Over 700 posts and I can't believe I've never written at length about this before. If I was building a team and could pick any current big leaguer to start with, who would I choose?
Before I get to my answer, I'd like to explain my process. I think age matters a lot. You want a young guy who not only has a promising future, but also might never be better than he is right now (aging curves show players are peaking younger than ever before). So that pretty much rules out everyone over the age of 30, if not 25. Sorry Miguel Cabrera. The younger the better.
Position matters a lot too. It's much easier to find a decent hitting first baseman or outfielder than it is to find a shortstop or catcher who's elite with the bat. Players who can provide top-tier production while also handling one of the most demanding positions in the field are exceptionally valuable. Ideally, I'd want to build my team around a young shortstop like Xander Bogaerts or Starlin Castro, if not a great center fielder such as Mike Trout or Andrew McCutchen.
Position players are inherently safer investments than pitchers, which is why I would never build my team around a young hurler, as tempting as it is to want to start with a Clayton Kershaw, Jose Fernandez or Madison Bumgarner. With Tommy John surgeries reaching epidemic proportions, the attrition rate is simply too high. I'd hate to assemble a team around Stephen Strasburg, only to see him flame out because of his poor mechanics.
So that leaves young, under-25 position players at premium positions, which narrows it down a lot. Here are my top-five:
5. Xander Bogaerts (21)
Bogaerts has broken out in a big way over the past couple weeks and is one of the few Red Sox actually hitting worth a damn. Though Boston bumped him over to third base to make room for Stephen Drew, they still view Bogaerts as their long-term shortstop despite his subpar performance there this year. He probably won't reach the offensive heights of Nomar Garciaparra, but he's clearly a very special player and seems likely to emerge as a superstar in the near future.
4. Giancarlo Stanton (24)
If I wanted to build my team around a power-hitting outfielder, than Stanton's my guy. He's one of the few players capable of hitting 50 home runs in any given year, and probably would if he played in a more favorable park and in a better lineup. However, he's not nearly as well-rounded as the players I'm about to mention, adding next to nothing on the bases or in the field. Don't get me wrong; Miami's slugging right fielder would be a great place to start, but I could do better.
3. Bryce Harper (21)
Harper has all the talent in the world, but he needs to prove he can stay healthy. Until then, his future is clouded with injury risk and the possibility that he'll burn himself out Pete Reiser-style or break down early.
2. Yasiel Puig (23)
Puig might have more raw talent than anyone in the game, but he's still a little rough around the edges. His baserunning and defense could be better, and his bat is super streaky. But the early returns have been fantastic so far, and nobody's more fun to watch.
1. Mike Trout (22)
Trout can do it all, and that's why he's my guy. With tremendous speed, good power, great patience and strong defense in center field, Trout's the complete package. He's been far and away the most valuable player in baseball over the past two-plus seasons, which makes him a no-brainer. The modern day Willie Mays is the closest thing to a perfect ballplayer in the game today.
Wil Myers (23)
2013's AL Rookie of the Year was mired in a sophomore slump before spraining his wrist in a nasty outfield collision with Desmond Jennings. An instant star last year, Myers has one of the brightest futures in baseball thanks to his stellar minor league track record and should be one of baseball's best hitters over the next decade.
Jason Heyward (24)
Still waiting for him to turn into Ken Griffey Jr. Doesn't look like it's going to happen, but he's still a fine player who probably hasn't peaked yet.
Manny Machado (21) & Andrelton Simmons (24)
Both great defensive players who can hit a bit as well. Machado was baseball's best defensive third baseman last year, earning comparisons to Brooks Robinson. He wasn't too shabby with the bat either, leading the league with 51 doubles. But as good as his defense is, his bat is far from elite, and his baserunning leaves something to be desired. Simmons is baseball's best defensive shortstop and hit 17 home runs last year, but overall was subpar with the stick.
Clayton Kershaw (26)
The best pitcher in baseball is putting together a run on par with those of Sandy Koufax, Pedro Martinez, and Greg Maddux. If I was going to start my team with an ace, it makes sense to go with the best.