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.
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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.
10. Matt Harvey, P, New York Mets
Just how good has the 24-year-old been this season? He’s 4-0 and leads the majors with a 1.44 ERA over his first eight starts, which includes a no-decision where he gave up just one hit in nine innings. He also struck out 12 in that game, and has 62 in 56 1/3 innings so far. The Mets may not be very competitive this season, but their future looks a lot brighter with Harvey fronting the rotation.
11. Matt Moore, P, Tampa Bay
Moore will turn 24 in June and by then the Rays’ lefthander will have added many more strikeouts to his stat line. All he’s done so far this season is become the first AL pitcher to reach seven wins, while posting a 2.44 ERA and 51 whiffs in 48 innings. The swing-and-miss stuff is certainly there; it’s now just a matter of harnessing it. If Moore figures out a way to limit the walks (25 so far this season), look out.
12. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, Arizona
A somewhat unknown commodity headed into last season, Goldschmidt changed that after batting .286 with 20 home runs, 43 doubles and 18 stolen bases. The 25-year-old has started off even better this season, hitting .312 with 10 home runs and 31 RBIs entering Wednesday’s action. It’s also not out of the realm of possibility that Goldschmidt will win a Gold Glove or two at first before his career is done, perhaps maybe even this year.
13. Freddie Freeman, 1B, Atlanta
Freeman is just 23, but you couldn’t tell by watching him play. After finishing second to teammate Craig Kimbrel in the 2011 NL Rookie of the Year voting, Freeman battled issues with his eyes and still managed to hit 23 home runs and drive in 94 last season. An oblique injury limited him to start this season, but he’s already driven in 19 runs in his first 25 games while playing his usual solid defense at first.
14. Jason Heyward, OF, Atlanta
Heyward made his major-league debut one to remember as he homered off of Cubs’ starter Carlos Zambrano in his first career at-bat on Opening Day in 2010. The then-20-year-old finished second in Rookie of the Year voting that season after posting a .277-18-72 line. He took a step back in 2011, as a shoulder issue hampered him all season and he managed to hit just .227 with 14 home runs.
Heyward came back with a vengeance last season, finishing 2012 with 27 home runs, 82 RBIs and winning his first Gold Glove. He had gotten off to a slow start at the plate this season before he went on the DL after undergoing an emergency appendectomy in late April. He could return to the Braves’ lineup as early as Friday.
15. Manny Machado, 3B, Baltimore
The Orioles’ shortstop of the future, Machado was called up at the ripe age of 19 last August to play third, a position he had virtually no experience at before. That mattered little, however, as the No. 3 overall pick of the 2010 MLB Draft made him himself at home at the hot corner. He made just five errors in 51 games, helping stabilize the Orioles’ infield defense in the process. He was no slouch at the plate either, hitting .262 with seven home runs. He’s been even better to start this season, currently batting .329 with 20 extra-base hits in 39 games.
16. Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Chicago Cubs
Rizzo may be with his third franchise, but the seven-year, $41 million contract he signed this week should tell you everything you need to know about what the Cubs think of him. The 23-year-old struggled mightily (.141-1-9 in 49 G) in his first taste of the big leagues with San Diego in 2011, but that didn’t prevent the Cubs from trading for him in January 2012.
After tearing up Triple-A, Rizzo was called up in late June last season and hit .285 with 15 home runs in a little more than half a season. After a slow start to his 2013 campaign, Rizzo has caught fire, currently sporting a .270-9-28 line. The future of the Cubs is in good hands with Rizzo and Castro both signed to long-term deals.
17. Brett Lawrie, 3B, Toronto
Lawrie made his Blue Jays debut in August 2011 and provided a glimpse of his all-around ability by hitting .293 with nine home runs and seven stolen bases in just 43 games. Unfortunately, injuries have prevented him from building off of this, as he played in just 125 games last season and started the 2013 campaign on the DL. The tools are there for a 20/20-type of season, it’s just a matter of him staying in the lineup long enough to find his rhythm at the plate.
18. Elvis Andrus, SS, Texas
Jurickson Profar is getting most of the attention these days, but that shouldn’t be viewed as a knock on Andrus. The 24-year-old shortstop is in his fifth season as one of the Rangers’ offensive catalysts, while providing solid defense up the middle. A career .275 hitter, Andrus has averaged nearly 90 runs and 30 stolen bases over the past three seasons and has driven in 60 or more runs in each of the last two campaigns.
19. Chris Sale, P, Chicago White Sox
The lanky lefthander made his debut back in 2010, but really came into his own last season. He finished sixth in the AL Cy Young voting after going 17-8 with a 3.05 ERA in 29 starts. He struck out 192 in 192 innings and has maintained this performance level through his first eight starts this season (4-2, 2.88). His delivery may be a reason for concern, but for now, there’s no denying the 24-year-old’s results.
20. Shelby Miller, P, St. Louis
The 22-year-old Texan won a spot in the Cardinals’ starting rotation in spring training and all he’s done since is proven that it was the right decision. He’s 5-2 with a sparkling 1.58 ERA in his first seven starts, highlighted by his last time out on May 10 against Colorado when he gave up a leadoff single to Eric Young and then retired the next 27 batters in a row, 13 by strikeout, in a one-hit gem in front of the home crowd.
21. Jose Altuve, 2B, Houston
Altuve, 23, is the epitome of the saying “good things come in small packages,” as all the diminutive (5’5”) second baseman has done is hit since he made his MLB debut in 2011. A free agent signee of the Astros out of Venezuela, Altuve has 279 hits in his first 242 career games and was named to the NL All-Star team last season.
22. Jean Segura, SS, Milwaukee
The Brewers got Segura in the trade that sent Zack Greinke to the Angels last July and the 23-year-old shortstop has really come into his own to start this season. He entered Wednesday second in the NL with a .362 average as he’s already collected 51 hits, 16 for extra bases, and stolen 13 bases. He has teamed with Norichika Aoki to serve as the perfect table-setters for Ryan Braun and the rest of the Brewers’ lineup.
23. Andrelton Simmons, SS, Atlanta
Already a Gold Glove-caliber shortstop who reminds some of a young Ozzie Smith, Simmons has shown stretches of solid production at the plate too. Making his debut last season at 22, he was off to a great start at the plate (.296) before a broken finger sidelined him for two months. This season, he’s already surpassed his 2012 home run total with four in his first 37 games, including his first career two-home run game against Cincinnati on May 6.
24. Jose Fernandez, P, Miami
There are few reasons for Marlins fans to cheer right now, but the 20-year-old righthander is a nice building block for the future. The No. 14 overall pick of the 2011 MLB Draft made just 27 starts in the minors (14-2, 2.02 ERA) before being summoned to the majors for his first career start on April 7. Through his first seven starts, Fernandez has already produced three quality starts (at least 6 IP, 3 ER or fewer) and has allowed three earned runs or fewer in all but two outings. Wins will probably be tough to come by this season for Fernandez, but that shouldn’t be the only stat by which he’s measured in 2013.
25. Starling Marte, OF, Pittsburgh
Marte’s plate discipline leaves plenty to be desired, as he’s currently on pace for 162 strikeouts and only 39 walks, but there’s also lots to like from both a speed and power perspective. The 24-year-old from the Dominican Republic is currently hitting .320 and already has matched his home run total from 2012 (five) and did so in 15 fewer games (45 in 2012, 30 in '13). He’s on pace for a 20/40 season with more than 200 hits and 120 runs scored, and while the chances are slim he will finish with these lofty numbers, it looks as if the Pirates outfield is in good shape moving forward with Marte and Andrew McCutchen out there.
Best of the rest (alphabetical order)
Patrick Corbin, P, Arizona
Eric Hosmer, 1B, Kansas City
Will Middlebrooks, 3B, Boston
Mike Minor, P, Atlanta
Mike Moustakas, 3B, Kansas City
Sal Perez, C, Kansas City
Addison Reed, P, Chicago White Sox
Wilin Rosario, C, Colorado
Kyle Seager, 3B, Seattle
Maybe next year? (alphabetical order)
Oswaldo Arcia, OF, Minnesota
Trevor Bauer, P, Cleveland
Gerrit Cole, P, Pittsburgh (currently in AAA)
Billy Hamilton, OF, Cincinnati (currently in AAA)
Wil Myers, OF, Tampa Bay (currently in AAA)
Marcell Ozuna, OF, Miami
Jurickson Profar, SS, Texas (currently in AAA)
Anthony Rendon, 3B, Washington (currently in AA)
Oscar Taveras, OF, St. Louis (currently in AAA)
Zack Wheeler, P, New York Mets (currently in AAA)
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