Welcome to the third annual installment of “Top 25 Under 25.” The premise and methodology are both fairly straightforward: I will consider a player’s body of work in the majors, the minors (to a lesser extent), his pedigree, and his potential for growth. There are a plethora of young talented players in baseball but not all of them are well-known, so I’ll look to highlight the best of those youngsters in this series.
Today is a sad day for baseball. Today was supposed to be Opening Day, arguably the greatest day in the American calendar and instead we’re stuck watching reruns. That doesn’t mean I won’t be glued to my computer screen but it does mean that we’re going to have to wait a little longer to get some new baseball. I, along with every other baseball fan, am extremely broken up about it but that doesn’t mean everything has to stop. I typically put this article out on Opening Day and this year is no exception.
In order to be eligible for the list, a player has to have made at least one appearance in the big leagues (so no minors-only players; apologies to Wander Franco). I will be evaluating players on a combination of their projected upside and how they have already performed in the major leagues. After each player, I will list their position, team, and age on Opening Day 2020, and, if they were on the list last year, their position.
For reference, nine of the 10 players that were on the list last year and are still eligible are in the top 25 again. The other is Tyler O’Neill, who didn’t make the cut at all this year.
There are 15 players who were on the list last year that will be 25 on Opening Day this season. They are listed below with their rank from last season in parentheses:
Roberto Osuna, RP, Houston Astros (#21)
David Dahl, OF, Colorado Rockies (#20)
Josh Hader, RP, Milwaukee Brewers (#19)
Ramon Laureano, CF, Oakland Athletics, (#18)
Harrison Bader, CF, St. Louis Cardinals (#17)
German Marquez, SP, Colorado Rockies (#16)
Miguel Andujar, 3B, New York Yankees (#15)
Matt Olson, 1B, Oakland Athletics (#14)
Jose Berrios, SP, Minnesota Twins (#12)
Corey Seager, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers (#11)
Carlos Correa, SS, Houston Astros (#7)
Walker Buehler, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers (#6)
Shohei Ohtani, SP/DH, Los Angeles Angels (#5)
Andrew Benintendi, LF, Boston Red Sox (#3)
Alex Bregman, 3B/SS, Houston Astros (#1)
There were 11 guys this year that I picked out that just missed the top-25 cut. I’ve listed them alphabetically below according to their position. For the first time, I will be including reasoning on why I left some of these guys in the honorable mentions; some of the choices to leave guys out were nearly equivalent to flipping a coin.
Griffin Canning, SP, Los Angeles Angels: Could have made the back end of the 25 but recent injury concerns mean he will be on the shelf with no timetable to return.
Zac Gallen, SP, Arizona Diamondbacks: Upside not as high as some of the guys on the back end of the list even though he had good K numbers and got good results last season.
Brendan McKay, SP, Tampa Bay Rays: Got hit too hard and had an ERA over 5 in his rookie season.
Julio Urias, SP/RP, Los Angeles Dodgers: Most of his appearances were as a reliever and it’s hard to justify including that on the top 25. He was close to replacing Luzardo but Luzardo is definitely starting this year and Urias’ role is not as certain.
Willy Adames, SS, Tampa Bay Rays: Pretty average all around is good enough to keep you in the big leagues but not good enough to get you on the list.
Luis Arraez, 2B, Minnesota Twins: Lack of power doesn’t excite me like some of the other guys. He and Robles were in similar spots in terms of my evaluation.
Gavin Lux, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers: Too small of an MLB sample size for me to include him over Smith or Biggio but tantalizing upside.
Adalberto Mondesi, SS, Kansas City Royals: Good defender and racks up steals but you can’t steal first base.
Victor Robles, CF, Washington Nationals: He was the 26th man. Love his defense and power potential, but I think Biggio is going to be a better hitter and he also plays good (but not incredible) defense.
Amed Rosario, SS, New York Mets: Turned it around in the second half of 2019. Excited to see what 2020 holds in store but don’t think he deserved a spot over anyone on the list.
Alex Verdugo, OF, Boston Red Sox: The move to Fenway should treat him well. Until we see what he does with the new opportunity, though, he’s just a career .282/.335/.449 hitter with 14 HR in 158 career games.
And now, for the list:
#25: Jordan Hicks, RP, St. Louis Cardinals (Opening Day Age: 22; last season: 23)
Last year, I included a gif of Hicks throwing a 102 MPH two-seamer with ridiculous movement in my blurb of him. Here it is again (you’re welcome):
Hicks primarily used his sinker (58% of his pitches) and slider (37%) in 2019. His sinker’s average velocity was a ridiculous 101.5 MPH and his slider was just unfair. Here’s proof:
In 2019, Hicks generated ground balls at an obscene 67.2% clip, struck out 28.2% of batters he faced, had an ERA of 3.14, notched a WHIP of 0.94, and racked up 14 saves in 29 games. The sad news is that he’s likely out for the entirety of the 2020 campaign after undergoing Tommy John Surgery in late June of 2019. He has been too dominant in the majors not to be included on this list, though, so Hicks brings up the rear in 2020. Given that he’s just 22, he’ll have plenty more opportunities to climb up the list in future seasons.
#24: Dustin May, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers (Opening Day Age: 22)
May and Jesus Luzardo (#23) are in similar boats; they have minimal MLB experience and sky-high ceilings. May actually got the opportunity to make a few starts for the Dodgers in 2019 and fared well, throwing 22.1 innings of 2.82-ERA ball with a 1.07 WHIP and a 17/3 K/BB ratio (5.67 strikeouts per walk). He didn’t excel quite as much as a reliever, but the sample size is small enough that I’m willing to ignore it. May should join the rotation at some point in the middle of the season although it remains to be seen how exactly the Dodgers are going to handle him given their history with starting pitchers.
#23: Jesus Luzardo, SP/RP, Oakland Athletics (Opening Day Age: 22)
Luzardo just barely got the nod over some of the other guys in the honorable mention section, mostly because of his enormous upside. He earns the #24 spot over May because he’s going to start the season in the A’s rotation in 2020. Luzardo is just 22 years old and has thrown nearly 200 innings of 2.53 ERA ball in the minor leagues. He has also compiled a 234/43 K/BB (5.44 strikeouts per walk) and 1.037 WHIP, and even started the Futures Game in 2018. All of this resulted in a September cup of coffee for the Peruvian-born Luzardo where, much like the rest of his career, he shined. He appeared exclusively out of the bullpen for the Athletics in 2019 and put up the following stat line in 6 appearances: 12 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 16 K, 2 HLD, 2 SV. That was good for a 1.50 ERA and 0.667 WHIP. The Lizard King’s reign is coming.
Part of the reason Luzardo isn’t higher on this list is that he was injured for the first part of the 2019 season which prevented him from making his debut earlier. In 2020, he’ll have an opportunity to start for the A’s and I fully expect that we will be hearing Luzardo’s name and high-90s fastball in AL Rookie of the Year conversations.
#22: Cavan Biggio, 2B, Toronto Blue Jays (Opening Day Age: 24)
Biggio is one of three Blue Jays infielders on this list which should give you a good idea of how good the AL East is going to be in the not-so-distant future. He is also one of two Blue Jays infielders that is the son of a Hall of Famer. Biggio checks in at #23 on the list after a rookie year that saw him triple-slash .234/.364/.429 with 71 (!!!!) walks in just 430 PA. Biggio also hit 16 long balls in the majors after launching 26 in the minors in 2018; expect the power to continue to develop for the second baseman.
Biggio’s calling card, though, is his elite plate discipline as evidenced by the plethora of exclamation marks after his walk total above. Among hitters with at least 100 PA in 2019, Biggio was 7th in walk rate (16.5%), just behind some guy named Alex Bregman (17.2%). His strikeout rate could use some improvement; he went down on strikes 28.6% of the time in 2019 but I think that number will come down as the youngster sees more MLB pitching. Regardless, a .364 OBP hitter with solid power and defense is a long-time big leaguer. And just for the record, it took Craig Biggio five seasons before he notched an OBP over .360 and six seasons before he hit more than 10 home runs. Cavan may very well be ahead of the game.
#21: Will Smith, C, Los Angeles Dodgers (Opening Day Age: 24 years and 364 days)
Unfortunately for Will Smith, it’s going to take a lot for him to be the most famous person with his name. He’s already earned the nickname Fresh Prince but he’s going to need to continue his success from 2019 if he wants to survive in the Wild Wild West. Smith slashed .253/.337/.571 with 15 HR and a 132 wRC+ in 196 PA last year; his 132 wRC+ was second among all catchers with at least 100 PA. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say Smith is very good at baseball.
In addition to Gettin’ Jiggy With It on offense, Smith plays good defense behind the dish, is an above-average framer, and can control the run game. He’s athletic enough to move to second, third, or a corner outfield spot should the rise of fellow Dodgers catching prospect Keibert Ruiz necessitate it. Smith is the beginning of the Dodgers’ youth movement. Get excited, Dodgers fans.
#20: Franmil Reyes, RF/DH, Cleveland Indians (Opening Day Age: 24)
The Franimal probably had the quietest 37-HR season in MLB history in 2019. Part of that is due to the fact that he played for the Padres, who weren’t exactly making headlines, and the Indians, a mid-market team that missed the playoffs. The other part is due to the fact that the ball was allegedly “juiced” in 2019, so everyone was hitting bombs. I think both of those facts obscure the truth: Reyes rakes. Sure, he’s terrible at defense, but he crushes the ball when he makes contact; his 93.3 MPH average exit velocity ranked fourth in baseball in 2019 and his 9.5 Brls/PA% (a measure of how frequently a hitter barrels the ball up) was 14th. He would have been higher on the Brls/PA% leaderboard had he not struck out nearly 30% of the time.
It’s not hard to imagine a world in which Reyes has a career similar to that of Nelson Cruz over the past six seasons: a ton of home runs and no need for a glove. He’s a DH through and through, and will be a mainstay in the middle of the Indians lineup until they decide to sell off their pieces.
#19: Tommy Edman, 3B/2B/OF, St. Louis Cardinals (Opening Day Age: 24)
Tommy Edman is likely the guy you have the least likelihood of knowing on this entire list. He never cracked the top-10 prospects for the Cardinals despite hitting third for Stanford in his final season in college (2016). Edman is the prototypical Cardinals guy: a sixth-round pick who is just very solid all-around and seems to have come out of nowhere to contribute. Edman played five different positions for the Cards in 2019 while triple-slashing .304/.350/.500. The OBP leaves something to be desired, but the BA and SLG are more than passable for a guy that can play nearly every spot on the diamond. Edman is likely going to fill a super-utility role in 2020 similar to Marwin Gonzalez in 2018, when he checked in at seven positions. Edman should be a fun guy to watch on an interesting 2020 Cardinals squad
#18: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 3B, Toronto Blue Jays (Opening Day Age: 21)
Vladito had as much hype surrounding his debut as any prospect to ever debut. His #18 ranking on the list is less an indication that he disappointed in 2019 (he did, to an extent) and more a commentary on the fact that he simply hasn’t reached his ceiling and has only been able to buy beer in the States for twelve days. For some reason, the Blue Jays have decided that Guerrero will continue to play third despite being atrocious defensively. Just to give you an idea of how bad Vladito was in the field in 2019: there were 488 MLB players with at least 10 fielding tries in 2019 and Vladito was 487th with -16 Outs Above Average. That is very bad.
Good news for Vlad Jr.: he plays in the American League so DH is an option. When the Blue Jays eventually decide to move him there, they will look for him to build on a 2019 in which he hit 15 HR in a little over 500 PA. His 8.9% walk rate and 17.7% strikeout rate indicate that he should still be a solid offensive contributor even if the power he showed in the minors never quite breaks through in the majors. Keep in mind, though, that this is a guy who hit .380 across AA and AAA, so I’d be shocked if he continued to “struggle” in the fashion that he did in 2019.
#17: Bo Bichette, SS, Toronto Blue Jays (Opening Day Age: 22)
This list is littered with sons of former big leaguers and Bichette is no exception. Bichette is also the third Blue Jays infielder on the list and though his father was not a Hall of Famer like Biggio and Vlad Jr., Bichette’s dad was a four-time all-star selection and nearly won the triple-crown in 1995 with 40 HR (first), 128 RBI (first), and a .340 BA (third behind Mike Piazza and Tony Gwynn).
What do Dante’s achievements mean for Bo? Squat diddly. But they do mean that Bo has baseball in his blood and he showed that in a big way in 2019, triple-slashing .311/.358/.571 with 11 HR in just 212 PA. He didn’t play good defense but once Vladdy moves to DH, Bichette can slide over to third and that should help the team’s defense a little bit. Reports indicate that the top of Toronto’s lineup in 2020 will be Bichette, Biggio, and Vladdy, so this is going to be an exciting group of guys to watch going forward.
#16: Mike Soroka, SP, Atlanta Braves (Opening Day Age: 22)
Mike Soroka probably has the quietest 2.79 career ERA in the history of baseball. Granted, he’s only got 200.1 innings under his belt but the fact that he has thrown that many innings of sub-3.00 ERA baseball as a 22 year old is nothing short of astounding. The only reason Soroka isn’t higher on this list is because he doesn’t have jaw-dropping strikeout numbers and his fastball averages just under 93 MPH. With that being said, he has a nasty two-seamer and does a great job at limiting free passes. The sky is the limit for Soroka and I fully expect him to show up higher on the list in the upcoming two seasons he will be eligible.
#15: Austin Meadows, OF, Tampa Bay Rays (Opening Day Age: 24)
A one-time top prospect with Pittsburgh (and four other seasons in the top-five of their organization), Meadows never really put it together until he showed up in Tampa Bay. His career was slowed by injuries and he hit a good-but-not-outstanding .292/.327/.468 in 49 games with the Pirates in 2018. He was then shipped to Tampa Bay in what will likely end up one of the biggest heists of this generation. The Pirates got Chris Archer and gave up Meadows, Tyler Glasnow, and Shane Baz; Meadows and Glasnow have combined for 7.0 rWAR with TB (617 PA for Meadows and 116.1 IP for Glasnow) and Baz is a consensus top-100 prospect in all of baseball. Archer has 1.3 rWAR in 172 innings for Pittsburgh. Not a great look.
Either way, this blurb is about Austin Meadows, not why the Pirates shouldn’t have made that trade. Meadows, though he is just an average defender, was a force at the plate in 2019 and particularly crushed righties to the tune of .298/.384/.576 with 24 HR in 414 PA. He had a quiet 33 HR season and, unsurprisingly, is making the Rays look like the most savvy organization in baseball.
#14: Keston Hiura, 2B, Milwaukee Brewers (Opening Day Age: 23)
Keston Hiura will end up the best hitter in the entire 2017 MLB draft class. I have said that since the day he was drafted and he has done nothing but hit since making his pro debut. He hit .375 in college and triple-slashed .317/.382/.546 in the minors, forcing the Brewers to call him up in the middle of a tight 2019 playoff race. And I’m sure this will come as no surprise to you: Hiura kept hitting. He slashed .303/.368/.570 with 19 HR in 348 PA his rookie year at age 22. His defense leaves a lot to be desired (read: he was terrible at second base in 2019) and could stand to improve his 30.7% strikeout rate, but when the National League finally gets a DH, Hiura will be holding it down for the Brew Crew for years to come.
#13: Chris Paddack, SP, San Diego Padres (Opening Day Age: 24)
Is my anti-Paddack bias showing through a little bit here? Possibly. National League Rookie of the Year Pete Alonso and Chris Paddack got into a little bit back in May of 2019 over who should win Rookie of the Year. On May 6th, 2019, Chris Paddack said, “Do I wish it was me [selected as NL Rookie of the Month in April]? Yeah. But the way I look at it is, do you want to be Rookie of the Month or Rookie of the Year?”
From that point forward, Paddack pitched to a 3.76 ERA with a 1.07 WHIP, 9.9 K/9, and 1.8 BB/9. Alonso triple-slashed .254/.356/.578 with 43 home runs. Did Paddack deserve the award? Probably not, but that doesn’t mean that he wasn’t lights out. He has one of the best change-ups in the game and should improve upon his 3.76 ERA whenever the 2020 season gets under way. And don’t be surprised to see him starting Game One of the 2021 World Series for the Padres.
#12: Eloy Jimenez, RF, Chicago White Sox (Opening Day Age: 23)
Eloy Jimenez was a blue-chip prospect touted for his light tower power as a teenager. In 2019 he hit 31 home runs in the major leagues as a 22-year-old. I didn’t believe it either; it was probably the quietest 30-HR season in the history of baseball, especially considering that Eloy played for a terrible White Sox team in a terrible AL Central. Still, 30 HR is 30 HR and a .267/.313/.513 triple-slash is nothing to sneeze at. Eloy is the beginning of a serious youth movement on the South Side of Chicago. White Sox vs. Padres 2021 World Series?
#11: Fernando Tatis Jr., SS, San Diego Padres (Opening Day Age: 21)
Tatis is the fourth of five members of the Top 25 Under 25 club with a former big leaguer as a father. I mentioned Pete Alonso winning Rookie of the Year in Chris Paddack’s blurb and, frankly, the only reason he won was because Tatis Jr. got injured and missed the last seven weeks of the season. Tatis was lighting the world on fire as a 20-year-old shortstop in 2019. He triple-slashed an impressive .317/.379/.590 with 22 HR in just 84 games (372 PA). There were some drawbacks to his rookie campaign; he struck out at a near-30% clip and played abysmal defense at shortstop but the former should improve with age and we may just have to live with the latter. 3.6 fWAR in half a season is nothing short of elite talent—the youngster just has to stay healthy. Either way, expect Tatis Jr. to be a mainstay in the top-10 of this list for the next four seasons.
#10: Jack Flaherty, SP, St. Louis Cardinals (Opening Day Age: 24; last season: 13)
Flaherty just gets better and better and better. After posting a 6.33 ERA in his cup of coffee in 2017, he pitched to a 3.34 ERA in 2018 and then improved upon that mark, tossing 196.1 innings of 2.75 ERA ball in 2019. He cut his BB/9 by an entire walk per nine innings (3.52 in 2018, 2.52 in 2019) and didn’t sacrifice much of his strikeout ability to do it. His K/BB rose from 3.08 in his rookie year to 4.20 (dank) in his sophomore campaign. And perhaps most impressive of all, he placed fourth in Cy Young voting behind now-back-to-back Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom, Hyun-Jin Ryu (who posted a 2.32 ERA), and three-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer.
Looking ahead, Flaherty is now the ace on a team that should contend for the playoffs and always finds a way to get the most out of its players. Ask me in ten years who the best pitcher of the 2020s was, I’d be shocked if Flaherty wasn’t in the conversation.
#9: Ozzie Albies, 2B, Atlanta Braves (Opening Day Age: 22; 2018: HM; 2019: 8)
Albies is truly a five-tool player: he hit .295 with 24 HR and 15 SB in 2020 with solid defense up the middle (even though he is playing second base). Though the sheer quantity of stolen bases hasn’t translated perfectly to the major leagues, Albies has been an efficient base stealer in his three seasons in the bigs, nabbing bags at an 82% clip. Additionally, his power has blossomed since joining “The Show;” he has knocked 54 long balls in 375 games after hitting just 16 in 390 minor league contests. He improved upon his 2018 strikeout and walk rates in 2019 and posted a career high BA (.295), SLG (.500), and wRC+ (117, which means he was 17% above league average offensively). So long as he’s playing average defense up the middle, everything else is gravy and Albies is providing enough for an entire Thanksgiving dinner. Plus, he’s 22. The Braves are going to be scary for the next decade.
#8: Rafael Devers, 3B, Boston Red Sox (Opening Day Age: 23; 2018: 19; last season: 24)
Finally, my years of biding my time on Devers have paid off. The Dominican-born third baseman laid waste to the minor leagues for four seasons and once he finally got the call, didn’t exactly live up to the hype. People forget, though, that he was just 20 years old when he debuted. Not everyone can be Ronald Acuña Jr. or Juan Soto; most guys take some time to get adjusted to the big leagues. Devers hit .254/.311/.449 over his first two seasons, which is still pretty good for a 20/21 year old but last year, he finally broke out. In 2019, Devers triple-slashed .311/.361/.555 with 32 HR and a league-leading 54 doubles. His 359 total bases were also the highest of any major leaguer. Perhaps the most impressive part of his 2019 campaign, though, was his defense; Devers racked up 7 outs above average in 2019 after logging a combined -18 OAA between his 2017 and 2018 seasons. Devers is also still younger than 15 of Fangraphs’ top 100 prospects and has over 1400 career PA. Now with Betts gone, it’s time for Devers to take his place as the face of the franchise.
#7: Gleyber Torres, 2B, New York Yankees (Opening Day Age: 23; last season: 9)
Gleyber Torres is terrible at defense but even that and my anti-Yankee bias couldn’t stop me from putting him this high on the list. He’s 23 and already 62 career home runs and a .275/.338/.511 career triple-slash in 267 games. He has 5.6 career fWAR. His career wRC+ is 123. Put shortly, he is very good at baseball.
Here’s a fun Torres stat to share with your Yankee fan friends: Torres is 32nd all-time in career HR before age 23. Of the 31 players ahead of him, 12 are in the Hall of Fame (including Aaron, Mantle, DiMaggio, and Eddie Mathews, to name a few), five should be in (A-Rod, Trout, Andruw Jones, Miggy, Pujols), and nine are active big leaguers who are very very good (Trout again, Harper, Stanton, Miggy again, Machado, Acuña Jr., Correa, Bellinger, Devers). So yeah, that’s pretty good company.
#6: Yordan Alvarez, DH, Houston Astros (Opening Day Age: 22)
In his rookie year, Alvarez hit 27 HR in 87 games. He also triple-slashed .313/.412/.655. I don’t know that this is a scientific term but I believe they call that “lighting the world on fire.” On top of his outstanding triple-slash and home run total, he had 26 doubles and walked 14.1% of the time. He’s also 22 years old. He doesn’t play good defense but the Astros can just stick him at DH. The squad might not be able to steal signs any more but Alvarez has a track record of dominance in the minors and raked in the majors last year, so don’t be shocked to see his name thrown around in MVP conversations in the coming seasons.
#5: Yoan Moncada, 2B, Chicago White Sox (Opening Day Age: 23; 2018: 18; 2019: 22)
Last year in my Moncada blurb I made fun of myself for being too high on Moncada in 2018 and using too much projection and not enough performance. Good thing I kept him on the list because after triple-slashing .234/.319/.399 through 211 games in 2016-2018, he broke out and hit .315/.367/.548 with 25 HR in just 132 games in 2019. Part of the improvement came from being less selective at the plate, as strange as it sounds; he swung at more first pitches and attacked more fastballs and it led to a near-6 point reduction in his strikeout rate (33.4% to 27.5%) and a jump in his hard-hit rate (to 39.9%). Yes, his triple-slash was fueled by a .406 BABIP but he was hitting the ball hard and either way, bringing that BABIP back down to Earth might end with him hitting .280 instead of .315, which is still a vast improvement over his .234 mark from seasons past. Moncada also finally figured out the defense thanks to a move to third base full time: the Cuban put up -17 OAA at second in 2017 and 2018 and 5 OAA at third in 2019. Moncada is here to stay and should sit atop the White Sox lineup as their crop of prospects rises to the majors.
#4: Shane Bieber, SP, Cleveland Indians (Opening Day Age: 24; last season: HM)
Prior to the 2015 draft, Baseball America wrote the following about Bieber:
“Bieber doesn’t have ace stuff but he does have premium control…Bieber pitches with tempo and aggressiveness belying his fringy stuff, competes well and has shown durability. Bieber has one of the cleanest, most repeatable deliveries of any pitcher in the college class. His lack of a present plus pitch limits him to a back-of-the-rotation ceiling.”Baseball America
Obviously there is some good stuff about Bieber in there but there is one glaring error: “back-of-the-rotation ceiling.” Here are some of Bieber’s stats from last season and his ranks among all pitchers with at least 50 IP:
Innings Pitched: 212.1 (t-3rd with Gerrit Cole)
Strikeouts: 257 (3rd)
Walks per nine innings: 1.70 (t-9th with Justin Verlander)
ERA: 3.26 (t-21st with Walker Buehler)
WHIP: 1.05 (t-15th with Clayton Kershaw)
SIERA (an ERA estimator that is supposed to be more indicative of a pitcher’s underlying skill): 3.36 (8th)
This clearly doesn’t give you the full picture but it should give you a pretty good idea of the fact that Shane Bieber is an ace. He’s also 24 years old and likely has his best years ahead of him. The Indians may have traded Kluber but Bieber was already the ace of that staff.
#3: Juan Soto, RF, Washington Nationals (Opening Day Age: 21; last season: 4)
I’m going to start this blurb the same way I started last year’s.
Here is the full list of teenagers to produce a .900 OPS and hit over 20 HR in one season:
That’s the entire list.
Now, a new list. Here is the list of players with as many home runs as Juan Soto before their age 21 season:
Mel Ott (61)
Juan Soto has 56 career home runs. He’s ahead of guys like Harper, A-Rod, Ken Griffey Jr., Frank Robinson, Mickey Mantle, and Mike Trout. I’m not saying we should write him into Cooperstown just yet, but given the list above I’d say he has as good a shot as any player under 25.
In 2019, Soto built on his stellar rookie campaign with a .282/.401/.548 triple slash. He hit 34 home runs, stole 12 bases (more than his entire minor league career and only two fewer than his career total to that point, including the minors), walked at a 16.4% clip and struck out just 20% of the time. He also accrued 4.8 fWAR and posted a 142 wRC+. Not only is Soto one of the best youngsters in the game, he’s one of the best players in all of baseball and couldn’t even buy a beer legally until October. My condolences to NL East pitchers who have to face this guy for the next half decade.
#2: Ronald Acuña, RF, Atlanta Braves (Opening Day Age: 22; last season: 2)
The only player younger than 24 better than Juan Soto right now is The Ronald. And let’s revisit that home run stat from before. Here’s a list of guys to have as many home runs as The Ronald through their age-21 season:
Mel Ott (86)
Tony Conigliaro (84)
Eddie Mathews (72)
The Ronald has 67. He’s also ahead of guys like A-Rod, Trout, Griffey Jr., and Mantle. His 2019 offensive production on a per-PA basis was 17% worse than his 2018 production and he still triple-slashed .280/.365/.518 with 41 HR. He improved his walk rate to 10.6% and racked up 5.6 fWAR while playing average defense in right field. Acuña and Soto duking it out for best hitter of the NL East is going to be a fun battle to watch in the coming seasons.
#1: Cody Bellinger, 1B/CF, Los Angeles Dodgers (Opening Day Age: 24; 2018: 10; 2019: 10)
Ladies and gentlemen, your reigning National League MVP: Cody Bellinger.
Here’s what I wrote about him last year:
After putting on a ridiculous power display in 2017 with 39 home runs and a .581 slugging percentage, Bellinger took a step backward in 2018. In 30 more games, he launched 14 fewer homers, walked just five additional times, and had his slugging percentage cut by over 100 points. That is not to say that the versatile youngster is toast—his strikeout rate and line drive rate are trending in the right direction—but until we know whether .933 OPS Bellinger or .814 OPS Bellinger is the true Bellinger, I’ll have trouble moving up. I have a feeling he will land somewhere in the middle this season.
Boy, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Bellinger is the fifth and final son of a former big leaguer in the Top 25 Under 25 club and with good reason: he is simply the best under-25 player in the game right now. After bringing up the rear of the top-10 the past two seasons, Bellinger must have realized that this was his last opportunity to top the list so he showed out in 2019. After triple-slashing an otherworldly .431/.508/.890 (1.397 OPS) with 14 home runs and more walks than strikeouts in March and April, he cooled off a little bit but he still finished the season slashing .305/.406/.629 with 47 HR and 15 steals. He ended 2019 with a 14.4% walk rate and just a 16.4% strikeout rate, a far cry from his career mark of 25.2% entering the season.
Bellinger is also the starting CF on one of the best teams in the game. I’m sure he could play the corner spots if the Dodgers needed him to, but why waste his talent in a corner? Bellinger was a well above-average CF in 2019 (7 OAA) and that, combined with his offensive production (162 wRC+) led to a monstrous 7.8 fWAR season. Cody is here to stay.
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Header Image Credit: @Dodgers on Twitter