By: Ben Shapiro
When the question of "who would you pick to build a franchise around" is brought up, many different thoughts immediately run through your head. Initially, my first inclination was to lay down some guidelines.
1. Age (not too young): The player should have some legitimate major league experience. There are some very highly regarded players who have either seen very limited major league time or none at all. These are guys like Mike Trout, Eric Hosmer, Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, Matt Moore and Desmond Jennings.
These guys are all probably going to be very good to possibly great major leagues, and some might have made a list of top 30 picks, but there are other players in baseball with more big-league experience who are preferable.
Then there are the guys who are too old. Yes, their numbers right now may in fact make them very attractive, but if one assigned the task of "building" a franchise, then you'd have to at the very least allow for three years at a minimum to develop that franchise.
So with that in mind, these players wouldn't be ideal: Albert Pujols, Jose Bautista, Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Hamilton, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, C.C. Sabathia.
2. Scarcity: Certain positions are just a tougher find at peak performance. Starting pitchers are at the top of the list, but shortstops and outfielders who are both great on offense and defense are tough to find as well.
I don't place a premium on closers because they're easily replaceable in most cases, and I don't like catchers because they're injured with regularity.
Top Starting Pitchers
There are really three top starters— Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez and Clayton Kershaw. There are other great starters out there, but none have the combination of youth, experience and actual realized potential as opposed to playing the waiting game on that potential .
Production and Potential
If you're "building" the team around this guy then having to wait too long for consistent performance could be a problem. You'd ideally want someone who's great and will continue to be for quite some time. In addition you'd want five-tool type of players if you could find them.
This includes Robinson Cano, Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Evan Longoria, Mike Stanton, Joe Mauer, Matt Kemp, Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, Joey Votto, Jason Heyward, Miguel Cabrera, Buster Posey, and Andrew McCutcheon.
So with that in mind I had Justin Upton ranked pretty high. After all, he's young ( 24 on Opening Day 2012). He's got five-tool skills with proven ability to hit 30-plus home runs, steal 20-plus bases and hit over .300 along with above-average fielding skills.
He wasn't my top choice; I loved Kershaw, Felix and Verlander. I also loved Ellsbury, Kemp and Tulowitzki. Those guys were gone already when it came time for me to select.
It just seemed that Upton's skill set COMBINED with both his age and experience made him as easy ninth pick.