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Pick of the litter

Cabrera headlines list of top 10 franchise players

Posted: Tuesday May 8, 2007 12:03PM; Updated: Tuesday May 8, 2007 12:35PM
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So far in his young career, Miguel Cabrera is performing at the same pace as Hank Aaron.
So far in his young career, Miguel Cabrera is performing at the same pace as Hank Aaron.
Richard C. Lewis/WireImage.com
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Does it occur to you, too, that baseball has an '80s fixation? That the coverage of the sport seems skewed toward guys who were playing when cool guys wore Members Only jackets and grooved to A Flock of Seagulls on their Walkman?

Look this way and you can't get away from Barry Bonds. Look that way and there is Roger Clemens in your face. How is Randy Johnson throwing? How close to 3,000 hits is Craig Biggio? When is Tom Glavine going to win his 300th? Did you see Glavine pitch against Jamie Moyer, the oldest left-handers to start against one another? It's OK if you missed it, because then Johnson and David Wells topped the geezer record days later. What did Curt Schilling blog about today? And did you hear the Police got back together?

Clemens, who's been around long enough to have pitched against Joe Morgan, will become the 16th player this season playing past his 40th birthday. Many of these old-timers really did play in the '80s. Hey, is Steve Lombardozzi (0-for-21 vs. the Rocket) out there making a comeback?

Eventually baseball will move on. I think. In the meantime, it's worth remembering there is a class of players out there ready to pull the game out of the '80s. Who will be the standard-bearers of the next generation, the guys who were born in the '80s rather than playing in the '80s?

Here's one barstool-tested way of finding them: If you were starting a franchise today and could pick a player off any major league roster, who would it be? I'm adding one criterion here because anyone building a franchise should have the long term in mind: the player must not have turned 25 yet. I'm partial to the more valuable positions on the defensive spectrum and don't regard relief pitchers nearly as highly as starters. So here's my draft board of the 10 best under-25 major league players with which to build a franchise.

1. Miguel Cabrera, 3B, Marlins, 24. In a perfect world I'd prefer someone who plays in the middle of the diamond. But the Florida third baseman is too devastating a hitter to pass up, especially when he continues to get better with each year. Here's his trend line of slugging percentages by year: .468, .512, .561, .568, .618. He is a career .313 hitter who has cut down on his strikeouts, too. Baseball-reference.com says his most similar statistical twin through age 23 is Hank Aaron. That's good enough for me.

2. Grady Sizemore, CF, Indians, 24. He's already the youngest player in history to combine as many as 90 extra-base hits and 20 stolen bases in the same season -- and his ability to get on base gets better every year. Playing center field, which increases his value, Sizemore hits like Duke Snider, defends like Jim Edmonds and runs like Carlos Beltran. He's also a fierce competitor and fine role model for kids and teammates.

3. Jose Reyes, SS, Mets, 23. Two years ago I never would have imagined Reyes on such a list, but I've rarely seen a player improve so much so fast as Reyes has done. His improvement in plate discipline alone is extremely rare. Reyes is capable of hitting 25 homers, driving in 100 runs, scoring 140 runs and stealing 70 bases -- and winning a Gold Glove. He's already the most exciting player in baseball -- and one of its hardest workers.

4. Hanley Ramirez, SS, Marlins, 23. A half-year younger than Reyes, Ramirez should be battling his NL East counterpart for years when it comes to All-Star selections, Silver Sluggers and stolen base crowns. They are having nearly identical seasons this year. At 6-foot-3, 195 pounds, Ramirez might even hold up better than the more slight Reyes.

5. Felix Hernandez, P, Mariners, 22. Yes, it's risky to build a franchise around a young pitcher, especially one currently on the disabled list with less than perfect mechanics. But Hernandez's stuff is electric, and he has a solid pitcher's build that should serve him well. Of course, you might once have said the same about Mark Prior.

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