody Bellinger

Cody Bellinger’s 2017 was special. Despite beginning the year in the minors, he belted 39 homers (47 including Triple-A and the playoffs), and put up a .267/.352/.581 batting line. His 138 wRC+ was 21st best among qualified hitters. Perhaps most impressive of all, he did all of this at the tender age of 21.

Bellinger’s youth is a big reason why I picked him here. Part of it is that his skills figure to remain more or less intact for several more years — hitter aging curves are relatively flat until a player’s late 20s. But more importantly, hitters who are this good at age 21 almost always have star-level peaks. In the last 45 years, only five hitters age 21 or younger have recorded a wRC+ higher than Bellinger’s 2017 figure: Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr. and Giancarlo Stanton. Each one of those players would have been well worth a No. 1 overall pick in a franchise player draft, let alone a No. 15 pick.

Still, as great as Bellinger’s rookie season was, we all know better than to extrapolate wildly based off of a single season. But Bellinger’s track record extends beyond what he did in the major leagues. He was also one of the best hitters at each minor league stop — despite being exceptionally young for his levels. When the Dodgers called Bellinger up in April, my KATOH projection system ranked him as the No. 9 prospect in all of baseball. Even before his monster Rookie of the Year campaign, I viewed Bellinger as one of the game’s best young hitters and a potential superstar. At the tender age of 22, he’s pretty much already fulfilled that potential.

Bellinger’s offensive track record isn’t all roses and sunshine, however, as he did strike out quite a bit this past year. In particular, you probably remember him looking overmatched at times during the 2017 playoffs. But Bellinger hit for enough power to outweigh his troubles putting the ball in play. Furthermore, strikeouts will not necessarily remain a problem for his entire career. For example, another excellent-but-strikeout-prone hitter who debuted in his early 20s — Giancarlo Stanton — has cut his strikeout rate precipitously since his rookie season. Bellinger has already shown a propensity to make the right adjustments to his approach — something every great hitter must do several times over.

The Platonic ideal of a “franchise player” is not just a young, excellent hitter — but one who also plays a position where excellent hitters are scarce. In addition to providing value on both offense and defense, players of this archetype create flexibility in the roster-building process. Many of the previously-selected players meet these criteria, such as Mike Trout, Francisco Lindor, Corey Seager and Manny Machado. As a first baseman, Bellinger doesn’t exactly fit in with that crowd.

But Bellinger isn’t just any first baseman. The numbers suggest he is a near-elite defender at the position, and the scouting reports suggest he is athletic enough to play all three outfield spots. I highly doubt I would play Bellinger in center outside of emergencies, as my franchise would presumably have a viable true center fielder on its roster. But the ability to shift Bellinger to left or right might come in handy when building out the rest of my roster: Good-hitting right fielders can be harder to come by than good-hitting first basemen.

Not only do I feel that Bellinger was the best player available at No. 15, but I also believe he is better than several of the players picked ahead of him. I didn’t get star player nearing the end of his peak or a promising prospect who is untested at the big-league level. Instead, I got the best of both worlds: A toolsy slugger aged like a 2017 college draftee who has already succeeded in the big leagues. With a player of that caliber already in place, I shouldn’t have much trouble building a surrounding team capable of winning multiple World Series titles in the next decade. See you at the parade.

Pick No. 16: Rachel Heacock selects Nolan Arenado

My slot fell halfway down the pack, where I expected the choices to be more middling. In fact, there were still plenty of players worth considering to lead a franchise over the next five years. I struggled between Trea Turner and Nolan Arenado. As a Nationals fan, I’ve enjoyed watching Turner develop. The young speedster has undeniable talent, but I chose to go with a slightly older, more decorated infielder.

Arenado became the first rookie third baseman in National League history to win a Gold Glove Award, and he’s taken home four more after that. He has somewhat quietly won almost every award in the book except MVP, which consistently eludes him even though he’s always in the conversation. Arenado is the safer pick over Turner and, heck, I just like the guy. Plus, he’s hit for the cycle! Who doesn’t love players who’ve hit for the cycle? Especially ones who completed it with a three-run walk-off homer!

In the dogpile after that homer, Arenado cut his face, and the moment was quickly turned into an amazing t-shirt.

Iconic moments like these have helped Arenado stand out on the small-market Rockies as a high-end defensive performer who can also hit for power. He’s a homegrown player, drafted in the second round in 2009, and climbed his way to the big leagues in four years. From what he’s already shown us, there’s no reason to believe he won’t continue to shine on the diamond and at the plate in the coming years.

Defensively, Arenado is hard to beat. He posted an outrageous 30 Defensive Runs Saved in his rookie season, and has continued to show off on the field in the following years. Since Ichiro Suzuki, Arenado was the first player to win consecutive Gold Gloves in his first five seasons. He ranked fifth in the league with 20 DRS among all fielders this past season. Any pitcher would be lucky (and thankful) to have Arenado down the line for him. Considering just third basemen, he posted the second-highest UZR and Def in 2017, second to only Anthony Rendon. He’s also bested himself this past season, committing the fewest errors of his career and highest UZR since his rookie season.

Arenado also performs at the dish. Since he was called up, he’s been steadily improving each season. His career highs in 2017 render him in the top 10 of NL players in almost every offensive category.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.
Nolan Arenado, 2013-2017 Stats
2013 514 4.5 .267 .301 .405 .308  77
2014 467 5.4 .287 .328 .500 .359 113
2015 665 5.1 .287 .323 .575 .371 121
2016 696 9.8 .294 .362 .570 .386 126
2017 680 9.1 .309 .373 .586 .395 129

Additionally, the Silver Slugger’s 37 homers ranked third in the league.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Can he really hit for power? He’s been playing at Coors Field his whole career, doesn’t that change everything? Well, it could, but it doesn’t. Of his 37 home runs, 18 were away and he hit almost 40 percent of his balls in play 95+ mph last season. What makes his high home run total even more impressive is that it’s coupled with an above-average strikeout rate of just 14.9 percent.

Arenado has fielded well and hit well in every season since his debut, and his many awards show that this outstanding performance hasn’t gone unnoticed. At only 26, aging won’t slow him down for a while. If Arenado continues to perform and improve as he has in the past, he would be an excellent player to build a franchise around.

Pick No. 17: Jeff Zimmerman selects Trea Turner

For starting my franchise, I wanted a young, good established hitter. Once Manny Machado went to Ryan Pollack at No. 12, I had to compromise in one of the three areas. I considered Ronald Acuna (not established), Byron Buxton (not sure if he can hit), and George Springer (nearing 30). After weighing the pros and cons of several hitters, I settled for Trea Turner.

With Turner, I get a player high on the defensive spectrum (played shortstop and center field) with great speed (79 stolen bases in the past two seasons). When he starts aging, he can move down the defensive spectrum to second base or one of the outfield corners. Unless he sustains a catastrophic injury, it will be a decade or more before he becomes a defensive liability.

Turner’s talent extends beyond just fielding, to his bat. He’s able to make solid contact. By putting the ball in play, he can use his speed to leg out a few singles and maintain a higher-than-normal BABIP. His batting average will drop as he slows while aging, but that’s true of everyone. He should try to use his speed while he still can.

Now we get to Turner’s wart, hitting for power. Can he hit for enough power to be a usable player as he moves down the defensive spectrum? I’m betting yes. He’s showing enough pop right now for pitchers to respect him, even though he was never considered to be a power hitter. Here are his prospect power grades as he advanced through the minors (50 is considered league average).

Trea Turner Prospect Power Grades
Season Baseball America
2014 35
2015 45 35
2016 40 40
SOURCE: Baseball America &

No one considered him to have game-changing power, and most team cornerstones need some power. Luckily, Turner found it in the majors. Last season, he averaged 89 mph on his exit velocity, which should equate to a 17 percent homer-to-flyball rate. While he posted that exact 17 percent home run rate in 2016, it dropped to 10 percent this past season. He can hit the ball, especially the newly juiced ball, for dingers.

One possible issue is that his major league debut and power surge happened at the same time the apparently juiced ball was introduced. It’s a coincidence that can’t be ignored. His power, along with that of the rest of the major leagues, could drop if MLB goes back to the old ball. It’s a chance I was willing to take.

While he has home run power, he’s not currently using all of it. In the majors, he’s put nearly 50 percent of all batted balls on the ground. As he ages and loses a step, I hope he can raise his launch angle a bit and become more of a line drive/flyball hitter.

His base running is elite. His total baserunning runs (UBR) is the league’s ninth-highest value over the past two seasons, in only 171 games. He’s stolen the fourth-highest total bases (79), with the three players ahead of him having played in 50 or more games.

Putting all the pieces together, Turner comes out with a 2018 3.6 WAR projection (Steamer), which is 28th among position players. It’s not elite, but no player left in this draft is elite and under 25. With this pick, I’m hoping Turner’s bat takes a major step forward.

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casey jmember
6 years ago

I would have taken Buxton ahead of Turner: 60 More OPS points as a minor leaguer, big edge on defense (over nearly everyone), and a younger and more experienced ballplayer. Still a very interesting process to watch unfold, and Turner is a valuable performer.