MLB: Franchise Players at Each Position
Recently I was approached by Bleacher Report about taking part in a mock franchise draft. The gist was that we simulate a 30-team draft, and each pick is for an MLB player you would want to start a franchise with. I thought the idea was great, and kudos to Eli Marger for coming up with it.
While thinking of who to pick, I started to sift through who I thought was tops at each position. And so, I came up with my own article idea to list who I think the top players are, at each position, to start a franchise with.
I selected each candidate on the following criteria:
General stats (offense and defense)
Intangibles (age, playoff experience, personality, contract, etc.)
As you can suspect, the following slides are a list of those players selected. While reading, remember, it isn't who's the best at each position. That would be too easy. It's who makes the best franchise player at each position.
Catcher: Wilson Ramos
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I know, no Buster Posey on this one. Posey suffered a pretty nasty leg injury last season, and as a catcher, that could spell disaster for your career.
Meanwhile, we have Wilson Ramos. The 24-year-old catcher burst on the scene last year, hitting .267/.334/.445 with 15 home runs, all in just 435 at-bats. A small sample size, but it tells us a lot.
Let's put things in perspective.
Carlos Santana led all catchers in home runs last season with 27 in 658 plate appearances, a rate of one home run every 24 plate appearances. Ramos' home run rate was one every 29 at bats. It isn't a perfect comparison (Santana saw more plate appearances than other catchers because of time at first base), but it highlights Ramos' power potential.
On defense, Ramos managed to throw out 32 percent of base runners. That number was good for third amongst all catchers in 2011. In the minors, Ramos threw out 43 percent of runners, so he could get even better.
All in all, Ramos is young, has power potential and great defensive skills. 2011 was also his first year as a full time player, meaning he has four more years of team control before becoming a free agent.
It was hard to shy away from Posey, but his major injury in 2011 makes Wilson Ramos the obvious choice.
First Base: Joey Votto
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First base was a hard choice. It is one of the deepest positions in baseball, and it is almost impossible to find a cheap marquee player to build a franchise around. So, I had to throw the contract criteria out the window.
Then, the choice become pretty easy.
Joey Votto, 28, has come on as one of the best players in the game.
Since becoming a full-time player in 2008, he's been a National League MVP once and a Gold-Glover twice. He's hit .313/.405/.550 for his career, clobbering 119 home runs. He's one of the most disciplined players in the game, leading the NL in OBP the last two seasons.
Since 2008, Votto is sixth in terms of WAR (leading all first basemen not named Albert Pujols).
In that same time frame, he's third amongst first basemen in terms of UZR (despite popular belief he is an above average fielder).
Despite a bout of depression in 2009, Votto has never demonstrated any major injury concerns. He's shown great personality on and off the field. He's got one season of postseason experience (which was lackluster to say the least), and with more opportunities, he could shine.
Votto isn't Albert Pujols (yet), but since becoming a full-time player in 2008, he's been arguably the best first baseman in the league.
Second Base: Dustin Pedroia
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Dustin Pedroia is one of the hardest working players in the game, and he's the perfect guy to build a franchise around. In just five seasons, he's won American League Rookie of the Year, AL MVP, two Gold Gloves and one Silver Slugger award.
Despite having one of the most violent swings in the league, he's proven to be a great hitter, posting a career line of .305/.373/.463. The power has continued to develop, with him posting a career high 21 home runs last season.
Pedroia's development has probably come to a culmination, but being a 20-25 player is nothing to be modest about.
Even more outstanding is Pedroia's glove. His 44.5 career UZR is fifth amongst current second baseman. He's one of the best vacuums in baseball.
Despite his "leave everything on the field" style of play, Pedroia has no major injury history (despite taking a ball off his foot in 2010). His contract is pretty manageable and has four years left on it.
The Rat (as he's called around the Boston clubhouse) has three seasons of playoff experience, including a World Series win as a rookie.
Pedroia doesn't look like much, but he's done enough in his career to prove he's one of the best players in the game.
Shortstop: Troy Tulowitzki
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This was another interesting position. History shows that Hanley Ramirez is the obvious choice, but his attitude, lack of defense and recent play was enough to shy me away.
That left one guy: Troy Tulowitzki.
From 2007-2011, Tulo has been the second best shortstop in the league (by a slim 1.4 WAR points). Defensively, his 32.0 UZR is third amongst shortstops in that time frame.
His glove is legendary, garnering him Gold Glove honors the last two seasons in a row.
Tulowitzki is also one of the best power-hitting shortstops in baseball. If his .293/.364/.505 career line isn't evidence enough, he's averaged 24 home runs a season. His .513 slugging rate, from '07-'11, is first amongst shortstops.
Nagging off-and-on injuries have been an issue for Tulo, but he's never suffered any major setbacks. His current contract is worth a lot of money, but he's locked up for nine years. He's also got two seasons of playoff experience, including one trip to the world series.
At just 27 years old, Troy Tulowitzki is one of the best shortstops in the league. Offensively, he might never be better than Hanley Ramirez, but in terms of a complete player, he's by far the best.
Third Base: Evan Longoria
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This was the first obvious choice I had. I doubt I'll get many disagreements, but let's run through the resume just in case.
Since 2008, Evan Longoria has been the best third baseman in all of baseball with a 26.9 WAR. Even more, that WAR makes Longo the second best player in all of baseball. Those are some big accolades in four seasons of experience.
Did I mention his American League Rookie of the Year, two Gold Gloves and Silver Slugger awards?
Longo has a solid .274/.360/.515 career line. He's also averaged 28 home runs per season.
Defensibly, Longoria is by far the best third baseman in the league and has arguably one of the best gloves in baseball.
Despite being so young (26 years old), Longoria has three seasons of playoff experience. He lacks any kind of major injury history. His contract is incredibly team friendly, with two remaining years and three team options.
Did I cover everything?
Left Field: Alex Gordon
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*GASP* No Ryan Braun?
Normally, Braun would've been the obvious pick. However, in terms of intangibles, starting your franchise with a guy recently accused of "banned substance use" probably isn't the best decision.
So, we go to the next best thing, literally, since Alex Gordon had the second best WAR amongst 2011 left fielders.
It seems Gordon's been in the league forever, and his first four seasons were mired in disappointment. He's long held a top prospect tag, and things finally came to fruition last season.
At 27 years old, Gordon turned in the best season of his career, hitting .303/.376/.502 with 23 home runs. Gordon looked solid all season long, never showing any signs of slowing down.
Gordon struggled with his glove in the past, but finally seemed to find his niche in left field. He posted an above average 9.6 UZR last season, garnering himself a Gold Glove.
Alex Gordon struggled for a long time, but he never gave up and seems to have finally hit his stride last season. He's still under team control for two more seasons and seems open to signing an extension.
Gordon is no Ryan Braun, but he's done well to prove himself the second best thing. This could be the most arguable pick, but I have faith in Gordon.
Center Field: Matt Kemp
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Center field proved to be a deep position in 2011. When analyzing the criteria, Matt Kemp definitely outshone the rest.
In terms of WAR, Kemp was the second best center fielder in 2011, with Jacoby Ellsbury coming in at No. 1. Luckily, both became full time players in 2008; so, to dispel some debate, I thought I'd compare both players against the criteria.
Matt Kemp on offense: .294/.350/.496, 21 home runs and 24 stolen bases averaged per season
Jacoby Ellsbury on offense: .301/.354/.452, 10 home runs and 35 stolen bases averaged per season
Kemp on defense: Despite two Gold Gloves, his defense is a bit of an enigma. He's shown solid speed and instincts, but in terms of UZR, his defense is awful.
Ellsbury on defense: Ellsbury has one Gold Glove. His quick feet gives him amazing range and makes him one of the best outfield defenders in baseball.
Kemp: Kemp lacks any major injury history, posting four seasons of 155-plus games and 650-plus plate appearances.
Ellsbury: Ellsbury had a lost year in 2010 due to major rib injuries, but besides that, he's been relatively healthy.
Kemp: Kemp has a great personality, is 27 years old, and is locked up for eight seasons.
Jacoby Ellsbury: Ellsbury's team spirit was called into question in 2010, he's 28 years old and could be a free agent in two seasons.
It's a very close comparison, but in the end, Kemp's power potential, youth and contract give him the edge.
Right Field: Justin Upton
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Finally, another easy choice.
For the last four seasons, Justin Upton has been one of the best young players in baseball. Young is no understatement, as Upton is only 24 and became a full time major league player as a mere 19-year-old.
Despite his youth, Upton has never looked over matched. He owns a .277/.357/.487 career line while averaging 22 home runs and 15 stolen bases per season.
He doesn't have the best outfield glove in baseball, but he's managed to be an above average defender. He's not an assist machine, but still features a cannon arm.
Upton's true potential comes from the intangibles. The biggest is youth. Upton's shown great development, and at just 24, he still has two to three years to get even better.
He's managed to stay healthy, though his 2010 season was cut short due to an oblique strain. For the most part, there's nothing to worry about.
Then, there's the contract. Upton is locked up for four more seasons, which could potentially be his best and most telling.
Justin Upton is young, but has never had any issues holding his own at the MLB level. His contract and massive potential makes him the ultimate franchise right fielder.
Starting Pitching: Felix Hernandez
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In theory, this should have been a tough pick. Baseball is full of young aces, all of which have the potential to anchor any franchise. In reality, this choice was an easy one.
Felix Hernandez hit the league as a 19-year-old in 2005, and he's never looked back. Since that time, King Felix has gone 85-67 with a 3.24 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 2.98 K/BB while averaging 217 innings and 198 strikeouts per season.
Hernandez, now 25, has one of the best pitching frames in baseball. He's able to sail his strikes in with ease and features great hit-and-miss stuff.
Most recently, the King took home the 2010 American League Cy Young award (leading the league in ERA, innings pitched and hits allowed per nine innings).
Since 2005, Felix Hernandez is fifth amongst starters in terms of WAR.
Hernandez has spent his entire career with the struggling Seattle Mariners, but never had a bad attitude. All that's ever mattered to the young stud is being allowed to pitch, which is what he does best.
Despite having a great attitude, youth and no injury history, the buck doesn't stop there. Hernandez has three years left on his contract, expensive years, but he's well worth it.
Young starters are one of the best commodities in baseball, and Felix Hernandez has "franchise tag" written all over him.
The All-Franchise Team
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C: Wilson Ramos
1B: Joey Votto
2B: Dustin Pedroia
SS: Troy Tulowitzki
3B: Evan Longoria
LF: Alex Gordon
CF: Matt Kemp
RF: Justin Upton
SP: Felix Hernandez