BASEBALL EXECUTIVES place a premium on young, up-the-middle players, and according to a SPORTS ILLUSTRATED survey of 20 general managers, assistant G.M.'s, scouting directors and scouts, the one they prize most is Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez.
Asked to name the five players they'd build their respective franchises around, panelists voted heavily in favor of the 24-year-old Ramirez, who succeeded another shortstop, the Mets' Jose Reyes, as SI's poll winner.
Ramirez, who signed a six-year, $70 million extension in May, was named on the most ballots (10) and chosen first the most times (five), finishing with an impressive 40 points based on a 5-4-3-2-1 scoring system (box, right). "He's got all the ability in the world—he can hit and he can run," says one AL exec of Ramirez, who was batting .305 with 23 homers and 23 stolen bases at week's end. "He makes errors, but he's going to get a lot better in the field. He's an exciting player both ways."
The panel's preference for up-the-middle offensive producers was evident: 42 of the 100 votes went to shortstops, second basemen, catchers and centerfielders. Despite finishing fifth, Twins catcher Joe Mauer received the second-most votes (nine), one more than Phillies second baseman Chase Utley. Says one NL executive of the 29-year-old Utley, "The way he plays in tough situations—it's just great. If he hadn't gotten hurt last year, he would have been the MVP instead of the other guy [Utley's double-play partner Jimmy Rollins]."
Youth was a huge factor too: The leading pitcher was 22-year-old Mariners righthander Felix Hernandez. ("A power arm, good command, great secondary stuff," says one AL panelist.) Of the 35 players who received votes, only four were older than 30: Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, 32, who was the second-place finisher; Astros first baseman Lance Berkman, 32; Mets centerfielder Carlos Beltran, 31; and Blue Jays righthander Roy Halladay, 31.
The Rays, who had baseball's third-best record through Sunday, were one of two teams to have four players named on ballots. Rookie third baseman Evan Longoria (four votes), centerfielder B.J. Upton (one) and starter Scott Kazmir (one) were joined by the No. 1 pick in the 2007 draft, David Price. The 22-year-old lefty was the only player without a major league appearance to be selected. (Two panelists picked him.) "It's probably a reach," says one AL exec who had Price on his ballot, "but he has such a big upside."
The other team with four players chosen? The surging Mets. Along with Beltran, lefthander Johan Santana (three votes) and third baseman David Wright (two) received support—as did the 25-year-old Reyes, who was named on only one ballot this time and finished tied for 24th.
Each of SI's 20 panelists cast votes, in order of preference, for the five players they'd build their respective franchises around, with point totals based on a 5-4-3-2-1 scoring system. Here are the top eight finishers, followed by the other 27 players who were named on ballots. First-place votes are in parentheses.