The Washington Times - June 2, 2011, 12:01PM

It’s a question that comes up often among writers, fans and even players: If you were starting a team from scratch, who would you pick as your first player, the franchise player?

Well ESPN decided to take the question and put it into draft form, in honor of the first-year player draft coming up on Monday. They gathered 30 ESPN Baseball “experts” and had them “draft” one player they’d start a team with right now.


Believe it or not, three Nationals went in the top 30 picks, the most picks of any one team besides Florida, which also had three players taken. Only four other teams, Colorado, Tampa, Seattle and San Francisco, had more than one player chosen.

Two things that I took out of reading who ESPN’s 30 so-called experts chose for this task: 1. For as much as Nationals fans may get tired of hearing about “the future” there’s no denying it’s got the potential to be exceedingly bright. 2. Ryan Zimmerman is underrated.

Here were the top 10 picks in ESPN’s draft:

1. Troy Tulowitski, SS, Colorado

2. Evan Longoria, 3B, Tampa

3. Felix Hernandez, RHP, Seattle

4. Joey Votto, 1B, Cincinnati 

5. Tim Lincecum, RHP, San Francisco

6. Josh Johnson, RHP, Florida

7. Jason Heyward, RF, Atlanta

8. Albert Pujols, 1B, St. Louis

9. Bryce Harper, OF, Washington (A)

10. Ryan Braun, LF, Milwaukee

Obviously the Nationals aren’t the only ones who hope they know what they have in Harper (who, by the way, hit his 12th home run of the season Wednesday night and is now batting .333 with a .421 on-base percentage, .602 slugging and 1.023 OPS.)

Still, it’s impressive that Eric Karabell chose Harper over guys like Braun, Justin Verlander, Robinson Cano, Buster Posey and the like.

Stephen Strasburg went No. 22 to Kevin Goldstein and Wilson Ramos was pick No. 30 by Doug Glanville.

I’m not disputing any of those picks and I think Nationals fans should be encouraged that Ramos is getting more and more attention as a potential future superstar. It is, however, at least a bit surprising not to see Zimmerman’s name anywhere on this list. Perhaps that’s because the All-Star, Gold Glove, Silver Slugger third baseman is injured and it’s an out-of-sight, out-of-mind type of situation, but there was only one third baseman on this entire list and it was Evan Longoria. 

So using that as a comparison…

Zimmerman is a career .289 hitter with a .356 on-base percentage and .485 slugging percentage. He’s averaged 25 homers and 98 RBI per year, has won two Silver Sluggers and a Gold Glove. This is also his sixth full season in the big leagues and he’s still only 26.

Longoria is a career .281 hitter with a .360 on-base percentage and .516 slugging percentage. He’s averaged 27 home runs in his first three big league seasons with an average of 100 RBI (but he’s also played on better teams). Longoria has also won two Gold Gloves, one Silver Slugger and Rookie of the Year in 2008.

In numbers alone, they’re pretty comparable. As is Ryan Braun, who went 10th behind Harper in the draft, though Braun’s career averages are a bit higher than both Longoria and Zimmerman.

Ultimately this is purely a question of opinion but with his numbers and talent being so comparable to those taken, it is surprising not to see him on this list. Dave Cameron of Fangraphs, who participated in the draft, felt the same way. 

The three players taken from Florida were Josh Johnson, Hanley Ramirez and Mike Stanton. Colorado saw both Tulowitski and Carlos Gonzalez go, Tampa had Longoria and David Price, Seattle had Felix Hernandez and Michael Pineda and San Francisco had Lincecum and Posey.