Is MLB becoming a young man’s game? There’s certainly no lack of young, impact talent on major-league rosters. Look no further than the fact that the reigning AL MVP, last season’s World Series MVP, the majors’ top home run hitter and batting champion all fall into the 25 years old or younger crowd.
So who is the best of the best of baseball’s youngest superstars? Here is one fan’s list of the 25 best baseball players who are 25 years or younger as of Opening Day (April 6).
1. Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels
Not only is Trout the best player 25 years or younger, he’s the best player period. The 2012 AL Rookie of the Year and reigning AL MVP, Trout has slashed a ridiculous .311/.403/.963 in his first three full seasons, while averaging 31 home runs, 97 RBIs, 118 runs scored and 33 stolen bases. If that’s not enough, consider this: even though Trout was the MVP last season, he posted better overall numbers in each of his first two campaigns.
2. Madison Bumgarner, P, San Francisco Giants
The 25-year-old lefty won’t be on this list next season, but that matters little after his postseason performance for the ages. Bumgarner put the Giants on his back and carried them to their third World Series title in five years by simply dominating the Pirates, Cardinals and Royals. The NLCS and World Series MVP, Bumgarner went 4-1 in the postseason with a mind-blowing 0.99 ERA in six starts (52 2/3 IP). He’s been pretty good in the regular season too, going 67-49 with a 3.06 ERA in 148 career starts.
3. Giancarlo Stanton, OF, Miami Marlins
The Marlins’ $325 million man led the NL with 37 home runs last season, proof of the damage Stanton can do when he’s able to stay in the lineup. Now signed through 2027 (can opt out after 2020), Miami has its cornerstone to build around, a 25-year-old slugger who isn’t afraid to take a walk and is averaging one home run every 14.9 at-bats in his career.
4. Freddie Freeman, 1B, Atlanta Braves
The Braves have made wholesale changes in their lineup, but Freeman isn’t going anywhere. Freeman played in all 162 games last season, making his second straight All-Star team while posting respectable numbers (.288-18-78) at the plate and playing his usual solid defense at first. Atlanta has plenty of question marks entering this season, but Freeman is the least of the Braves’ worries.
5. Jose Altuve, 2B, Houston Astros
The diminutive (5-6), Altuve swung a big bat in 2014, leading the majors in batting average (.341) and hits (225), while pacing the AL in stolen bases (56). The All-Star second baseman racked up 47 doubles and struck out just 53 times in 660 at-bats. Don’t let his stature fool you – Altuve is a big-time player and one of the reasons to be excited about the Astros’ future.
6. Anthony Rendon, 2B/3B, Washington Nationals
The sixth pick of the 2011 draft broke out in a big way last season, as Rendon led the NL with 111 runs scored and pounded out 66 extra-base hits on his way to finishing fifth in the MVP voting. Rendon’s emergence forced All-Star third baseman Ryan Zimmerman across the diamond to first, which is what happens when you flash 20/20 potential at the plate and a sufficient enough glove at the hot corner on the big-league level.
7. Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Chicago Cubs
After scuffling somewhat in 2013, Rizzo put it all together last season, finishing second in the NL in home runs to Giancarlo Stanton with 32. A left-handed hitter with a pretty good eye at the plate (73 BB, 116 SO), Rizzo made the leap thanks to much more success against southpaws (.300 vs. LHP in 2014, .189 in ’13). With a better supporting cast around him, can Rizzo take the next step and become a MVP contender in 2015? He finished 10th last season.
8. Yasiel Puig, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
Puig may give his manager a headache, rub his teammates the wrong way at times and seemingly have no clue what’s going on around him, but you can’t deny his five-tool potential. An All-Star in 2014 who got some MVP votes, Puig has batted .305 in his first two full MLB seasons while showing flashes of both his power (35 HR) and speed (22), not to mention some pretty nifty glove work and a rifle for an arm out in right field. If he’s able to put it all together and stay focused for an entire season, watch out.
9. Bryce Harper, OF, Washington Nationals
Other than Mike Trout, it’s entirely possible that Harper ends up eclipsing everyone ahead of him on this list. That’s how much talent and upside Harper, who is still only 22 years old, possesses. Already a two-time All-Star, Harper just needs to find a way to harness his all-out motor so that he can stay on the field for a full season. Once he does that, the numbers should start to pile up.
10. Jason Heyward, OF, St. Louis Cardinals
Believe it or not, but Heyward just turned 25 this past August. Entering his sixth season in the majors, Heyward is making his St. Louis debut following his trade from Atlanta. A two-time Gold Glove recipient, Heyward provides plenty of value with his defense alone, but he’s also swatted 27 home runs in a season (2012), while stealing 20 or more bases twice (2012, ’14). A more than capable leadoff hitter (.351 OBP in 2014), it will be interesting to see if Heyward blossoms as a complementary piece in a much-deeper and more dangerous Cardinals lineup.
11. Starlin Castro, SS, Chicago Cubs
After a disappointing, some would even say discouraging, 2013, Castro bounced back in a big way, hitting .292 with 14 home runs and making his third All-Star team. With more lineup support and manager Joe Maddon now in charge, Castro could put together the best statistical season in his young career. Don’t forget he already has 846 career hits even though he turns 25 two weeks before the season starts.
12. Jose Fernandez, P, Miami Marlins
If not for last season’s Tommy John surgery, Fernandez would be higher on this list. The 2013 NL Rookie of the Year, Fernandez may not make his season debut until the summer, but it shouldn’t be too long before he’s dominating opposing hitters once again.
13. Nolan Arenado, 3B, Colorado Rockies
A two-time Gold Glove recipient, Arenado hit .287 with 18 home runs in 111 games last season. With half of his games at hitter-friendly Coors Field, health appears to be the only obstacle in Arenado’s way of establishing himself as one of the NL’s top third basemen.
14. Matt Harvey, P, New York Mets
Another Tommy John patient, Harvey has the advantage over Jose Fernandez in that he will be back on the mound sooner. That’s good news for the Mets, considering the last time Harvey did toe the rubber he was making opposing hitters look downright silly (135 H, 191 K in 178 1/3 IP in 2013).
15. Andrelton Simmons, SS, Atlanta Braves
One of, if not the best, defensive players in baseball regardless of position, Simmons’ glove at shortstop is irreplaceable. Anything he provides at the plate is a bonus; although the Braves do hope Simmons can rediscover his 2013 form (.248-15-59) after hitting just .244 with only seven home runs last season.
16. Manny Machado, 3B/SS, Baltimore Orioles
After bursting on the scene in 2013, Machado has been slowed by injuries. Limited to just 82 games last season, the Orioles hope Machado’s health issues are behind him. Because when he’s in the lineup, Machado is a Gold Glove defender at third and a potent (.283-14-71 in 2013) threat at the plate.
17. Salvador Perez, C, Kansas City Royals
A workhorse backstop (146 G caught in 2014), Perez is a two-time All-Star because he’s just as productive with the bat. A .275 hitter over the past two seasons, Perez was a big part of the Royals’ World Series run in 2014.
18. Julio Teheran, P, Atlanta Braves
After a solid rookie season in 2013, Teheran took the next step and established himself as the Braves’ ace in ’14. While the record (14-13) wasn’t overly impressive, Teheran posted a 2.89 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in 33 starts and was named to his first All-Star team.
19. Sonny Gray, P, Oakland A’s
The A’s traded away or bid farewell to several members of last season’s rotation, but Gray remains. The unquestioned ace of the rebuilt staff, Gray won 14 games in 2014 while posting a 3.08 ERA and recording two complete game shutouts in 33 starts.
20. Yordano Ventura, P, Kansas City Royals
The 23-year-old flamethrower went 1-0 with a 1.46 ERA in two World Series starts against the Giants. The Royals hope 2015 is the year Ventura establishes himself not only as one of the top strikeout arms in the AL, but also as a legitimate front-of-the-rotation starter.
21. George Springer, OF, Houston Astros
From a power-speed standpoint the only ones on the same level as Springer are Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, and Harper may even be a stretch. In just 78 games in his MLB debut, Springer cranked out 20 home runs before injuries got in the way. He stole only five bases, but the 30/30 potential is clearly there and take the over on the home runs if he cuts down on the strikeouts (114 in 295 AB).
22. Christian Yelich, Miami Marlins
Nowhere near the power hitter like his teammate Giancarlo Stanton, Yelich still has a knack for getting on base (.362 OBP), scoring runs (94) and can steal his share of bags (21 SB). A Gold Glove left fielder, Yelich, Stanton and Marcell Ozuna form one of the youngest and most talented outfield trios in the majors.
23. Gerrit Cole, P, Pittsburgh Pirates
The potential is clearly there for the No. 1 overall pick of the 2011 draft, but Cole just hasn’t put it all together for a full season. Injuries and other issues have limited him to just 41 starts in two seasons, in which he’s gone 21-12 with a 3.45 ERA and 238 strikeouts in 255 1/3 innings.
24. Billy Hamilton, OF, Cincinnati Reds
A menace on the base paths (56 SB), Hamilton got off to a blistering start last season before struggling through a second-half slump. His speed atop the Reds’ lineup cannot be underestimated, especially if he works on his plate discipline (34 BB, 117 SO), gets on base more (.292 OBP) and picks his spots to run a little more carefully (23 CS).
25. Corey Dickerson, OF, Colorado Rockies
Seemingly a man without a position entering last season, injuries presented Dickerson with an opportunity to play everyday. And the 25-year-old took full advantage, batting .312 with 24 home runs, 27 doubles, 76 RBIs and 74 runs scored. Even bigger numbers are not out of the question if Dickerson can improve against lefties (.253-3-14) and away from hitter-friendly Coors Field (.252-9-23).
Mookie Betts, 2B/OF, Boston Red Sox
Xander Bogaerts, SS/3B, Boston Red Sox
Shelby Miller, P, Atlanta Braves
Jake Odorizzi, P, Tampa Bay Rays
Marcell Ozuna, Miami Marlins
Wily Peralta, P, Milwaukee Brewers
Gregory Polanco, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
Trevor Rosenthal, P, St. Louis Cardinals
Kolten Wong, 2B, St. Louis Cardinals
Alex Wood, P, Atlanta Braves
Others to Watch in 2015
Arismendy Alcantara, 2B/SS/OF, Chicago Cubs
Oswaldo Arcia, OF, Minnesota Twins
Javier Baez, 2B/SS, Chicago Cubs
Trevor Bauer, P, Cleveland Indians
Archie Bradley, P, Arizona Diamondbacks
Kris Bryant, 3B, Chicago Cubs
Dylan Bundy, P, Baltimore Orioles
Nick Castellanos, 3B, Detroit Tigers
Avisail Garcia, OF, Chicago White Sox
Kevin Gausman, P, Baltimore Orioles
Scooter Gennett, 2B, Milwaukee Brewers
Ken Giles, P, Philadelphia Phillies
Eric Hosmer, 1B, Kansas City Royals
Brett Lawrie, 2B/3B, Oakland A’s
Francisco Lindor, SS, Cleveland Indians
Matt Moore, P, Tampa Bay Rays
Wil Myers, OF, San Diego Padres
Joc Pederson, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
Jose Peraza, 2B, Atlanta Braves
Carlos Rodon, P, Chicago White Sox
Addison Russell, SS, Chicago Cubs
Danny Salazar, P, Cleveland Indians
Danny Santana, SS/OF, Minnesota Twins
Aaron Sanchez, P, Toronto Blue Jays
Corey Seager, 3B/SS, Los Angeles Dodgers
Marcus Semien, 2B/3B/SS, Oakland A’s
Noah Syndergaard, P, New York Mets
Yasmany Tomas, 3B/OF, Arizona Diamondbacks
Taijuan Walker, P, Seattle Mariners
Zack Wheeler, P, New York Mets
Mike Zunino, C, Seattle Mariners
NOTE: Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Marcus Stroman would have been on this list, but he tore his ACL in spring training and is out for the season.