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Five Washington Nationals selected in ESPN's Franchise Player Draft

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ESPN held its annual franchise player draft on Friday. In sixty picks, five members of the Washington Nationals organization were selected. How did they fare?

Bryce Harper was selected second overall in ESPN's franchise player draft on Friday.
Bryce Harper was selected second overall in ESPN's franchise player draft on Friday.
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

On Friday afternoon, the writers of ESPN.com held their annual franchise player draft. In this draft, thirty writers selected which players they would choose to build their franchise around if they were starting a club from scratch.  ESPN did one full round as an entire group and had two of their writers (Eric Karabell and David Schoenfield) make all of the selections for a second round of thirty selections.

There aren't really any limitations to the player pool that they use.  They can take players who are already in the major leagues.  They can take minor leaguers.  One writer actually even chose 20-year-old Japanese outfielder/pitcher Shohei Otani, who isn't even eligible to be posted to North American teams for three more years.  It's just kind of a fun and interesting exercise where we get to see a bunch of the usual talking heads talk about baseball and its (predominantly young) stars.

The Washington Nationals ended up being fairly well represented in this year's franchise player draft.  Two Nationals went in the first round.  Three more went in the second round.  It's actually kind of stunning to think that the last major league asset from the Nationals that was selected (46th overall to [cringe] former Nats GM Jim Bowden) didn't go in the top fifteen overall.  Let's have a look at the Nats players that were selected and talk about them a bit.

Bryce Harper selected #2 overall by Alex Cora

Here's what they said about Harper....

Why Cora selected Harper: Bryce Harper might be underrated! He's becoming the player that every talent evaluator projected when they saw him as a teenager and is improving in every aspect of the game -- and he's ONLY 22. Enough said. The Trout/Harper conversation should be revisited; the gap is closing between them faster than the adjustments Harper is making on a daily basis.

ESPN Stats & Info says: It's easy to forget Bryce Harper is just 22 years old. He's hit 18 home runs in 53 games and is on pace for 57 homers this season. That would shatter the record for most home runs by a player that young in the modern era (Since 1900).

As they mention, Harper is just 22 years old.  Entering play Sunday, he led MLB with 19 HR, a .472 OBP, a .721 SLG, a .492 wOBA, and 216 wRC+.  He was also second in the majors with 46 RBI and third with 44 Runs.  Harper has been the best hitter in the league so far in 2015, and at 22 years old, he's still a few years away from reaching his projected offensive peak.

Based on his age and projected future, Harper probably would have gone second overall if this draft had been held back in March.  With two months worth of 2015 in the books, it's a safe bet that Mark Mulder had to at least think about taking him over Mike Trout.  It's hard to fault anyone for going with Trout though.  Trout has the track record of having been the best player in baseball for the past three years, and he's only 23 himself.

Max Scherzer selected #12 overall by Karl Ravech

I think we all expected to see Anthony Rendon as the second National selec..... Wait... What happened here?  I've loved what Scherzer has brought to the Nationals and I think he's going to be an excellent pitcher for (at least most of) his tenure in D.C.  In a draft where most of the players that are selected are centerpieces that are either just hitting or just about to hit their prime, though, this seems a little odd.  Here's what ESPN has to say about the pick....

Why Ravech selected Scherzer: With all due respect to the other pitchers who have been selected, none of them has been as dominant as Scherzer this season. He also has no history of any injuries and has become a polished pitcher versus thrower.

ESPN Stats & Info says: Scherzer has been worth 15.7 wins above replacement the past three seasons from age 28-30. Clayton Kershaw is the only pitcher who's been worth more in that span.

I can get behind Scherzer going pretty high in this draft.  In truth, I think that Ravech's reasoning might seem a bit more focused on the short-term than what I would expect in a franchise player draft.  He does mention the lack of an injury history and how polished he is, but he's also a player who may see some age-related decline in the next three or four seasons.

Still, I do like the pick.  Dan Szymborski posted a follow-up article to their draft with his (and ZiPS) feelings on the best and worst picks.  Scherzer didn't make either list.  Included in that article, we'll see where each player selected in the first round ranks in terms of ZiPS projected WAR for the remainder of their career.  Scherzer ranks 20th.  This may have been a bit of an overdraft, but Scherzer was probably a good fit in the first round.

Scherzer is in the midst of yet another terrific season.  The 30-year-old starter leads the majors with a 2.18 FIP, is second in the majors with a 1.85 ERA, and is fifth in the big leagues with 90 strikeouts.  He's one of the very best pitchers in the game, and the Nats should be happy to be able to build their rotation around him moving forward.

Stephen Strasburg selected 43rd overall by Scott Spratt (via Eric Karabell)

Cue the naysayers.  Here's what ESPN had to say about the selection....

Still a Cy Young Award in his future. Probably. Well, maybe.

Miserable start and confusing injury situation aside, this seems like an odd selection.  I'm not necessarily saying it's too high or anything, but it kind of seems like it's a boom or bust type of pick.  Even the short uncertain blurb that ESPN uses tells us that the selection was more speculative than anything.

In truth, Strasburg has been terrific for most of his career in D.C.  The Strasburg critics don't love to hear it, but Stras is 24th in MLB with a 3.25 ERA since he entered the league in 2010.  He's 7th in MLB with a 2.91 FIP.  He's second in the majors with 10.25 K/9 innings.  He's 25th among starting pitchers with 15.9 fWAR in that span as well.  All of those numbers include what's been a very poor start to the 2015 season and a season that was lost to Tommy John surgery.  Oh yeah... He's also still only 26 years old.  Strasburg probably fits into this group of the top sixty players to build a team around, and going 43rd seems fairly reasonable.  It's logical outside of the fact that he went ahead of.....

Anthony Rendon selected 46th overall by Jim Bowden (via Dave Schoenfield)

Seriously?  Anthony Rendon was the fifth most valuable position player in the majors in 2014 according to fWAR (6.5) and the seventh most valuable position player in the majors in 2014 according to rWAR (6.5).  He just turned 25 years old over the weekend and he's capable of playing two positions (well) that are net positives on the defensive spectrum.  Did everyone who selected after pick number ten just assume he was gone already?  Here's what their article had to say about Rendon....

He just came off the DL and has had injuries going back to his college days, but he was one of the top 15 players in the game last year and can play two positions.

We haven't seen much out of the 25-year-old 2b/3b so far this season, but I think you'd be hard pressed to find a Nats fan who isn't thrilled that he's back with the club.  Rendon was the best player on the best team in the National League last season in just his second year in the majors.  He hits for average (.287 last season), power (21 HR, 39 2b), and is capable of working the walk.  He runs well (17 for 20 in SB attempts) and plays exceptional defense.  Again, last year was just his second season in the majors... He should only get better.  Somehow, he went more than thirty picks later than we would have expected in this draft.

I can say that one of the handful of the writers involved in this draft that I follow on twitter (where the picks were initially announced) showed his cheat sheet for his top ten selections before the draft.

*Side note - I don't normally do much in the way of suggesting people to follow on twitter, but Simon is excellent if you like getting your stat geek on.  He does a lot of heat maps, a "coolest thing of the day" in MLB each day, and he helps oversee their Stats & Info blog... If you like pointy ball, he's kind of obsessed with.... punters!  Just be forewarned that he's a Mets fan, so when he's not posting some random statistical oddity, he does like to talk about his own favorite team.

Simon actually picked tenth in the draft.  He elected to take Kershaw over Goldschmidt, who were fourth and fifth on his board.  Rendon almost made it back to Simon's spot in the second round.

Lucas Giolito selected 53rd overall by Ben Lindbergh (via Eric Karabell)

Here's what ESPN had to say about Giolito....

Elite pitching prospect might be two years away but projects as an ace.

Like many of you, I'm excited to see Giolito reach the majors, but that time frame seems about right.  He's getting his first taste of High A ball this season.  The results have been strong entering play on Sunday.  His 3.95 ERA doesn't inspire a whole lot of confidence, but a minor league pitcher's ERA can be kind of a secondary thing to look at.  His FIP is 1.33, which is insane.  He has a 38:7 strikeout to walk ratio in 27.1 innings, which is also rather ridiculous.  Giolito is living up to the hype so far, and is among the top pitching prospects in baseball.  He's still only 20, though, and hasn't even reached AA.

Omissions who could have made the list

  • I could have seen Jordan Zimmermann making this list.  He's 29, ranks 20th in pitcher WAR since 2010, and is going to be paid a lot of money to front some team's rotation this offseason.
  • Ian Desmond has had a disappointing start to the 2015 campaign, but he's 29 years old and has led all big league shorstops in WAR since 2012.  Like Zimmermann, Desmond is probably going to be getting quite a bit of money this offseason to become someone's core offensive player to build around.

Anyway, it was a fun exercise that I enjoyed taking a look at... even if I still have no idea how Rendon hung around the board for 45 picks.  I'll finish today's post with a poll......