ESPN Franchise Player Draft Critique

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ESPN Franchise Player Draft Critique
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

In light of the upcoming MLB First-Year Player Draft, ESPN decided to gather 30 baseball "experts" to perform a Franchise Player Draft. In this Draft, each person would select a player they would begin their franchise with.

For those who missed it, the draft is as follows:

NO. PLAYER POS TEAM
1.  Troy Tulowitzki SS COL
Karl Ravech (Baseball Tonight)
2.  Evan Longoria 3B TAM
Keith Law (ESPN Scouts, Inc.)
3.  Felix Hernandez RHP SEA
David Schoenfield (ESPN.com/SweetSpot)
4.  Joey Votto 1B CIN
Dave Cameron (ESPN Insider/FanGraphs)
5. Tim Linececum RHP SFO
Amy K. Nelson (ESPN.com)
6. Josh Johnson RHP FLA
Chris Singleton (ESPN Radio/BBTN)
7. Jason Heyward RF ATL
Jorge Arangure Jr. (ESPN The Magazine)
8. Albert Pujols 1B STL
Enrique Rojas (ESPNDeportes.com)
9. Bryce Harper OF WAS
(A)
Eric Karabell (ESPN Fantasy/Baseball Today)
10. Ryan Braun LF MIL
Mark Simon (ESPN Stats & Information)
11. Jon Lester LHP BOS
Orel Hershiser (Sunday Night Baseball/BBTN)
12. Mike Trout CF LAA
(AA)
Jason Grey (ESPN Fantasy)
13. David Price LHP TAM
Jim Bowden (ESPN.com/The GM's Office)
14. Robinson Cano 2B NYY
Aaron Boone (BBTN/Monday Night Baseball)
15. Joe Mauer C MIN
Jim Caple (ESPN.com)
16. Justin Verlander RHP DET
Steve Berthiaume (Baseball Tonight)
17. Carlos Santana C CLE
Jason Churchill (ESPN Insider)
18. Buster Posey C SFO
Christina Kahrl (ESPN.com/SweetSpot)
19. Starlin Castro SS CHC
Jerry Crasnick (ESPN.com)
20. Hanley Ramirez SS FLA
Matt Meyers (ESPN Insider/The Magazine)
21. Mike Stanton RF FLA
Mark Mulder (Baseball Tonight)
22. Stephen Strasburg RHP WAS
Kevin Goldstein (ESPN Insider)
23. Neftali Feliz RHP TEX
Rick Sutcliffe (Monday Night Baseball/BBTN)
24. Carlos Gonzalez LF COL
Jayson Stark (ESPN.com)
25. Clayton Kershaw LHP LAD
Tim Kurkjian (ESPN The Magazine/BBTN)
26. Jose Bautista RF TOR
Jonah Keri (ESPN Insider)
27. Michael Pineda RHP SEA
Buster Olney (ESPN The Magazine/BBTN)
28. Roy Halladay RHP PHI
Barry Larkin (Baseball Tonight)
29. Justin Upton RF ARI
Tristan H. Cockcroft (ESPN Fantasy)
30. Wilson Ramos C WAS
Doug Glanville (BBTN/ESPN.com)

Who would you take #1?

Submit Vote vote to see results

 

In general, I believe the majority got it right.

Sure, there will be a couple here and there that I do not entirely agree with by a spot or two, but I'm not going to bash those. Rather, I'm going to comment on the glaring omissions and mistakes.

First, Jay Bruce, Ryan Zimmerman and, to a lesser extent, Miguel Cabrera missing from this draft is a travesty.

Given how two prospects were taken in the top 12 picks, if this draft was done at the same time in 2008, I'm sure Bruce would have been selected. Three years later, has he really proven himself unworthy of being taken?

In 2011, Bruce is beginning to show what made him a top prospect in baseball. Currently, he's third among outfielders in home runs, eighth in weighted on-base average (wOBA) and thirteenth in wins above replacement (WAR).

Last year, Bruce finished 11th in WAR among outfielders with 5.3, which is still higher than any season Justin Upton and Ryan Braun ever had. Most importantly, he is only 24 years old and has yet to hit his prime.

 

Here's a fun little comparison:

2009-2010 wOBA UZR WAR DOB
Player A

.380 (2009)

.376 (2010

17.7 (2009)

11.1 (2010)

7.5 (2009)

7.5 (2010)

10/7/1985
Player B

.377 (2009)

.389 (2010)

13.7 (2009)

13.9 (2010)

7.3 (2009)

7.2 (2010)

9/28/1984

 

Player's A & B are pretty much identical in every way. Yet, Player A (Evan Longoria) was picked second and Player B (Ryan Zimmerman) was not selected at all. In fact, based on this draft, Zimmerman does not even crack the top three in his own organization.

Nick Laham/Getty Images

I can let Bryce Harper be taken so high, and maybe even Strasburg (given his dominance in his brief stint in the majors), but not Wilson Ramos.

When Doug Glanville selected Ramos, I can imagine half of the drafters doing a collective face-palm. Sure, he may become a decent catcher, but will he ever be a five-win player? Most likely not. In fact, he may not even be the Nationals' catcher of the future with Derek Norris currently at Double-A.

If you have Votto and Pujols (who is 3 years older) in this draft, I believe you have to take Miguel Cabrera, especially seeing who else was taken in this draft—more on that later.

Pujols, as great as he is, will slowly be on the decline.

Meanwhile, Cabrera (28 years old) still has a couple of prime years left in him. I find it hard to believe that in three years (when Cabrera is Pujols' current age) he won't be near the same production level. And in case many have missed it, Cabrera has increased his walk rate every year since 2008.

Am I arguing that Cabrera is a better player than Pujols or Votto? No, just that if those two are included, I believe Cabrera should also be picked somewhere in the draft. Even though he's a 28-year-old first baseman, 5-7 WAR players for the foreseeable future do not grow on trees.

Joe Robbins/Getty Images
Where is he?

Two other generalizations I noticed in this draft are that pitchers and catchers were each taken too high. I already went over the Ramos selection, but three other catchers in the top 18 is risky. Carlos Santana would have been my top catcher after the injury doubts surrounding Mauer and Posey.

At his peak in 2009, Mauer set the bar for the current crop of catchers with a ridiculous .365/.444/.587 season en route to a well-deserved MVP and 7.9 WAR season. However, that season was a significant outlier for home runs and unlikely to be repeated.

With his injuries and current age, Mauer (28) will now be entering the tail-end of his prime. There's also the possibility of moving him to outfield, first base or designated hitter to ease the wear on his legs, but that would significantly drop his value. Picking him 15th seems much too high for an oft-injured player who will produce a couple of more five- to six-win seasons.

Before his injury, Posey (24) would definitely have been picked ahead of Mauer. Unfortunately, it was a significant injury that casts some doubt on how many more years he'll be able to play at catcher—either by wear-and-tear or by cautiousness. Personally, with so many other great, young players left, I would not have taken the risk at No. 18.

My main problem with the pitchers being taken so early is that these experts have not yet adjusted to the increased pitching talent pool. There are more, good pitchers than there were just a few years ago.

As they look at pitchers' stats, many of these experts are still thinking "Wow, look at those numbers!" However, in their minds the gaudy numbers are still skewed by the lack of depth just a few years ago when those numbers represented only a few pitchers.

Aside from dropping the pitchers as a whole a few slots, I only have a few other grievances.

Josh Johnson, Jon Lester, Neftali Feliz, Justin Verlander and Roy Halladay were all taken too high.

I think Josh Johnson is a top-five pitcher in baseball and is still young enough (27) to have many more years ahead of him, but his injury history would be too risky for me to take him at No. 6.

Lester (27) at No. 11, and Verlander (28) at No. 16, are a bit too high when there are still pitchers left who are younger and already just as talented, if not more so. I'd take Kershaw, Price, Pineda, Jaime Garcia and Tommy Hanson over them. Perhaps even Brett Anderson and Jhoulys Chacin, given their young age.

Similarly, even though Halladay is probably the best pitcher in baseball, 34 years old is just too old for me to build a franchise around.

Neftali Perez is certainly young enough, but hoping he can convert into a starter and be just as effective is a risk I would not take at No. 23, especially with Kershaw and Pineda still on the board.

Feliz has not exactly been dominant this year, either. Posting more walks than strikeouts with a 5.27 FIP and 5.79 xFIP is not good by any stretch of the imagination. Tack on his penchant for fly balls (51.6 percent), significant decrease in swinging-strike percentage (11.9 percent to 7.8 percent) and drop in velocity this year, and there is just too much risk.

The only other surprise in my opinion is Starlin Castro at No. 19, ahead of Hanley Ramirez. Being seven years younger, it's hard to totally knock on the pick, but I just don't think Castro will have the power potential to be a six- or seven-win player. However, he can certainly make value up defensively over Hanley. Tacking on some four-win seasons in the next few years certainly would make the pick much more legitimate.

There are a few other, smaller differences I'd make if I had my own big board, but those are the biggest differences I noticed.

However, for being "experts," the draft looks more like a friend's annual fantasy baseball draft: Some very knowledgeable guys here and there, followed by a large pack of somewhat knowledgeable guys, and lastly, your few guys who might as well throw darts at a board.

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