Selecting MLB's All-Under-25 Team, Position by Position
If there is one thing that defines Major League Baseball in 2014, it is youth. All around the sport, teams are trying to build rosters through the draft and international market, and the number of long-term contracts for first- and second-year players keeps growing.
It's a great time to be a fan of player development, as players like Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Craig Kimbrel and Freddie Freeman have all taken the league by storm in recent years. They have been joined this season by future stars like Xander Bogaerts, Yordano Ventura and Kolten Wong.
With youth being at the forefront of MLB, and with the season just getting underway, it's time to make our picks for the best of the best in the under-25 group that the sport has to offer.
The rules for the team are simple. To be eligible, a player had to be under 25 years old on Opening Day (March 31) and on the 25-man roster. There are many, many prospects who will eventually make it on this list, but for the purposes of this discussion, they don't interest us yet.
The roster consists of a full starting nine, including a designated hitter, five starting pitchers and one relief pitcher/closer. There are many choices for each position, so if a player from your team isn't on the roster, it doesn't mean we hate your favorite team/player.
C Salvador Perez, Kansas City Royals
Career WAR: 8.2
It's hard to compare anyone to Yadier Molina, because there are so many ways St. Louis' catcher changes games with his defense that you don't pick up with just a glance, but if you want a young backstop who could get to that level, Salvador Perez is your man.
At just 23 years old, Perez has established himself as an elite defender behind the plate. He's thrown out 34 percent of basestealers in his career and ranks fourth in defensive value among all catchers since 2012 (min. 800 plate appearances) despite playing 46 fewer games than anyone ahead of him.
Perez has also turned into a solid hitter. He's never going to have a great on-base percentage, but he has made more than enough contact to hit for average and hit 24 homers in 214 games between 2012-13.
1B Eric Hosmer, Kansas City Royals
Career WAR: 2.1
The battle for first base came down to Atlanta's Freddie Freeman and Kansas City's Eric Hosmer, both 24. On the surface, Freeman would appear to be the clear-cut choice, finishing fifth in NL MVP voting and increasing his OPS in each of the last two years.
Hosmer ultimately got the nod for one reason: upside. Freeman is as good as he's ever going to get, and he's a very good player, but Hosmer showed flashes of what he's capable of becoming in the second half of 2013 (.323/.379/.473).
I believe there's a lot more in Hosmer's tank, which will come out in 2014, so the Royals' young first baseman gets the edge.
2B Anthony Rendon, Washington Nationals
Career WAR: 1.8
Another position with only two strong candidates, Washington's Anthony Rendon and St. Louis' Kolten Wong, it was Rendon's upside that ultimately won out over Wong's high floor.
There are significant, legitimate injury concerns with Rendon. He had two serious ankle injuries in college and suffered a serious ankle sprain in 2012, which isn't a good sign because you have to turn a lot at second base.
However, Rendon's ability with the bat is incredible. He's not an imposing physical specimen at 6'1", 200 pounds, but he has plenty of bat speed and control of the strike zone to hit for average and power.
Hopefully the 23-year-old stays healthy to show off those skills in 2014.
SS Xander Bogaerts, Boston Red Sox
Career WAR: 0.5
It's impossible not to love what Atlanta's Andrelton Simmons can do with the glove and the importance of defense at shortstop, but the ability that Boston's Xander Bogaerts has already shown with the bat in 20-plus regular season games and last postseason is special.
Bogaerts isn't a slouch at shortstop. He's obviously not Simmons, because no one is, but as long as the 21-year-old is adequate defensively, with that eye at the plate, you're looking at an MVP candidate for the next decade.
Don't be surprised if we are talking about Bogaerts alongside someone like Troy Tulowitzki, at least offensively, by the end of 2014.
3B Manny Machado, Baltimore Orioles
Career WAR: 7.5
With the obvious caveat that we have to see how he looks after that gruesome knee injury ended his 2013 season prematurely, Manny Machado was moving into that Mike Trout and Bryce Harper territory in his first full year.
Machado was a defensive wizard last season, credited with saving 35 runs, which shouldn't be a surprise given he's a natural shortstop. His offensive game still has room to improve, posting a .314 on-base percentage, but a league-leading 51 doubles and 14 homers is hard to argue with from a player in his age-20 season.
Making Machado, listed at 180 pounds, even more valuable is the room to add more bulk to his frame without sacrificing any speed or defense, which can turn some of those doubles into homers.
LF Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals
Career WAR: 8.0
What game are these people watching? Harper hasn't won an MVP award yet, and his all-out style has led to injury problems. But this is a 21-year-old who has a career .350 on-base and .473 slugging percentage.
If that's an overrated player, sign me up for it eight days a week. Eventually, you hope to see Harper stop crashing into walls just for the sake of his long-term future, but things are going to click, and there's no ceiling for this immense talent.
CF Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels
Career WAR: 21.6
At some point, calling Mike Trout the best player of a generation will be beating a dead horse. Fortunately that time isn't here yet, because we still don't know how high Los Angeles' 22-year-old superstar can climb.
No one expected Trout to duplicate a stellar rookie season in 2012. In defense of those people, he didn't duplicate it—he got even better. The Millville Meteor raised his on-base percentage 33 points (.399 to .432), weighted on-base average 14 points (.409 to .423) and OPS+ 11 points (168 to 179).
About the only thing missing from Trout's mantle is an MVP award. Hopefully the Angels are a good enough team one of these years for voters to recognize his efforts on the field.
RF Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins
Career WAR: 13.9
Much like Bryce Harper, the only thing stopping Giancarlo Stanton from being an MVP candidate every year is health. The Marlins slugger missed a combined 85 games in 2012-13, though that didn't stop him from hitting 61 homers and slugging .546 during that stretch.
What separates Stanton from so many of his peers is that power. It's no secret that baseball is in a pitching-heavy cycle right now. There are power arms everywhere you look, leading to increased strikeout totals and fewer runs scored.
There are a lot of great power hitters in baseball today, like Miguel Cabrera, Jose Bautista and Chris Davis, but if all things are equal and health doesn't become a major factor, Stanton can be better than anyone.
DH Jason Heyward, Atlanta Braves
Career WAR: 16.3
Although Jason Heyward has had health problems, his potential is too great to resist.
Heyward has yet to duplicate his sterling rookie season in 2010, though he hasn't been chopped liver with increased on-base percentages in the last two years (.335, .349) and still shows flashes of tapping into that power, as evidenced by a .534 slugging percentage in the second half last year.
If that's the kind of player Heyward can turn into moving forward, he's going to be one of the best players in baseball.
SP Jose Fernandez, Miami Marlins
Career WAR: 4.6
Of all the reasons to love Jose Fernandez—and there are many—the biggest is the unknown. He dazzled as a rookie in 2013, posting the fifth-lowest ERA (2.19), second-lowest WHIP (0.979), sixth-best strikeout ratio (9.7) and best ERA+ (176) by a first-year player since 1920.
Now, at the ripe old age of 21, Fernandez has a lot to live up to. The Marlins ace picked up right where he left off in 2013, striking out nine Colorado Rockies in six innings, with stuff that just looked more crisp than it did at the end of last season.
Clayton Kershaw is still the best pitcher in baseball, but Fernandez could start to give him a run for his money by the end of 2014.
SP Michael Wacha, St. Louis Cardinals
Career WAR: 1.5
Xander Bogaerts may have gotten the ring, but there wasn't a more impressive rookie last October than Michael Wacha. The St. Louis right-hander nearly had a no-hitter in the NLDS, didn't give up a run in the NLCS and gave up just three hits in six innings at Fenway Park in Game 2 of the World Series.
What's made Wacha more effective now than he was upon being drafted in 2012 is fastball command. He's primarily a fastball-changeup pitcher, so getting hitters to respect the heater is paramount to success.
It won't be long before Wacha surpasses Adam Wainwright as St. Louis' best pitcher.
SP Julio Teheran, Atlanta Braves
Career WAR: 2.5
It was easy to give up on Julio Teheran after he posted a 5.08 ERA at Triple-A in 2012. His stuff didn't look the same, hitters were squaring him up often, and he had just 97 strikeouts in 131 innings. That's hardly the stuff of a potential No. 1 starter.
A funny thing happened in 2013 after Teheran started using a slider for the first time in his career: Everything else fell back into place. His biggest problem in the minors was lack of a breaking ball because the curveball lacked consistency and shape to fool hitters.
After learning the slider, Teheran found the weapon that was needed for success. The 23-year-old threw the pitch on 20.2 percent of his pitches last season, generating more swings and misses with it than any other pitch in his arsenal.
SP Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants
Career WAR: 13.2
We almost forget about Madison Bumgarner as a young pitcher because he's been around the majors since 2009. This is the big left-hander's last eligible year for an under-25 list, but that's not why he's here.
Bumgarner is here because he's thrown at least 200 innings and struck out at least 191 hitters in three consecutive seasons. He's murder for anyone to hit, but lefties especially hate seeing the 24-year-old with a .576 career OPS against.
It's hard enough to be consistently dominant as a starting pitcher because of how easy it is to get hurt, but to be as great as Bumgarner has been at such a young age only validates his place on this team.
SP Gerrit Cole, Pittsburgh Pirates
Career WAR: 2.3
If you want to talk upside, it's harder to find any young pitcher with more than Gerrit Cole. He started to show some of that promise at the end of 2013, posting a 1.69 ERA with 39 strikeouts in 32 September innings.
This year, with no restrictions on innings and a full power arsenal to choose from, Cole is ready to take the leap. The Pittsburgh Pirates drafted the right-hander with the No. 1 overall pick in a loaded 2011 class knowing he could one day lead the rotation.
If you have ever watched Cole pitch, he has that "It" factor. There's virtually no effort in his delivery, yet the radar gun shows 95-100 mph, and his two playoff starts against St. Louis last October proved he can handle the big stage.
CL Trevor Rosenthal, St. Louis Cardinals
Career WAR: 2.5
Even if Craig Kimbrel was eligible for this list, I'm not sure that Trevor Rosenthal still wouldn't be the choice to close. Both right-handers are incredible, bordering on unfair, but there's something about Rosenthal's ability to throw four pitches that makes him special.
Rosenthal, who has the arsenal and delivery to start if the Cardinals weren't so enamored with him in late-relief situations, can bust out a 100 mph fastball or snap off an 80 mph curveball if he wants to mess with hitters.
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