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