Mike Trout remains the cream of the ever-growing crop of young baseball players, but he has more competition than ever for the top spot
The youth movement in MLB is in full force. Not only are the reigning National League MVP and World Series MVP in the “25 and under” category, but the Rookie of the Year winners for both leagues have already entered the “best players in the game” discussion.
And that’s just scratching the surface. Consider that the likes of Madison Bumgarner, Anthony Rizzo, Giancarlo Stanton, Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, Eric Hosmer and Starlin Castro are among those who have “graduated” from the list below. And all because they have turned the ripe “old” age of 26. Baseball has once again become a young’s man game.
So who did make the cut for this year’s list of best “25 and under” players? Just remember, there is no lack of candidates.
Note: To be eligible player must be 25 or younger as of Opening Day (April 4)
1. Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels
All Trout has done is finish in the top two in AL MVP voting each of his first four full major league seasons, winning the honor in 2014.Since 2012, Trout has averaged 114 runs, 34 home runs, 95 RBIs and 27 stolen bases with a slash of .308/.403/.568 per campaign. And he doesn’t turn 25 until August, meaning he very well could be in this spot again next year. Unreal.
2. Bryce Harper, OF, Washington Nationals
If Mike Trout is 1A, Harper is 1B. The NL Rookie of the Year in 2012 at just 19 years old, Harper added an MVP award to his trophy case after mashing 42 home runs while batting .330 last season. With nearly as many walks (124) as strikeouts (131), it’s scary to think that Harper may just be scratching the surface of his full potential. Don’t forget he’s just 23 years old, which makes him younger than Trout.
3. Manny Machado, 3B, Baltimore Orioles
Machado finally showed what he can do when he’s able to stay healthy. After suffering a knee injury late in 2013, Machado was limited to just 82 games in ’14. But in 2015, he played in all 162 games and besides winning his second Gold Glove at the hot corner (his natural position is SS), he also finished fourth in the AL MVP voting after hitting .286 with 35 home runs, 86 RBIs and 102 runs.
4. Nolan Arenado, 3B, Colorado Rockies
Like Machado, Arenado’s defense alone is worth his inclusion on this list. The Gold Glove recipient in each of his three seasons, Arenado is one of the best defenders in the majors, regardless of position. But he’s certainly no slouch at the plate either, as evidenced by his 42 home runs and 130 RBIs. The former tied him with Bryce Harper for the NL lead while the latter paced the majors. Arenado has clearly established himself as the cornerstone of the Rockies.
5. Carlos Correa, SS, Houston Astros
If there’s anyone who could possibly challenge Mike Trout and Bryce Harper for the top spot on this list next year it’s probably Correa. At 20 years old, he won AL Rookie of the Year honors even though he had just 432 plate appearances in 99 games. But it’s what he did in those games – 22 home runs, 68 RBIs and 14 stolen bases along with a .279 average and .512 slugging percentage. Did I mention he’s just 21?
6. Kris Bryant, 3B/OF, Chicago Cubs
Bryant’s anticipated debut last season was delayed by his defense, I mean service time issues, but regardless of the reason, it did nothing to deter him other than keep some of his numbers down. He did strike out an NL-high 199 times, but he also hit 26 home runs with 99 RBIs and batted .275 in the heart of the order for a team that lost to the Mets in the NLCS. His glove at the hot corner was never an issue and he also showed himself to be more than capable in the outfield, playing all three positions. Bryant pairs with Anthony Rizzo to form the youngest and arguably the best corner infield duo in all of baseball.
7. Jose Fernandez, P, Miami Marlins
Fernandez returned from 2014 Tommy John surgery this past July and flashed the form that made him NL Rookie of the Year in ‘13. Now more than a year removed from the procedure, Fernandez should get more than enough innings to stake his claim as one of the game’s best pitchers. It’s a small sample size, but in his career, Fernandez has posted a 2.40 ERA and 1.014 WHIP with more strikeouts (336) than innings (289) or hits allowed (208).
8. Jose Altuve, 2B, Houston Astros
Altuve will graduate from this list next season, but what a run it has been for the diminutive (5-6) second baseman. He followed up his 2014 breakthrough campaign by winning his first Gold Glove and finishing 10th in the AL MVP voting. Altuve’s 425 hits since 2014 are the most of any player and he’s also stolen 94 bases and rapped 87 doubles during that span.
9. Gerrit Cole, P, Pittsburgh Pirates
This is Cole’s last appearance on this list, but the Pirates’ young ace is trending in the right direction nonetheless. He was an All-Star for the first time last season on his way to winning 19 games with a 2.60 ERA and 202 strikeouts. He was a horse on the mound (208 IP), gave his team good outings (25 QS in 32 GS) and finished fourth in the NL Cy Young voting. Not bad for someone in just his third major league season.
10. Mookie Betts, OF, Boston Red Sox
David Ortiz is calling it a career after this season and Dustin Pedroia isn’t getting any younger, but the Red Sox appear to be in good hands thanks to the emergence of young players like Betts. The second baseman-turned-outfielder got some MVP consideration after batting .291 with 18 home runs, 77 RBIs, 92 runs and 21 stolen bases. If Betts continues to improve, a 30-30 season could be possible.
11. Salvador Perez, C, Kansas City Royals
Perez helped the Royals end their long World Series drought by hitting .364 in the Fall Classic to claim MVP honors. The AL’s Gold Glove recipient and an All-Star each of the last three seasons, Perez has been a workhorse behind the plate, catching 137 or more games every season during that span. His average has come down from the .292 he hit in 2013, but he’s had 70 RBIs each of the past two seasons while still managing to bat .260 with some power (53 2B, 38 HRs in 2014-15 combined).
12. Xander Bogaerts, SS, Boston Red Sox
Bogaerts struggled in his first full season in 2014, hitting just .240 with 138 strikeouts and only 39 walks. The contact issues remain (101 SO, 32 BB) but he made great strides at the plate last season, jumping all the way up to a .320 average with 196 hits, 84 runs and 81 RBIs. The power dropped from 12 home runs in 2014 to just seven, but many still believe there’s 15-20 home run potential in that bat and his defense at shortstop could net him a Gold Glove or two.
13. Addison Russell, SS/2B, Chicago Cubs
Ushered to the majors in late April, the then-21-year-old Russell struggled at first, batting .226 with 83 strikeouts in the first half (71 games) while having to adjust to new position, second base. But not only did Russell’s bat wake up in the second half, the Cubs also took off once he was named the everyday shortstop in early August. From Aug. 7 through the NLCS, the Cubs went 38-18 when Russell started a shortstop (he did not play in the NLCS because of a hamstring injury suffered in Game 3 of the NLDS). Many around the league are expecting Russell to break out in a big way at the plate this season while continuing to provide Gold Glove-caliber defense.
14. Francisco Lindor, SS, Cleveland Indians
If not for Correa, Lindor would have been the AL Rookie of the Year. In just 99 games, Lindor not only flashed the leather, but he impressed at the plate, hitting .313 with 12 home runs, 22 doubles and 12 stolen bases. Defense has always been Lindor’s calling card and should help him win a couple of Gold Gloves in his career. But if he continues to get the job done at the plate, then Lindor could thrust himself into the discussion of best all-around shortstops in the AL, if not all of baseball.
15. Christian Yelich, OF, Miami Marlins
Teammates Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez may get more of the attention, but don’t underestimate Yelich’s value to the Marlins. The young outfielder batted .300 last season despite missing some time due to injury and already has a Gold Glove to his name. The power (30 2B, 7 HR) should continue to develop and while he may never be the masher that Stanton is, there’s no reason to not think Yelich can’t develop into a well-rounded, perennial All-Star that may win a batting title or two someday.
16. Yasiel Puig, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
Puig’s star has somewhat faded after an injury-plagued 2015 season, but the tantalizing skill set still remains. The hope is that better health and more maturity will help Puig get back to the player who burst on the scene with 19 home runs while batting .319 in finishing second in NL Rookie of the Year voting in 2013. Puig is still only 25, so there’s plenty of time for the player legendary Dodgers announcer Vin Scully has dubbed the “Wild Horse” to put it all together and become a five-tool thoroughbred.
17. Gregory Polanco, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
Admittedly, Polanco’s ceiling is as high, if not higher, than some of those ahead of him on this list. It’s just a matter of the 24-year-old toolsy outfielder finding more consistency. The speed (27 SB) is clearly there, along with the run-scoring potential (83 in 2015). The biggest questions are when will the power (16 HRs in 870 career AB) and plate discipline (121 SO, 55 BB in ’15) develop? Polanco also is an asset with the glove (13 OF assists) so the pieces are all there for him to join teammates Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte in becoming one of the game’s top outfielders.
18. Kyle Schwarber, C/OF, Chicago Cubs
Another impressive young hitter on the Cubs, Schwarber’s value would be even greater if he was a full-time catcher. However, plenty of credit should be given to him for adapting to the outfield, while continuing to provide plenty of production at the plate. He hit 21 home runs with 51 RBIs in 78 total games last season, which includes his ridiculous slash line of .333/.419/.889 (good for a 1.308 OPS) in the postseason (8 games). His playoff coming out party was highlighted by five home runs, including a majestic shot that landed on top of Wrigley Field’s new scoreboard in right field. If anything, Schwarber’s versatility makes it that much easier for manager Joe Maddon to get the 23-year-old’s lefty bat into his potent lineup.
19. Maikel Franco, 3B, Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies are a long ways from getting back to the World Series, but in Franco they at least appear to have a foundational piece to build around. The 23-year-old was brought back to the majors in mid-May and proceeded to hit 13 home runs with 48 RBIs in 77 games until a fracture in his wrist sidelined him in August. He returned right before the end of the season and the slugging third baseman could be poised for a huge 2016 if his monster spring training showing (8 HRs, most of any player) is any indication.
20. Miguel Sano, DH/3B, Minnesota
He may no longer be an everyday third baseman, but the Twins will find a spot in the lineup for Sano’s power. The 22-year-old slugger from the Dominican Republic hit 18 home runs in just 279 at-bats last season. He struck out his fair share of times (119), but he also drew 53 walks and batted .269. Whether it’s in the outfield, at DH or perhaps even a few games back at the hot corner, expect to see Sano entrenched in the heart of Minnesota’s lineup this season.
21. Trevor Rosenthal, P, St. Louis Cardinals
Rosenthal may only pitch an inning at a time, but he when he does he among the most effective closers in the game. An All-Star in 2015, Rosenthal has gone 93-for-102 (91.2 percent) in save opportunities over the last two seasons. He also has stuck out 170 batters in 139 innings, while allowing just five home runs during that span.
22. Anthony Rendon, 3B/ 2B, Washington Nationals
A knee injury wrecked his 2015 season, but in ‘14 Rendon finished fifth in the MVP voting after batting .287 with 21 home runs, 83 RBIs and 111 runs scored. The hope is that the 25-year-old will get back to that same type of production now that’s he been able to get through spring training healthy.
23. Shelby Miller, P, Arizona Diamondbacks
The 25-year-old led the majors with 17 losses last season, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. The Braves didn’t provide Miller with any run support, as he ranked last (2.64) among all qualified pitchers. His 6-17 record aside, the 3.02 ERA, 33 starts (tied for most in NL) and 171 strikeouts in 205 1/3 innings are all reasons why he made his first All-Star team. Now with the Diamondbacks, run support should be the least of Miller’s worries.
24. Noah Syndergaard, P, New York Mets
The Mets don’t lack for young power arms right now, but the 23-year-old known as Thor could really establish himself as a household name and soon. After going 9-7 with a 3.32 ERA in his first 24 big league starts, Syndergaard more than held his own in New York’s World Series run. In four postseason games (3 GS), he posted a 3.32 ERA with more strikeouts (26) than hits allowed and walks combined (23).
25. Carlos Martinez, P, St. Louis Cardinals
A shoulder issue put an early end to a breakout campaign, but not before Martinez made his first All-Star team. Stepping up big following the loss of ace Adam Wainwright to a torn Achilles, Martinez went 14-7 in 31 games (29 GS) with a 3.01 ERA and 184 strikeouts in 179 1/3 innings. As long as his shoulder holds up, Martinez doesn’t have to worry about his spot in the Cardinals’ rotation.
Nick Castellanos, 3B, Detroit Tigers
Ken Giles, P, Houston Astros
Rougned Odor, 2B, Texas Rangers
Marcell Ozuna, OF, Miami Marlins
Corey Seager, SS/3B, Los Angeles Dodgers
Marcus Stroman, P, Toronto Blue Jays
Julio Teheran, P, Atlanta Braves
Taijuan Walker, P, Seattle Mariners
Kolten Wong, 2B, St. Louis Cardinals
Yordano Ventura, P, Kansas City Royals
Others to Watch in 2016
Orlando Arcia, SS, Milwaukee Brewers
Jose Berrios, P, Minnesota Twins
Byron Buxton, OF, Minnesota Twins
Michael Conforto, OF, New York Mets
J.P. Crawford, SS, Philadelphia Phillies
Delino DeShields, OF, Texas Rangers
Joey Gallo, OF/3B, Texas Rangers
Lucas Giolito, P, Washington Nationals
Tyler Glasnow, P, Pittsburgh Pirates
Randal Grichuk, OF, St. Louis Cardinals
Billy Hamilton, OF, Cincinnati Reds
Raisel Iglesias, P, Cincinnati Reds
Ketel Marte, SS, Seattle Mariners
Steven Matz, P, New York Mets
Wil Myers, OF/1B, San Diego Padres
Aaron Nola, P, Philadelphia Phillies
Roberto Osuna, P, Toronto Blue Jays
Joc Pederson, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
Jose Peraza, 2B, Cincinnati Reds
Stephen Piscotty, OF, St. Louis Cardinals
A.J. Reed, 1B, Houston Astros
Carlos Rodon, P, Chicago White Sox
Domingo Santana, OF, Milwaukee Brewers
Marcus Semien, SS, Oakland A’s
Luis Severino, P, New York Yankees
Jorge Soler, OF, Chicago Cubs
Trevor Story, SS, Colorado Rockies
Devon Travis, 2B, Toronto Blue Jays
Trea Turner, 2B/SS, Washington Nationals
Zack Wheeler, P, New York Mets