Youth is being served in MLB. Don't believe me? Look at last year’s awards voting. Besides running away with the 2012 AL Rookie of the Year award, 21-year-old Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout finished second to Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera in the AL MVP voting.
Over in the National League, 24-year-old Atlanta closer Craig Kimbrel led the senior circuit in saves with 42, finished 5th in the NL Cy Young voting and also in the top 10 for NL MVP. And of course, like Trout, fellow teenaged phenom Bryce Harper won the NL Rookie of the Year award last season as a 19-year-old outfielder for the Washington Nationals.
There’s plenty of young talent to be found in the majors right now, with several more promising prospects on their way. Looking at current MLB rosters, here is a list of the top 25 players who were 25 or younger on Opening Day (April 1).
1. Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels
Trout made his MLB debut in 2011 at just 19 years old and showed a glimpse of his all-around ability (.220-5-16 with 4 SB) in his 40-game introduction. Last season he didn’t get called up until April 28, and despite a slow start, he quickly proved that he belonged.
Even though he played in just 139 games, Trout still led the American League in runs (129) and stolen bases (49) while hitting 30 home runs with 83 RBIs and a .326 average to post one of the finest rookie seasons in the history of the game. If not for Miguel Cabrera’s Triple Crown, Trout may have taken home AL MVP honors too.
2. Bryce Harper, OF, Washington
Harper and Trout both got recalled from the minors the same time, with Harper making his MLB debut on April 28. The then-19-year-old quickly made a name for himself not only for his production at the plate, but for his hustle and the manner in which he played the game.
Like all young players, Harper went through some tough stretches at the plate, especially against left-handed pitching, but showed more than enough to earn his first All-Star Game invite and eventually claim the NL Rookie of the Year award following his .270-22-59 (with 98 runs and 18 SB) season. In 2103, Harper has picked up where he left off, hitting two home runs on Opening Day and he entered this week with a .303 average and 10 dingers.
3. Stephen Strasburg, P, Washington
Strasburg has struggled in the win column this season (1-5), but that’s been more a byproduct of a lack of support from both his offense (2.25 runs per start) and defense (8 unearned runs allowed). The flame-throwing right-hander won’t turn 25 until July and his career ERA sits at 2.96 through his first 300 innings, during which he’s also struck out 364 batters.
After bursting on the scene in 2010 (5-3, 2.91 ERA, 92 SO in 68 IP), Strasburg missed nearly all of '11 after undergoing Tommy John surgery, but showed ill effects upon his return last season. Now with no innings cap to worry about, Strasburg should return to the form that saw him win 21 of his first 45 starts, provided he get a little more help from his teammates.
4. Craig Kimbrel, P, Atlanta
The Braves’ 24-year-old closer has led the National League in saves the past two seasons, posting 46 in his NL Rookie of the Year campaign in 2011 and 42 last season. He recently picked up the 100th save of his young career, needing just 114 opportunities to reach that milestone.
Kimbrel is a strikeout machine, recording 283 Ks in 160 1/3 innings entering this season. The only concern when it comes to Kimbrel is associated with overuse, but the Braves have done a good job of monitoring his workload, going from 79 appearances and 77 innings in 2011 to 63 games and 62 2/3 innings last season.
5. Giancarlo Stanton, OF, Miami
It’s hard to ignore that the 23-year-old slugger formerly known as Mike already has 96 career home runs in less than three full seasons (393 games played). Like most power hitters, Stanton does come up empty quite a bit (458 SO in 1399 AB), but he hit .290 last season and isn’t afraid to take a walk.
If there’s any concerns with Stanton moving forward it’s durability and the sad state of affairs that is the Marlins franchise. Stanton played in only123 games last season because of different injuries and he’s been in only 20 so far this season due to a hamstring injury. His big bat can’t do any damage if it’s on the DL.
Related: 10 Young MLB Players Who Could be Hall of Famers
6. Justin Upton, OF, Atlanta
It may seem like Upton shouldn’t be on this list anymore, but he wont turn 26 until late August. He made his debut in August 2007 at 19 for Arizona, where he spent the first six seasons of his career. His best year came in 2011 when he finished fourth in the NL MVP voting after batting .289 with a career-best 31 home runs and 88 RBIs, as well as 105 runs scored and 21 stolen bases.
A wrist injury impacted his 2012 production, which somewhat led to him being traded to Atlanta earlier this year. Reunited with older brother, B.J., Justin has rediscovered his power stroke, as he currently leads the majors with 13 home runs.
7. Starlin Castro, SS, Chicago Cubs
The 23-year-old shortstop already has 575 career hits in less than 500 games played. A two-time All-Star, Castro still has plenty of room to grow, both in physical stature and as an all-round player.
A work in progress in the field (27 or more errors in each of his first three seasons), he still has the tools necessary to become a Gold Glove-caliber shortstop. At the plate, his power should continue to develop as he gets older and better plate discipline (36 BB in 646 AB last season) will only make him an even more fearsome hitter.
8. Aroldis Chapman, P, Cincinnati
The Cuban defector turned 25 in February and, after a brief experiment as a starter during spring training, returned to the closer’s role he excelled at last season. The fire-balling lefty saved 38 games in 2012 with an ERA of 1.51 and WHIP of 0.81. He recorded nearly four times as many strikeouts (122) as hits allowed (35) last season and is a perfect 8-for-8 in save opportunities so far this season. Chapman appears to have the stuff to be a successful starter in the majors, but there’s no disputing his dominance as a closer to this point.
9. Madison Bumgarner, P, San Francisco
Bumgarner made his Giants debut when he was 19 and joined the starting rotation just one season later. After going a combined 29-14 with 3.29 ERA in 2011 and ’12, the 24-year-old lefthander is now a key member of one of the best rotations in all of baseball. He’s already shown he can handle the big moment, having pitched 15 scoreless innings in two World Series starts, helping the Giants win it all in both 2010 and last season. Bumgarner is 4-1 with a 2.18 ERA so far in 2013.