One of the pleasures of being a sports fan is argument with fellow fans. Friendly arguments, of course, but arguments nonetheless.
A frequent topic along those lines revolves around the idea of franchise players: who would you pick to start a team? So let's have that argument, and look at young players out there that could potentially be the face of a franchise.
Here are my picks. I've split up the top 10's into position players and pitchers, to avoid the quarrel back and forth on if pitchers or hitters are more valuable to a team. This also allows us to dig deeper into the pool of players.
I wanted to focus this on young players, so I set some criteria. First, you can't be over the age of 25. Second, you can't be paid over $10M. Lastly, positional value will play a loose role in this. While this project may have plethora of outfielders involved, a shortstop or a catcher could take priority over someone who you think is better. Just keep these three things in mind when reading through the rankings, and share your own.
10. Travis d'Arnaud, Mets
Salary in '13 Unknown
9. Mike Zunino, Mariners
Salary in '13 Unknown
I feel the need to mix these two together as I start off the list with a somewhat questionable selection. I originally had d'Arnaud ahead of Zunino, but with his recent eight week injury I just had to question his durability. Thus, making Zunino my top catcher to start a franchise. If you want a full breakdown of the two future studded backstops check out John Sickels' Prospect Smackdown between the two. As he states, it's a matter of preference here, and I prefer to take a durable player behind the plate. Zunino is also two years younger than d'Arnaud.
When d'Arnaud's actually playing, he's quite the ballplayer. Go figure. He has the ability to hit for average and power, while also being a leader behind the plate. It's just that his injuries have stopped him from being a phenom at the next level already.
At the plate it is said that Zunino has excellent bat speed which will equate to power. Zunino also has great plate discipline and that should help him hit for average as well as power. Scouts say his arm isn't going to blow you away, but it's accurate and Zunino has the arm strength to throw runners out. I'm willing to also say that Zunino will easily upgrade the Mariners catchers situation when he's inevitably called up this season. Sorry Montero.
8. Oscar Taveras, Cardinals
Salary in '13 Unknown
It's a shame the Cardinals outfield is so crowded. Oscar Taveras could really make a difference in the middle of the St. Louis lineup. Taveras is a rare player. He's an elite power prospect, who rarely strikes out. A 10.5% K% with 23 home runs in AA ball a season ago. He also has a good eye at the plate, adding to his case to become an elite big league hitter. Taveras' also has an extremely strong arm in the outfield.
I see him being scary part of the Cardinals lineup for opposing pitchers for years to come.
7. Jason Heyward, Braves
Salary in '13 $3.65M
Heyward was on my list back in 2009, but now he's proved his case. He's one of the cheat codes on this list because he's so young and making under $10M. We've had three years to look at Heyward and in three years we've been impressed. Aside from a down year in 2011, Heyward has made an impact for the Atlanta Braves.
He posted 6.3 WAR a year ago while hitting 27 home runs. If he can revert back to his rookie season numbers, like his 134 wRC+ and .377 wOBA, then the Braves will really be in business. He still needs to put it all together, but Heyward is a great player to build around.
6. Manny Machado, Orioles
Salary in '13 $0.495M
Manny Machado is still a raw player to me, but he has all the tools to be a star player for the Orioles. Machado was the rookie to sort of fly under the radar last season with Trout and Harper doing what Trout and Harper do. However, he doesn't quite yet deserve the praise like the other two. Machado is not even close to those two's level offensively. He has a lot of work to do at the plate. For starters he could start taking walks to improve his OBP. He needs to also get his wRC+ up and create more runs.
What he lacks hitting, he almost makes up for with his glove. Almost. I've seen many highlights of Machado doing amazing things with the leather. Yet, offensive production is much more concrete. If he can prove himself offensively then he'll have the whole package. For now he's a raw player, but I believe Machado can still become the Alex Rodriguez like player he is supposed to become.