When looking at MLB rosters, the phrase “boys of summer” may never have been more appropriate than it is now. Take the Houston Astros, for example. While Jose Altuve may be the reigning American League MVP, the defending World Series champions also boast numerous young, budding superstar-caliber players.
And then there’s the New York Yankees, who not only feature a couple of highly talented Baby Bombers (and one emerging ace), but also have younger reinforcements waiting in the wings, including a few that made a strong case to be a part of the Opening Day roster with their impressive performances in spring training.
Just how deep is MLB’s younger talent pool? Consider that for this exercise, we only focused on players who are 25 years old or younger as of Opening Day (March 29). This cut-off meant All-Stars like Mike Trout, Kris Bryant and Nolan Arenado (among others), who are the ripe age of 26, didn’t even qualify.
Note: To be eligible player must be 25 or younger as of Opening Day (March 29). Current age is in parentheses.
1. Bryce Harper, OF, Washington Nationals (25)
Even though Harper will be entering his seventh major-league season he’s still just 25 years old. The 2015 National League MVP hasn’t come close to matching those numbers since, but he’s still one of the most feared hitters in the game. Harper already has 150 career home runs through his age-24 season, a number that’s surpassed by just 12 players in the game’s history. And let’s not forget he’s missed at least 15 games in every season but one (2015).
2. Mookie Betts, OF, Boston Red Sox (25)
For most players, a .264-24-102 slash line would be considered a career year. For Betts, it was a step down from his 2016 .318-31-113 campaign in which he finished runner-up in the AL MVP voting. That’s how high a bar Betts, who also has been to consecutive All-Star Games and awarded back-to-back Gold Gloves, has set.
3. Aaron Judge, OF, New York Yankees (25)
Few players experienced as meteoric a rise last season as Judge (above, right). He led the AL in home runs with 52, won the Home Run Derby during the All-Star Game in Miami, was the unanimous choice for Rookie of the Year, and finished second in MVP voting to Jose Altuve. Even though he struck out an MLB-high 208 times, Judge also drew 127 walks, drove in 114 runs and scored 128 while batting .284 and slugging .627. The jury may still be on out on his ability to make consistent contact, but there’s no doubt about the power and what Judge means to a rejuvenated Yankees franchise.
4. Carlos Correa, SS, Houston Astros (23)
Correa (right) missed six weeks right after the All-Star break because of a torn thumb ligament but still hit a career-best .315 with 24 home runs, adding five more (with 14 RBIs) in the playoffs to help lead the Astros to a World Series title. He did this while providing solid (and at times, spectacular) defense at shortstop. Houston has the reigning MVP in Jose Altuve and several other star players, but the presence and continued development of Correa is a big reason to like the Astros’ chances of getting back to the Fall Classic sooner rather than later.
5. Manny Machado, 3B, Baltimore Orioles (25)
A Gold Glove third baseman, Machado is expected to shift back to his natural position of shortstop this season. Machado also swings a potent bat, as he’s averaged 35 home runs over the past three seasons. Machado’s capable of stealing a base (20 in 2015) when he wants to and is positioned to become one of baseball’s highest-paid players with him set become a free agent after this season.
6. Francisco Lindor, SS, Cleveland Indians (24)
Already a two-time All-Star, Lindor more than doubled his home run total (from 15 to 33) while also posting 44 doubles and hitting .273 last season. He’s been durable (just seven games missed the last two years combined), has won a Gold Glove, and finished in the top 10 in AL MVP voting in back-to-back years. Cleveland has other impressive young players (see below), but there’s little doubt that Lindor has emerged as the face of this franchise.
7. Cody Bellinger, 1B/OF, Los Angeles Dodgers (22)
Bellinger went from a long shot to even make the roster entering spring training last season to the unanimous NL Rookie of the Year by the end. After starting in AAA, Bellinger made it to The Show in late April and promptly hit 39 home runs in fewer than 500 at-bats (480). He hit a respectable .264 while helping the Dodgers make it to the World Series. A rough Fall Classic (.143 with 17 strikeouts in 28 AB) highlighted his contact issues, but the future is bright for this young slugger.
8. Corey Seager, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers (23)
The NL Rookie of the Year in 2016, Seager dealt with some elbow issues last year but still played in 145 games and hit .295 with 22 home runs and 77 RBIs. He’s a two-time All-Star and .305 hitter over two-plus seasons in the majors and will likely challenge for a batting title sooner rather than later.
9. Jose Ramirez, 2B/3B, Cleveland Indians (25)
Ramirez broke through in 2016 with a .312-11-76 line and then took his game to another level. While serving as the Indians’ starter at third and later second, Ramirez made his first All-Star Game and nearly tripled his home run output (29) while improving his batting average (.318) and run production (83 RBIs). He finished third in the AL MVP voting and with Francisco Lindor gives Cleveland one of the strongest left sides of the infield in all of baseball.
10. Trea Turner, 2B/SS/OF, Washington Nationals (24)
In just 198 career games, Turner has already accumulated 81 stolen bases and been caught just 16 times (83.5 success rate). In addition to possessing game-changing speed, Turner also has showed some pop (25 career home runs) while providing solid defense at three positions – shortstop, center field and second base. Entrenched at shortstop for the foreseeable future, now what Turner needs to do is stay healthy. A broken wrist on a HBP was the main reason he played in just 98 games last season, yet he still finished third in the majors with 46 steals.
11. Noah Syndergaard, P, New York Mets (25)
Seemingly on the verge of establishing himself as one of the game’s best pitchers, Syndergaard instead was limited to seven starts in 2017 because of a lat injury. Health concerns aside, he’s shown plenty of ace potential with his 2.89 ERA and 418 strikeouts in 364 innings (61 starts). He’s already been an All-Star and top-10 finisher in the NL Cy Young voting once (2016). Expect even more accolades if he’s able to make 30-plus starts this season.
12. Gary Sanchez, C, New York Yankees (25)
Somewhat lost amidst Aaron Judge’s historic rookie season and then the arrival of Giancarlo Stanton via trade is Sanchez, who led all catchers in 2017 with 33 home runs and 90 RBIs. There are questions about his defense behind the plate but little when it comes to his bat. The only question is whether he hits behind or in between his slugging teammates as part of the Yankees’ new Murderer’s Row.
13. Luis Severino, P, New York Yankees (24)
As impressive as the Yankees’ offense looks on paper, an equally important development has been the emergence of Severino as the team’s ace. After posting a 5.83 ERA across 11 starts in 2016, the right-hander took a giant leap forward last year, going 14-6 and finishing third in the AL with a 2.98 ERA. Those numbers along with 230 strikeouts (sixth in the MLB) while pitching close to 200 innings helped him become a first-time All-Star and finish third in the AL Cy Young voting. If New York is going to challenge Houston for supremacy in the AL, the Yankees are going to need Severino to deliver every time he’s on the mound.
14. Byron Buxton, OF, Minnesota Twins (24)
Already a Gold Glove center fielder, Buxton (right) showed late last season what he’s capable of at the plate, hitting .297 with 11 home runs over the final two months. The strikeouts (150 in 462 AB) remain a concern, but he’s shown steady progress in that aspect as well. There’s no denying the skill set he brings to the diamond, as he’s one of the few five-tool players in the game today. Perhaps this is the season he puts it all together and shows why he was the No. 1 overall prospect in baseball just a few years ago.
15. Andrew Benintendi, OF, Boston Red Sox (23)
Benintendi finished a distant second to Aaron Judge in AL Rookie of the Year voting but he still had his own impressive debut. Not only did he post a .271-20-90 line, he was second to Mookie Betts on the Red Sox in games (151), plate appearances (658) and at-bats (573). Benintendi also stole 20 bases (caught just five times) and showed a good eye at the plate (70 BB, 112 strikeouts). He and Betts combine to give Boston one of the top corner outfield duos in the game.
16. Javier Baez, 2B/SS/3B, Chicago Cubs (25)
Baez already was known for his defense, a reputation that grew even more with his highlight-reel plays during the World Baseball Classic before the 2017 season started. But he also made some noise with his bat, hitting a career-high 23 home runs with 75 RBIs while making starts at three different positions on the infield. Baez also hit .273 even though he struck out 144 times. With better plate discipline and more emphasis on making contact, Baez could emerge as one of baseball’s most talented two-way players.
17. Alex Bregman, 3B, Houston Astros (23)
Bregman wasn’t eligible for AL Rookie of the Year consideration after getting too many at-bats in 2016. If he had been, he likely would have garnered his fair share of votes behind winner Aaron Judge after putting up similar numbers (.284-19-71) to runner-up Andrew Benintendi. Bregman is entrenched at third for the Astros, giving the defending World Series champion an embarrassment of riches in terms of position player talent.
18. Willson Contreras, C, Chicago Cubs (25)
Contreras turns 26 in May, so he’s one-and-done for this list, but he’s making sure he leaves his mark before he says his farewell. Not only was he one of the most productive backstops at the plate (.276-21-74), he did this damage despite missing several weeks because of a hamstring injury. Contreras also used his strong arm and quick reflexes to pick off seven baserunners and throw out 23 would-be base stealers.
19. Xander Bogaerts, SS, Boston Red Sox (25)
After breaking through and making his first All-Star team in 2016, Bogaerts endured his share of struggles at the plate last season. He still managed to hit .273 with 10 home runs and 62 RBIs while scoring 94 runs. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Bogaerts return to his All-Star form this season.
20. Miguel Sano, DH/3B, Minnesota (24)
Sano hit 28 home runs in 424 at-bats, as a shin injury caused him to miss more than a month late in the season. The power is real, although he has a tendency to come up empty (173 strikeouts). Still any one with legitimate 30-home run potential that’s not a batting average liability (.264 last season) is someone who must be pitched to carefully.
21. Kyle Schwarber, C/OF, Chicago Cubs (25)
Yes, Schwarber batted a meager .211 last season and even got sent back down to AAA for a brief period. But he also managed to mash 30 home runs in 422 at-bats and fared much better at the plate after his return from the minors. Now after an offseason focused on getting in better shape and refining his stroke, Schwarber is a man on a mission to get back to the hitter who batted .412 in the 2016 World Series.
22. Addison Russell, SS, Chicago Cubs (24)
Similar to Kyle Schwarber, Russell was another young Cub who endured his share of growing pains last season. A combination of injuries and the ripple effect of dealing with some personal issues contributed to Russell producing just 12 home runs and 43 RBIs with a .239 average in 352 at-bats. Although his defense slipped a little too, the Gold Glove potential remains as does the hitter who drove in 95 runs with 40 extra-base hits in 2016.
23. Roberto Osuna, P, Toronto Blue Jays (23)
All Osuna has done in his first three big league seasons is record 95 saves in 114 opportunities (83.3 percent). He’s also posted a 0.91 WHIP in that span with more strikeouts (240) than innings pitched (207 2/3). Not bad for any pitcher, let alone a 23-year-old that calls the AL East home.
24. Aaron Nola, P, Philadelphia Phillies (24)
The Phillies added Jake Arrieta just a few weeks ago, but chances are Nola will emerge as the team’s ace before that three-year contract comes to an end. The former first-round pick took a big step forward last season, going 12-11 with a 3.54 ERA with 184 strikeouts in 168 innings. Next items on his to-do list include pitching at least 200 innings, cutting down on the home runs (18 allowed in 2017), and teaming with Arrieta to help make Philadelphia a legitimate threat in the NL East.
25. Rhys Hoskins, OF/1B, Philadelphia Phillies (25)
Hoskins made his major league debut in August and promptly hit 18 home runs in 170 at-bats. Besides the power, Hoskins displayed a good eye at the plate, finishing with nearly as many walks (37) as strikeouts (46). While much of the focus on the Phillies has been on the addition of Jake Arrieta, Hoskins’ development as a bona fide middle-of-the-order run producer is just as important if this team wants to take the next step in 2018.
The Wild Card – Shohei Ohtani, P/DH, Los Angeles Angels (23)
No player attracted more attention this offseason than Ohtani, who has yet to play in a regular-season MLB game. The courtship for the two-way Japanese star not only involved the majority of teams, it also could be attributed as one of the reasons why it took so long for the top free agents to sign. But now that he’s an Angel, the burning question is what type of player will he be? The early results have not been promising, as Ohtani has struggled both on the mound (27.00 ERA in 2 2/3 IP) and at the plate (.107 average in 28 AB) in spring training, but this is his first experience playing in the U.S. Despite the rough start, the bigger surprise would be if Ohtani did not make the Opening Day roster, as Los Angeles has already announced it would employ a six-man starting rotation. He may not get consistent at-bats at DH right away, but one thing is for certain – whenever he’s at the plate or on the mound plenty of people will be paying close attention.
Josh Bell, 1B/OF, Pittsburgh Pirates (25)
Archie Bradley, P, Arizona Diamondbacks (25)
Rafael Devers, 3B, Boston Red Sox (21)
Edwin Diaz, P, Seattle Mariners (24)
Joey Gallo, 1B/3B/OF, Texas Rangers (24)
Ian Happ, OF/2B, Chicago Cubs (23)
Manuel Margot, OF, San Diego Padres (23)
Nomar Mazara, OF, Texas Rangers (22)
Yoan Moncada, 3B, Chicago White Sox (22)
Trevor Story, SS, Colorado Rockies (25)
Others to Watch in 2018
Ronald Acuna, OF, Atlanta Braves (20)
Ozzie Albies, 2B, Atlanta Braves (21)
Jorge Alfaro, C, Philadelphia Phillies (24)
Jose Berrios, P, Minnesota Twins (23)
Lewis Brinson, OF, Miami Marlins (23)
Michael Conforto, OF, New York Mets (25)
Paul De Jong, SS, St. Louis Cardinals (24)
Delino DeShields, OF, Texas Rangers (25)
Lucas Giolito, P, Chicago White Sox (23)
Scott Kingery, 2B, Philadelphia Phillies (23)
Dinelson Lamet, P, San Diego Padres (25)
Lance McCullers Jr., P, Houston Astros (24)
Ryan McMahon, 1B, Colorado Rockies (23)
Matt Olson, 1B/OF, Oakland A’s (24)
Jose Peraza, 2B, Cincinnati Reds (23)
Alex Reyes, P, St. Louis Cardinals (23)
Aaron Sanchez, P, Toronto Blue Jays (25)
Blake Snell, P, Tampa Bay Rays (25)
Luke Weaver, P, St. Louis Cardinals (24)
Jesse Winker, OF, Cincinnati Reds (24)
Miguel Andujar, 3B, New York Yankees (23)
Willie Calhoun, OF, Texas Rangers (23)
J.P. Crawford, SS, Philadelphia Phillies (23)
Austin Hays, OF, Baltimore Orioles (22)
Eloy Jimenez, OF, Chicago White Sox (21)
Austin Meadows, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates (22)
Francisco Mejia, C, Cleveland Indians (22)
Victor Robles, OF, Washington Nationals (20)
Nick Senzel, 3B, Cincinnati Reds (22)
Gleyber Torres, 2B/SS/3B, New York Yankees (21)
(Bryce Harper, Aaron Judge photos courtesy of Getty Images)