Tuesday, January 3, 2012

MLB's 24 Under 24

Some of you may have participated in a Major League Soccer promotion called 24 under 24. As the name implies, MLS is highlighting 24 of their brightest young stars, under the age of 24.

Fredy Montero is a beacon of
hope for soccer fans in Seattle.
The league has done this the past two years. Fredy Montero ranked #1 in 2010, and Brek Shea of FC Dallas too top honors this season.

Major League Soccer is blessed with the best young talent they've maybe ever had. Not only does the league have a bright future, it is thriving after a fantastic season.

I have no idea of the prime ages for soccer players, but 24 seems like an interesting age for the arbitrary cutoff. In baseball, a decent number of people would presumably say that the age 24 season is often the first of a player's prime, i.e. peak performance, seasons.

As an homage to the good people at MLS, let's take a look at our choices for Major League Baseball players, yet to reach their prime:

To be eligible for our list, players must have some Major League experience going into the 2012 season. So, guys like Bryce Harper are not eligible.

Major League Baseball's 24 Under 24
24. Salvador Perez
Royals, Age: 21
Salvador Perez is a big guy.
There are some questions about Perez's long-term hitting ability, as he didn't put up eye popping stats in the Minor Leagues. On the other hand, he's been shuttled around various rookie leagues and has always been young for his level. Last year, at 21, he raked in a 2-week stint with the Omaha Storm Chasers before hitting .331 as a part-time backstop for Kansas City.

23. Chris Sale
White Sox, Age: 22
Following in the footsteps of recent success stories, like C.J. Wilson's, the White Sox will be converting Chris Sale back to the position in which he was drafted, Starting Pitcher. After two successful years in the White Sox bullpen, Sale should be effective in the rotation. He has effectively mixed in his four pitches, with two different fastballs and an outstanding slider and change-up. Sale has consistently been one of the league leaders in difference between his fastball and change-up. It's expected that his fastball will lose a couple of MPH when starting but his change-up should, as well.

22. Jacob Turner
Tigers, Age: 20
The results of his Major League performance in 2011 did not impress, but Jacob Turner showed confidence in four pitches, forecasting a bright future at the front of the Tigers rotation. Recent rumors the Tigers are offering him in exchange for Matt Garza have some Cubs fans brimming with optimism.

21. Mike Moustakas
Royals, Age: 23
Another player who showed fantastic promise without great results is the Royals young 3rd baseman. In that vain, his two best attributes are his youth and ability to play a position known for talent scarcity.

20. Brandon Belt
Giants, Age: 23
Belt's stock dropped a bit last season, mostly because the team mismanagaed him by waffling between his involvement in Triple-A and San Francisco. Even in the big leagues, he was often playing a bit out of position in the outfield. His hitting tools are such that he could eventually be the most accomplished hitter on this list, which speaks to the outstanding young talent in baseball.

19. Starlin Castro
Cubs, Age: 21
There are overt questions about physical and mental elements in Castro's game, but he's getting the benefit of the doubt for still being so young. Castro does not walk often enough to be an elite on-base guy (5.2 career BB%), and he's shown middling power (.118 ISO).

18. Elvis Andrus
Rangers, Age: 23
Where were you at 23?
As a Cubs fan, it would be great to watch Castro develop into a better player than Andrus. Until then, Elvis Andrus is better defensively and sports a higher walk rate. FWIW, according to Baseball-Reference, Andrus's top comp at age 22 is Alan Trammell, and Starlin Castro's, at 21, is Garry Templeton.

17. Aroldis Chapman
Reds, Age: 23
They say the flame throwing Cuban southpaw is transitioning to the starting rotation next season, and with Dusty Baker as his manager, anything is possible. He could be brilliant, but for how long? The Reds will need to monitor Chapman's innings, for a late October run, and they may have the depth to handle it. The Reds rotation already pencils in: Latos, Cueto, Bailey, Arroyo, and Leake without Chapman.

16. Dustin Ackley
Mariners, Age: 23
Scouts who touted Dustin's hitting ability in the amateur ranks have been nodding in approval as Ackley showed good command of the strike zone, a balanced swing, and a propensity to get extra-base hits.

15. Freddie Freeman
Braves, Age: 22
Finishing a strong second in NL Rookie of the Year voting, as a 21-year old, means Freeman should remain on this list for another couple of seasons. How high will he rise in the rankings before his 24th birthday?

14. Michael Pineda
Mariners, Age: 22
How far can a 1-2 duo of Felix and Pineda take the Mariners? Probably about 3rd or 4th place if they don't add some hitting. On the plus side, Seattle is supposed to have a slew of great arms almost ready to impact the big league rotation.

13. Brett Lawrie
Blue Jays, Age: 21
Someone could try to compare better career debuts and/or better 43-game seasons. Brett Lawrie will not develop into one of the best third basemen in world in a few years. He already is one today. Blue Jays fans should hope that Lawrie's days of playing Edward 40 Hands are over.

12. Julio Teheran
Braves, Age: 20
The Braves will rise again.
Teheran flashes a power arm and repertoire of pitches that will have him in Braves colors for the next six seasons, minimum.

11. Neftali Feliz
Rangers, Age: 23
Kimbrel is a better relief pitcher than Neftali Feliz, but we have the Rangers' closer here because he still may be converted to a starter. In other words, Feliz would be more valuable if he could bring his team twice as many quality innings as a relief pitcher.

10. Jesus Montero
Yankees, Age: 22
How could anyone not be excited about this kid stepping into the bright lights of a Yankee pennant race, and shining by hitting with patience and power? Even if he cannot handle catching duties, he could define the DH position like no-one since Edgar Martínez.

9. Craig Kimbrel
Braves, Age: 23
Recent trades of young, inexpensive relievers, under team control for years, like Marc Melancon and Sergio Santos have changed the market for relievers. If more teams decide to cash in on even their best relievers, the bounty the Braves could get for Craig Kimbrel exceeds all others. In his 1+plus year career, Craig Kimbrel has faced 394 batters to a batting line of .167/.270/.216. That is a SLUGGING percentage of .216.

8. Eric Hosmer
Royals, Age: 22
During talk of AL Rookie of the Year candidates, people kept saying that Hosmer was the best rookie prospect we saw this year, but the award should go to whomever had the best season. Voters ultimately picked Jeremy Hellickson and Mark Trumbo ahead of 3rd place Hosmer. The Trumbo votes were terrible, as voters completely ignored his .291 on-base percentage and the fact that he made 427 Outs.

7. Jason Heyward
Braves, Age: 22
Sophomore slumps have the moniker because they happen from time-to-time. Most sophomore slumpers rebound, and there's no reason to expect Jason Heyward to just not be "good" anymore. Evidence shows he played injured last season, often with multiple injuries at once. Particularly damaging to Heyward were any lower body injuries that affected his balance at the plate. If healthy, Heyward should continue to use his keen batting eye and evident power to enter league MVP conversations in the next year or two.

6. Madison Bumgarner
Giants, Age: 22
The Bumgarner guy's gonna
be around for a long time.
As recently as two years ago, we were not very high on Bumgarner. He was too much of a soft tosser for us to get too excited about. No, we went gaga for guys who've flamed out or never developed and are now beginning to get wise. Aside from the Win/Loss record, what Bumgarner has done in the Major Leagues the past two and a half years, and at such a young age, has been tremendous. At age 21, Stephen Strasburg electrified baseball with 68 innings before throwing out his elbow. By comparison, at 21 last season, Madison Bumgarner threw 204 innings, with a 3.21 ERA and 2.67 FIP, across 33 starts for the Giants.

5. Mike Stanton
Marlins, Age: 22
Power, raw and unadulterated power. When Mike Stanton first came to the big leagues, we were a bit suspect by his lack of patience and high strikeout numbers. Given his undeniable ability to hit the ball very hard, we have come around to forgive the 150 strikeouts, particularly because he's so young and he is showing signs of fondness towards the base on balls.

4. Mike Trout
Angels, Age: 20
From power, we go to speed. Mike Trout may do everything well on the baseball field, but his speed is what sets him apart from past outfield phenoms. He was clocked from home to first at 3.82 seconds, which is newsworthy.

3. Matt Moore
Rays, Age: 22
As Michael Scott would say, Matt Moore could end up being the bell of the ball, and may deserve being ranked #1 on this list. The talent he showed in a late-season call-up and postseason start in Game 1 of the first round left observers in awe. Great job by the Rays locking him up to a team-friendly, Longoria-esque long-term deal. The Rays and Blue Jays are legit, so the AL East may finally have a 4-team race again. When was the last time that division had four teams in contention in late August?

2. Stephen Strasburg
Nationals, Age: 23
Give me any of these to 3 guys, and you won't hear any complaints. The fact that he came back from Tommy John Surgery throwing in the high 90's fosters confidence that he will be his old self as he enters his age 23 season and prime over the next seven or eight seasons. With a rotation boasting Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Ryan Jordan Zimmermann, John Lannan, and Chien-Ming Wang bringing up the rear, watch out for those Nats!

1. Clayton Kershaw
Dodgers, Age: 23
Looking at some of Clayton Kershaw's career accomplishments reads like a plaque in Cooperstown, and he's only 23 years old with a Cy Young award to his credit. Sandy Koufax didn't win his first Cy Young until he was 27.

The only legitimate criticism of Clayton Kershaw is with his facial hair.

Honorable mention: Logan Morrison, Rick Porcello, Leonys Martin, Devin Mesoraco, Drew Pomeranz, Dayan Viciedo, Wilson Ramos, Alex White, Danny Duffy, Alex Cobb, Zach Britton, Mike Leake, Jordan Walden, Henderson Alvarez, and a couple of ex-teammates in Oakland called Anderson and Cahill.

Please begin or join the discussion in our comments section, and please remember that players must have some MLB experience, so no Bryce Harper this year...

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