THT’s Franchise Player Draft: Picks 27-29

The veteran Verlander is preceded by two of the game’s top prospects. (via Joon Lee, TBD, Keith Allison and Michelle Jay)

Pick No. 27: Joon Lee selects Hunter Greene

Hunter Greene throws 102 mph, but you already know that. He’s one of the most hyped prospects this decade, donning the cover of Sports Illustrated with a tagline comparing him to LeBron James and Babe Ruth.

Greene can hit (though he’s moving to pitching full-time next season) and throws some cheese. At just 18 years old, he’s already considered by some to be a top-10 prospect before his full-season debut with the Cincinnati Reds. I got to spend a week with Greene for a feature with Bleacher Report. He’s a really impressive, mature kid with a good head on his shoulders and a strong support system. He should be a leader in any clubhouse he’s in.

Greene could become a boom or bust prospect. At his young age, there are so many variables ahead before he solidifies himself as an elite starting pitcher. Given the widespread Tommy John epidemic and the velocity at which Greene throws, injury is always a concern. Greene is taking every step to prevent any tears, but it’s always in the back of your mind when considering the development of a top-flight starter. He’s going to have to manage his innings load in the beginning of his career, but the Reds will undoubtedly be conservative with their top prize.

The crown jewel is the fastball. The velocity is elite and comes effortlessly, but players who faced Greene in high school and instructional league say it plays straight, with little movement. That’s fine, but it means Greene will need to develop his secondary pitches to take full advantage of his generational velocity as a starter. The breaking ball and change-up are coming along, but aren’t there yet. Greene told me he doesn’t use his full effort on the mound when he pitches, meaning he could probably throw harder than 102 mph if he wanted to. Greene isn’t a finished product, nor is he expected to be right now, but the tools to be an elite starter are there.

The most impressive part of the package, however, is the makeup. With the help of his family, and most notably his dad, Russell, Hunter has a broad picture view on his life. He’s incredibly mature and makes sure to help out those who are less privileged, organizing fundraisers and clothing drives regularly on his Twitter account. People around his high school loved him, everyone from the students to the receptionists and security guards.

The face of a franchise needs to be marketable, and Greene is that. He’s the most famous 18-year-old baseball player in the country, is an incredibly likable personality and has the charisma to be the outward spoken leader of a clubhouse. He’s a really smart, incredibly thoughtful kid who will be able to handle any media market, large or small, considering the mass attention he’s already received.

The one thing that is a variable is failure, and how Greene handles it. Greene has been the best player on his team for his entire life. He now has the eyes of every baseball fan watching every step of his development. Every professional baseball player inevitably fails at some point, or at the very least, slumps. How Greene handles this will go a long way to determining his longevity in the majors. How he handles it will ultimately shape his career, but given the ridiculous ceiling, Hunter Greene is worth the pick at this stage in a franchise player draft.

Pick No. 28: Kate Preusser selects Victor Robles

Teacher that I am, when I first found out about this project I immediately made a rubric, grading each player on a scale of 1 (low) to 5 (high) in the following categories: offense, defense, and “other”—a base score of a neutral 3 that increased with plus tools like speed or positional flexibility, and decreased for injury history or poor plate discipline.

I also ranked them by age, considering that a franchise player is someone you hope will be around for a decade or so; players 21-and-under got 5 points, while 25-year-olds received one point, 26-year-olds none, and (placing hand reverently over picture of Jose Altuve) 27-and-up were out of contention.

Finally, I assigned each player a totally arbitrary value I called “star quality” where a 5 is a Robinson Cano and a 1 is a John Lackey. Mike Trout may be mighty in all other respects, but he comes up just short in my “star quality” rankings against someone like Mookie Betts. Like being blessed with the ability to launch a baseball into the stratosphere, having a warm, winning, loquacious personality is a gift, and it’s something I’m looking for in a franchise player.

My friend John likes to say that speed is such an appealing characteristic because it has a sample size of 1. Show us you are fast once, and we remember; the same goes for charm. Being fast is a gift, and one you can’t train, exactly; the same is true for being funny, or apt, or charming. Star quality matters, and it matters in a franchise player.

Armed with my rubric ranking some of the top talents in the major leagues, I opened my email to find I would be picking 28th. So long, Mookie.

At 28, I figured I’d be choosing between two types of players: those with some demonstrated major league success but not yet effulgent star quality (the killer Bs of Buxton, Bregman, Benintendi), or shot-in-the-dark high-ceiling prospects. I then worked to integrate my top prospect list against proven major  league MLB talent, lying awake at night considering such things as: Does Christian Yelich grow into his own person more away from the blinding light of Giancarlo? Will Rafael Devers develop a power stroke as he gets closer to being able to rent a car? Am I giving Nick Senzel and his power swing adequate consideration and not downgrading him just for playing in Cincinnati’s rather thin system? What about Luis Urias, my favorite from this year’s AFL season: not regarded as a star prospect thanks to a lack of power, but someone who walked slightly more than he struck out (12 percent for each!) in 500 plate appearances at Double-A this year, who can play competently all across the middle infield, and whose hit tool is one of the most elite in the minors?

I was prepared to pick Urias at 28 and feel good about it, truly. Needless to say, I was delighted to have Victor Robles, one of the most exciting young talents in baseball, fall to me–although with the greed that comes from inflated expectations, that excitement was colored by disappointment that Ronald Acuna, who I would have ranked in my top 20 overall, disappeared just a mere two slots ahead.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

There’s an argument that Robles, who has tasted major league action thanks to the Trea Turner injury and being fortunate enough to be drafted by a competing club, is further along in his career, although for pure ceiling I think I would still take Acuna. Robles, however, is a more defensively polished, slightly less free-swinging version of Acuna who might not stack up the same power numbers but will get on base, make good baseball decisions while on base, and use his plus-plus speed to utterly torment whatever battery draws the ill fortune of facing him.

He also has personality for days, and seeing him and Acuna–the consensus top two prospects in the AFL this year, and maybe in baseball–playfully nudge each other whenever the Solar Sox met up with the Javelinas bodes for some extremely exciting National League action in the coming years. Just don’t count out Urias. Remember star quality? All three of them have it in 5s.

Pick No. 29: Alex Simon selects Justin Verlander

For this exercise, I was hoping to land an early enough pick that I would be able to get the player I wanted—Mike Trout—and make a slam-dunk case as to anchoring a franchise around him. Of course, I ended up with one of the last picks in the Hardball Times draft; the best laid plans of mice and men, etc. At that point, my top pick and backups were all gone, leaving me with a smattering of players who didn’t quite appeal to me, for a number of reasons. I decided to reach for a Detroit fan favorite and recent World Series champion,  Justin Verlander.

It would be difficult—nigh, impossible—to argue that Verlander is anything but on the back-end of a wildly successful career. He is 34—soon to be 35—after all, and has been in the majors since 2005. He’s thrown 2,545 innings in his illustrious major league career; in the last three calendar years, he ranks 16th in innings pitched. That golden arm of Verlander’s has fired plenty of bullets, is the point. This is but one reason why you might not want to anchor a franchise to a 34-year-old pitcher.

I debated with myself, wondering if I should cheat and take the easy way out, electing to build a franchise around Verlander at an earlier point in his career. I tend to break down Verlander’s career into four distinct chunks: Pre-Verlander Verlander (2006-2008), Must See JV (2009-2012), Broken Verlander (2013-2015), and Late-Career Renaissance Verlander (2016-present). It would be very easy to say “Oh, I’ll just build a franchise around Must see JV-era Verlander. There, done,” and leave it at that.

It would also be a tad disingenuous and fly in the face of this thought exercise. I decided I would focus on Late-Career Renaissance Verlander, but to fully understand this era in Verlander, we must touch on the previous era.

Something went off the rails for him in 2013, following a two-year stretch of utter dominance. No one quite knew what or why. Those who had been waiting for age to catch up to the seemingly ageless Tigers ace pointed to the fact he was now 30 and destined for age-related decline. The answer was quite simple; Verlander’s advancing age was just catching up with him and we could expect more of the same in the future.

For others, there had to be something physically wrong with him; he just didn’t look quite right, but no one could really put a finger on it. Verlander spoke vaguely of tinkering, leaving some of us wondering if he was overcompensating for a mysterious injury or perhaps just trying to fix what had not been broken (until he tried to fix it, ironically enough).

It wasn’t until the following season that we began to get some answers. Verlander had an even worse campaign following 2013, which led many of us to believe the end was nigh. Then he suffered what amounted to a sports hernia while training—similar to the core muscle injury Miguel Cabrera had in 2013—and would need offseason surgery. Verlander expected to be back in time for the 2015 season, though, and most of the fan base put aside their concerns.

Verlander suffered an injury-riddled, frustrating two-year stretch, leaving fans wondering what was in store for the once proud ace and the back-end of his career. That Verlander possibly had been quietly dealing with discomfort in 2013—hence all the tinkering and adjustments and tweaking—that eventually led to his surgery was dismissed or ignored by many in favor of the “age-related decline” narrative. When Verlander’s 2015 season sputtered at the start, fans were left with a heap of questions and frustration, and not a lot of hope.

But a funny thing happened. Verlander slowly got healthy. The Tigers’ ace rebuilt his strength and seemed much more like himself in the second half. In 2016, Verlander looked like the ace fans had come to know and love, and finished a hairsbreadth away from winning another Cy Young award.

Verlander’s 2017 season was not quite as magnificent as the Cy Young runner-up season that put him back on the map, but it was still very good. He pitched himself onto a contending team, and helped lead that team to a World Series title. He’ll be another year older in 2018, and there will be people waiting for age to finally catch up to him, but Verlander has shown that he’s able to adjust.

When he was pitching through injury and, later, recovering from it, he learned how to pitch with decreased velocity. He got into trouble only when he failed to locate and command his pitches. Then his velocity came back as he rebuilt his arm strength and he started throwing high octane gas again. Then he added the cutter-that-isn’t-a-cutter to his already deep repertoire, dropped it from his repertoire, and brought it back.

Though Verlander sometimes tinkers a bit too much and can throw himself out of whack, he’s not afraid to change things up when they’re not working, or when he needs to find an advantage. He’s seen as an old-school type of pitcher, cut from the same cloth as his idol Nolan Ryan, but he’s not afraid to turn to advanced stats when searching for an edge. (I recall an anecdote about Verlander chatting with the more sabermetrically-inclined Max Scherzer on stats).

Verlander’s adaptability is the main reason I think he’d make a good candidate to build a franchise around, even as he’s entering the twilight stage of his career. As the game continues to change and evolve, so too does Verlander. Not only is he still a formidable, talented pitcher, he can also serve as a mentor and guide to younger pitchers on his team.

The best player to build your franchise around isn’t always the youngest or most talented. After all, Mike Trout has been the best player in baseball for years, but has never advanced beyond the ALDS. Sometimes baseball is cruel and fickle. Sometimes the general manager doesn’t surround the best player in the world with the complementary pieces needed to take him to the next level. Sometimes an aging veteran doesn’t need to be the best player in the world or even the best player on his team (hello, José Altuve) to anchor a franchise. Sometimes he just needs to be the right player, and that’s what Verlander is.


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revolu
Member
revolu

That last paragraph defending the Verlander choice is weird, is he implying Mike Trout isn’t the best choice to build the franchise around? Just because he hasn’t made the ALCS yet? Like if Alex had the number 1 pick he would pick Verlander over Trout? I guess he’s trying to say the best player doesn’t always lead to playoff success which makes more sense because you can’t make a team with one player. And picking at number 29 means you pick a player who gives you a lot of intangibles and “adaptability” including proven success, and that player to him… Read more »

TKDC
Member
Member
TKDC

Any time you go down the road of even slightly suggesting that not making it further in the playoffs is because of something being wrong with your best player, you need to stop, turn around, and go back whence you came.

Alexandra Simon
Member
Member

//is he implying Mike Trout isn’t the best choice to build the franchise around?//
No, I was saying Mike Trout is who I wanted to pick, is the best player to build a franchise around, and was gone when it was my turn to pick.

James
Member
James

Did she just say the Mookie Betts has more star power than Mike Trout?

And someone took a soon-to-be 35 year old pitcher??

Kate Preusser
Member

“Warm, winning, and loquacious.”

TapeyBeercone
Member
Member

Wait!? I must be missing something. Isn’t Kershaw still on the board? Who in their right mind takes Verlander over Kershaw?

Alexandra Simon
Member
Member

The person who forgot Kershaw was still available.

John W.
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Member
John W.

no

LenFuego
Member
LenFuego

I am pretty stunned that Gary Sanchez is still on the board. How many players are a concensus pick to be the single most dominant player at their position for the next 6-8 years? I am not sure there is anyone else at catcher you could really even make a cogent argument for. The amount of value that Sanchez will add each season over that time frame over, say, the 10th best catcher, is humongous, enormous, gigantic, gargantuan.

A. Green
Member
A. Green

I’m also wondering when Freddie Freeman will get picked (unless I missed it somehow). Seems like he should have been before Votto and Goldschmidt, but was forgotten since he was injured part of last year.

Stevens
Member
Stevens

“I am not sure there is anyone else at catcher you could really even make a cogent argument for.”

My first thought was Willson Contreras, who just for kicks, turns out to be Gary Sanchez’s #1 most similar batter under B-Ref’s Similarity Scores.

It will be fun to see if these two young catchers look similar years from now.

FrodoBeck
Member
FrodoBeck

Verlander is a … puzzling pick to say the least

TapeyBeercone
Member
Member

Yeah, 29th pick in a franchise player draft, when Steamer barely thinks he’s a top 29 starting pitcher next season…

A. Green
Member
A. Green

I love Verlander, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he’s the best pitcher in the league next year, but yeah, unless you’re certain he’s got Nolan Ryan/Randy Johnson level longevity, this seems like a stretch.

KindleT
Member
KindleT

Why hasn’t Sanchez been picked yet? RELEASE THE KRAKEN!!!

LordOfTexas
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Member
LordOfTexas

Next year if you guys/gals do this I think it should be re-branded away from a “franchise player draft.” Instead of having to justify picks like Verlander with silly rationalizations like “Mike Trout has never made the ALDS”, just make it “30 players we each find interesting and want to write about.”

james123
Member
james123

Clayton Kershaw, Luis Severino, Steven Strasburg, Corey Kluber, Jacob Degrom, Aaron Nola and Chris Archer all performed better than Verlander this year while being younger (and in Severino and Nola’s case, 10 years younger!)….. but instead, a 35 year old Verlander is picked.

Alexandra Simon
Member
Member

I can’t believe I forgot about Kershaw and Rizzo. I’m so mad.

heff47
Member
heff47

What on earth happened here. Verlander going before Kershaw is nothing short of an atrocity. It’s also very confusing because there wasn’t a really good reasoning given for it.

Buhners Rocket Arm
Member
Member
Buhners Rocket Arm

This entire exercise is starting to feel so….troll-ey.

RealCarlAllen
Member

Shoutout to the Hunter Greene pick because this is the worst pick I’ve ever seen haha.

But hey, at least you got to plug your Bleacher Report article!

RealCarlAllen
Member

“I’m going to draft a prospect because unknown potential has no ceiling whereas proven greatness is boring”

So many proven elite, young players still available. And people are chasing prospects lol