In concept, the Ultimate Fantasy Draft is pretty simple: If you were starting a team from scratch, which players would you build around? Here's BP's Top 10. (Last year's rankings in parenthesis.)
No. 10. Alex Rodriguez, 3B, Yankees, Age 31 (3)
Yes, that might have been the best April in baseball history. Yes, he looks locked in at the plate -- Rodriguez really does have a different look in his eyes than he did a year ago. But let's keep this in perspective. Last year at about this time, when A-Rod was coming off a season in which he hit .321 with 48 home runs and 130 RBIs, we rated him as the third most valuable commodity in baseball. Since that time -- since the start of May 2006 -- he has hit .307 with 44 home runs and 139 RBIs. The whole of baseball overreacted to A-Rod's 2006, so let's not overreact to one hot month in 2007. So why does A-Rod get bumped down to No. 10? Because as great as A-Rod is, there are a lot of other players in baseball who are nearly as great, and quite a bit younger. Would I take the rest of A-Rod's 2007 or the rest of Grady Sizemore's 2007? Probably A-Rod, but it's close. Would I take A-Rod's age-34 season in 2010, or Sizemore's age-27 season in 2010? The answer is Sizemore, and I don't think it's remotely close. A-Rod might be the best player in baseball right now, but if we're looking at a six-year time horizon there are at least a half-dozen guys ahead of him.
No. 9. Brian McCann, C, Braves, Age 23 (40)
This is one special kid. PECOTA thinks that McCann is going to be a consistent .300 BA, 25 HR guy year after year. Since 1950 there are just eight catchers who have had more than one season in which they posted a .300-plus batting average and 25-plus home runs. Seven of those guys -- Johnny Bench, Yogi Berra, Roy Campanella, Gary Carter, Carlton Fisk, Ivan Rodriguez and Mike Piazza -- are inner-circle Hall of Famers. The other is Joe Torre, who should get his plaque in Cooperstown soon enough. As an added plus, McCann is a quiet, humble kid on a team full of big egos; even his recent finger injury came when he was trying to lay down a bunt.
No. 8. David Wright, 3B, Mets, Age 24 (2)
He has just seven home runs since last year's All-Star Break. Some Mets fans seem ready to conclude that he's enjoying the bachelor lifestyle a bit too much, and cite the fact that he's hitting .175 in day games this year, but that pattern isn't consistent with his career numbers; he has a lifetime .926 OPS in day games and an .865 OPS at night. Let's remember that Wright endured a similar slump in August last year, only to rebound to become one of the best players in the league during the stretch drive. I think there might be something to the idea that a man who has always found success in every walk of life is going to have a bit more trouble adjusting to failure. But I don't think there's anything to worry about with Wright in the longer term.
No. 7. Jose Reyes, SS, Mets, Age 24 (NR)
PECOTA had Wright as being quite a bit more valuable than Reyes prior to the start of this season, and I was ready to stand firm by its conclusion, in spite of some aggressive campaigning by Mets fans to the contrary. But I've gone with Reyes in the end, not because of what he's doing, but because of how he's doing it. In particular, his newfound propensity to draw walks is extremely interesting. This was a player who drew just 27 walks in 2005, his first full major league season; he already has 18 this year. What taking walks does for a leadoff hitter is make him slump-proof. Reyes isn't going to hit .345 every month; he's going to have months when he hits .270. But if you can post a .360 OBP when you're hitting .270, you're still doing your team a lot of good. Reyes has worked with Rickey Henderson, and he has the chance to become the best pure leadoff hitter since his mentor.
No. 6. Hanley Ramirez, SS, Marlins, Age 23 (NR)
As much as I like Reyes, however, I like Ramirez a little bit better. The two shortstops had nearly identical numbers last year and they have nearly identical numbers this year, but Ramirez has two small advantages. First, he's six months younger. Second, he's at least three inches taller, which means that his bat has more projectibility from a power perspective. Reyes and Ramirez are extremely close in value -- you can call them No. 6 and No. 6a if you want. But if Ramirez were in New York and Reyes in Florida, the presumption would be that Hanley is the better player.