While big-money free agents are often the acquisitions who catch fans' attention, the backbone of most franchises' rosters still comes via the MLB Draft. The jobs of scouts, general managers and executives are to find the next player who could be the face of the franchise for the next 10-12 years.
With the 2020 MLB Draft starting Wednesday, we asked our beat reporters this week to name the top homegrown drafted star for each club. Here are those in the National League Central.
Brewers: Brandon Woodruff, 11th round in 2014
Woodruff was an 11th-round Draft pick in 2014 out of Mississippi State, three years after the Rangers drafted him in the fifth round out of high school. As a junior with the Bulldogs in '14, he went 1-3 with a 6.75 ERA in 37 innings, but he drew the eye of Milwaukee scout Scott Nichols and got a chance to play in the pro ranks, where he has thrived.
Woodruff led the Minors with 173 strikeouts in 2016, made it to the Majors in '17, rose to a prominent role with the Brewers for the '18 postseason and was their top pitcher in '19, when he made his first NL All-Star team. Woodruff missed two months of 2019 with an oblique injury, but he still led the Brewers in strikeouts (143) and quality starts (10). The Crew went 18-4 when he took the mound.
Said former Brewers catcher Yasmani Grandal: “Everyone that he throws against tells me the same thing: ‘Thank God I don’t have to face this guy again.’”
Ryan Braun deserves an honorable mention on this list. The Brewers’ longest tenured player and 2005 first-round pick is the franchise leader in home runs and has had a successful career in Milwaukee, including winning the NL MVP Award in 2011. -- Adam McCalvy
Cardinals: Yadier Molina, fourth round in 2000
There is a case to be made for some of the Cardinals' more recent Draft picks, like Jack Flaherty, a 2014 first-rounder who is St. Louis’ ace of the present and future. But we are going to go with longevity as our pick here, because Molina’s accolades as a homegrown player are too hard to ignore.
A fourth-round Draft pick who is entering his 17th season with the Cardinals, Molina is putting the final touches on his Hall of Fame case as one of the best catchers of his generation. Drafted in 2000 out of Puerto Rico, Molina debuted in 2004 at 21 and has been the steady backstop of one of the most successful eras in Cards history. He is a nine-time All-Star, a nine-time NL Gold Glove Award winner, a four-time Platinum Glove winner and an NL Silver Slugger Award winner, with two World Series championships to his name. He's left an indelible legacy with St. Louis, which is pretty good for a No. 113 overall pick. -- Anne Rogers
Cubs: Kris Bryant, first round in 2013
Among the homegrown draftees who projected to be part of the 2020 roster are six first-rounders: Javier Báez ('11), Albert Almora Jr. ('12), Kris Bryant ('13), Kyle Schwarber ('14), Ian Happ ('15) and Nico Hoerner ('18). Targeting position players in the Draft's early rounds helped the Cubs build the foundation for their run to the 2016 World Series championship and a string of postseason berths from 2015-18.
Bryant is arguably the best first-rounder in franchise history, so he's the obvious pick as the best Draft pick on the current roster. Chicago's 101-loss showing in 2012 set the North Siders up to take Bryant with their top pick in '13. In 2015, he won the NL Rookie of the Year Award. In '16, he won the NL MVP Award and a World Series title. -- Jordan Bastian
Pirates: Josh Bell, second round in 2011
Pittsburgh used its first two picks in the 2011 Draft to sign Gerrit Cole for an $8 million bonus and Bell for $5 million, despite the latter’s request for teams not to select him. The Pirates viewed Bell as one of the 10 best players in that year’s Draft class, but he was intent on attending the University of Texas and wrote a letter informing every team that he would honor his scholarship offer there no matter what.
But after taking Cole at No. 1 overall, the Pirates bet on Bell with the No. 61 selection and made their offer. (The Bucs’ spending in the 2011 Draft actually played a significant part in the adoption of the current Draft system with slot values and bonus pools.) Eight years later, Bell emerged as every bit the All-Star they expected him to be, as he slugged 37 homers and 37 doubles last season while succeeding Andrew McCutchen as the face of the franchise. -- Adam Berry
Reds: Joey Votto, second round in 2002
Votto is the longest tenured Reds player, as he was taken in the second round of the 2002 Draft by Cincinnati amid some resourceful subterfuge employed by its scouting department. The first baseman will go down as not only one of the best to play for the Reds, but also one of the organization’s best homegrown stars. Votto ranks fourth in franchise history in home runs (284), third in doubles (404), second in walks (1,180), sixth in games (1,717) and runs (1,009) and seventh in hits (1,866).
Among Reds with at least 200 games played, Votto’s .421 on-base percentage is tops in franchise history and is currently 14th best in MLB history. He has been one of the best players in baseball for the past decade. In 2010, his 37 home runs, .324 average and NL-leading 1.024 OPS helped earn him the NL MVP Award. -- Mark Sheldon