THT’s Franchise Player Draft: Picks 30-32

In terms of pure value, this might be the best trio of picks in the draft.
(via Arturo Pardavila III, Keith Allison, Julie Fennell and Michelle Jay)

Pick No. 30: Alex Remington selects Gary Sanchez

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a team desirous of good fortune must be in want of a backstop.

With their first pick in the 1961 expansion draft, the New York Mets selected a catcher named Hobie Landrith: “You gotta start with a catcher or you’ll have all passed balls,” explained manager Casey Stengel.

Catchers are at the furthermost end of the defensive spectrum, legitimately the rarest commodity in all of baseball. A backup catcher with an oversized mitt and a pulse frequently can play till he’s 40, and men who can manage to crouch for 120 games a year are vanishingly few. Only four catchers qualified for the batting title last year. If you don’t have one of them, you’re going to be scrounging the scrap heap for Jeff Mathis with the other 26 teams.

If you manage to have a homegrown superstar catcher, you have solved a problem that almost no other team in baseball will be able to solve for love or money. Over the last five seasons, there are exactly six catchers who have produced at least seven Wins Above Replacement while playing for a single team: Buster Posey (24 WAR in 731 games), Yadier Molina (14.3 WAR in 665 G), Salvador Perez (12.6 WAR in 698 G), Yan Gomes (9.6 WAR in 497 G), J.T. Realmuto (9.1 WAR in 415 G) and Gary Sanchez (7.6 WAR in 177 G).

But Sanchez has done so in barely more than a season’s worth of games, pushed Buster Posey to second place in the catcher WAR charts last year, and he did all of that before turning 25.

Sanchez is one of the best young power hitters in the game, along with Aaron Judge, the Ruth to his Gehrig. On BaseballSavant’s 2017 leaderboards, he’s tied with Rhys Hoskins and Manny Machado for 29th place in Barrels per Plate Appearance, and he’s tied with Marcell Ozuna, Alex Avila, and Josh Donaldson for average exit velocity. He hits the ball hard. And except for Hoskins, who was born four months after him, he’s also younger than all of those guys.

In fact, Sanchez’s home run hitting has been historically prolific. According to data from Baseball-Reference’s Play Index, among hitters with at least 400 plate appearances in their first three seasons, Sanchez has the fourth-highest HR/PA since 1901, behind Ryan Howard, Judge, and Cody Bellinger, and slightly ahead of Joey Gallo and Rudy York.

So he’s Ryan Howard or Cody Bellinger, except at the most difficult position on the diamond, and he also happens to be a perfectly cromulent fielder. He’s pretty good at pitch framing, quite good at throwing out baserunners, and though he gives up too many passed balls, his overall defensive stats are generally at least neutral to positive.

Even his detractors acknowledge just how ridiculously incredible he is. In an article called “Scout trashes Yankees’ Gary Sanchez for laziness behind plate,” the scout in question gives the following quote:

His arm is one of the best in baseball. It might be the best in baseball. And I think there’s no question he’s the best-hitting catcher in baseball. It’s not even close.

Different people obviously approach the concept of a “franchise” draft in different ways. Some people shoot the moon by going for a prospect, like Bruce taking Gleyber Torres with the fourth pick. I’m too risk averse, so Torres was nowhere near that high on my board. But back in June 2011, Carson Cistulli took the 19-year-old Mike Trout with the third pick overall—it was a month before his big league call-up—and he quite obviously made the best pick of the draft.

Second-best was almost certainly Paul Swydan, who took Clayton Kershaw at No. 11 that year. But Kershaw was 23 then. Now, he’s a few months from turning 30. Again, due to risk, I tend to have pitchers lower in my rankings, and lefties over the age of 30 particularly set my teeth on edge. So there was little chance I’d take Kershaw over Sanchez this year, even though it’s very possible Kershaw could produce more value over the next decade than Sanchez will.

Sanchez offers an amazing combination of high ceiling—if he can remain the best catcher in baseball for a decade, like Posey or Joe Mauer or Mike Piazza or Gary Carter, he legitimately would be a Hall of Fame candidate—with high floor, where even if his glove flops and the Yankees want to protect his knees and move him to first base, he’d still be able to hit like Ryan Howard.

Sounds like a pretty good guy to build a team around.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

Pick No. 31: Kate Feldman selects Clayton Kershaw

I’m either severely overthinking this draft or severely underthinking it, because I have no idea how Clayton Kershaw lasted until the penultimate pick. I know he’s a pitcher, and position players are obviously a safer bet, but, like, he’s Clayton Kershaw.

You stay up late to watch him pitch on the west coast. You spend too much on tickets to see him at your home stadium. You’re going to tell your grandkids about Clayton Kershaw. He changed how we talk about pitchers, and how we talk about baseball. He’s a generational talent. So, yeah, I took Clayton Kershaw.

The lefty will be 30 by the time the 2018 season starts, but they’re not exactly looking into retirement homes for him just yet. He’s still Clayton Kershaw. He’s still putting up a 2.31 ERA and throwing 175 innings with a 6.73 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He posted a 1.69 ERA in 2016 and came in at only fifth place in Cy Young voting because he didn’t rack up enough innings. That was the lowest he’s placed in the past seven seasons. He’s made seven consecutive All-Star games and won five ERA titles. He’s the only pitcher to receive first-place Cy Young votes in seven straight seasons. In June, he became the fifth-youngest pitcher in major league history to reach 2,000 strikeouts. You know who Clayton Kershaw is. He’s a star. He’s a franchise all by himself.

We know who Clayton Kershaw is, but let’s play anyway. Steamer projects him at a 2.76 ERA in 2018, throwing 209 innings and winning 16 games (yeah yeah yeah, wins don’t matter, but it gives us a picture here, so just calm down for a minute). We’ll even knock off 10 innings to account for an inevitable back injury, which has yet to actually affect his pitching performance in any significant way. Two hundred innings, 16 wins, 2.76 ERA. And you’re telling me this guy lasted until the 31st pick?

Building a team around one star is where a position player sounds easier, where I would have loved Mike Trout or Carlos Correa or Francisco Lindor. I want a guy who goes out there every day. Kershaw can  prove his value only once every five games, but that’s not to say he’s irrelevant when he’s not on the mound.

In 2017, he averaged a little over six innings per game. His career average is slightly higher than that. So the beauty of Kershaw is not just in what he can do, but in what he saves everyone else from having to do: Your bullpen isn’t going to be asked to get 15 outs for him on a regular basis. You need two relievers behind him, one if you’re lucky, three if he’s really off. But you’re probably not burning your bullpen every three starts. So you can save those guys for a less-than-certain No. 4 starter a few days later without worrying.

Kershaw, too, seems like a good guy. That’s less important than his curveball, and you may think it’s not important at all, but I do, and it’s my team. He seems like a good guy. He’s well-liked and well-respected and has cute kids and raises money for charity. That’s the kind of guy I want as the face of my team.

Building a franchise around Kershaw won’t take much. You need a good rotation, because as godlike as he may be, he can’t pitch more than every five games. You need run scorers because he’s no Madison Bumgarner, and you need a solid defense because his groundball rate seems to have stagnated around 50 percent. But you have your ace. And that’s enough.

And no, I don’t care about a few bad starts in October.

Pick No. 32: Paul Swydan selects Anthony Rizzo

When we got to around pick 15, I started making a list. At the top of the list were Clayton Kershaw, Paul Goldschmidt, Gary Sanchez and Anthony Rizzo. Anthony Rendon, Rafael Devers, Rhys Hoskins, Eloy Jimenez, Victor Robles, Buster Posey, Alex Bregman and Charlie Blackmon also populated it. As Kershaw failed to come off the board in the next five or six picks, I got a little cocky and started taunting everyone else about how I was going to take the game’s best pitcher with the last pick. Kate taking him one pick in front of me was exactly what I deserved. I certainly would have taken Kershaw—that would’ve been nice symmetry from the 2011 Franchise Player Draft.

With him off the board, I went back to my list, which also had another 20 or so names on it just for the sake of thoroughness. Goldschmidt, Sanchez and Robles had all come off the board. So I went through some of the other candidates. There’s a decent chance Devers becomes a first baseman in his 20s, so that’s not promising. Hoskins’ 2017 season was just a little too similar to Brett Lawrie’s 2011 season for me, and Hoskins was three years older than Lawrie was at the time.

Posey seems destined to permanently slide down the defensive spectrum very soon, though I did give him an extra consideration just on the strength of the “Let Him Try” commercial. Hold on, let’s watch it real quick.

It’s funny every time, and I’ve seen that ad a lot of times. Where were we? Right, Eloy Jimenez. He would have been a sound pick here. In his four stops since reaching Single-A, he’s posted wRC+s of 162, 200, 135 and 176. If he flops as a hitter, it’ll be a huge surprise. He may hit the majors this summer, yet he turned 21 years old under a month ago. And while he may reach the majors this summer, he still hasn’t faced Triple-A pitching. I passed, with a tinge of regret.

Bregman already has hit the majors, and his star rose considerably in October. He was also hard to turn down, but I did. I hope whatever Bregman figured out in the second half and carried into the postseason sticks, but the 105/141 wRC+ first half/second half splits worry me a little. Not to mention his defense hasn’t graded out as any kind of spectacular.

Rendon’s defense did grade out as spectacular this year, but it graded out so well that it seemed a little fishy. Also, the huge jump in his offensive production doesn’t project to carry over. Blackmon is entering his age-32 season and can’t keep getting better forever. I don’t want to doubt Blackmon, but I also don’t want to bank on him, either.

That leaves Rizzo. He has everything I want. First, let’s start with the fame side. We can’t discount that if we’re starting a franchise, we want a player people like and think fondly of. The 2017 David Price Experience really rammed that home for me.

Rizzo is a three-time All-Star and has received MVP votes each of the past four seasons. Despite having a better teammate in Kris Bryant, Rizzo’s star still burns brightly in Chicago. He seems just as comfortable shooting the breeze and drinking beers with Katie Nolan as he does starring in MLB ads.

Rizzo is also good at the whole playing baseball thing. Most importantly to me, he’s consistent. If I’m building a franchise, I need a player I can count on. That’s Rizzo. He’s hit 30+ homers four seasons in a row. He’s posted an ISO between .234 and .252 four seasons in a row. He’s a consistently great fielding first baseman by both DRS and UZR, and he consistently makes solid contact. Over the last three seasons, his Contact% was 83.1 percent, 82.3 percent and 82.5 percent. That three-year average is 82.6 percent, which is nearly identical to Joey Votto’s 82.8 percent. If that’s not a good sign, I don’t know what is.

Joe Sheehan is fond of saying, “OBP is life. Life is OBP.” And here, we find that Rizzo is once again super consistent. Here’s his OBPs the past four years–.386, .387, .385, .392. That four-year average comes out to .387, and that .387 OBP ranks seventh in the game among qualified players over that time span.

Rizzo’s wRC+ dipped a little last season, but it’s projected to rebound. He’s faced ruthless shifts the last couple of years and managed to stay very productive. Last year was the first year in the last four in which his BABIP dipped below .280. Odds are it will rebound again, and his overall offensive production will, too. Even with that dip, over the past four years his 20.2 WAR ranks sixth among position players. Over the last three years, his 14.5 WAR ranks 14th.

Anthony Rizzo is excellent, consistent, affable, likeable, and young enough to still be in his prime. This season will be his age-28 season, and I think his age gives me enough wiggle room to compete both now and/or later, depending on how the rest of my draft would play out. I think I got a steal with the last pick in this Franchise Player Draft.

So, we did it! Our Franchise Player Draft is complete. Thanks so much for following along with us the past two-plus weeks. In case you’d like a handy recap of our picks, I’ve assembled that below. Be sure to check back in five years to see how prescient or foolish all these picks turn out to be!

THT’s Franchise Player Draft
Pick # Author Pick Pick # Author Pick
 1 Jason Linden Mike Trout 17 Jeff Zimmerman Trea Turner
 2 Adam Dorhauer Carlos Correa 18 Rachael McDaniel Christian Yelich
 3 Jack Moore Bryce Harper 19 Dustin Nosler Jose Ramirez
 4 Bruce Markusen Gleyber Torres 20 Britni de la Cretaz Giancarlo Stanton
 5 Stephanie Springer Joey Votto 21 Stacey Gotsulias George Springer
 6 John LaRue Francisco Lindor 22 David G. Temple Byron Buxton
 7 Joe Distelheim Shohei Ohtani 23 Greg Simons Chris Sale
 8 Isabelle Minasian Mookie Betts 24 Shakeia Taylor Corey Kluber
 9 Kiri Oler Jose Altuve 25 Jan Moffett Paul Goldschmidt
10 Paul Moehringer Kris Bryant 26 Sarah Wexler Ronald Acuña
11 Mina Dunn Corey Seager 27 Joon Lee Hunter Greene
12 Ryan Pollack Manny Machado 28 Kate Preusser Victor Robles
13 Mary Craig Aaron Judge 29 Alex Simon Justin Verlander
14 Eli Ben-Porat Vladimir Guerrero Jr. 30 Alex Remington Gary Sanchez
15 Chris Mitchell Cody Bellinger 31 Kate Feldman Clayton Kershaw
16 Rachel Heacock Nolan Arenado 32 Paul Swydan Anthony Rizzo

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6 years ago

Well done! Awesome reads to get us through these baseball-less winter days. Thank you all.

6 years ago

Extra points to Alex for slipping “cromulent” in there.

Alex Remingtonmember
6 years ago
Reply to  hopbitters

A noble word embiggens the smallest franchise draft.

6 years ago

Honestly, this list is not good. Kershaw at 31 is mind boggling. I think if you asked the 30 GMs, they’d all have Kershaw as the #1 pitcher in this. Sale and Kluber are fine where they are, but not with Kershaw still on the board. Ohtani is way too high. Hunter Greene is laughably on this list at all.

These last three picks are pretty good (Sanchez would be good except Kershaw was still there). I do think it would be worth mentioning, when picking Rizzo, how he compares to Freddie Freeman. They are the same age. Some people forget that because Freeman was in the league earlier. Freeman has better career numbers and better recent numbers, but not by a lot. Rizzo might make up some/all of that with speed/defense. Freeman is also used to being the face of a team (a bad team, but a team) and is viewed as a charismatic player (all the hugging!). Anyway, I think choosing between the two is a bit like splitting hairs, but if I were picking one, I’d at least note the other.

Alex Remingtonmember
6 years ago
Reply to  TKDC

It’s really hard to justify taking anyone over Kershaw at 30, and I tried at least to acknowledge that I made my Sanchez pick fully aware that Kershaw was still there and potentially more valuable to my franchise over any time horizon that you could name. It’s just so hard to justify taking a starter over a position player, especially when he’s a (soon-to-be) 30-year-old lefty with recent injury problems, even if he’s the best lefty since Randy Johnson. I watched Pedro Martinez after he turned 30, too. Like I say, I know I’m too risk-averse. I just couldn’t pull the trigger.

Paul Swydanmember
6 years ago
Reply to  TKDC

You’re right, I should have touched on Freeman. Here’s why I picked Rizzo over Freeman:
1. No one outside of Atlanta seems to care much about Freeman. Certainly his peers don’t – he hasn’t been an All-Star in any of the last three seasons. He only garnered MVP votes in one of those three seasons. I want someone everyone loves. That’s Rizzo, not Freeman.
2. Freeman isn’t as consistent. He’s missed significant time due to injury two of the past three seasons. And last year, he had delusions of grandeur playing third base. I’d be very worried that he would insist on playing third again and then get himself hurt. I need my Franchise Player on the field as much as possible. Rizzo has played 140+ games the last five years, and 155+ in four of the five.

Rizzo has been btw 4 and 5.7 WAR the last four seasons. Freeman has been between 3.4 and 6.1. That’s a full 1 WAR difference. Maybe Rizzo isn’t as good, but he’s more bankable, and at this point in the draft, that’s my preference.
3. Finally, I’m not convinced Freeman is better. Rizzo has a better Steamer projection for 2018 by 0.7 WAR, and 0.5 by Steamer600. Looking at their careers, Rizzo has generated 23.4 WAR in 908 career games/3,895 PA. Freeman has generated 25.3 WAR in 1,026 G/4,304 PA.

It’s close, but I think Rizzo is slightly better, and certainly far more famous.

Alex Remingtonmember
6 years ago
Reply to  Paul Swydan

True — though Freeman would probably be more famous if he were the anchor 1B on a World Series team! Anyway, I think this logic is all completely reasonable, particularly the note about Rizzo’s much more dependable health, but I don’t think it’s fair to hold Freeman’s move to third base against him. After all, it was the team that moved him there.

6 years ago
Reply to  Alex Remington

Rizzo actually had a late inning appearance at 3rd base this year.

6 years ago

Really like Alex’s pick of Gary Sanchez. I think the perception of his defense leads people to really undervalue him. A franchise catcher is just not easy to find, as Alex described very well.

6 years ago

30-32 are all better picks than Verlander, who turns 35 in February.

6 years ago
Reply to  mbs2001

Verlander would be a stretch in the 4th or 5th round of this, at least.

6 years ago
Reply to  TKDC

I wouldn’t go that far. At some point good-but-old players have to start coming off the board, and if a GM is trying to build a win-now franchise, an elite 35 year old pitcher would make sense once you’re around the #100 overall mark.

Adam Smember
6 years ago

People are going to look back at this list in 3 years and laugh.

The mind boggles that you’d anchor your team with a veteran starting pitcher and Kershaw would be third choice. In general, I’d say not enough consideration was given to age at both ends of the spectrum. To me it’s silly to go for prospects who will be in AAA next year over established major league stars just a few years older.

I do hope you do a review in 3 years and 6 years.

6 years ago

“Hoskins’ 2017 season was just a little too similar to Brett Lawrie’s 2011 season for me, and Hoskins was three years older than Lawrie was at the time.”

Taking an unproven prospect this early in a draft, even THE BEST prospect, is insane. You can’t miss with a round 1 pick, and there are plenty of young and/or proven players with reliable track records to build a franchise around. Reaching for Gleybar Torres like someone did earlier in this draft is really, really bad lol. Thanks for restoring some sanity here at the back end.

6 years ago

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was taken before Giancarlo Stanton. That tells you everything you need to know about this draft lol