THT’s Franchise Player Draft: Picks 18-20

The game’s best power hitter is preceded by a now-former teammate and a versatile infielder. (via Roger DeWitt, Keith Allison, Ian D’Andrea and Michelle Jay)

Pick No. 18: Rachael McDaniel selects Christian Yelich

As far as draft positions go, number 18 out of 32 has to be one of the more uninteresting. While you aren’t so far down as to justify doing something deliberately risky, you’re still in the back half of the draft, and all the guys you really wanted are long gone. (I weep for you, Carlos Correa!)

When it came my time to pick, then, I had some less exciting options to consider for my franchise player. I still felt uncomfortable with instability of a pitcher or a prospect—though I did consider picking Vladimir Guerrero Jr., since so many of my real-life baseball hopes are reliant on his future success. As it turned out, that choice was made for me. So, given that the Stantons and the Judges and the Trouts and the Harpers were off the board, I decided to go for a young, well-rounded, consistent position player— a proven performer with room to get better.

Here’s the thing, though: Giancarlo Stanton wasn’t off the board, even though I had him marked as such. I suppose, in the flurry of discussion surrounding Stanton refusing to waive his no-trade clause, I just assumed he was lost to me and crossed him off the list. This kind of absent-minded negligence is why I’m a creative writing student and not an aspiring GM. (But, really, how did we get down to the 18th pick without anyone picking Stanton?) Keep this in mind, then, before you flame my choice here in the comments: I would have picked Stanton, injury history be damned, and I am side-eyeing the many people above me in the draft who didn’t.

And now that I have that caveat out of the way, we can turn to my actual pick, Christian Yelich—a fun, dynamic player in his own right, if not quite the 60-dinger variety of dynamic player.

As hard as it has been over the past few seasons to look past the Stanton behemoth in the Marlins’ right field, Yelich, a less imposing figure over in center, has been pretty consistently excellent. At age 26, Yelich has put together 4.5-WAR campaigns in three out of the four full seasons he’s played in the major leagues. The odd year out was his injury-shortened 2015, and that was the only season in which he missed any significant time due to injury.

The way he has accrued this value is also encouragingly well-rounded. In 2017, his first full season playing center field in the major leagues, he showed that his speed and glove can play well in a premium defensive position. He walks a lot and doesn’t strike out too much. He hits line drives all over the field, and has in recent seasons even shown the ability to hit a homer or two (21 in 2016, 18 in 2017). And while 2017 was a down year for him offensively, he’s a good candidate for some positive regression—his April and May struggles, which dragged down his overall numbers, were at least partially due to an unusually low BABIP (.299, as opposed to his career average of .356).

The most interesting part of all this, though, is that Yelich has been by all accounts very successful—and yet he is still viewed as having a great deal of unfulfilled potential. Back in Yelich’s days as a star of the Marlins farm system, after all, scouts heralded him as a future batting champion, a guaranteed middle-of-the-lineup bat, and even forecast the development of 20-home run power. While he has been excellent, then, there is still a lingering expectation that Yelich could yet be more than just excellent— that he has the potential to be a true, transformative franchise player.

And at only 26, Yelich has shown a versatility and an ability to adapt that bodes well for the future development of these franchise-player skills. After his disappointing 2015, people speculated that he was done, and he came roaring back in 2016 with his best season yet. When the Marlins moved him from left field to a more demanding position in center, he adapted seamlessly. And after his rather sad April and May 2017, where he batted just .265/.346/.397, he made the necessary adjustments to turn his season around.

One of the greatest joys you can have as a fan is to see a player on your team take it to the next level, rising to personal stardom and, you hope, bringing your team with him on his ascent. I believe that Yelich could be that player for my franchise. And if he doesn’t, a 4.5-win failure is a pretty damn good failure to build a lineup around.

(I still would have loved those 60 dingers, though.)

Pick No. 19: Duston Nosler selects Jose Ramirez

When you think of franchise players, the 5-foot-9, 165-pound Jose Ramirez is probably not the first or second player who comes to mind. He didn’t have much fanfare coming up through the Cleveland minor-league system and, even after a strong 2016 season, was still relatively unknown to many fans. After his 2017 season, his being the 19th overall selection in The Hardball Times Franchise Player Draft makes a lot more sense.

Those who know me might be surprised — shocked, even — that I passed on Giancarlo Stanton in favor of Ramirez, but everything I looked at pointed to Ramirez being the better choice.

Ramirez just finished his age-24 season and hit .318/.374/.583 with a 148 wRC+ and 6.6 WAR. For reference, he had the same WAR as some guy named Joey Votto, who is a pretty decent player in his own right. Ramirez is a third baseman by trade, but he’s one of the more versatile players in the game today — think Ben Zobrist at his peak.

Not only is he versatile defensively, he’s — on the whole — an above-average defender. He has experience at second and third base, as well as shortstop and left field. In 2017, he played exclusively second and third base. While he played more at third, he was actually better at second base with five defensive runs saved in 577.1 innings. He had a 0 DRS in 736.2 innings at third base. With the thunder in his bat, though, he doesn’t have to be the second coming of Brooks Robinson to be an easy play at third base.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

With versatility being so important to not only a player but to the team, Ramirez’s ability to play at least decently at multiple positions means he’ll likely have a job for a long time. It also affords his team to make moves based on Ramirez’s versatility. Let’s say, for a moment, Cleveland wanted to trade for Josh Donaldson. Well it could, knowing Ramirez could slide over to second base and play well. If Cleveland wanted a guy like Jonathan Schoop, Ramirez would play the hot corner. What if — as unrealistic as it may be — Cleveland wanted to trade Francisco Lindor? Then Ramirez would likely be installed at shortstop. While only one of those scenarios seems likely, the fact one player can move around the diamond that much is extremely valuable.

The most interesting and encouraging part about Ramirez’s bat is the fact he’s one of the best contact hitters in baseball. His 87.4 percent contact rate was eighth-best in the game (among qualified hitters) and his 5.4 percent swinging strike rate was 10th-best. Players who have those numbers are usually guys who don’t hit for a ton of power. But Ramirez did just that — he hit 29 home runs and an eye-popping 56 doubles en route to a major league-best 91 extra base hits (tied with Stanton).

The thing that’s interesting about Ramirez is he doesn’t lean on any particular style of hitting to produce elite-level slugging numbers. He hit a few more fly balls in 2017 than he did in 2016, but his 39.7 percent fly ball rate is barely a top 50 number in baseball. He does get a little pull-conscious, but again, that isn’t a bad thing. He took a big step forward without the benefit of an inflated batting average on balls in play or a spike in his walk rate. And if that weren’t enough, he’s also a decent base stealer (76.6 percent). Ramirez developed into one of the top players in the game and, at 25, might just be getting started.

It’s hard to realistically project or predict that Ramirez will best his 2017 season at any point in his career, but the indicators are there that his MVP-like performance might not be a fluke. He should be a perennial four-to-five-win player. While he’s overshadowed by Lindor, Ramirez just might be the best player on the Cleveland baseball club and a player with whom I’d be happy to start a franchise.

Pick No. 20: Britni de la Cretaz selects Giancarlo Stanton

Talking about why I drafted Giancarlo Stanton is weird because the baseball world has spent the last several weeks talking about Giancarlo Stanton. It’s a bit funny to go into why he would be my pick to build a franchise around while ignoring all the conversation currently happening about his value to a team. But I’m going to try, so bear with me.

Also, I swear I didn’t just choose Stanton because he was a long-time Marlin and I am one of, like, 12 Marlins fans in the world. I had my eye on a couple of other players, including some less obvious choices, but when you have the 20th pick, it’s inevitable that some of the players you want are going to get snapped up before the draft gets to you. I actually went to bed with my eye on Nolan Arenado, who had been undrafted until that point, but woke up to discover he’d been snatched by Rachel Heacock just a few spots ahead of me while I slept.

Let’s be honest; a franchise draft is about more than just baseball. At this point, what I’m looking for is a player who can add more than just raw talent to my team; plenty of players can do that. But when you’re looking for a franchise player, you’re not just looking for a good baseball player. You want someone who can be the face of your organization, who fans can rally behind and players can look up to. At the beginning of a draft, it’s easy to see who those players are. There’s a reason Bryce Harper and Mike Trout and Francisco Lindor got picked up with the earliest picks. Which brings me to Stanton.

Stanton is coming off a career season, and if this year had been indicative of the rest of his career, he probably would have been drafted much earlier. But he’s been plagued by injuries and had several shortened seasons as a result. That said, he’s clearly someone that other people thought could have a franchise built around him; the Marlins attempted to do just that when they signed his (albatross of a) contract in 2014.

Stanton is 28, which is a little older than I’d ideally like. However, for the kind of player he is, 28 isn’t that old and, assuming he stays healthy, he should have a number of good years left. Power and offense are things that can develop even more over time, and as an outfielder, he doesn’t need the kind of agility asked of infielders. Also, if his body begins to wear down, he can always be an effective designated hitter on an American League team as he ages.

He’s not super fast or known for stealing bases. His performance in the outfield is perfectly good, but he doesn’t regularly deliver Web Gems like, say, George Springer. But the most appealing thing about Stanton is, hands down, his bat. He is someone who hits for power and has nice discipline at the plate. He doesn’t swing and miss a lot and makes good, consistent contact.

Even with his injuries, he’s managed to be a four-time All-Star and two time Silver Slugger winner. He has a career 34.1 fWAR. He hits a lot of home runs. And, let’s be honest — fans like home runs; they come for the bombs. His swing is sexy as all hell.

He looks really good in body paint. He can dance like Beyonce.

He can direct you to the gun show.

He’s not afraid to face nasty pitchers.

Oh, and you wished you looked this good on a boat.

By drafting Giancarlo Stanton, I’m making an informed (and somewhat hopeful) guess that his 2017 season was a turning point for him and will be reflective of what he is capable of in the coming years. Also, anyone willing to honestly call his former team “a circus” immediately after being traded has the kind of honest personality the game needs more of.

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