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What were those guys thinking?

June 2, 2011

Earlier today, ESPN.com had a Franchise Player Draft for MLB. In all, 30 ESPN baseball analysts/writers/etc., each picked one player to start their own franchise with. It’s a great idea, similar to a fantasy draft, and I was intrigued by the idea because it seemed like something I would do in my spare time. However, I’m pretty sure I could’ve made better picks with my eyes closed in the South Pacific. Here’s a full list of the results, good and bad.

The draftees participated in a three-hour-long chat during the draft, and in it gave a lot of credence to picking a strong “up the middle” player, i.e. a catcher, shortstop, second baseman or center fielder. Maybe that’s why Miguel Cabrera wasn’t picked and four catchers, including Washington’s Wilson Ramos, were. Eleven pitchers, 10 starters and one reliever (Neftali Feliz), seven infielders and eight outfielders were picked as well.

The first pick was Troy Tulowitzki. In this draft format, it was a very good pick. But not the right one. The right one would’ve been Evan Longoria, who went second. In a draft format that stressed age over anything, Longoria (albeit slightly) has the edge over Tulowitzki. He plays a thinner position (He was the only 3B taken in the draft). He’s more consistent than Tulowtizki, whose pre- and post-break stats are strikingly different. And someone might want to take a look at Tulowitzki’s home-road splits as well (Hint: It’s not that pretty).

The drafting of four catchers really stuck out to me, but I shouldn’t be surprised because ESPN is basically Joe Mauer’s own PR firm. He went 15th today, besides the fact that his catcher-as-a-main-position days are probably over, so there goes part of his value. Well, actually all of it. Move him to a corner outfield spot? I can get those nine homers he averages from Jose Tabata or Felix Pie. Yes, his average and OBP are nice, but once he moves out from behind home plate his value, as a fantasy player, real-life player and fictional franchise player, drops dramatically.

More on catchers: Carlos Santana went 17th, Buster Posey went 18th and Wilson Ramos went 30th. So far this year Santana leads that group with six homers, yet he’s only tied for fifth in that category among catchers. Oh, and he’s batting .228 with a .395 slugging percentage. Posey was batting .284 before a season-ending leg injury last week, but his .389 slugging was even worse than Santana’s. And Ramos. Oh, boy. That .252 average is nice, but he is only 23! And apparently better than about 350 other options who would’ve made for a better pick. I understand the importance of having a good catcher on your team, but how much more valuable is a Santana or Posey over Yadier Molina, who plays great defense and is pretty clutch, especially in the national league when catchers can’t DH when given days off? They lose value, and if not overly dominant, which none of these three guys are, aren’t worth a first-round pick in a franchise draft.

Joey Votto went fourth overall, yet Miguel Cabrera, who’s only a year older than Votto, didn’t get picked? Are you kidding me? Several analysts referred to Cabrera’s off-the-field problems, yet those demons sure haven’t hurt his play at any time throughout his career. The dude is raking this year, and he has ever since he stepped foot on a baseball diamond. He’s on pace for a career-high OBP this year, yet these guys think Wilson Ramos and Roy Halladay are better building blocks for a franchise? Yeah right.

Felix Hernandez was the first pitcher taken and the third pick overall. I’m absolutely fine with this. Felix is only 25 years old and has improved every season he’s been in the bigs.

At 14, Robinson Cano was selected. Cano’s a great player; don’t get me wrong. I’d love to have him on the Cardinals. But he’s 28, has had only one dominant season, doesn’t walk much, only had one 100-RBI season, and has a career .345 OBP. Cano’s worth is overvalued because of the team he plays on, but what else is new? I’m surprised Jeter wasn’t picked by someone.

One of the picks I really liked was, at 25, Clayton Kershaw. The lefty is only 23, and is an ace in every sense of the term. He’s improved every year since his rookie year of 2008. His K/9, BB/9, K/BB and almost every other important statistical category have improved over the last three years. He’s been incredibly durable in his 3+ years in the majors and seemingly has at least 10 more dominant years as a No. 1 starter.

The biggest snub of the draft was, obviously, Cabrera. Others who I would’ve taken, over guys like Ramos, Halladay, Cano, Jose Bautista, and any catcher, had I been given the chance to, include Matt Kemp (only 26, career-high in homers last year and having a career year so far this year), Andrew McCutchen (everything you want in an “up the middle” player – speed, emerging power, great defense), Adrian Gonzalez (just turned 29, monster power and OBP, great defense), and even Eric Hosmer, who, at 21, should be putting up Votto-like numbers possibly as soon as next year.

I really enjoyed this exercise that ESPN put on – It’s just fun to pick out what I’d do differently than the guys who get paid to do it. But the selections of a few question marks over proven studs who are still fairly young was just too much to pass up a blog post on. Thanks for reading.

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