Each year in Major League Baseball, the game sees young stars emerge as franchise players, and beloved veterans start to show signs that age catches up with everyone. In 2015, young prospects have taken the league by storm and are giving team’s fan bases hope for the future with their inspired play. From Joc Pederson to Carlos Correa, teams across the league are now able to rest their futures on the shoulders of 22-year old studs.
Most of these 22-year olds, however, were only drafted a few short years ago. With that in mind, many teams would love to have the chance to have these players on their team. What if the Oakland Athletics had Yasiel Puig? The Boston Red Sox boast Bryce Harper? Or Clayton Kershaw pitch for the New York Mets?
In what will only ever be realistic in the MLB The Show franchise, here’s a look at how a draft of MLB’s top stars would pan out today. Note that this isn’t a ranking of the league’s top stars, but rather a look at which players are having the best 2015 season – and, more importantly, have the potential to continue that success into the coming years. While the Dustin Pedroia’s of the world will just miss the cut due to age and probable regression, megastars like Miguel Cabrera will likely still be included.
For fun, we’ll go ahead and use the order from this year’s Amateur Draft held in June.
1. Arizona Diamondbacks – Mike Trout
Arguably the best player in baseball over the past three season, Mike Trout finally captured the elusive MVP trophy last season with a slash line of .287/.377/.561 with 36 long balls to boot. The New Jersey native has been even better this season, hitting .315 with an OBP of .405 – and at the end of July, he already has 31 home runs. This just might be Mike Trout’s best season yet.
The one flaw in Trout’s game is his strikeout tendency, but after swinging and missing 26% of the time last season, Trout has cut that number down to 22.8% in 2015. Expect Trout to continue to improve – which is quite a scary thought for pitchers. At only 23 years old, Trout should maintain his position atop baseball’s hierarchy for the foreseeable future – a perfect recipe for the number one pick. The D-Backs would be ecstatic to have a franchise cornerstone manning center field.
The last step in Trout’s ascent to the top of the baseball world is becoming a household name among the most casual fans. A tough feat indeed, but one Trout is poised to handle.
2. Houston Astros – Bryce Harper
Hyped as baseball’s next major star, Bryce Harper failed to live up to lofty expectations throughout his first three seasons in the majors as it looked as though he would be doomed as a career .270 and 20 homer hitter. This season, however, the baseball gods went into MLB The Show and tinkered with his stats – seemingly increasing his contact and power ratings to 99 (the highest possible rating). The budding superstar is hitting .330 with a 1.133 OPS and 27 home runs while showing no signs of slowing down.
This is the Bryce Harper fans and executives expected, and it looks as if those years of hitting .270 are well behind him. Harper should only continue to get better as his 18.7% walk percentage (up from 9.6% last season) is proof he’s working to improve in every aspect of the game.
Like Trout and the D-Backs, the Astros would finally have a new face of the franchise. Note that Trout and Harper could be picked at either one or two, but based off of track records, Trout has the edge.
3. Colorado Rockies – Clayton Kershaw
Put every notion that Clayton Kershaw is mortal behind you; the southpaw has emerged from a rough start to the season that saw his ERA hover in the high 3s (I know, crazy!) and nearly miss out on the All-Star game to return to his dominant (no word does his game justice) form. Through 131 innings this season, Kershaw has a 2.51 ERA with an impressive 2.11 FIP Fielding Independent Pitching) to go along with a career-best 11.89 strikeouts per nine innings.
At 27 years old, Kershaw has plenty of lights out innings left in the tank. The only thing left for him to prove is his ability to win in the postseason, but that shouldn’t be a problem for the best pitcher in baseball. In this fictional draft, the Rockies would have a few options for their outfield – but in order to finally solve their pitching woes, Kershaw is the hands-down choice.
4. Texas Rangers – Andrew McCutchen
Andrew McCutchen, already an established superstar in MLB, endured a rough start to the 2015 season that saw him hit .197 while battling a knee issue that clearly affected his swing. That narrative is in the distant past as the center fielder has managed to boost his slash line to an impressive .292/.388/.488 along with 3.5 WAR. With a walk and strikeout percentages at 12.2% and 17.3%, respectively, McCutchen is continuing his already excellent plate discipline.
Cutch has plenty of good baseball left in him at 28 – and when it’s all over, should be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. The Rangers would have a steal with the fourth pick by landing a perennial MVP candidate, and, for business purposes, one of the most popular athletes in the Lone Star state.
5. Houston Astros – Max Scherzer
Max Scherzer seamlessly took the reigns as ace of the Detroit Tigers staff a few short seasons ago – and proved it wasn’t a fluke. Scherzer has only improved since his Cy Young season back in 2013, adding a no-hitter to his already impressive resume. In 2015, Scherzer looks better than ever; a 2.33 ERA and 1.01 walks per nine innings are career best numbers and it only looks as if he’ll continue to improve from here on out.
The Astros strike gold at number five, landing the game’s best right handed pitcher to go alongside the game’s best hitter. Despite being 30 years old, Scherzer looks poised to have at least four more dominant seasons in his arm. Ironically, the Nationals already have this combo – but the Astros would without question start their franchise with the duo of Scherzer and Harper.
The top five is pretty much locked into place, only depending on if teams prefer young MVP candidates or dominant pitchers. Things get interesting from here on out.
6. Minnesota Twins – Giancarlo Stanton
Already the game’s most feared power hitter with only five seasons under his belt, Giancarlo Stanton was on pace to shatter his previous season bests in almost every statistical category before suffering a wrist injury. Through only 74 games, Stanton had already crushed 27 home runs to go along with a .265 batting average – a number that should only improve going forward.
The only flaw in Stanton’s game is his strikeout tendency, but that’s nothing new for power hitters and isn’t too concerning for Stanton’s place among baseball’s greats. Playing in the spacious Target Field might have an impact on Stanton’s overall power numbers, but not by much. The Twins get a franchise cornerstone at number six.
7. Boston Red Sox – Manny Machado
The breakout is finally happening! After bursting onto the scene with the Baltimore Orioles in 2012 and being hailed as the new face of Baltimore, Manny Machado struggled to find consistent playing time as he dealt with various injuries. In his only full season back in 2013, Machado hit .283 with 14 homers – not bad for a sophomore effort. However, the best was yet to come. Last season, Machado managed to hit 12 homers in half the amount of games – something many lost sight of due to his lack of playing time.
This season, Machado has taken his game to another level; currently batting .295/.365/.524 with 21 home runs, Machado is capitalizing on his sky high potential. The one knock on Machado’s game was his inability to draw walks, evidenced by his career 4.7% walk rate – but this season, the third baseman has increased that number to 10.0%. At number seven, the Red Sox have a lot of options, but it’s hard to pass on a 23 year old slugger capable of shifting back to shortstop.
8. Chicago White Sox – Paul Goldschmidt
Already regarded as one of the game’s best first baseman, Paul Goldschmidt has taken the crown as the best with his sheer dominance in 2015. The slugger is walking more, striking out less, and hitting an otherworldly .345 to go along with his 21 home runs and 74 RBI. Had he not been hit by a pitch last season, one that ultimately fractured his left hand, Goldschmidt may have cracked the top five here.
The Chicago White Sox already have a dominant first baseman in Jose Abreu – and they’d be silly not to take Goldy in this fantasy universe. Goldschmidt would instantly become a household name in Chicago and be able to lead the White Sox back to relevance.
9. Chicago Cubs – Kris Bryant
It’s no secret that the Chicago Cubs are very high on Kris Bryant in real life, which is all the more reason to take him again in this draft. While Bryant hasn’t fully tapped into his unlimited potential yet, it’s clear he’ll get there with more seasoning.
After mashing 43 home runs in the minor leagues last season, Bryant has managed to hit 12 in 373 plate appearances while managing a good-not-great .252 batting average. Bryant has struggled with striking out, evidenced by his 30.6% strikeout percentage – but he has a knack for getting on base (.358 OBP). The best has yet to come from Bryant, and the Cubs know that.
10. Philadelphia Phillies – Chris Sale
Finally, another pitcher! Chris Sale has been known as the ace of the Chicago White Sox for years, but with their inability to make the postseason – he hasn’t been recognized as such. In his three years as a starter prior to this season, Sale amassed an impressive 2.76 ERA while establishing himself as one of the game’s premiere strikeout pitchers (10.76 K/9 last season). The Florida native has only continued his dominance this season – shown on a large scale when he tied Pedro Martinez’s record with 8 straight games throwing 10 strikeouts or more.
In 2015, Sale has managed to strikeout 11.53 batters per nine innings while managing a 42.0% ground ball percentage. With the tenth pick, the Phillies follow the strategy that won them a World Series back in 2009 – pitching, pitching, pitching.
With offense at a premium in today’s game and an abundance of quality pitchers, the league’s best hitters are flying off the board while some of the premiere pitchers are still waiting to hear their names called.
11. Cincinnati Reds – Matt Harvey
A dominant rookie debut and equally impressive sophomore season vaulted Matt Harvey into the conversation as one of the best pitchers in the game. After missing 2014 due to Tommy John Surgery, Harvey’s place in the baseball world slipped – but not by much. The man nicknamed “The Dark Knight” has answered any questions regarding his ability to come back from the (unfortunately) common surgery.
Through 118.1 innings pitched this season, Harvey has posted a 3.16 ERA while showing signs he’s nearing his former Cy Young-esque form. Despite not striking out batters as much as in year’s past (9.64 K/9 in 2013 down to 8.33 this season), Harvey is still shaking off the rust from missing an entire season. The Reds would be thrilled to draft Harvey to be their ace and face of the franchise.
12. Miami Marlins – Yasiel Puig
Since his exciting rookie season in which he sparked a lifeless Dodgers team to the playoffs, Yasiel Puig has made strides to becoming a more complete player – but isn’t quite there yet. During his rookie season, Puig hit .313 with 14 homers in 104 games and followed it up with an impressive .296 average and 16 homers in 2014. This season, Puig missed time due to a recurring hamstring injury, but has hit .253 with a .750 OPS in 53 games.
Puig hasn’t been bad by any stretch of the imagination, but he simply hasn’t lived up to the sky high standards he set during his electrifying rookie season. While he may never be a complete five-tool player like many had hoped, with a few more seasons under his belt, he’ll surely be a good one.
The Marlins have tons of options in terms of pitching here, but with Puig’s Cuban heritage and the need for an impact bat in their spacious ballpark, Puig is a perfect fit at number 12.
13. Tampa Bay Rays – Carlos Correa
The first pick of the draft that can be considered a stretch, Carlos Correa is worth the risk. The 6’4″ shortstop has plus power potential in a position devoid of that type of production. Since being called up in June this season, Correa has slashed .288/.337/.521 with 8 round trippers in only 41 games. The hype is real.
Correa’s only issue has been with striking out (19.7% as it currently stands), but that’s expected with most rookies. The Rays have been on the edge of greatness for a few seasons now, and Correa is exactly the player to bring star power to the Trop.
14. Atlanta Braves – Jose Fernandez
In one of the more impressive rookie seasons in recent memory, Marlins young stud Jose Fernandez posted a 2.19 ERA while striking out 9.75 batters per nine innings en route to winning Rookie of the Year. Despite missing the second half of last season and the first half of 2015 due to Tommy John Surgery, Fernandez has furthered proved himself as one of the game’s elite hurlers by upping his strikeout numbers to a whopping 11.08 per nine innings.
At only 23 years old, Fernandez should be worthy of a top ten selection – but the Tommy John surgery and potential (although very unlikely) recurring effects drop him down to the Atlanta Braves. Since returning in early July of this year, Fernandez has a 2.77 ERA with an even more impressive 1.57 FIP. Quite the haul for Atlanta.
15. Milwaukee Brewers – Nolan Arenado
It seems as if Nolan Arenado has been hailed as a budding star for years, but scratch the “budding” now. Arenado is owner of a .906 OPS with a whopping 25 home runs while playing Gold Glove worthy defense (9.4 UZR). The breakout is over, and Arenado is here to stay. With plus power and elite defense, Arenado has all of the tools to lead a franchise.
The Milwaukee Brewers have plenty of options at the midway point of the first (and only) round, but with Arenado’s age (24) he’s simply too valuable to pass up. Arenado will only continue to improve and has the chance to become a nationally recognizable name.
Youth has dominated the first fifteen picks, and for good reason. The veterans should start to come off the board towards the end of the first round as many of the truly elite young players are off the board.
16. New York Yankees – Miguel Cabrera
Widely regarded as the best hitter of the past ten years, it may be crazy to think Miguel Cabrera could fall all the way to number 16. But realistically, how many more seasons can Cabrera hit over .320 and mash 40 home runs? It’s a tough question to answer, but one many teams may not be willing to take the risk on.
In come the Yankees. New York has never been afraid to chase an established star in the league – and despite some intriguing young players available, Cabrera represents the best chance to win now.
17. Cleveland Indians – Anthony Rizzo
After bouncing from Boston and San Diego’s farm systems, Anthony Rizzo found a home in Chicago and hasn’t disappointed. Despite a relatively underwhelming full sophomore season in which he hit .233 with 23 home runs, the Florida native exploded in 2014 – hitting .286 with a .527 slugging percentage and 32 home runs. In 2015, Rizzo has kept up his pace from last season, but looks capable of becoming a perennial .300 hitter with 30+ homers.
The Indians seem to always lack star power, and Anthony Rizzo is just the player to reverse that trend. He’d fit nicely as the face of Cleveland baseball for years to come.
18. San Francisco Giants – Felix Hernandez
Arguably the best right handed pitcher over the past seven or so seasons, Felix Hernandez looks poised to continue his dominance well into this 30s. At 29 years old, King Felix is right in the prime of his career – with an ERA of 2.69 and a 1.07 WHIP, he’s once again in the discussion for the Cy Young Award.
A slightly disconcerting trend in Felix’s game is his decreased strikeout and increased walk percentages this season, which are 23.9% and 7.5%, respectively, whereas last season he pitched to a 27.2% and 5.0%. The Giants would jump at the chance to take Hernandez at number 18 when he truly represents a top 10 talent for the next three to four seasons, at the very least.
19. Pittsburgh Pirates – Buster Posey
Now with three World Series rings to his name and a string of dominant seasons, Buster Posey has cemented himself among the all-time great catchers of the past twenty years. At only 28 years old, Posey has the chance to climb the ranks into the top catchers to ever play the game. Posey figures to move from catcher at some point to extend his career, but for now he’s still an elite defensive presence behind the plate – as shown by his 3.2 UZR this season.
With a .328 average, a .891 OPS, and 14 home runs – Posey could realistically contend from NL MVP once again this season. The Pirates are apt to build around a player they consider to be a cornerstone, and Posey is that player. Even if he moves to first base in the next few seasons, his value at the plate will be worthy of a top twenty selection.
20. Oakland Athletics – Jacob deGrom
It’s easy to be overshadowed when playing on the same team as The Dark Knight (Matt Harvey), but Jacob deGrom has been one of the best pitchers in the game since his debut last season. In 22 starts last season, deGrom posted a 2.69 ERA en route to winning National League Rookie of the Year.
And he’s only been better this season. The Stetson University alum has lowered his ERA to 2.19 while decreasing his walks per nine innings (1.63 in 2015, down from 2.76 last season) and should only continue to improve as he ages. At 27, deGrom is in the middle of his prime. deGrom doesn’t bring much star power to the table at this point in his career, but that doesn’t matter to the A’s. He could thrive as the ace in Oakland for years to come.
It took a while, but pitchers are beginning to fly off the board. Expect even more to get scooped up quickly while the remaining hitters with game-changing potential hear their names called.
21. Kansas City Royals – Gerrit Cole
The Royals based their magical run to the playoffs last season on their dominant bullpen and unlikely offensive contributors. With Gerrit Cole, they finally have a true ace to lead their band of rising stars – of course, assuming they draft that way (but why wouldn’t they with their success over the past two seasons).
In two and a half major league seasons, Gerrit Cole has quickly ascended to become the ace he was always projected to be since being drafted back in 2011. This season, Cole has lowered his ERA to 2.24 (from 3.65 last season) while only giving up 0.54 home runs per nine innings. At 24, Cole has lots of improving to do – but he’s shown the talent to continue his ascent up the ace rankings in MLB.
22. Detroit Tigers – Zack Greinke
Fresh off an astounding 45 2/3 scoreless innings pitched streak, Zack Greinke is in the middle of his best season since 2009 where he posted a 2.19 ERA with the Kansas City Royals. The 31-year old veteran has been consistently excellent since 2006 with a 3.40 ERA – but has taken his game to another level in 2015, dropping his ERA to a career low 1.37. Surprisingly, with his lowest K/9 (8.02) since 2010, Greinke has found ways to limit fly balls and keep runners off base.
His superb play in 2015 should warrant a higher selection in the draft, but his age is not exactly where a team would like to build around. In come the Tigers. Detroit, despite their lackluster play and willingness to sell off their best players this season, have historically been a club willing to take target “win-now” players. Greinke fits the bill, and will provide immediate dividends in the Motor City.
23. St. Louis Cardinals – Eric Hosmer
Like Detroit, it seems as if the St. Louis Cardinals have won their division the past ten years. With their ability to develop minor leaguers into contributors at the big league level, the team is never short on talent. Cue Eric Hosmer. Still young at only 25, the first baseman has only touched the surface on his true potential. In only four seasons Hosmer has already become a consistent .300 hitter with the ability to drive the ball. The one knock on the Florida native is his lack of home run power, but with time that should come.
Hosmer has become a doubles machine, racking up 88 since 2013. Once his home run power comes, there may not be a better first baseman in the game. St. Louis has the fan base and coaching staff to tap into Hosmer’s potential – a win for everyone. The Cardinals could target a veteran pitcher with this pick, but as previously mentioned, the lack of impact bats at this point makes Hosmer worth the pick.
24. Los Angeles Dodgers – Madison Bumgarner
Over the past several seasons, Madison Bumgarner has risen up the ranks to become the ace of the dynasty-in-the-making San Francisco Giants. After winning World Series MVP for his Herculean efforts last postseason, Bumgarner spread his name on a national scale. Despite pitching an absurd 270 innings last season, Bumgarner hasn’t lost a step this season. In 131 innings this season, MadBum is sporting a 3.16 ERA with a near career-high 9.00 strikeouts per nine innings.
The Dodgers seem to like left-handed aces, so it’s a no-brainer to take Bumgarner. At only 26, the lefty has plenty of solid innings left in him.
25. Baltimore Orioles – Noah Syndergaard
With a late first round pick, the Baltimore Orioles could play it safe and take a Johnny Cueto or Jason Kipnis, but how could they pass up on a flame-throwing 22-year old? Syndergaard has been long regarded as a star in the making, and it was only a matter of time until he made his major league debut. In 13 starts this season, Syndergaard has a 2.97 ERA, an even better 2.81 FIP, and has struck out 9.38 batters per nine innings.
Plus, he’s gained the nickname Thor. What more could the Orioles want? Sure, the sample size is small – but with a proven track record in the minors and the intangibles of an ace, the Orioles have a steal at number 25.
Pitching finally takes priority in the early 20s. With most of the top-tier pitchers off the board, teams should trend back towards hitters the rest of the way out.
26. Los Angeles Angels – Joc Pederson
A prospect that could convince the Dodgers to trade Matt Kemp is no joke – and Joc Pederson hasn’t disappointed in his first season in the big leagues. The 23-year old center fielder is currently sporting a .230/.355/.469 slash line to go along with 21 long balls. Sure, the average could be a bit better – but he’s getting on base with the best of them, so the average will come in time as his strikeouts go down (28.9% strikeout rate this season).
The Angels would surely enjoy having another young slugging center fielder on their team – and Pederson has the potential to become the face of the franchise.
27. Colorado Rockies – Johnny Cueto
After drafting Clayton Kershaw with the third pick in the draft, the Rockies could use another arm – but it’s not imperative. But, since they play in Coors Field, which is notoriously hitter-friendly, they’ll take one anyways. And a good one at that. Johnny Cueto’s name has flooded the news for the better part of the season, but for his trade value rather than his dominant play. The Rockies won’t be trading him anytime soon.
With a 2.62 ERA and 8.5% home run per fly ball rate, Cueto is once again proving he’s among the best ground ball pitchers in the game. Despite a lower ground-ball percentage than in year’s past (down to 42.5% from 50.9% in 2013), Cueto is still finding ways to get hitters out on a consistent basis.
Cueto slipped to the lower part of the draft because of his age (29) and questions regarding how long he’ll prove to be a consistent threat. Pitching in Coors Field may be an issue for other pitchers, but with his ability to get ground ball outs Cueto will prove his worth with the number 27 pick.
28. Atlanta Braves – Kyle Seager
Taking Jose Fernandez early in the draft allows the Braves to play around with their offense – and, like early in the draft, power is in high demand. Kyle Seager has emerged as a consistent power threat at third base since his debut in 2011. In his three full seasons, Seager has averaged 22.3 home runs per season while increasing his total each year – but looks well on pace to top thirty before season’s end. Seager currently has 15 homers to go along with a career-best .276 average and solid defense at the hot corner (5.2 UZR).
Atlanta could build their offense around Seager, who, at 27, can be their 3-hitter for years to come.
29. Toronto Blue Jays – Xander Bogaerts
As the second-tier of pitchers were scooped up, the need for offense is once again a concern for the remaining teams in the first round. With a dearth of offensively inclined shortstops, securing one is a top priority for most teams across the league. Xander Bogaerts entered the league as a highly-touted prospect with plus-power potential but with the thought he would eventually move away from the position.
In 2015, Bogaerts has proved the opposite. After struggling both offensively and defensively in 2014, Bogaerts has come into his own as a contact hitter with average defensive capabilities – as shown through his .317 average and 3.6 UZR this season.
The Blue Jays acquire a shorstop yet to reach his true potential as a hitter, but a shorstop capable of playing slightly above-average defense at the position unless a move becomes necessary.
30. New York Yankees – Jason Heyward
Drafting Jason Heyward with the 30th pick is solely based on the idea that he can one day rediscover his stroke from 2012, where he clubbed 27 home runs with an .814 OPS. Since that fateful season, Heyward has morphed into a quasi-.280 hitter with below average power for a right fielder who plays excellent defense (he had a 24.1 UZR in 2014!).
Heyward has actually made strides toward his 2012 form in 2015 – hitting .280 with 9 home runs and 20 doubles, but still isn’t back to the slugger he became known as just a few seasons ago. The Yankees can afford to take a risk on Heyward because, well, they took Miguel Cabrera earlier in the round. At worst, Heyward finishes his career as a .290 hitter that plays excellent defense. Not bad for the 30th pick.
Despite a few risky players here, each have the potential to pay huge dividends to their various teams.
Top Second Round Picks
Stephen Strasburg, Dee Gordon, Sonny Gray, Jason Kipnis, Dustin Pedroia
These players have established themselves as solid contributors with the potential to be game-changers, but just missed the cut for various reasons.
There you have it, the end of the 2015 MLB Fantasy Draft. The landscape of Major League Baseball has changed forever, but is that a good thing? Mike Trout now roams center field in the desert, the Yankees are back to dominating with Miggy and the J-Hey Kid, and Madison Bumgarner pitches for his rival just a few hours north.
Though I worked closely with every General Manager across the league, leave a comment with where I went wrong and what you would have done differently.
All stats via Fangraphs and updated through July 27th.
Credit all authors of images used in both article and as cover image : Nick Fustor