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Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols, an eight-year veteran who's still only 29, was the runaway winner in SI's annual executive and scout poll, which posed this question: Who are the top five active players you would pick to start a franchise? Pujols, who has never finished out of the top 10 in batting average or slugging percentage in his career, got nine first-place votes and was named on 17 of the 20 ballots. He easily out-pointed the runner-up, Rays third baseman Evan Longoria, 70 to 38, in the 5-4-3-2-1 scoring system. Pujols's victory ends a two-year shortstop reign; the Marlins' Hanley Ramirez was the poll winner last season, and the Mets' Jose Reyes (who did not get a single vote this year) was the winner in 2007.
Following Pujols and Longoria in the top 5 were Royals righthander Zack Greinke (30 points), Twins catcher Joe Mauer and Ramirez (26 apiece). A few voters were reluctant to include any pitchers on their lists ("too unreliable" one AL evaluator said), but Greinke, only the eighth pitcher to have a sub-1.00 ERA in his first 10 starts of a season, got two first-place votes and was named in the top three on five other ballots. Quite a jump for a pitcher who received a single fourth-place vote last year. Mets pitcher Johan Santana finished sixth in the voting, with 25 points, followed by the Blue Jays' Roy Halladay (21). Despite the absence of Reyes, the Mets had the most vote-getters (five), including Fernando Martinez, 20, who made his major league debut only last week.
In past polls executives and scouts have generally preferred middle-of-the-diamond players, but they couldn't ignore the well-rounded dominance of cornermen Pujols and Longoria. Pujols last year joined Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio and Stan Musial as the only players to have a .330 career batting average when they hit their 300th home run. Says an NL executive, "He instantly makes any team better. It doesn't matter who's batting in front of him or behind him, he finds a way to make it happen."
Longoria was the only other player to appear on more than half of the 20 ballots. "I think we're looking at the beginning of a Hall of Fame career," said one AL executive.
Headed in the same direction is Ramirez, of whom an NL exec says, "He's a terrific offensive player in every way—he has legit power, he gets on base, he's a great base runner and base stealer." Two of the eight evaluators who voted for the Marlins' shortstop, however, said that they would move him to another position.
As usual, there was a youthful bent to the list. Only four of the 27 players who received points are older than 30: Halladay, Alex Rodriguez (11 points), Carlos Beltran (4) and Manny Ramirez (1). Eight players with fewer than three years in the majors made it, none with less experience than Stephen Strasburg, the presumptive top pick in next week's draft, who received a single fifth-place vote.
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