THT’s Franchise Player Draft: Picks 6-8

Phenom Shohei Ohtani is sandwiched between two premiere young players, Francisco Lindor and Mookie Betts. (via Arturo Pardavila III, Ship1231, Keith Allison and Michelle Jay)

Pick No. 6: John LaRue selects Francisco Lindor

Entering this draft with a slot at No. 6, I started to piece together a series of criteria my ideal player would match. I wanted to find a player who was young, and the younger the better since I want this player to anchor my team for years to come. For that reason, I excluded all players over age 29. I didn’t want to take on injury risk that early in the draft, so I excluded all pitchers. Later in the draft, I might have approached it differently, but sixth overall is too early to take an unnecessary risk.

I wanted a player who has been both highly productive and well-rounded. My ideal player would be capable of providing value with the glove, on the bases, and with the bat. And finally, I wanted a player with some measure of plate discipline: a good BB/K ratio, not chasing much out of the zone, and ideally not reliant on out-of-zone contact. All of this led me to Francisco Lindor.

Lindor turned 24 just after the 2017 season concluded, which easily fits my age criteria. He has collected 16.5 fWAR since reaching MLB in 2015, ranking sixth overall amongst the under-29 crowd. His glove–a jolt of energy to any team’s defense–has been more valuable than anyone on this side of Andrelton Simmons in the under-29 group.

In the realm of plate discipline, Lindor’s out-of-zone swing percentage is not great, but it’s reasonable (right in the middle of players with 750 plate appearances or more since his debut) and pairs nicely with a 0.58 BB/K ratio that comfortably ranks in the upper quartile. Both his BsR and Spd score rank in the upper third of the same sample. His above-average bat, supreme glove, and solid baserunning fit perfectly with my stated goal of a well-rounded player.

There’s a historic nature to all of this production. Here’s how Lindor ranks in several key categories:

It’s worth noting that these ranks put him in the company of several Hall of Famers. Using bWAR, the only shortstops to surpass Lindor at his age, since 1947, are Alex Rodriguez, Cal Ripken, Jim Fregosi, and the currently active Carlos Correa. For fWAR for all players–not just shortstops–through their age-23 season since 1947, 13 of the top 20 have been eligible for the Hall of Fame. Nine of them have made it, and one of the four who hasn’t made it is A-Rod. It mostly takes HOF-quality to surpass what Lindor has done so far.

Most noteworthy on the defensive side is that he ranks eighth in Defensive Runs Saved (a counting stat) despite the fact that all of the shortstops ahead of him have played at least 3,000 innings more than Lindor, and most have played considerably more than that. His defensive superiority shows up in the UZR/150 ranking–a rate stat–where he comes in seconnd only to Simmons.

Of course, other players fulfilled my ideals. Mookie Betts, José Altuve, and Manny Machado all earned serious consideration. Any one of them would have been an amazing pick. Betts was in fact a better fit for my criteria overall, but Lindor has edges in age (he’s a year younger) and positional consideration. I’d rather have a franchise shortstop instead of a center fielder, if possible. Altuve was extremely tough to pass up, but the age difference made the decision much easier. As for Machado, Lindor is younger and has a little more well-rounded game, even if his overall productivity is a tick below Machado.

The happy accident in this choice is that I’ve decided to anchor my team around one of baseball’s most energetic, enthusiastic stars. The joy that any potential player exudes wasn’t a consideration for me, by any means, but it’s always preferable if you can have it. Lindor has it in droves, making him immensely likable for my fans. And that means he checks every box I could possibly have for a franchise player. He even checks a few boxes I didn’t even know I had.

Pick No. 7: Joe Distelheim selects Shohei Ohtani

John, John. Ohtani’s still there at No. 7? As my one-time employee* Dick Vitale would say, “Are You Kidding Me?”

(*Remind me to tell you the story sometime.)

There are no sure things in baseball, people like to say. You’d bet the farm system on Mike Trout or Clayton Kershaw, but players get hurt, on and even off the field. RIP, Jose Fernandez. Hitters go from being the next great thing (alas, poor Jason Heyward) to mediocre. Toast-of-baseball pitchers become toast. Right, Tim Lincecum?

Ohtani is a sure thing. He’s coming to America, and he’s about to become the most talked-about baseball player in the world. His new employer suddenly emerges from relative obscurity to the talk of both hemispheres. And he’s 23 stinkin’ years old.

Several decades ago, a slugger named Sadaharu Oh was known as the Babe Ruth of Japan. Not accurate. He was just a hitter. The real Babe Ruth was one of baseball’s greatest pitchers before he was baseball’s best hitter.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

Now, a century after the major leagues’ last real two-way star, comes Shohei Ohtani. Oh, the story lines!

He is foremost a pitcher, with a 100 mph fastball. He’s also a hitter of some considerable skill, good enough to have had major league teams talking about how they’d use his bat between starts on the mound. Now, with the Los Angeles Angels, the question of how he’s deployed will be a matter of endless debate – and conversation about his team.

In an era in which utility infielders draw eight-figure yearly salaries, this guy is going to play for a few hundred thou. Under rules thought up by people who are surely smarter than I am, his choice to come here at his age means he’s allowed to earn only about what my team will pay the whole crew of part-timers who roll out the tarp when it rains. I don’t understand why that rule is wise, or just, or legal, but that’s another article. Meanwhile, my McDonald’s-level franchise player is costing me a few Big Macs, leaving lots of money for side items.

He’s coming to the United States anyway, fulfilling his dream to test himself against the best. Money is secondary to him. Is that a great story? Is this an all-American kid, or what?

Sure, there are doubters. There are exploitable holes in his swing, they say. That’s true of, oh, let’s say, 100 percent of major league hitters. His 100 mph fastball doesn’t look that fast, they say. Maybe it was measured in Japan Standard Time.

But this isn’t Tim Tebow or Michael Jordan trying to parley fame into a baseball career. This is a famous guy with talent who’s going to be even more famous. WAR, shmore. If we’re looking for someone to be the face of a franchise, we’re in Mona Lisa territory here.

He’s going to make up for his pauper’s contract by renting his name and visage to any product or cause he desires. If he wants to, he can get somebody to pay him to endorse dog poop. And on every page and every screen, he’ll be wearing his new team’s uniform or cap. Who needs a team publicity department? If there are sentient beings on Mars, they’ll someday arrive on Earth wearing Ohtani replica jerseys.

So, no disrespect, John, but, c’mon. Francisco Lindor’s a nice little shortstop, but no one outside Cuyahoga County is going to care what underwear brand he endorses. And it’s not like he’s a draw by himself. Honey, let’s drive up to Cleveland. I hear Francisco Lindor is playing tonight.

To see Ohtani, they’ll drive. In droves.

Pick No. 8: Isabelle Minasian selects Mookie Betts

As the old adage goes, “the baseball draft rises and sets with Mike Trout.” Bryce Harper and Carlos Correa are perennial top 5 picks, and then…well, then there’s just mayhem, and a cacophony of really great baseball highlights. Once you get past the big 3, the picks say less about the talent of the player, and are instead more indicative of the drafter’s strategy and/or player preference. My own parameters were pretty straightforward:

Requirement 1: The player had to still be eligible to remain on their parents’ health plan, but also needed to have some MLB experience. My default belief is that every prospect will fail (I’m a Mariners fan), so for as cool as Vlad Jr., Ronald Acuña, etc. may turn out to be, that wasn’t who I wanted to build a franchise around. All about that instant gratification, baby.

Requirement 2: The player could not be a pitcher. Starting pitchers can only contribute to their team once every five days, which is not to say that they are not immensely valuable. Pitchers are immensely valuable. They are also immense injury risks, and when a pitcher is injured they disappear into the Bad Place until they can once again violently throw projectiles in a completely unnatural way. When a position player is injured they can take a day or two off or, depending on the injury and the league, they could even DH for a bit. They don’t completely cease to exist until they’re fully healthy, and are typically less disastrous to replace, should they be out for an extended period of time.

Requirement 3: The player had to be interesting. Going into this draft, I knew we would need to write 600-700 words on whichever player we chose, and wanted my pick to be someone who I found compelling. For instance, I considered taking Kris Bryant, whom we all know to be a great baseball player, but who I also find to be unbelievably dull (sorry, Paul…and Kris). As we all do, I have a type: rather than tall, dark, and handsome, I’m a sucker for speed, athleticism, and a low K%.

Enter Mookie Betts.

He’s been the best qualified right fielder in baseball (by fWAR) since the start of his first full season in 2015. I was honestly surprised to learn that he’d been that good; I’d just assumed that Red Sox legion had been inflating his national profile. This is absolutely not the case. Not only is he excellent, he also fits all my aforementioned criteria.

Under 26? Check. 2018 will be his year 25 season, and he’s franchise draft Goldilocks. Not too young to risk flaming out, nor too old to sit crankily in the veteran’s corner of the clubhouse. In his three years in MLB he’s been remarkably consistent in his overall offensive competence.

Not a Pitcher? Check! He’s a shortstop turned second baseman turned center fielder turned right fielder, and has won the AL Gold Glove for right fielders two years running. Betts has also only been on the disabled list once in his major league career, and his experience at these other positions lends a degree of positional flexibility to his spot on the roster.

Interesting? No recent news stories discuss his baseball prowess, and instead focus on the fact he bowled a perfect 300 in the final qualifying round of the World Series of Bowling. His initials are (intentionally) MLB, and his mother was his first Little League Coach. In the last three years he’s ranked tenth in stolen bases and, per Baseball Savant, he can travel 28.1 feet per second. He’s more than capable of successfully leading a franchise, both on the diamond and on the dance floor.

Rob Manfred: And with the eighth pick of The 2017 Hardball Times Franchise Player Draft, Isabelle Minasian selects Cookie Betts.

Manfred: *beams*
*confused applause*

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
6 years ago

I’m not going to kill Joe for taking Ohtani @ 7 – though I’m surprised Bryant is still available – but did anyone tell him contracts were being ignored?

Adam Dorhauer
6 years ago

John LaRue’s Lindor graphic is really nice. It takes a ton of information and gets across the most important points really quickly with minimal clutter. Even if you didn’t read anything he wrote, just the graphic by itself does a pretty good job of summing his case up almost instantly.

Big Mikemember
6 years ago

Pick No. 7 reminds me of something every degenerate gambler I’ve ever known does – it’s a hunch pick. I’d have a really difficult time pulling the trigger on a guy who’s never played in the States over Mookie and Bryant and Arenado and Seager, all of whom have proven themselves over several MLB seasons and are still very young (and the salary is supposed to be taken out of the equation). Moreover, it’s a marketing pick more than a baseball pick. It reminds me of everything I hated about being a Cubs fan while the Tribune owned the team. The best advertising is putting together a championship team, not having a great marketing gimmick (Kosuke Fukudome, please come down).

kenai kings
6 years ago
Reply to  Big Mike

this. Sure to be cursed now that he is said to be a “sure thing”.

6 years ago

Congrats John for getting the player that should have been selected #1 all the way at #6. STEAL!

6 years ago

I was prepared for Betts to go in the middle of the round or so and then write about how he should have been taken a bit earlier, but boom, there he goes right about where he belongs.

That’s the thing about Betts – he isn’t the top tier power hitter you might like in this spot, but he brings pluses basically across the board. He’s a five-tool player and is probably one of those players who brings a nebulous “sixth tool” of some sort. To me, it means something that Betts was apparently an excellent basketball player in his youth and is a tremendous bowler; we know baseball is about mastering repetitive mechanics (something I was never good at), and Betts seems to be terrific at anything he puts his mind to. I don’t doubt that he would be (or is?) a great pool or darts player. He rose quickly through the minor league system and was a strong defender in the middle infielder, then was moved to the OF for the first time in his professional career and within a couple of years was elite out there. Crazy.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if 10+ players put up more total value than Betts does over the next five or so seasons, but the key is determining which 10ish players those are. Someone like Bryant could put up rare numbers, but there is room for disappointment. With Betts, I don’t see how he isn’t annually a top player (see how he managed to be a 5 WAR player in a “disappointing” year in 2017) for a long time to come, and he’ll probably preserve value well past his prime, like a Dustin Pedroia who is actually able to stay healthy.