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Posted: Thursday August 21, 2008 12:33PM; Updated: Friday August 22, 2008 10:27PM

PECOTA 50: The best players to build a team around (50-26)

Story Highlights
  • If you were starting a baseball team froms cratch, who would you choose?
  • The rankings take into account both numbers and scouting information
  • Upside is valued far more heavily than certainty in the rankings
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Matt Kemp
Still just 23 years old, Matt Kemp is batting .301 with 15 home runs and 28 stolen bases.
Kevin Reece/Icon SMI
Explaining The Rankings
The specific ground rules of the UFD are as follows:

" All players playing baseball in any professional league are eligible, including players in the minor leagues and players in professional leagues outside of North America.

" All present contracts are wiped out. In other words, price does not matter.

" Major league service time is also wiped out -- all players are treated as rookies. However, the structure of MLB's free agency rules is left intact. What this means is that you have six years of major league service time at your disposal before your player becomes a free agent. In most cases, this simply means that you'll get the player's 2008 through 2013 seasons -- A-Rod's performance from age 32 through age 38, for example, or Jose Reyes from age 25 through age 30. But if the player is still developing, you're also allowed to stash him in the minor leagues and then start his service time clock at some point in the future.

" In spite of this being called the Ultimate Fantasy Draft, our goal is to assess value in a real-life baseball context, rather than in any sort of roto- or fantasy-specific context.

" The rankings are entirely forward-looking; we are not attempting to reward performance based on what has happened in the past (including what has happened so far in 2008). Instead, we are solely concerned with which players will create the most value for our team going-forward.

" Off-field factors such as marketability are not considered, except to the extent that they affect on-field performance. So, Daisuke Matsuzaka does not get any extra credit because he helps you build your brand in Japan.

" Finally, we assume that your primary goal is to win the championship, taking risks as necessary in order to do so. What that means is that this list tilts heavily to upside over certainty. The UFD isn't for people who are content with second place.

By Nate Silver, Baseball Prospectus

Welcome to the third annual Baseball Prospectus Ultimate Fantasy Draft. We will attempt to answer this question: If you were starting a baseball team from scratch, which players would you want to build your team around? That is, which players would you take -- and in what order would you take them -- if your goal was to win as many championships as possible over the medium-to-long-term?

These rankings take advantage of several proprietary Baseball Prospectus tools, including our PECOTA projection system, which produces seven-year projections for each player based on his historical comparables. Adam Jones could be the next Willie Mays, for example -- or he could be the next Corey Patterson. However, we are by no means slave to the numbers, as this sort of list necessarily requires us to lean heavily on our instincts and scouting impressions. Rankings from last year's list are contained in parenthesis. For the honorable mention selections, click here. Today we will reveal players No. 50-26. Check back tomorrow for the top 25.

No. 50. Matt Kemp, CF, Dodgers, Age 23 (--)

Perhaps the Dodgers don't fully appreciate Kemp, having forced him to compete with Juan Pierre for playing time in the spring. But there's no reason that you shouldn't. Kemp has a lifetime .306 average, a big power hitters' body that should eventually produce 30 home runs per year, and plus speed that allows him to be a threat on the basepaths while looking surprisingly natural as a semi-regular center fielder. This is essentially the Andre Dawson skill set, and it still has room to grow.

No. 49. John Lackey, P, Angels, Age 29 (--)

Lackey has that sort of Chuck Knoblauch going on where he's been called 'underrated' so many times that he may now be overrated. But he's still been exceptionally consistent and exceptionally durable pitcher. The triceps injury that kept him out of action in April represented the first time that Lackey had ever been on the DL.

No. 48. Dan Uggla, 2B, Marlins, Age 28 (--)

Remarkably, three of the 50 most valuable players in baseball -- you'll see Josh Hamilton and Johan Santana making an appearance later -- were guys whose original employers were willing to let go of for $50,000 in the Rule 5 draft. Uggla strikes out as often as a left fielder -- but as long as he's hitting home runs like a left fielder, the Marlins aren't going to care.

No. 47. Geovany Soto, C, Cubs, Age 25 (--)

Completely off the prospect radar screen until last year, Soto has salvaged a dire situation at catcher for the Cubs. Since the start of the 2007 season, Geovany Soto has a VORP of 43.4, whereas Cubs' catchers not named Geovany Soto have a VORP of -7.6. Long-term, his career path should look a lot like Jorge Posada's.

No. 46. B.J. Upton, CF, Rays, Age 23 (No. 50)

He certainly hasn't matched his 2007 numbers, but because his walk rate has improved so much, he has contributed to his club even in a down year, with a .380 OBP thus far on the season. If Upton winds up being a Kenny Lofton rather than a Gary Sheffield, that is hardly a complete disaster.

No. 45. Carlos Beltran, CF, Mets, Age 31 (No. 12)

Beltran has lost a lot of ground in our rankings, but that's mostly just because he's been lapped by some younger talent. While Beltran does not have quite the power stroke that he once did, he still contributes to the Mets in all phases of the game, and has been the rare example of a Scott Boras contract that turned out well for the acquiring club.

No. 44. Howie Kendrick, 2B, Angels, Age 24 (No. 26)

Kendrick was arguably the best pure batting average prospect since Tony Gwynn, having been a .360 hitter over the course of his minor league career. Because of his recurrent injury problems, there is still a sense that we haven't quite seen all that he can do. Even if he merely winds up being a guy who hits .310 every year and bangs out 40 doubles, that is still a pretty valuable property in the middle infield.

No. 43. Carlos Zambrano, P, Cubs, Age 27 (No. 28)

Zambrano is just 27, but it feels like he's been around for a dozen seasons. Still, he remains one of the most enigmatic pitchers in baseball. Until this year, Zambrano had continued to rack up tons of wins in spite of his league-leading bases-on-balls totals in both 2006 and 2007. This year, he's revised his approach, getting his walk rate down to an acceptable number but experiencing a trade-off by missing fewer bats. Statistically speaking, he's still a No. 2 starter masquerading as a No. 1, but at some point you have to give deference to his adaptability, his durability, and his bat, which has produced 15 lifetime home runs.

No. 42. Edinson Volquez, P, Reds, Age 24 (--)

How often do you get a 15-5 record and a 2.73 ERA out of a 24-year-old pitcher ... and have to worry that you lost the trade that got him to you?

No. 41. Chad Billingsley, P, Dodgers, Age 23 (--)

Billingsley and Volquez have had nearly identical peripheral statistics this season -- Billingsley 162 strikeouts against 61 walks and 10 home runs, and Volquez 150 strikeouts against 70 walks and 10 home runs. We give preference to Billingsley because he is one year younger and has a deeper arsenal of pitches.

No. 40. Dustin Pedroia, 2B, Red Sox, Age 25 (--)

For years, PECOTA had been touting Pedroia, while scouts would not take him seriously. When Pedroia started out his major league career hitting .182 in April 2007, I thought I could see exactly what those scouts were seeing -- with his short stature and his uppercut swing, he looked like a Little Leaguer trying to hit major league pitching. I promptly traded him in my roto league. For Yuniesky Betancourt.

I should have kept the faith. And let's give the Red Sox credit for sticking with the gameplan. In a lot of organizations, like the Cubs or the Dodgers, Pedroia would have been banished to Triple-A, gotten frustrated, and wound up working at a car dealership.

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