The saying goes, “respect your elders,” but make no mistake – youth is being served in MLB. Consider that not only is the best player in the game 25 years old, but also two of his peers are responsible for winning the past two NL MVP awards.
In fact, when it comes to making a list of baseball’s top young studs, the problem isn’t coming up with enough names. It’s figuring out who doesn’t make the cut. So with that in mind, here is a list of baseball’s best players who are “25 and under.” As you will see for yourself, MLB’s future is in good hands.
Note: To be eligible player must be 25 or younger as of Opening Day (April 3). Current age is in parentheses.
1. Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels (25)
Trout turns 26 in August, so this is his fond farewell, but what a run it’s been. In his first five full major league seasons, Trout has been an All-Star and Silver Slugger honoree every season, was AL Rookie of the Year in 2012 and also is a two-time MVP (2014, ’16). In fact, he has finished no worse than second in the MVP voting in each season. His 162-game average over his career is a tidy .306/.405/.557 with 120 runs, 34 home runs, 99 RBIs and 29 stolen bases. Enough said.
2. Bryce Harper, OF, Washington Nationals (24)
Harper may have had a down season after his 2015 NL MVP campaign, but it’s a testament to how high a bar he has set for himself. He still managed to hit 24 home runs in 2016, giving him 121 entering his age-24 season. Only eight other players in baseball history had more at that point - Eddie Mathews, Mel Ott, Alex Rodriguez, Mike Trout, Frank Robinson, Ken Griffey Jr., Ted Williams, and Orlando Cepeda.
3. Kris Bryant, 3B/OF, Chicago Cubs (25)
This also is Bryant’s last year on this list, and it could be argued no one’s had a more impressive four-year run than him. The reigning NL MVP, Bryant also was the NL Rookie of the Year in 2015, baseball’s minor league player of the year in ’14 and won the Golden Spikes Award as college baseball’s best player in ’13. Oh yeah, he also helped the Cubs win the World Series (hit two home runs in those seven games), cut down on his strikeouts (from 199 in 2015 to 154) while improving upon his other numbers across the board. And he did all of that while not only being the primary third baseman, but also playing all over the outfield, making six starts at first and even squeezing in a couple of innings at shortstop. Bryant is the Cubs’ most valuable AND versatile player and a big reason why they could repeat as world champions.
4. Mookie Betts, OF, Boston Red Sox (24)
If it wasn’t for Mike Trout, Betts would have been the AL MVP after erupting for a near 30-30 season (finished with 31 HR/26 SB) with 42 doubles while driving in 113 runs, scoring 122 and batting .318. A Gold Glove center fielder, Betts is more than ready to assume the mantle of face of the Red Sox following the retirement of David Ortiz.
5. Nolan Arenado, 3B, Colorado Rockies (25)
A four-time Gold Glove recipient, Arenado’s defense at the hot corner is enough to include him on this list, but be brings much more to the table. Arenado has led the National League in home runs each of the past two seasons (tied for first in 2015 with Bryce Harper), and his total of 83 in 2015-16 are the third most in the majors during that span. He led the majors in RBIs in both 2015 (130) and ’16 (133), while batting a collective .291 with 213 total runs and 78 doubles.
6. Manny Machado, 3B, Baltimore Orioles (24)
Machado played more games as a shortstop in 2016, but the back-and-forth between there and third didn’t impact his production at the plate. He posted career highs in batting average (.294), slugging percentage (.533), runs (105), home runs (37), and RBIs (96) while finishing in the top five of the AL MVP voting for the second straight season. A three-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glove recipient through his first five seasons, Machado is one of the top all-around players in the game.
7. Carlos Correa, SS, Houston Astros (22)
The AL Rookie of the Year in 2015 at just 20 years old, Correa followed that up with another solid season. While some of his numbers were down compared to his rookie campaign, it shouldn’t take away from the fact that as a 21-year-old, Correa hit .274 with 36 doubles and 20 home runs while driving in 96 in just his second season in the majors. He also was more than serviceable at shortstop, teaming with Jose Altuve to give the Astros one of the more dynamic and entertaining double-play combos in baseball.
8. Corey Seager, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers (22)
After a brief, 27-game introduction in 2015, Seager was considered the favorite to take home NL Rookie of the Year honors last season. Not only did he do that, he also made his first All-Star team, won the Silver Slugger at shortstop, and finished third in the NL MVP voting. He did all of this thanks to a .308 average with 40 doubles, 26 home runs and 72 RBIs along with 105 runs scored and a .512 slugging percentage. Not too shabby for someone who will turn 23 years old at the end of April.
9. Francisco Lindor, SS, Cleveland Indians (23)
The AL’s Gold Glove recipient at shortstop, Lindor was a huge reason why the Indians almost won the World Series last season. He hit .301 with 99 runs scored with more power (15 home runs vs. 12 in 2015) numbers and increased run production (78 RBIs vs. 51) while maintaining his plate discipline (.358 OBP). He finished ninth in the AL MVP voting and then proceeded to hit .310 with two home runs and six RBIs in the postseason (15 total games).
10. Xander Bogaerts, SS, Boston Red Sox (24)
If not for the fact he was on the same team as Mookie Betts and David Ortiz, Bogaerts’ 2016 campaign would have gotten more recognition. Not only did the then-23-year-old from Aruba triple his home run output (from 7 to 21), he scored 115 runs, drove in 89 while batting .294. The AL’s Silver Slugger honoree at shortstop each of the past two seasons, Bogaerts also made his first All-Star team in 2016. Pretty impressive considering the company he currently keeps at the position.
11. Noah Syndergaard, P, New York Mets (24)
As impressive as the Mets’ collection of young starters is right now, the conversation as to who is the best has to start with Syndergaard. In 30 starts (31 games) last season, the righty flamethrower went 14-9 with a 2.60 ERA and 218 strikeouts in 183.2 innings. An All-Star, he also finished eighth in the NL Cy Young voting and 19th for MVP.
12. Christian Yelich, OF, Miami Marlins (25)
Yelich took another step forward at the plate last season, emerging as a MVP candidate in the process. He tripled his home runs (from 7 to 21), more than doubled his RBIs (44 to 98) while batting close to .300 (.298) and playing Gold Glove-caliber defense in the outfield. Teammate Giancarlo Stanton gets the bulk of the attention because of his power, but it could be argued that Yelich has developed into the Marlins’ MVP even though he’s not a finished product.
13. Gregory Polanco, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates (25)
With Starling Marte and Andrew McCutchen, Polanco gives the Pirates one of the best outfield trios in the majors. While he’s still a work in progress at the plate, Polanco more than doubled his home run output (from 9 to 22) last season along with his run production (from 52 RBIs to 86). He’s also a threat on the base paths (17 SB, just six CS) and an asset with the glove as well. With some more contact and improved plate discipline, Polanco could stake a claim as one of the best all-around outfielders in the game.
14. Rougned Odor, 2B, Texas Rangers (23)
His boxing match with Jose Bautista seems to get more attention, which is a shame considering the damage Odor did at the plate last season. Even though he’s just 5-foot-11, Odor swings a powerful bat, as evidenced by the 33 doubles and home runs he smacked in 2016. He strikes out a lot (135 K vs. 19 BB), but still managed to bat .271 with all that power while playing a serviceable second base. The passion this Venezuelan plays with is obvious, so hopefully all the noise he makes this season will be with his bat and glove, and not his fists.
15. Addison Russell, SS/2B, Chicago Cubs (23)
The .238 batting average certainly isn’t that impressive nor is the strikeout (135) total, but Russell still managed to hit 21 home runs and drive in 95 runs last season. His presence at shortstop has been key to the Cubs’ success the past two seasons as was his grand slam and six RBIs in their Game 6 win in the World Series. That’s why it should come as no surprise that not only was he voted in as the NL All-Star Game starter at shortstop he also finished in the top 20 for MVP.
16. Kyle Schwarber, OF/C, Chicago Cubs (24)
Schwarber tore both the ACL and LCL in his left knee in an outfield collision in the Cubs’ third game, seemingly ending his 2016 season. However, no one told him that as he attacked his rehab with one goal in mind – to return. Receiving medical clearance right before the start of the World Series, Schwarber led all hitters with a .412 average (in five games) while scoring two runs, driving in two and even stealing a base. The Cubs got to the World Series without the sweet-swinging lefty, but it’s entirely possible they wouldn’t have won it without his bat back in the lineup.
17. Trea Turner, 2B/SS/OF, Washington Nationals (23)
All Turner did in less than half of a season (73 G) is hit .342 with 13 home runs and 33 stolen bases. He finished fifth in the NL in both steals and triples (eight), and more than a third of his hits (35 of 105) went for extra bases. Turner served as the catalyst atop the Nationals’ lineup and he did so while playing more than half of his games in center field, a new position for him. Turner will move back to the infield this season as Washington’s starting shortstop, and if all goes well he could hit as many as 20 home runs and steal up to 80 bases.
18. Trevor Story, SS, Colorado Rockies (24)
Story took the league by storm last season, setting several home run records for rookies in the process. Even though Story struck out quite a bit (130 K in 97 G), he kept on slugging, getting to 27 home runs before a thumb injury ended his season in July. Despite the injury, Story finished his first season in the majors with an impressive .272/.341/.567 slash with 21 doubles, 27 home runs, 72 RBIs, and eight stolen bases in fewer than 400 AB. The contact issues are something to keep an eye on moving forward, but considering his first impression and the fact he plays half of his games at Coors Field, don’t be surprised if Story picks up where he left off last season.
19. Gary Sanchez, C, New York Yankees (24)
Sanchez made an even bigger splash than Trevor Story, mashing 20 home runs in just 53 games after getting called up in August. His impact in such a short period of time was so great that Sanchez finished second in AL Rookie of the Year voting to Detroit’s Michael Fulmer. Besides the home runs, Sanchez batted .299 (in 201 AB) and has become the face of the Yankees’ latest youth movement. There’s no brighter spotlight in baseball than being in the famed pinstripes and whether he’s at the plate or behind it, Sanchez won’t have anywhere to hide this season.
20. Carlos Martinez, P, St. Louis Cardinals (25)
Martinez emerged as the ace of the Cardinals’ staff last year, going 16-9 with a 3.04 ERA in 31 starts. He struck out 174 in 195.1 innings and should be ready to take the next step this season. To do so, he needs to cut down on the walks (70) so he can keep his pitch count low and last longer in his outings. He is still looking for his first career complete game (68 GS).
21. Jonathan Villar, SS/2B/3B, Milwaukee Brewers (25)
After three not-so-spectacular seasons in Houston, Villar was traded to Milwaukee and blossomed into a star. Finally getting the opportunity to play every day, Villar set career highs across the board and led the majors with 62 stolen bases (and 18 CS). Whether he can repeat this success remains to be seen, but if he does, he’ll maintain his standing as one of the NL’s top leadoff hitters.
22. Odubel Herrera, OF, Philadelphia Phillies (25)
Somewhat quietly, Herrera emerged as an All-Star last season and established himself as one of the Phillies’ building blocks for the future. Besides hitting .286 with 15 home runs and 25 stolen bases, Herrera also provided solid defense in center field. There’s a reason Philadelphia signed him to a five-year, $30.5 contract extension in December.
23. Maikel Franco, 3B, Philadelphia Phillies (24)
It’s possible that Franco passes Odubel Herrera as the Phillies’ most valuable player, perhaps as early as this year. Franco offers more power (25 HR in 2016), but he still has room for improvement when it comes to making contact (.255 average with 106 strikeouts) and his defense at the hot corner. Still the tools are there for Franco to become one of the NL’s top third basemen and a player Philadelphia can build around.
24. Miguel Sano, DH/3B, Minnesota Twins (23)
Sano has yet to have the impact many were expecting, but let’s not forget he won’t turn 24 until May. The power is obvious (22 2B, 25 HR in 437 AB in 2016), but the plate discipline (178 K) remains a work in progress. After trying his luck in the outfield, it appears the Twins are content to let Sano stay at third so perhaps that will help him find his comfort level at the plate too. The power potential he has with his bat alone is enough to leave him on this list, at least for one more season.
25. Michael Fulmer, P, Detroit Tigers (24)
The AL Rookie of the Year last season, Fulmer was steady and reliable for the Tigers, going 11-7 with a 3.06 ERA. He’s not a strikeout machine (132 in 159 IP), instead limiting the damage opponents do (.231 batting average allowed) while keeping the ball in the park (16 HR). There are many who are skeptical of Fulmer’s long-term outlook, but for now his initial results are enough to earn him the benefit of the doubt.
The Wild Card - Byron Buxton, OF, Minnesota Twins (23)
If this was a ranking of tools alone, Buxton would be considerably higher. Considered the top prospect in all of baseball for several years, some have compared Buxton to Mike Trout, a legitimate five-tool player. However, Buxton has yet to rarely show this, as contact issues (162 Ks in 427 career AB) have minimized his impact and chances. But after being shuttled back and forth between Triple-A and the majors last season, Buxton did this from Sept. 1 on - .287/.357/.653, 9 HR, 22 RBIs. Whether this was a flash in the pan or a sign of things to come remains to be seen, but don’t be surprised if Buxton, who doesn’t turn 24 until after the season, shows up much higher on this list next year.
Javier Baez, 2B/3B/SS, Chicago Cubs
Andrew Benintendi, OF, Boston Red Sox
Alex Bregman, 3B, Houston Astros
Nick Castellanos, 3B, Detroit Tigers
Edwin Diaz, P, Seattle Mariners
Roberto Osuna, P, Toronto Blue Jays
Joc Pederson, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
Aaron Sanchez, P, Toronto Blue Jays
Dansby Swanson, SS, Atlanta Braves
Julio Urias, P, Los Angeles Dodgers
Others to Watch in 2017
Tim Anderson, SS, Chicago White Sox
Orlando Arcia, SS, Milwaukee Brewers
Josh Bell, 1B/OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
Jose Berrios, P, Minnesota Twins
Greg Bird, 1B, New York Yankees
Michael Conforto, OF, New York Mets
Willson Contreras, C, Chicago Cubs
David Dahl, OF, Colorado Rockies
Tyler Glasnow, P, Pittsburgh Pirates
Jon Gray, P, Colorado Rockies
Randal Grichuk, OF, St. Louis Cardinals
Ryon Healy, 1B/3B, Oakland A’s
Aaron Judge, OF, New York Yankees
Max Kepler, OF, Minnesota Twins
Sean Manaea, P, Oakland A’s
Manuel Margot, OF, San Diego Padres
Nomar Mazara, OF, Texas Rangers
Lance McCullers, P, Houston Astros
Yoan Moncada, 3B, Chicago White Sox
Aaron Nola, P, Philadelphia Phillies
Jose Peraza, 2B, Cincinnati Reds
Robbie Ray, P, Arizona Diamondbacks
Hunter Renfroe, OF, San Diego Padres
Carlos Rodon, P, Chicago White Sox
Domingo Santana, OF, Milwaukee Brewers
Jonathan Schoop 2B, Baltimore Orioles
Blake Snell, P, Tampa Bay Rays
Jorge Soler, OF, Kansas City Royals
Vince Velasquez, P, Philadelphia Phillies
Taijuan Walker, P, Arizona Diamondbacks