THT’s Franchise Player Draft: Picks 21-23

A World Series MVP, a former No. 1 overall pick and one of the game’s best pitchers make up this group. (via Keith Allison and Michelle Jay)

Pick No. 21: Stacey Gotsulias selects George Springer

When I found out that I had the 21st pick of the draft, I wasn’t exactly thrilled because I figured by the time my pick came around, the pickings would be slim. Obviously guys like Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, Manny Machado and Carlos Correa would be gone but I was wrong about the slim pickings. There were still a few good players left and I believe I chose one of them.

I didn’t want to be predictable and choose a Yankee because everyone would expect that from me. In fact, one of my fellow writers here at The Hardball Times, whose work you will be reading tomorrow, was flabbergasted my pick. She couldn’t believe it. Especially because Gary Sanchez was still available and I very easily could have picked him. But I’ve written about Sanchez so much the past two seasons that I’d probably unknowingly self-plagiarize and who wants to do that? So I decided to choose a player  I don’t follow every day but who is still well-known player and talented in his own right. So my choice for franchise player is 2017 World Series MVP George Springer.

Springer is everything you would want a franchise player to be. He’s dynamic both at the plate and in the field. As his teammate Brian McCann told the New York Times in November, “He’s a free safety playing baseball. He can hit the ball 450 feet, play Gold Glove center field, score from first every time there’s a double.” The 28-year-old outfielder showed the world what he was capable of during 2017’s wild seven-game World Series between Houston and Los Angeles. And it was Springer who appeared on that prophetic 2014 Sports Illustrated cover which famously proclaimed that the Astros would win the 2017 World Series. At the time, many people guffawed at the cover but now, people are no longer laughing.

George Springer is the real deal. He hits for power. He hit 34 home runs in 2017 and is projected to almost match that in 2018. He also can hit a single if need be. And, as McCann said, he can score from just about any base.

Springer also likes to make snazzy plays in the outfield.

Springer has overcome adversity off the field. He speaks with a stutter which has afflicted him since his childhood. He has worked extremely hard on minimizing its effects and is noticeable only when he makes momentary starts and stops in his speech or when he occasionally repeats words. (I can relate a bit to him: I have an affliction that’s an offshoot of my Bipolar Disorder called psychomotor retardation, which causes me to pause awkwardly when I can’t think of a word so I’ll suddenly stop speaking as my brain struggles to think of the word it wants to use.) When he got to college, Springer asked his coach to pick classes where he wouldn’t have to make presentations because he was afraid to speak; now Springer can talk to the media at a podium alone for 10 minutes. And while his stutter still affects him from time to time, it doesn’t slow him down one bit.

That’s what makes Springer so special. I think every baseball fan can relate to him in a way and I believe that his success not only on the field but off is why Springer would be the perfect choice for my franchise player.

Pick No. 22: David G. Temple selects Byron Buxton

I’ll be honest when I tell you that I went about this in a fairly conventional way. If a do-over draft were  put in place in baseball and the 859,562 people more qualified than I were all hit by a meteor, I’d stick to the basics — find someone young and mobile who can play a position up the middle. George Springer (though not as young as some might realize) was my first choice, but he was yoinked from under my nose one pick prior. So I turned to my next option — which, in fact, may be the better one once I put my homerism aside.

Certain aspects of Byron Buxton’s game are known commodities. He’s tall and lanky and incredibly fast. He plays center field like a gazelle competing in a “most graceful-looking gazelle” contest. He makes beautiful-looking plays in the outfield. He can dive, he can jump, he can run like the dickens. Byron Buxton stole 29 bases in 2017 — a very respectable number for someone not named Dee Gordon or Billy Hamilton. But Buxton tried to steal only 30 times. That’s a 97 percent success rate — better than any other player with 25 or more stolen bases. He’s fast and he’s efficient and watching him play is pure joy.

But since, as of this writing, there’s no all-time outfielder position, Buxton is also required to bat. And for all the praises sent his way regarding his athleticism, his hitting has always been a fairly large question mark. Buxton isn’t even 24 yet, so there is obviously time, and in his defense his year-to-year batting stats have moved up from abysmal to very bad. And if one were to drill down a bit more, there’s the possibility of better news for the Twins and their fans.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

Half-season splits, or at least putting a huge emphasis on them, can be problematic. But on a macro scale, it can be a quick-look way to find improvement or regression as the season goes along. And in Buxton’s case, his 2017 splits look almost like two different players. There are two big reasons for his second-half success — better contact and more power. Those are kinda two of the biggies, so it makes sense. This led to a jump from a 59+ wRC in the first half to a 130 wRC+ in the second. But nearly every offensive category of note saw a marked increase. All this while continuing to play a stellar game on the base paths and in the outfield.

All of this isn’t to say that it’s foolish to build a team around a young defensive star you can hide in the back of the lineup. While speed and defense start to decline sharply with age, calling dibs on a young defensive whiz in such a hypothetical do-over draft has merits, to be certain.

But if there’s a chance, even a 25 percent chance, that Buxton can grow into the all-around player that he’s shown flashes of … well, he should be taken well before the 22nd pick. The problem is, we don’t know the percentages. It’s more than zero (barring catastrophe), but that’s about all we have to work with.

If social media or comments sections are to be believed, some fans in Minnesota already saw Buxton as a bust coming into the 2017 season. This is a hell of a thing to think about a 23-year-old baseball player. It is nevertheless easy to expect a fan base to want to see the draft picks of so many stinkeroo seasons to come to fruition. But Buxton’s early struggles with the bat made him a fairly polarizing figure — especially when draft mates like Corey Seager were finding such early success.

But this line of thinking is missing the forest for the trees. Even if Byron Buxton doesn’t become an above-average hitter, he’s still an amazing asset in the field. In the current age of baseball — where hitting a ground ball is tantamount to punching a nun — having a reliable presence chasing down fly balls is incredibly valuable. Mashers can always be found, they’re a dime a dozen. But a truly generational talent in the field is incredibly difficult to find. Even if my crystal ball told me that Buxton would never really hit again, I’d still take him at pick 22. Power hitters are so 2017 anyway.

Pick No. 23: Greg Simons selects Chris Sale

I have to admit, when I found out I was drafting at No. 23, my first thought turned to a certain outfielder who has never played above Double-A. But then I realized how much I like working at The Hardball Times, so I decided to take this draft more seriously.

With more than a score of players already selected, I found myself looking at three types of players: established hitters with strong track records but a notch below the cream of the crop; young hitters who barely—if at all—had reached the majors; and established stud starting pitchers. Obviously, I chose from the last category.

I considered a small number of starters based on performance (of course), age (I expect my guy to lead the squad for at least the next five or six seasons), and injury history (yeah, pitchers are always a risk, but some are riskier than others). Given these criteria—and a not-so-healthy brief period of stress when my turn to draft actually came up—I went with Chris Sale.


Sale struck out 300 batters last season. Do you know the last American League—the league with the designated hitter—pitcher to do that? Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez in 1999. That’s some pretty solid company, and given Sale’s 214.1 innings pitched, that’s a 12.93 K/9 rate, a truly stellar mark for a rotation member who has to pace himself for six or seven innings per start.

In addition to punching out bunches of batters year after year and reaching the 200-IP mark four of the last five seasons, Sale keeps his walk rate around 2.0 per nine innings, quite the frugal pace. He also never has posted an ERA or FIP over 3.50 in any campaign. With starting pitchers throwing less and less as time goes by, an anchor who goes deep and pitches well in almost every start all season long is a treasure for any manager.

Add it all together, and you have the major league leader in FanGraphs WAR both last year and over the last two years, the second-place pitcher for the years 2015 through 2017, and third-place hurler over the last four-, five- and six-year periods. Of course, you may be thinking, why not take one of the pitchers ahead of Sale during some of these periods? Well, this leads to the next criterion.


Sale turns 29 years old the second day of the 2018 season. He is a year younger than Clayton Kershaw, three years younger than Corey Kluber (who was not ahead of Sale in any of the above-mentioned periods, but who was in the same neighborhood performance-wise), and four-and-a-half years younger than Max Scherzer. Sale should have another half decade of stellar pitching ahead of him beyond what Scherzer can provide, and he has age and performance advantages over Kluber. His chief competition as the best pitcher now and going forward, of course, is Kershaw. And while choosing between the two was a difficult decision, there’s the third factor that tips the scales to Sale’s advantage.

Injury History

Kershaw has been a force on the mound for close to a decade, and his relative youth implies a continuation of that dominance. However, the last two years have put some dents in the armor of this mound warrior. Back issues have limited Kershaw to only 48 starts combined in 2016-17. He may have peaked already, with recent history indicating Kershaw may have begun a long, slow decline.

Despite being built like a scarecrow, with images of his elbow causing night terrors in Tommy John doctors everywhere, Sale has made every start over the last three seasons. And his performance has been trending up during that time, indicating he may just now be approaching his best years.


Sure, every team would love to have a Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, or Carlos Correa to build around. But similar to the Rule V draft, the very best talent is taken at the top, leaving those picking later in the draft to consider the smaller differences in talent and expectations among the many possibilities.

After carefully considering at least a half-dozen options, I chose Chris Sale for his proven skills, relative youth, and continued upside who should front my hypothetical staff for several more seasons, giving me an established dominant leg up on every other team’s rotation.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
6 years ago

Most of the picks have been solid. The interesting thing to me is how bad the old lists look just a few years later, and knowing that there’s no reason this one won’t look like that in the future as well.
If only we knew who would suddenly fall apart…

6 years ago
Reply to  Meir-w

Belichick knows. He always knows.

6 years ago

Headline says “first pitcher taken.” What about Ohtani?