The 2019 FanGraphs Franchise Player Draft: Picks 1-15 - 19 minutes read

The 2019 FanGraphs Franchise Player Draft: Picks 1-15

Yesterday, we released the results of the back half of the 2019 FanGraphs Franchise Player Draft. As a reminder, the idea behind the exercise is simple: throwing out existing contracts, teams, and other real life sundry, which player would you most want to build a baseball franchise around if you were starting from scratch? Today, we offer picks 1-15 for your amusement and derision. Enjoy!

Devan Fink, Pick 1: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels There’s no easier pick than Mike Trout at No. 1. He’s the only player in the league who guarantees elite production every year. Every time we think we’ve found someone better — whether it be Bryce Harper, Mookie Betts, Christian Yelich, or Cody Bellinger — Trout comes back to remind us why he reigns supreme.

Since 2005, no player has produced more WAR than Trout’s 71.0. He didn’t even debut until 2011. He has posted eight straight seasons with a wRC+ of 167 or better. He’s rated out as a positive defender in all but two seasons. Heck, even his baserunning has been worth 4.5 runs this year, eighth-best in the majors.

Perhaps the only downside, if you want to call it that, is Trout’s age. Position players tend to peak around 28, and Trout is 27. We don’t know how gracefully he will decline, but even at 70 or 80 percent of his current talent level, Trout would be one of the best. Age should not deter me.

Mike Trout is the best player of this generation. He could go down as the best player in baseball history. Wanting to start my team with anyone else would be foolish.

Eric Longenhagen, Pick 2: Francisco Lindor, Cleveland Indians I assumed Trout would be off the board at No. 1, so my mix for this selection was Lindor, Mookie Betts (who I’d have announced as a second baseman), and Alex Bregman. Frankie is fourth among hitters in WAR since 2016 and would probably be third, ahead of Christian Yelich, had he not missed a few weeks this year with a calf and then ankle injury. He’s an elite athlete and defender at a premium position, and a dynamic offensive player who has grown into more power than even those who were most enthused about his future anticipated he would while he was a prospect. A switch-hitter with a 116 wRC+ from the left side and a 128 wRC+ from the right side, Lindor is also matchup-proof in an age when teams are more intelligently and proactively attacking hitters with relievers.

He also has the emotional maturity and easy-going affability suited to being a franchise’s cultural cornerstone, both in the clubhouse and off the field. His well-known, infectious smile and effervescence are great to be around, but he’s also an intense, vocal leader when he needs to be and has been willing to confront veterans about their play. Is that as important as his talent? No, but when everyone at the top of this draft is an elite talent, it’s a separator.

Rian Watt, Pick 3: Alex Bregman, Houston Astros If Trout had been on the board at three, I’d have taken Trout. But Bregman would have been my choice even if I’d had Eric’s slot at two, as much as I love Lindor and Cody Bellinger (the other two players I considered here). That’s because Alex Bregman is 25 years old, already does just about everything right on the baseball field, and is still getting better. After hitting 31 homers across 700 or so plate appearances last year, he already has 23 in half that many trips to the plate so far this season. Last year, he was already one of the few players in baseball to walk more than he struck out (just four qualified players met that standard last year) and this year he’s bumped his walk rate more than three points while holding his strikeout rate basically steady. He’s good on the bases, and he’s terrific with the glove at third. He’s bilingual, a rock in the clubhouse, and already a world champion. Besides Trout, who is the best baseball player most of us will ever see, there’s nobody I’d want more to start a franchise with than Bregman.

Brendan Gawlowski, Pick 4: Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers This was not an easy decision. To the consternation of my friends, I interrupted a good half hour of our trip pinging back and forth between FanGraphs and Baseball Savant, making sure I took the right guy here. Would I be overreacting to select Cody Bellinger after a hot three months? To pass over Mookie Betts after his (relatively) slow start? Isn’t Christian Yelich the safe option? Would this blurb be more interesting if I picked Ohtani?

Ultimately, it came down to the swing. In an era characterized by uppercut hacks, Bellinger’s steep and swift cut still stands out for its unapologetic force. It’s easy to imagine how, in trusted hands, that swing could produce a 40-homer season or three. It is not, however, the measured and efficient stroke we associate with the game’s most judicious hitters. And yet Bellinger has walked more than he’s struck out this season. Anyone who can do this kind of damage, with that kind of discipline, must be pretty special. To top it all off, he’s also just 23 and he plays a capable center field. He is a remarkable talent, and a guy I feel comfortable drafting No. 4 overall.

Audrey Stark, Pick 5: Anthony Rendon, Washington Nationals When selecting a franchise player, I wanted a “veteran” with consistently above-average play in the field and at the plate. It is important for this player to have experience so they can take on a leadership role in the clubhouse, but also have enough playing years left to be a cornerstone for this new ballclub over the next several seasons. At the end of the day, I felt like Anthony Rendon exemplifies all of those things.

Since the beginning of the 2017 season, his WAR is fourth in all of baseball. He has 144 wRC+ over that period and a 23.6 defensive rating. Rendon is a consistent hitter and an above-average third baseman. He is also a low-key, unproblematic person. Rendon seems like a genuinely good human, in addition to being a great baseball player. He is involved in the Nationals’ charity organization and his biggest scandal was cutting off his hair. I like watching him play; that’s the sort of person I’d like to build a team around.

Jason Martinez, Pick 6: Fernando Tatis Jr., San Diego Padres Through his first 55 games as a big leaguer, Tatis has been a human highlight-reel with a collection of amazing baserunning and defensive feats. Even as he skyrocketed up the prospect rankings in recent years, there were some concerns that he wouldn’t be able to stick at shortstop long-term. Now, it would be difficult to tell which defender on the left side of the Padres’ infield is nicknamed “El Ministro de Defensa” and which one was in Double-A this time last season. While Manny Machado has been as good as advertised at the hot corner, it’s Tatis who seems to steal the show on a regular basis.

And the kid can hit, too. At his current pace, the 20-year-old would have 135 runs, 27 doubles, 15 triples, 41 home runs, 97 RBI, and 38 stolen bases over his first 162 games. Which shortstops have put up numbers that even remotely resemble those? A few players come to mind, all amongst the greatest to ever step foot on a baseball diamond.

There’s no question that we’re witnessing a rare five-tool shortstop in action. What makes Tatis stand out even more, however, are the incredible baseball instincts that enhance each one of those tools. It’s a big part of why he can be so good at such a young age, and why he’s the kind of player who you would build your franchise around.

Sung Min Kim, Pick 7: Christian Yelich, Milwaukee Brewers If I were start a new franchise, there aren’t a lot of players I’d want more than the 27-year-old Christian Yelich. Sometimes, you don’t have to overthink it. Hitting for a 180 wRC+ and slashing .329/.433/.707 with 31 home runs through 82 games, Yelich is one of the bona-fide superstars of major league baseball. While his defense is not all that elite, his bat has amassed enough value to boast a 5.1 WAR, third-best among all positional players. The ridiculous thing about Yelich is that he’s taken steps to be a more dangerous hitter after his 2018 MVP campaign. He’s hitting fewer grounders (2.20 GB/FB compared to 1.11) while lifting the ball more (23.5 FB% to 38.7%), which has resulted in a higher home run rate despite a lower HR/FB rate (35.0% vs. 34.1%). What he’s doing right now is so ridiculous that you couldn’t possibly expect him to keep up this pace for the rest of the season or the next few years … unless he does. Even if things normalize a bit, he’d still be a 5-WAR player who has a lot of good years left in the tank.

Eli Ben-Porat, Pick 8: Wander Franco, Tampa Bay Rays Baseball’s current economic environment necessitates accumulating surplus value by leveraging cost controlled years. Given the recent trend of team-friendly deals, especially those that included free-agent years, it seemed imperative to build a franchise around one of these players. Players who fit that mold (and were available at No. 8) were Wander Franco, Ronald Acuna, Gleyber Torres, Juan Soto, and Vlad Jr.

No prospect is a sure thing, but prospects who hit for power and don’t strike out are a very rare breed. Wander Franco, despite being extremely young for his level, has walked 50% more than he’s struck out, all while hitting for power and getting on base at a high clip. To top off his flawless profile, he also looks likely to stick at shortstop. Vlad Jr. shares a lot of the same traits as Franco, but he’s likely to be a liability on defense, much like Juan Soto.

The decision came down to Franco, Torres, and Acuna, all players who have shown they can play up the middle. They’re all young, but at 18, Franco is the youngest, a cornerstone I can build around for years to come.

Nick Pollack, Pick 9: Mookie Betts, Boston Red Sox Mookie Betts was an easy choice and doesn’t require much defending. He’s a blend of offensive and defensive excellence, putting up 33.6 WAR in four-and-a-half seasons worth of games. Even in 2019’s “down” first half, Betts has still posted a 124 wRC+ as he holds a -2% strikeout-to-walk ratio, seemingly on the precipice of a return to the elites in the second half. Oh, and his glove is still ridiculously good in the outfield.

And on top of all his on-the-field talents, a franchise player needs to be a leader. A player who builds a clubhouse, displays maturity to steer new members in the right direction, a face of an organization who forces outsiders to flock to what you’re selling. Betts carries this without question, providing a steady rock to set the proper tone to lead a team.

At a young age of 26-years-old, Betts is an excellent combination of veteran leadership and elite performance while being highly capable of handling himself as the leader of a team. Honestly, who wouldn’t want Mookie Betts?

Tony Wolfe, Pick 10: Ronald Acuna Jr., Atlanta Braves I strongly considered Vladimir Guerrero Jr. here because of the enormous upside that comes with his bat and his incredibly young age. Then I remembered Ronald Acuna Jr. is just one year older than Vlad, has almost as much upside offensively, and has already amassed nearly 7.0 WAR in 201 big league games. Acuna, 21, currently sits in the 95th percentile in both sprint speed and xwOBA, and has made some strides as a defender in center field. If we factored in team control, salaries, and all of that into this draft, Acuna’s legitimately gross contract might make him the No. 1 overall pick. But even after that’s set aside, it’s difficult for me to imagine a better player to build around than the center fielder, barely of legal drinking age, who already hits the ball harder than almost anyone else, runs faster than almost anyone else, and walks 10 percent of the time.

Mike Podhorzer, Pick 11: Manny Machado, San Diego Padres I immediately eliminated pitchers from consideration, as their skills change more rapidly and injuries seemingly derail their performances more frequently than hitters. I wanted a hitter who could add defensive value, in addition to being highly productive at the plate, and of course, is young enough to still be in his prime. It’s easy to forget that Manny Machado just turned 27, as it feels like he has been around forever. It’s true that he hasn’t been absolutely elite offensively during his career, but he has still been pretty darn good (.349 wOBA and 120 wRC+). While he hasn’t performed nearly as well with the glove at shortstop as at third base, his ability to play two premium positions competently (and he has been a fantastic third baseman throughout his career) provides valuable roster flexibility. With strong contributions from both sides of the field, he’s clearly a guy to build a club around.

Dylan Higgins, Pick 12: Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels I won’t insist that Shohei Ohtani is the most talented baseball player on the planet, but I’m willing to suggest it. Do you want someone that hits the ball very hard? What about someone who runs very fast? An ace pitcher should certainly be near the top of your list. Ohtani checks every box, having already proven to be outstanding at the plate and on the mound, and he hasn’t even had the opportunity to show what he could do in the field.

Baseball has had several multi-sport stars in the century since it last saw a legitimate two-way legend. Bo Jackson was absolutely incredible, but he wasn’t especially productive (7.7 WAR in 694 games across seven seasons). Ohtani is already over halfway there (4.1 WAR) after 1 1/2 years, and that’s including a Tommy John surgery and no defense. I will sell so many Sho Knows t-shirts.

Ohtani is a superstar on both sides of the ball and both sides of the globe, and he hasn’t come close to reaching his potential. He’s just 23, he can already do everything, and he isn’t even healthy. I am in love with the face of my new franchise at pick No. 12.

David Laurila, Pick 13: Matt Chapman, Oakland Athletics When I learned we would be doing this draft, one of my first thoughts was “If he’s available, I’m taking Fernando Tatis Jr.” The opportunity never presented itself — he was long gone by the time my pick rolled around — so I defaulted to Rafael Devers, who I liken to a young David Ortiz. Then I changed my mind. Is there a more-under-appreciated superstar in the game of baseball than Matt Chapman? Superstar? Yes, it is reasonable to place that tag on the 26-year-old Oakland Athletics third baseman.

Brooks Robinson is in the Hall of Fame because he was an all-time great defender at the hot corner, as well as a steady, productive hitter. Chapman is on track to be just that. His glove is as good as it gets, while his offensive numbers — don’t forget that he plays his home games in Oakland — are quietly superb. He’s on pace to hit 40 home runs this year, and his wOBA and wRC+ since the start of last season are .369 and 136 respectively. He’s been worth 10 WAR over that same period. Matt Chapman is the type of player you can build a team around.

Paul Sporer, Pick 14: Gleyber Torres, New York Yankees Torres is a 22-year old, up the middle infielder who showed that his debut effort (120 wRC+) was not only legit but may have undersold his premium bat. He takes a 130 mark into the second half and was rightfully named to his first All-Star game. Torres doesn’t have any 70s on his scouting report but rather a collection of 50-60 grade tools that add up to elite upside. Small plate skill improvements this year have him closer to his minor league rates (20% K, 10% BB) and if he continues to produce at this clip, he will have a double digit walk rate annually. His defense at shortstop isn’t top of the scale but it’s good enough to hold the position for the foreseeable future, with second base remaining a perfectly reasonable fallback. One of the game’s brightest stars, Torres could soon be hitting 30+ home runs while landing in the 4-5 WAR range every year.

Jake Mailhot, Pick 15: Joey Gallo, Texas Rangers No one in baseball hits the ball harder than Joey Gallo. There are few who walk more than Joey Gallo. There are even fewer still who strikeout more than Joey Gallo. Therein lies the risk in picking him to headline this hypothetical baseball franchise. But the power is just so tantalizing. And to his credit, he’s made some real changes to his approach at the plate this year. He’s chasing pitches out of the zone far less often while managing to hit the ball harder than ever. When he does make contact—even if it isn’t all that often—he’s running an expected wOBA of .686! He’s also no slouch in the field either. He’s put up positive defensive marks at all three outfield positions and can play either infield corner in a pinch. That defensive value and flexibility elevates him above some of the other bat-first options on the board. His relative youth—he’ll turn 26 this November—gives him the perfect mix of short term and long term value. Picking Gallo feels like an endorsement of a particular baseball aesthetic, one centered around the three true outcomes, but his strong skills beyond his extreme power makes him a franchise cornerstone.


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