Similar to dynasty mode in MVP Baseball 2005 we are assuming the league is starting from scratch and that you have the number one pick. Who ya got? The only difference here is contracts do no matter. In this hypothetical world every first round pick receives the same contract. So the only other factor to consider is age. While Miguel Cabrera should be awesome for the next couple of years it probably makes more sense to consider someone a little younger. The below list is not the order I would take them in but are the guys I know you can make the best arguments to be chosen first.
Carlos Correa, SS, Astros Age: 21
Correa played most of 2015 at age 20, not turning 21 until September. He won the AL Rookie of the Year playing just 99 games, hitting 22 homers with 14 steals. Give him a full season in 2016 and he is the instant favorite for a 30/30 season, something that hasn't been done since Mike Trout and Ryan Braun did it in 2012. Correa plays a premium position (there aren't as many good shortstops as there are first basemen and outfielders) and had a nice start to his postseason career, hitting 2 homers in just 6 games. Despite these impressive statistics the argument for Correa is more an argument for youth and position. He is a full two years younger than anyone on this list and is probably already baseball's best shortstop. While 99 games is just not a big enough sample for me to consider him first overall I think the argument can easily be made for him to be taken in the top 5.
Kris Bryant, 3B, Cubs Age: 24
Bryant just turned 24 in January, which is a little older than I would expect people to think he is. He's a few months younger than Trout and is actually about ten months older than Harper. Regardless his rookie year was impressive. He accumulated 5.9 WAR in 2015, more than Harper's 5.1 from his 2012 rookie season. While Bryant led the league in strikeouts he showed a rare combination of power (26 homers) and ability to get on base (.369 OBP). Managers can live with strikeouts when a player is putting up those kind of numbers. Due to the fact that Bryant should only get better in the coming years, one can make the argument for him be considered as high as third on this list.
Giancarlo Stanton, OF, Marlins Age: 26
Stanton might be the most controversial player on this list. I have to admit his injury history hurts him a lot. Here are his games played per season:
2010 doesn't exactly count because he was called up on June 6, so did not have a chance to play a full season in the big leagues. It seems every year we say this is going to be the year he puts it all together while staying healthy. His most recent "full season" came just two years ago, when he hit 37 homers with a .395 OBP. Last year he had a ridiculous 27 home runs through just 74 games. However even in his best season, 2014, Stanton accumulated just 6.5 WAR. No where near Bryce Harper's 9.9 last year or Mike Trout's 10.8 from 2012. Therefore I cannot make the case for Stanton to be selected ahead of Trout or Harper. However his combination of age, upside, and production while healthy make him a no brainer top 5 pick.
Clayton Kershaw, SP, Dodgers Age: 27
It is important to note that Kershaw turns 28 in March, which is a little older than I thought he was. However I still think anybody taking a pitcher first overall has to take Kershaw. He's won three of the past five NL Cy Youngs. He hasn't had an ERA below 2.53 since 2010. Over the past five years he's led the NL in strikeouts three times, ERA four times, wins twice, complete games twice, shutouts twice, and FIP twice. He has also made at least 30 starts in a season six of the past seven years and the one he didn't make 30 starts he made 27. Now the concern with Kershaw is obviously his postseason performance. In 13 playoff games (10 starts) he's 2-6 with a 4.59 ERA. However he was a lot better in 2015, going 1-1 with a 2.63 ERA and 19 strikeouts in 13.2 innings. The rest of his postseason numbers (WHIP, BB/9, K/9) are much closer to his career norms so not all hope is lost there. Plus there's no doubt he gives you the best chance of any pitcher at making the postseason over the next 3-4 years. While I wouldn't consider a pitcher within the top 10, Kershaw would be the first off my board if I did.
Mike Trout, OF, Angels Age: 24
Every year Mike Trout has played in the majors he has finished first or second in the AL MVP voting. That's fucking incredible. He is the perfect combination of power, speed, defense, durability, and drive. WAR is not a perfect statistic but it's worth pointing out that Trout has the most WAR through ages 20, 21, 22, and 23:
His stats through four years have basically been perfect:
The two most notable stat changes over the past four years are home runs and stolen bases. The steals have decreased dramatically, from 49 in 2012 to 11 in 2015. However the home runs have increased the past three season from 27 to 36 to 41. If Trout keeps doing what he is doing nobody will be complaining about the lack of steals. While I personally rank him second, I do not have a problem with anybody taking Trout first overall.
Bryce Harper, OF, Nationals Age: 23
2015 was Harper's fourth year in the majors. He just turned 23 in October. He's younger than both Mike Trout and Kris Bryant. Actually, he's the youngest player on this list besides Carlos Correa. He came to the majors when he was just 19 so it feels like he has been playing for a lot longer than he has. Harper was just voted the youngest unanimous MVP in the history of baseball. In his age 22 season Harper led the entire league in OBP (.460), slugging percentage (.649), and WAR (9.9). He also hit .330 with and NL leading 42 homers. There is a chance this was Harper's career year but I'm betting on a 23 year old unanimous MVP who's only goal his entire life has been to become one of the best baseball players of all time. Harper is the number one pick.