THT’s Franchise Player Draft: Picks 24-26

A perennial Cy Young candidate, an MVP candidate and the game’s best prospect could be steals this late in the draft. (via Keith Allison, Tom Hagerty and Michelle Jay)

Pick No. 24: Shakeia Taylor selects Corey Kluber

When I was asked to participate in this, I knew right away I was going to choose a pitcher. There were many appealing options for position players, but it just isn’t my bag. I love good pitching. Many pitchers are cerebral and I appreciate that. When a pitcher’s head is in the game, it’s almost a guarantee he’s going to be dealing. Conversely, when a pitcher gets rattled, it shows.

With this in mind, Clayton Kershaw seemed to be too obvious and too easy a choice, and that’s not really my style. Good pitching has nuance and requires a certain type of baseball intellect, so I chose the quietly dominant Corey Kluber of the Cleveland baseball team.

Klubot, as he’s affectionately called due to his apparent unemotional disposition, finished the 2017 season with a league-leading 2.25 ERA, 18 wins and three shutouts in 29 starts and his second AL Cy Young Award.

After the ALDS, questions loomed about his health. Even I refused to accept that Kluber was just off. It has been widely speculated that Kluber was dealing with a back injury, but Cleveland came back later and offered more details – it wasn’t his back. He was having difficulty finding his release point.

In pitching, both strength and endurance matter, not only with regard to the health of a pitcher, but to the overall effect it has on the outcome of a game and the longevity and usefulness of the bullpen. In five- plus seasons, Kluber has never pitched fewer innings in consecutive starts than he did in Games Two and Five of the ALDS. While there is no guarantee that he will return to the form we’ve grown used to in 2018, there is no doubt Kluber is one of the best pitchers in the major leagues.

He’s got “the intangibles.” When he’s healthy and effective, he’s going to give nearly every batter he faces fits. After a month on the DL, he returned and dominated. He is elite. He has proven that he can dig deeper and reach another level. Though not in the top 10 in fWAR for pitchers, he’s getting close.

Klubot is in the top 10 all time in Cleveland franchise history in WHIP, strikeouts, strike-to- walk ratio, strikeouts per nine innings pitched, and win probability added. It has been argued that Kluber’s breaking ball is one of the best pitches in baseball. The hook on it reminds me of my favorite rap hook from Slum Village’s “Fall in Love” in that it doesn’t overpower batters, it finesses them. It’s smooth. The more he uses that pitch, the higher his strikeout rate.

Who wouldn’t want a pitcher that commanding on the team?

While he lacks the hype and the flash of many other starting pitchers, a Kluber game is a thing of beauty. It’s a good reason to take an afternoon off to watch him work. He makes adjustments during games, varying his pitches, making him unpredictable. His ability to make batters chase his pitches is incredible. For someone with such a high strikeout rate, his contact rate is low — second-best in the league in 2017 low.

When I see Corey Kluber pitch, I am reminded of the image that flashes on the Jumbotron when an NFL team’s offense has the ball at home: “Quiet, offense at work!” You don’t want to look away. You don’t want to talk. You just want to watch Kluber, a guy who wasn’t even drafted out of high school, do the damn thing.

Despite a couple of pretty miserable outings in the 2017 ALDS, I still believe the 31-year-old ace is the kind of guy you can build a team around. Kluber brings experience, two Cy Young Awards and  leadership, and he’s virtually unflappable. His teammates all value his work ethic.

Backing up Kluber’s pitching dominance with some batters who hit for power would be most ideal. Consistent run support will allow Kluber to get more comfortable, settle into a game, and cruise you to a W or 18. We have seen him hold teams to one run, but it becomes equally important that he is followed with some great middle relievers and closers. These two positions are essential to the late game success of any team, but with Kluber’s arm, it will be the perfect knockout punch.

Pick No. 25: Jan Moffett selects Paul Goldschmidt

Why do people forget about Paul Goldschmidt? Is it because he’s not likely to do anything crazy on a given night—lick his bat or try to throw his helmet like a boomerang—but rather to play a solid game of baseball in a congenial manner? Is it because he’s on a team that was born in the ’90s, part of a franchise that had (and still has) purple and turquoise uniforms? A franchise still recovering from an unsuccessful front office regime, and struggling to assert itself among the major league establishment?

Whatever the reason Paul Goldschmidt flies under the radar, lack of notoriety isn’t keeping him from producing baseball of the highest quality. His name steadily occupies the leader boards of the past five years. He’s always showing up near the top because he’s always showing up on the field: stealing bases, walking, hitting doubles, hitting homers, infusing athleticism into his position at first base, adding value in diverse ways.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

Three times over the span of five years he’s been in the running for National League MVP, but it’s not the on-base clip or the home run rate that got him MVP votes that’s impressive about this fact, but rather the level of consistency it indicates. The effect of his multifaceted offensive talent is intensified by the relentless clockwork pace at which he puts it to use. Talent can be fickle, and agility can fade, but consistency, born from the strength of a player’s character, gets only better as time goes on.

In his seventh major league season, Paul Goldschmidt was a playoff team. That’s an exaggeration, of course, but if you followed the National League Wild Card race in 2017 you probably understand what I’m getting at. He’s the big hunk of gold that can tip the scales in a mediocre team’s favor, even if it’s  in a division crowded by the top teams in the league, one of which has Bond villain-level resources, and the other of which has a magical ballpark.

He’s used to it; he’s been the backbone of the Diamondbacks for some time. His impact as a hitter on Arizona franchise history is rivaled only by Luis Gonzalez, who played for nearly two decades (the ’90s and the 2000s), had his number retired, and also apparently rescued a woman from a burning car last summer. This is the sort of rarefied badass air Paul Goldschmidt is breathing.

Looking at the 2017 Diamondbacks’ example could give you a blueprint for building your own Goldschmidt-centered playoff team with limited resources, if you felt inclined to follow it: focus your resources on a veteran ace to lead your pitching staff, and be lucky enough to already have a young, power-hitting infielder who costs you next to nothing.

Considering the rest of the team, we must confront Paul Goldschmidt’s only flaw: he’s already 30. I think he could be valuable for another four or five years—he’s already a first baseman, after all, and he’s in very good shape—but you’re going to want to seize the day, sign free agents and trade your prospects away. You probably won’t have much money to work with, because you’re going to need to pay Paul Goldschmidt a lot. Get some guys on base ahead of him, whether they walk or hit weird little singles or just run really fast, and let him do his work.

And that brings me to the final Goldschmidt franchise-player virtue: he’s a reliable leading man. He’s handsome yet approachable, like a humble superhero or a well-mannered cowboy. You can rely on him to bring good energy to the clubhouse, work hard, and lead younger players by example. It’s highly unlikely you’ll ever have to worry about his personal life becoming a liability, and his clean lifestyle will help keep him healthy and in shape well into his 30s. Clearly, Paul Goldschmidt is the sensible choice.

Pick No. 26: Sarah Wexler selects Ronald Acuna

The first 25 picks of this draft saw three players selected who have yet to play a single major league inning. Each of those write-ups came with some kind of requisite disclaimer that choosing to build a franchise around such players is risky. They’re called prospects for a reason: There’s definite promise there, but no guarantee things will pan out. It’s best to not get too invested in any particular one, lest we break our own hearts.

That said … it’s hard not to get really excited about Ronald Acuña, and to see his potential as a franchise player. And with a pick this low in the draft, I’m more than okay with taking him, considering his upside.

Acuña, who turned 20 yesterday, was signed by the Braves as an international free agent out of Venezuela in 2014. He’s an outfielder who has seen playing time at all three spots in the minors, with the range to play a strong center field. He’s a five-tool player who exploded onto the scene this year, making an All-Star Futures Game appearance and earning honors like Baseball America’s 2017 Minor League Player of the Year and 2017 Arizona Fall League Most Valuable Player. Going into next season, he figures to be near the top— if not at the top— of most upcoming prospect lists.

Acuña began the 2017 season at High-A, but quickly advanced through the Braves’ farm system, with his offensive production improving at every level.

Ronald Acuna 2017 Stats, by Level
High-A 126 0.287 0.336 0.478 0.814
Double-A 243 0.326 0.374 0.520 0.895
Triple-A 243 0.344 0.393 0.548 0.940

If you include the Arizona Fall League, Acuña’s 2017 becomes even more astonishing. In 23 games played, Acuña posted an OPS of 1.053. When he was named the league’s MVP, he became the youngest player to ever receive that honor.

Acuña hit 21 home runs across three levels this season, and has the potential for more power if he bulks up from his current 180 pounds. He also has plate discipline, evidenced by improved strikeout rates and steady walk rates over the course of this past season. He’s fast, having stolen a total of 44 bases across the three levels at which he played this year. He’s a strong defender with a great arm as well.

Acuña checks all of the boxes one would want in an outfield prospect, but there’s reason for caution. Although we’re disregarding contract status for the sake of this exercise, we do need to take note of the organization for which Acuña plays, and how that could impact his progress.

To put it bluntly, the Atlanta Braves are a mess, and have been for a few seasons, though things look even more dire following the John Coppolella fiasco. Additionally, the Braves simply don’t have a great recent track record with their top prospects, exemplified by Dansby Swanson’s utterly subpar 2017. Acuña, though, is likely the most talented player the Braves have had in their farm system in years.

Since the Braves are almost definitely not going to be competitive this year, this may give them incentive to delay Acuña’s promotion to the majors. It’s understandable (although not much fun for the rest of us) that they would want to hold off on starting his service time clock so they’ll have control of him for additional year. That said, the trade of Matt Kemp may open the door for Acuña sooner, as the Braves now have just three outfielders on their 40-man roster. There’s a lot of offseason left that will probably factor into Acuña’s fate, though.

Still remaining is the question of how Acuña will do once he reaches the majors. There’s reason to believe the answer to that is “quite well.” This tweet from Dan Szymborski suggests that even projections systems are on board the Acuña hype train:

As with any prospect, there’s a chance Acuña doesn’t live up to the expectations that he’s setting for himself. But if he comes even close to reaching his superstar ceiling, he’ll be a player very much worthy of building a team around.

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6 years ago

Poor Anthony Rendon 🙁 How attractive and talented does a 27 year old stud have to be to get some love??

Thanks for the series guys, even if I wouldn’t make a lot of the same picks (Torres, Votto, Kluber) this is good content and it’s interesting to hear how folks think when they hear “franchise”

6 years ago

Interesting choices this time around. Thanks.

mr. N
6 years ago

goldy is one seriously under-appreciated, bonafide stud

6 years ago

I would rather have these three players than the 3-5 picks. Sure, Harper is amazing and fits just fine at #3, but the other two picks are worse than each of these three players, in my opinion. Goldy, particularly, is criminally underrated. He’s not been the hitter that Votto has in the last three years, but his defense and base running close the gap a lot, and oh by the way he is FOUR years younger. Also, Acuna is a better bet than Torres. He hit better than him last year, and he’s a year younger, and is not coming off major surgery. And I’d say it is an open debate who has more value in the field.