Throughout the history of baseball, we’ve seen each era of the game have Hall of Fame Greats. The Steroid Era had players such as Roberto Alomar, Mike Piazza, Tom Glavine and Ken Griffey Jr., while Baseball’s Golden Age of the 1970s had players such as Steve Carlton, Dave Winfield and Willie Stargell. However, I firmly believe that right now baseball is more talented than it has ever been in the past.
Kris Bryant just won the MVP. Rick Porcello just won the Cy Young. Michael Fulmer of the Tigers just won the Rookie of the Year. Players like Arenado, Kiermaier, Perez, Lindor and Inciarte just hit hardware in the Gold Glove section. Mike Trout has surpassed multiple Hall of Famers in career WAR. The Bronx Bombers are having a young man’s renaissance (Sanchez, Bird, Chapman, Tanaka, Betances, Williams, Castro). The Chicago Cubs, a team outpouring with young talent (Rizzo, Russell, Hendricks, Montgomery) just won the 2016 World Series, ending their 108 Championship drought in dramatic fashion. How does one define young? There isn’t a set definition, so I went with players we have at least seven more years left (barring any major injury or an abrupt retirement), which would put them coming off of their age 28 season or under from 2016. Some of these guys are seasoned veterans, others are unproven rookies, but never before has baseball been ruled with so much young talent. From hurlers ranging every from Clayton Kershaw to Gerrit Cole, and sluggers such as Eric Hosmer and Bryce Harper, let’s showcase nearly 100 (if not more) of the top young guns in baseball today. At certain points during this piece, I’ll also stop and list some of the top prospects, and aging players; not really go into them, but to offer a more complete players guide (and encourage you to do some research of your own). So, this is it. These are the players that you have to look out for if you follow baseball in 2017.
What better way to start off our list than the cornerstone of the 2016 World Series Champions? The first young stud on our list is 27 year old Anthony Rizzo. With more than 30 homeruns and 109 RBI to go alongside a .292 average, Rizzo’s season was outdone by NL MVP teammate Kris Bryant. However, one of the most productive hitters in 2016, Rizzo was also one of the best defenders, capturing his first Gold Glove Award. Rizzo is easily one of Baseball’s most inspiration stories as it wasn’t long ago he was diagnosed with cancer. Since then, he’s been drafted by the Boston Red Sox, made his MLB debut with the San Diego Padres and became an MLB All-Star with the World Series Champions, ending the 108-year Chicago Cub Championship Drought.
From young vet to even younger rookie, 24 year-old Blake Snell is undoubtedly the future of Tampa Bay. Pitching 89 innings in 2016, Snell had a 9.9 K-Per-9-IP and a 3.54 ERA to go along with a 6-8 record in his rookie season. Once he adjusted to the Bigs and found his control, he was one of the best young starters in baseball, and is a virtual lock for TBs starting rotation, alongside the combinations of Odorizzi-Archer-Cobb. Snell has been groomed to perfection, and is going to fill the void left by fellow lefty Matt Moore at the trade deadline. Snell had an ERA lower than the so-called “ace” of the staff in Chris Archer for his 2016 campaign. He’s Tampa Bay’s next James Shields.
From one Florida player to another, next on our list is 25-year-old stud left-fielder, Christian Yelich of the Miami Marlins. While sharing time between left and center, he was one of the biggest pieces of the Miami Marlins All-Star outfield, also including fellow former All-Stars Marcell Ozuna, Giancarlo Stanton and Ichiro Suzuki. Yelich first got called up in 2013, but showed flashes of brilliance in 2015, batting .300 with 16 steals and a .366 OBP. The speedy lefty batting .298 in 2016, with the first double digit homerun total of his career (21). Recently signing a 7 year extension, the Marlins not only have quite possibly a future MVP for that amount of time, but the guy who will be the franchise’s superstar.
From left to straight away center, we see the best defensive center fielder in baseball, Kevin Kiermaier. While Kiermaier may lack a big bat in the lineup, the defense more than makes up for it, as he’s led all Major Leaguers in Defensive WAR the past two seasons and has led all MLB CFers in Defensive Runs Saved in the same time frame. What makes that even more astounding? He missed 57 games due to a wrist fracture. If used correctly, “The Outlaw” can be the quintessential #2 hitter…a 10-15 homerun bat, low-average-high-on-base-percentage. A fan favorite, Kiermaier is being groomed to be the replacement superstar of 3B Evan Longoria, and is easily the best outfielder the Rays have seen since a young stud by the nickname of “The Perfect Storm”….Carl Crawford.
Next on our list is a virtually unknown starter for the Arizona Diamondbacks by the name of Robbie Ray. With a breakout season at age 23 in 2015, Ray ended up posting a very nice 3.52 ERA and an 8.4 K-per-9-innings-pitched. However, Ray only went 5-12, and had a less than stellar 2016. Don’t get me wrong, pitching in chase takes its toll on the ERA of every pitcher. The self-proclaimed “monster rotation” of Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller got torn apart. I’d still consider it a somewhat successful season for Ray, expect a mega one from him in 2017 as he looks to establishes himself as Arizona’s ace over an aging Zack Greinke.
Have you heard of the 26-year-old ace? Posting a 47-30 record in 94 starts since his Major League debut in 2013, with 3.23 ERA. The former NL All-Star is the anchor of a staff that has been full of reclamation projects since his debut, including guys such as Francisco Liriano and Ivan Nova. With years of team control left and him being so young and in ace form, the Pirates have a steal for Cole.
One of the younger players to start in a big league lineup, this jaw jacking (pun intended) second basemen bombed 33 homeruns out of the park in 2016, and that’s one of the perks of having Arlington as your home stadium. With a great glove, a powerful bat and speed on the basepaths. Odor also hit for solid contact this past season, hitting above .270 and an OBP near .300. Very plate disciplined, it might not be long until Odor’s the best 2B in the game.
From 22 year old 2B to 23 year old shortstop, the next player on our list is Ketel Marte. The recently dealt Marte has 3 big league homeruns and a .267 lifetime batting average in just over 650 at bats in his first two seasons. Marte has yet to have a real chance to start in the Bigs, but with a highly touted glove and going to one of the most hitter friendly parks in baseball (Chase Field), rather than the pitcher friendly Safeco, Marte should become one of the best young shorts in the game. He was dealt alongside Taijuan Walker to the Arizona Diamondbacks, where he will start his 2017 campaign.
We’ve had a 1B, 2B, and SS thus far. You have to follow that up with a young stud-like third baseman, don’t you? No, not Nolan Arenado, not Manny Machado, not Mike Moustakas and not Kris Bryant. At least, not yet. The first third baseman on our list? Nick Castellanos.
Following a 2016 campaign where he batted .285 with 18 homeruns and stellar defense, he’s poised to have a fantastic 2017. Castellanos, barring any big injury, will continually get playing time in the lineup at third base, and he’ll only get better from here.
We have our first true veteran on our list; the 2014 NL Strikeout leader Stephen Straburg. The Nats’ ace and 2-time All-Star made his debut in June 2010, almost 7 years ago and hasn’t been sent to the Minors since. One of the aces on one of the Majors’ most dominant pitching staffs, Strasburg has notched over 1,000 K’s with a 3.17 career ERA and nearly 70 career wins by age 28. With a nasty 94 MPH fastball that just blows by the opposition, it has caused multiple arm issues. Strasburg is one of the most notable players to ever bounce back from Tommy John Surgery (alongside Hall of Famer John Smoltz, and fellow players to appear on this list Matt Harvey, Matt Moore, Arodys Vizcaino among others).
From Caguas, Puerto Rico, our next player, in his postseason debut has already smelled a glimpse of the bright lights in a more medium market. Fresh off of a stellar World Series where he had a .367 on base percentage with a .296 average, Lindor also flashed his fantastic glove on the biggest stage imaginable, even though he has no ring to prove it. With both his first career Gold and Platinum glove this past season, the 23 year-old-stud has already established himself as one of the game’s premiere lead-off hitters following his sophomore season. Speedy on the basepaths (31 Stolen Bases), excellent contact (career average over .300) and decent power (27 homeruns), Lindor is what it would look like if you built a lead-off hitter from the ground up, and his extraordinary defensive? That’s a plus, especially at the shortstop position.
The 2016 All-Star is becoming one of the hottest names around the game, and is just a sample of the future that the shortstop position holds, that also includes Xander Bogearts, Corey Seager, Carlos Correa, Matt Duffy, Dansby Swanson, Trevor Story, the aforementioned Ketel Marte, among others.
The picture above is worth a thousand words: Gary Sanchez and Blue Jays’ catcher Russel Martin admire the massive power of the “Sanchize”. After being called up very late in to the 2016 season, Gary Sanchez produced at a massively historical rate. In 53 games for the Bronx Bombers this past season, Sanchez hit .299 with 20 homeruns; the only Yankee to hit 20 or more homeruns in 2016 not named Carlos Beltran (who was dealt at the trade deadline). With Brian McCann now in an Astros uniform, Sanchez is now the full-time catcher for the Yanks’, and it will be interested to see how he adjusts in his first full season in the Bigs.
Fresh off of a monster breakout season, the 26-year-old near-superstar completely changed the way he hit following his 2015 rookie season, flashing more power than contact. With a .275, 20 homerun bat, Piscotty is St. Louis’ key to the future, and will dominate right field for years to come.
Setting a career high in walks, he had an OBP of .343, Piscotty is the perfect offensive player, especially after hitting over .300 in 2015. Though the glove could definitely use some improvement, it’s solid and Piscotty’s already shown veteran leadership, looking up to catcher Yadier Molina. This is a kid you build a team around.
Following a mid-season trade to San Francisco from Tampa Bay, the former All-Star came within one out of the pitcher’s dream, when, on a cold night, August 15th 2016, Moore had sent 26 batters down against his biggest rival, and the Dodgers had no hits. Then, a 2-out, 2-strike bloop single through the gap ended it when Corey Seager reached in the ninth, on Seager’s bobblehead night.
In his first full-season back from Tommy John Surgery (TJS), Moore posted a 4.08 ERA and was stellar in the postseason, with a 1.13 ERA against the offensive juggernaut that was the 2016 Chicago Cubs. Though he saw his ERA go up, Moore found his way back into ace form during the postseason. Prior to 2014 (his TJ year), Moore posted a 2.89 ERA in his rookie campaign, 3,81 in 2012 and an ERA slightly over 3.00 in 2013. Moore his more than ace potential, and has been lights out in the playoffs throughout his career. The definition of “Big Game Pitcher”, Moore has a bright future and is poised to have a big 2017.
Recently finishing 6th in MVP voting on the last-place Atlanta Braves, Freeman had an above average 2016 campaign, hitting over .300 and bombing 34 homeruns, ending the season on a high-note with a 30 game hit streak.
After being the sole surviving member of the 2014 Braves fire-sale that including Jason Heyward, Craig Kimbrel and Brian McCann, Freeman battled injuries and an unprotective line-up. However, when the Braves dealt Hector Olivera to the Padres for Matt Kemp, they gave Freeman more protection. Freeman saw better pitches, got on base a lot more, and Kemp drove him in. The 2-time All-Star was the focal point surrounding the Braves offense in 2016, which was statistically the best offense in the final two months of season.
The first of multiple Red Sox pitchers to appear on our guide, Thornburg heads into his first year at Fenway with a career 2.87 ERA and 14-9 record in 4 seasons with the Brewers. In 2016, Thornburg put up a 2.15 ERA in 67 games (and innings) with 90 strikeouts and 12.1 strikeout-per-9-inning ratio, giving Boston a deadly 1-2 punch, as Thornburg will likely set-up for closer Craig Kimbrel. The bullpen will likely also include fellow youngers Heath Hembree, Joe Kelly and All-Star Drew Pomeranz.
One of the most downright filthy pitchers in the game, Gray is at the disadvantage of playing in Coors Field. The third overall selection in the 2013 draft, the Rockies obviously had high hopes for Gray. Gray, adapting to professional hitters quickly, was called up to The Show for the first time in 2015, and had his breakout season in 2016 at age 24. Averaging around 10 strikeouts in a full 9 innings at a home stadium of Coors? That’s a gem, especially when you’re a young starter able to keep your ERA under 5 in the most hitter friendly of parks. Anchoring the Colorado pitching staff in 2017 alongside Chad Bettis, Gray allowed just 18 longballs in the Denver altitude (pitching 168 innings).
In his first Major League season from being signed out of Japan, Maeda gained huge exposure as a rookie, signing a lucrative deal with The Los Angeles Dodgers to replace then-free agent Zack Greinke. Posting a 3.48 ERA with 179 strikeouts, Maeda anchored the Dodger staff when staff ace Clayton Kershaw hit the DL for a majority of the season. Being the only member on the staff to stay healthy in the 2016 campaign, Maeda started the full 32 games and ate innings, leading LAD to the postseason (where he had a not-so-good ERA over 6). Maeda’s strength is putting balls in play, but a vital weakness is not having a signature 2-strike pitch and he has to have his location spot on our he gets rocked, but when he’s on, he’s untouchable and filthy.
What better way than to start a slew of elite players (before we go back to our next pitcher), than the player that people think will be the greatest ever when he’s done? Better than Willie Mays. Better than Joe DiMaggio. Better than Hank Aaron. Of course, it’s tempting to put Trout in that category now, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves, he still has 15 more years (barring any unfortunate injury).
Coming off of his second MVP through his age 24 season, Trout’s already amassed 917 hits, 168 homeruns, and a 143 stolen bases to go along with a .306 career average and .404 OBP. Not only is the most humble (Trout) player in the game the best offensively (and a beast defensively), but he’s the best saber-metrically. WAR is a stat called Wins-Above-Replacement, so if they replaced you, how many more games would they win or lose? Mike Trout, this past season alone, surpassed 32 Hall of Famers in career WAR. Trout certainly is entering greatest ever territory, and he’s not even close to his prime.
Arguably the best defender in baseball, Arenado has been in the league for four seasons, and has 4-Gold Gloves, 2-Silver Sluggers and has led the league in both RBI and HRs in 2015 and 2016. A lifetime .285 hitter, Arenado has 111 career homeruns and is one of the best hitters the game has to offer as well, batting .294 in 2016. Arenado is electric and one of the favorites for 2017 NL MVP, where the Rockies may be able to contend.
Having pitched for 3-teams already his possible future Hall-of-Fame career, the flame-throwing righty is a 5 time All-Star (in 6 seasons), with 256 saves before his 29th birthday. He came up with the Braves, and was immediately named their closer while saving 46 games, a rookie record. With a 1.86 ERA and nearly 650 Ks, he’s hard to hit, and it makes him dominant. The 4-Time Saves leader has cemented himself as a bullpen ace and Boston’s closer for the 2017 seasons.
The legacy Clayton Kershaw is creating for himself is well documented and pretty iconic. With a no-hitter, a gold glove, 3-NL Cy Youngs, Triple Crown, MVP, 4 ERA titles, 2 Win titles, 3 strikeout titles under his belt, Kershaw has notched 126 career wins with a 2.37 career ERA, 1.01 WHIP and 1918 Ks. He’s one of the few players that if he retired today, he gets into the Hall of Fame….and he’s only 28. Nobody, and I mean nobody, has ever manipulated the ball and mastered the strikezone like Kershaw has thus far in his Big League career. He is the definition of crafty lefty, and the best starting pitcher in the sport of baseball—and it isn’t even close.
Becoming the first player in history to play in the College and MLB World Series in the same year, the TCU graduate was drafted 17th overall by The KC Royals in the 2014 draft and just obliterated his way through the system, blowing minor league batters away. He made his debut as a September call-up and made the Royals postseason roster. Determined expendable to KC as long as KC gets a ring, Finnegan missed out when he was dealt at the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline for Johnny Cueto (alongside John Lamb and Cody Reed). He ended up being Cincy’s best starter in 2016 and looks forward to a monster 2017.
The 2-time Gold Glover, Manny Machado is certainly a character, and an entertaining one at that. As a Rays fan (and TB Native), I’ve grown to hate most division rivals, but as a baseball fan, I can’t help but to enjoy the aura that surrounds Manny Machado. He’s electric with the leather, powerful with the bat, and scary with the temper. He does the little things that make the game a bit more enjoyable, such as a cocky bat flip or a bench clearing brawl. With Manny, you never really know what’s going to happen.
A 2016 All-Star, Duvall finally had his expected breakout season in 2016 posting career highs in every statistical categories; with his 33 homeruns being a bright spot on the otherwise somewhat dark Cincinnati Reds 2016 campaign. Becoming a regular, everyday player with Cincinnati instead of just being used in bigtime, pinch-hit situations really helped the development of Duvall as he adjusted to Big League pitching for the first time and saw a lot of better pitches to hit.
As I don’t really feel like typing his last name again, I’m just going to simply refer to him as “Kyle” or “That Marlins Pitcher”. Posting a 2.85 ERA in his sophomore season, the 26-year-old stud has developed a viscous slider, to go along with a beyond nasty 4-seam pitch. His walk rate is legitimately the only flaw in his pitching, and he still finds creative ways to work around that, which makes him even scarier, and a near perfect set-up man for AJ Ramos coming out of the Miami bullpen. He’s shown very good command and break in his pitches and has the stuff to be the next big closer.
From one Florida reliever to another, the next player to appear on our list plays in Tampa and goes by the name of “Brad Boxberger”. After a few abysmal seasons in San Diego, Brad Boxberger was dealt alongside 2B Logan Forsythe, Matt Andriese, Matt Lollis and Maxx Tissenbaum to join Tampa and immediately moved into the closer role where he led the league in saves at 41 in 2015 as an All-Star. After All-Star relief option Alex Colome took over as closer in 2016, Boxberger started battling an injury bug that shortened his season, but will be the perfect set-up man for TB in 2017.
2015s Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird hit 11 homeruns in just a mere 46 games while showing very good defensive value at 1B, leaving Yankee fans desperate for more, which they would not get in 2016. With a .343 OBP in 2015, the Yankees took their first hit of the 2016 season when Bird got hurt in the middle of Spring Training and was unable to play in 2016. With the young renaissance going on in the Bronx at the moment, Bird is the biggest piece of the puzzle alongside the likes of Sanchez, Aaron Judge, Tyler Austin, Masahiro Tanaka and Dellin Betances.
If you read this and asked yourself, “who?”, we really don’t blame you. That’s what we’re here writing this guide for, isn’t it? Taylor Motter’s breaking into a regular big league role like he broke bones as a child. A person who eat, sleeps and breathes baseball, he’s one of the more dedicated players in the Major Leagues and has given himself a shot like he never dreamed. He broke 15 different bones prior to being drafted by TB in 2011 out of Coastal Carolina and still busted his rear end to get to the Bigs…where he busted. This past off-season, he was dealt to The Seattle Mariners alongside fellow Major Leaguer Richie Shaffer for 3 prospects (most notably Andrew Kittridge). From there, he smashed in Spring Training, oozing of confidence and showing versatility all over the field defensively. He’s hit .288 this Spring Training, sporting a few power flashes with 3 homeruns. But the key factor in this? He leads the Mariners in stolen bases this Spring and has 17 hits in a mere 59 at bats, scoring 12 runs whilst driving in 11. He’s likely hitting second in the lineup, behind Jean Segura and/or Jarrod Dyson. Oh, and he also has the most majestic hair in the Show.
After being dealt back to Atlanta from the Chicago Cubs, Vizcaino had his breakout year in 2015 with a 1.60 ERA with 37 Ks in 33 IPs. He posted 10 saves in the 2016 season before going down due to injury and being replaced for the remainder of the season at closer by Jim Johnson. On his contract year (free agent at the end of the season), Vizcaino’s going to dominate Major League batters trying to prove to Atlanta that he’s worth a long-term deal; making him and Johnson a nasty Set-Up/Closer combination.
With a lot of the list already covered, let’s look at a few other things, before going back to the young guns.
The Following is a list of prospects that may or may not see Major League time in the near future. These are players that will be listed just so that you’re familiar with them and can research as you please.
Michael Kopech (White Sox), Miguel Gonzalez (Tigers), Alex Reyes (Cardinals), Dylan Moore (Braves), Kolby Allard (Braves), Willy Adames (Rays), Lucius Fox (Rays), Ozzie Albies (Braves), Jorge Mateo (Yankees), Justus Sheffield (Yankees), Vladdy Guerrero Jr. (Blue Jays), Cy Sneed (Astros), A.J. Puk (Athletics), Lewis Brinson (Brewers), Grant Homes (Dodgers), Matt Hague (Twins), Yoan Moncada (White Sox), Kevin Maitan (Braves), Braxton Lee (Rays), Dylan Cease (Cubs), Gleyber Torres (Yankees), Matt Manning (Tigers), Nick Senzel (Reds), Mauricio Dubon (Brewers), Hudson Sanchez (Padres), JT Riddle (Marlins), Austin Barnes (Dodgers), Jose De Leon (Rays), Austin Gomber (Cardinals), Justin Jacome (Marlins), German Marquez (Rockies), Chris Rodriguez (Angels), Joe McCarthy (Rays), Joe Jimenez (Tigers), Stuart Turner (Reds), Tim Tebow (Mets), Dan Vogelbach (Mariners), Victor Robles (Nationals), JP Crawford (Phillies), Socrates Brito (Diamondbacks), Gabe Speier (Diamondbacks), Jason Groome (Red Sox), Brent Honeywell (Rays), Kyle Zimmer (Royals), Reese McGuire (Blue Jays), Derek Fisher (Astros), Tyler Kolek (Marlins), Will Craig (Pirates), Sandro Fabian (Giants), Jose Adolis Garcia (Cardinals), Adam Walker (Braves), Tyler Rogers (Giants), Adrian Morejen (Padres), Peter Mooney (Marlins), Michael Santos (Rays), Chance Sisco (Orioles), Travis Ott (Rays), Josh Pennington (Brewers), Reynaldo Lopez (White Sox), Matt Lollis (White Sox), Lucas Giolito (White Sox), Cameron Seitzer (White Sox), Mickey Moniack (Phillies), Mitch Keller (Pirates), Raimel Tapia (Rockies), Ronald Acuna (Braves), Kohl Stewart (Twins), Matt Chapman (Athletics), Jake Depew (Red Sox), Justin Dunn (Mets), Kyle Higashioka (Yankees), Harrison Bader (Cardinals), Rowdy Tellez (Blue Jays), Isan Diaz (Brewers), Austin Dean (Marlins), Sean Reid-Foley (Blue Jays), Jake Bauers (Rays)
Aging Talent (29-35)
The following is a list of established players that were over the age of 28 heading into the 2016 season.
Justin Turner (Dodgers), Edwin Encarnacion (Indians), Evan Longoria (Rays), Felix Hernandez (Mariners), Paul Goldschmidt (Diamondbacks), Dexter Fowler (Cardinals), Ben Zobrist (Cubs), Ian Desmond (Rockies), Dustin Pedroia (Red Sox), Kris Medlen (Braves), Andrew Miller (Indians), Martin Prado (Marlins), Dee Gordon (Marlins), Robinson Cano (Mariners), Logan Forsythe (Dodgers), Matt Kemp (Braves), David Price (Red Sox), Steven Wright (Red Sox), Justin Verlander (Tigers), Daniel Murphy (Nationals), Kenley Jansen (Dodgers), Carlos Gonzalez (Rockies), Gerardo Perra (Rockies), Allen Craig (Red Sox), Charlie Blackmon (Rockies), Brian Dozier (Twins), Jake Elmore (Blue Jays), Todd Frazier (White Sox), Zack Greinke (Diamondbacks), Ryan Braun (Brewers), Clay Buccholz (Phillies), Brian McCann (Astros), Mitch Moreland (Red Sox), Adrian Gonzalez (Dodgers), Joe Mauer (Twins), Mike Fiers (Astros), Clayton Richard (Padres), Dallas Keuchel (Astros), Michael Saunders (Phillies), Jon Lester (Cubs), Jake Arrieta (Cubs), JJ Hardy (Orioles), Matt Wieters (Nationals), Miguel Cabrera (Tigers), Alex Gordon (Royals), Alcides Escobar (Royals), Alexei Ramirez (Free Agent), Gordon Beckham (Mariners), Brandon Guyer (Indians), Joey Votto (Reds), Wade Davis (Cubs), Andrew McCutchen (Pirates), Mark Melancon (Giants), Scott Kazmir (Dodgers), David Robertson (White Sox), Jacoby Ellsbury (Yankees), Matt Carpenter (Cardinals), Adam Wainwright (Cardinals), Justin Upton (Tigers), Steve Pearce (Blue Jays), Brett Cecil (Cardinals), Josh Donaldson (Blue Jays), Troy Tulowitzki (Blue Jays), Huston Street (Angels), Hanley Ramirez (Red Sox), Josh Reddick (Astros), Jason Kipnis (Indians), Michael Brantley (Indians), Asdrubal Cabrera (Mets), Yoenis Cespedes (Mets), Jay Bruce (Mets), Khris Davis (Athletics), Eric Thames (Brewers), Jumbo Diaz (Rays), Tommy Hunter (Rays), Peter Bourjos (Rays), Brandon Moss (Royals), David Wright (Mets), Bobby Wilson (Rays), Travis Wood (Yankees), Austin Jackson (Indians), Colby Rasmus (Rays), Brandon Phillips (Braves)
Above 35-Near Retirement Key Players
The Following list is also established Major Leaguers, but ones near the end of their career.
Adrian Beltre (Rangers), Albert Pujols (Angels), John Lackey (Cubs), Jason Hammel (Royals), Coco Crisp (Free Agent), Ichiro Suzuki (Marlins), Rajai Davis (Athletics), Jose Bautista (Blue Jays), Bartolo Colon (Braves), Chase Utley (Dodgers), Rich Hill (Dodgers), Nelson Cruz (Mariners), James Shields (White Sox), Jayson Werth (Nationals), Fernando Rodney (Diamondbacks), RA Dickey (Braves), Carlos Beltran (Astros), Victor Martinez (Tigers), Matt Holliday (Yankees), Wily Mo Pena (Indians), Joe Blanton (Nationals) Jimmy Rollins (Giants), Ryan Howard (Free Agent), Bronson Arroyo (Reds), Ricky Weeks Jr. (Rays)
Obviously known for recording the final out that broke the 108-year Chicago Cub Championship drought after getting a grounder to Kris Bryant to end it with a runner aboard, Montgomery was acquired by the Cubs in a mid-season trade from the Seattle Mariners and played a pivotal role in bolstering the Cubs bullpen. After posting a 2.52 ERA with over 90 Ks in the 2016 season, Montgomery is more than likely moving to Chicago’s rotation after SP Jason Hammel signed with the Royals via free agency. This would give the Cubs a rotation consisting of 4 aces (Lester, Hendricks, Lackey, Arrieta) and a possible ace in Montgomery, which gives them high hopes of a possible repeat.
Tommy Kahnle is one of those guys that while the numbers may not lie, they don’t tell the full story. After posting an ERA over 4 and each of his seasons in Colorado, he was dealt to Chicago in the 2015 off-season and had an ERA of 2.63 with the Sox this past season. Why do the numbers not tell the full story? The Coors Field affect. Show me a pitcher that has a sustained dominance in Coors Field? You can’t. Coors Field is legitimately the worst place to pitch, but when he got to Chicago? He became a major option for middle relief, as well as a setup man for All-Star closer David Robertson. Look for Kahnle to have a really good season in a Sox down year.
Though he’s more than likely the least appealing player on this list, Boyd’s most redeeming quality is easily his strikeout’s, with 82 in just over 92 IP in 2016, and 125 in his first two Major League seasons. With a high ERA, the Tigers are obviously hoping that he straightens out, because the strikeout numbers are there, but the ERA isn’t. He has a very high ceiling, just doesn’t seem like he’ll reach it.
Being compared to a young Roberto Clemente and young Orlando Cepeda (both Hall of Famers) with the stick, Correa became a household name and clubhouse leader in 2015, his rookie season, where had had a 108 hits, 22 homeruns and double-digit stolen bases in just 99 games. He finished first in ROTY voting and followed it up with another 20-homerun season and gold glove caliber defense, giving Houston one of the best 2B-SS combinations in the Bigs.
From the shortstop of the Majors top young 2B-SS combination to the 2B, Jose Altuve is easily one of the leagues best young players at this point in time. After a 2014 breakout season where he led the league in Batting Average (.341) and Stolen Bases (56), Altuve followed it up in 2015 with 38 SBs and a .313 average. He then followed that up finishing second in AL MVP voting in 2016 where he hit 24 homeruns to go with a .338 average, 30 stolen bases to go along with his 4th All-Star selection and 2nd batting title. A gold glove defender at 2B in 2015, he’s no slouch with the leather and is the definition of the term “5-Tool Player”; with fantastic speed, defense, contact hitting and some nice pop. Jose Altuve currently has more big league hits than Pete Rose did at Altuve’s age.
No, the rest of this list is not the entire Astros’ roster (but expect Ken Giles). The Astros RF made our Most Over And Underpaid Athletes of 2017 piece (as underpaid) after being a 30-homerun, phenomenal Fantasy Player in 2016. Set to make less than 6K in 2017, that’s the cheapest 30 homerun bat I have ever seen in my life. This is a guy that’s going to kill any pitching staff that you put him up against because he has unmatched, godly, unreal straight power. He’s a fantastic, young player that the Astros must lock up now if they want the core in tact for the years to come.
I told you to expect it, didn’t I? Having issues keeping the ball inside of Minute Maid Park in 2016 affects a guy like Giles value, but after his mega 2015 with the Philadelphia Phillies (1.80 ERA in 70 IP) his ceiling is a bit too high to just give up on. Giles has a 2.48 career ERA with really good strikeout numbers.
Coming up at a historic pace as a starting shortstop on Opening Day for his MLB debut, Story hit 4 homers in his first 3 games, and finished the year with 27 homeruns and a .272 average, whilst battling injuries at the shortstop position. He might be a product of Coors, but he might not, and is a focal part of their 2017 success or lack thereof, as his development will determine if they truly are contenders or not. His career will definitely be a Story. I’m here all week.
Another shortstop coming off of their rookie season, Diaz was also an All-Star after signing with the Cardinals as an International Free Agent in 2014. Much like Story, Diaz battled multiple injuries in his rookie campaign, however hit 17 homeruns while batting a stellar .300 in 111 games in 2016. A healthy Diaz is going to be scary good, and he’s easily the future of an aging St. Louis team.
No, not the Hall of Famer, but definitely no slouch either. With gold glove caliber defense, Billy Hamilton is the fastest runner in the game, and it isn’t even closer. It’s unfair. IF he could bring up his average from under .270, he’d be a beyond great leadoff hitter. Why? Because he’s a leadoff hitter due to his speed. He barely gets on base and he still had 52 stolen bases in 2016. He’s bringing back base stealing and making it cool again. Plays the game right, is a fantastic, fun to watch player.
With all eyes on Javy in the World Series, Javy didn’t disappoint, even though he batted .167 with multiple errors. Even with the errors, however, he showed incredible range at second base and why Zobrist should be a full time outfielder next year. His pick off game is unbelievably god-like. With a .273 average and 14 bombs in the 2016 season, he showed some nice pop offensively for a second basemen and has the potential to be the become one of the best second basemen in the game.
Talk about a playoff stud, next we have Kyle Schwarber. After 16 homeruns in 69 games in 2015, he broke out in the 2015 postseason where he batted .364 with 5 homeruns in 14 games. Giving the Cubs a lot to look forward to in 2016, Schwarber left a lot undesired, getting injured the first week of the season and missing the rest of the regular season. However, getting cleared to DH just in time for the World Series, Schwarber helped the Cubs break the 108 Curse of the Billy Goat, topping the Cleveland Indians in 7 games.
A 2015 All-Star shortstop, Iglesias helps make up Detroit’s young, talented infield. With fantastic defense making up for an average at best .255 avg and .306 on-base percentage. Iglesias came up through the Boston system before being dealt to Detroit in the deal that sent Jake Peavy to Boston. Iglesias wore the number 1, the first player to wear it for Detroit since Lou Whitaker’s retirement. In his first full season in Detroit, he hit .300 in 120 games with excellent contact. The average dropped in 2016 in 137 games, but the power numbers went up. The #8 hitter in the lineup, Iglesias has a bright future in the MLB.
From a good defensive shortstop to an elite defensive shortstop, next on our list is the Angels shortstop, Andrelton Simmons. He’s known for his defense and his stature. He stands 6’2, which is rather large for a shortstop. However, he won the Gold and Platinum Glove in his second season in the Majors establishing himself as the best defensive shortstop in baseball over players such as Troy Tulowitzki, Derek Jeter and Omar Vizquel. With 35 career homeruns and a lifetime average of .261, the defense more than makes up for an abysmal offense, as Simmons is the All-Time single season leader for defensive WAR (Wins Above Replacement); meaning the team won 5 more games than they would have with any other shortstop due to his defense.
Coming up for 80 games in 2015, Sano flashed off his nasty power, blasting 18 long homeruns. He followed that up in 2016 23 homeruns in 116 games. Having yet to legitimately play a full season, it’s only imaginable the ceiling he may have as a power hitter of the future. He’s only 23 and his stats look like something to come out of the steroid era, very similar to a Russell Branyan type player, very powerful but one dimensional. That may be bad for Sano and a team such as the Twins, but hitting in front of Brian Dozier’s 40-homerun, in the #3 role, it may very well just hide Sano’s flaws.
Probably the most interesting storyline to pay attention to off of this list in the upcoming season is, believe it or not, from Tropicana Field. Staff ace Chris Archer obviously just had the worst year of his career, while Jake Odorizzi went 10-6 in 2016 as opposed to Archer’s 9 and 19, with a 3.69 ERA, the best in the rotation. While Archer obviously leads the staff in Ks, Odorizzi’s 166 isn’t something to just tune out. With a nasty cutter, slide and change-up, Odorizzi has ace like stuff. Following his arbitration win against Tampa, will he emerge as the staff ace? Per Marc Tompkin of the TBTimes, Odorizzi has started 92 games with Tampa, and only 4 AL pitchers have an ERA lower than Odorizzi’s 3.72 in that time frame; two of which are former AL Cy Young Award Winners (David Price and Corey Kluber). It’ll be interesting to note if Odorizzi becomes a perennial Cy candidate or if Archer once again emerges as the staff ace in the power driven AL East.
The NLs Kevin Kiermaier (just a better contact hitter), Ender Inciarte is already entering Andruw Jones territory following his first season in Atlanta. Recently signed a mega extension that doesn’t make him a free agent until 2023, Inciarte is Atlanta’s longterm leadoff hitter, as he hit .291 in 2016 and was a focal point of Atlanta’s rebuild. Coming over in the deal that brought Dansby Swanson and Aaron Blair to Atlanta along with him, he was the major piece in the Shelby Miller blunder for the Diamondbacks. He didn’t disappoint in his first season in Atlanta.
From one of the NLs premiere defensive centers to one of the ALs premiere defensive centers, Kevin Pillar is the closest Kevin Kiermaier comparison you’ll find. With similar bats in the powerful AL East, Toronto’s superman covers incredible range in the Skydome (I refuse to call it the Rogers Centre), and fantastic highlight reel catches, making the pitching look better than they actually are, and that’s the sign of a great centerfielder. Finishing second in almost every defensive CF stat in baseball (all behind Kiermaier, ironically), Pillar’s a guy where you count measure his defense based on gold gloves, instead you have to use statistics, analytics and the eye test. He should have 3 gold gloves by now, but he doesn’t; not that it truly matters as he’s a big piece on a contending team, Kiermaier isn’t.
Recently dealt to the newly deemed contenders, The Seattle Mariners, Segura’s penciled in to be their leadoff man and starting shortstop, and I don’t see any reason why he shouldn’t be. Stellar defensively, Segura put up big offensive numbers in 2016 leading off for the Arizona Diamondbacks. A 20 homerun season where Segura batted a more than impressive .319 batting average (.368 OBP) and 64 stolen bases. He seems to be their longterm answer in leadoff.
The 2nd overall pick in the 2010 draft (by the Pittsburgh Pirates), Tallion was a highly touted prospect out of high school, especially for a pitcher, and finally made it to the Big Time in June of 2016, where he’d become a staple in the Pittsburgh rotation alongside Ivan Nova. Posting an average at best 5-4 record, Tallion was the prime example of why wins and losses are a bad way to judge a pitcher, unless the record’s overly atrocious. Tallion had 85 Ks to go with a 1.12 WHIP (Walks/Hits Per Innings Pitched) and a 3.38 ERA, and with a little bit more run support, he would’ve been in the conversation for ROTY.
The speedy, outfielder of the future (alongside Brandon Guyer) for Cleveland, Naquin came up hitting .296 with 14 homeruns in 116 games, finishing third in Rookie of the Year voting. On an Indians team that went to the World Series in 2016, Naquin gave them one of their most thrilling moments, an Inside-The-Park-Homerun-Walk-Off (as pictured above) against the Blue Jays to continue their storied 14 Game win streak earlier in the season.
Breaking out in 2016 following an okay 27-Game sample in 2015, the 23 year old stud welcomes 2016 in a grand way, finishing 2nd in ROTY voting and batting .329 with 33 stolen bases and 13 homeruns in 73 games. Getting early comparisons to a young Ichiro Suzuki (who he’ll play 18 or so times a year), he obviously has some rather large shoes to fill, but fills the leadoff spot longterm for someone so young on a team in contention. His development seemed stunted in 2015, but smoothed out in 2016 and Turner off to a superstar pace. At his original position (shortstop) after dealing Danny Espinosa to the Angels, he should even show rapid improvement defensively, making him a five tool player.
One of the most polarizing figures in sports today in the 2015 NL MVP, Bryce Harper. Following a mammoth 2015 season where he posted a career high in hits (172), HRs (42), Doubles (38), Batting Average (.330), and EVERY statistical category, Harper started the hashtag “Make Baseball Fun Again” and asked for a 500 million dollar contract. What did he follow up with in 2016? A mediocre 1.6 WAR, .243 batting average and 24 homeruns. But let’s not focus on the bad and shun out the good, he had a .373 OBP, meaning he gets on base nearly 4 out of every ten at bats. That’s stellar in the game of baseball. Will he have the same problem asking for that contract as guys like Matt Wieters had this past offseason? Definitely. He’s had an elite year, but he’s not one of the game’s best. At Age 24, however, he’s definitely going to get there.
A member of Miami’s young All-Star outfield (alongside Yelich and Giancarlo Stanton), Marcell Ozuna broke out this past season in 2016 with 23 homeruns (tying a career high) while also nearing a career high in batting average. He posted a .452 slugging percentage solidifying himself as one of the National League’s top power hitters.
The 2016 Homerun Derby Champion and the final piece in Miami’s All-Star outfield, Stanton brings a ton of power to the Marlins lineup. At the young age of 27, Stanton already has over 200 career homeruns (7 seasons) in which 500 is the Hall of Fame mark. If he plays 7 more years, which is the age of 34, he’s already at 400. He should get to 500 with ease, especially considering the lack of playing time. Stanton hasn’t reached 150 games since 2011 and averages 41 homeruns per 162 games play. If he stays healthy, he’ll get to 400 even faster. Already a 3 time All-Star, he finished 2nd to LA’s Kershaw in NL MVP voting in 2014. A healthy Stanton is scary.
Barely making the cut, Cobb’s coming off of 2 things: his age 28 season and Tommy John Surgery. Prior to that, however, he was Tampa Bay’s Ace. He’s so good that his 8.59 2016 ERA only brought his career ERA up to 3.44. That’s how good he was. In his first 4 seasons he posted 35 wins and in 2013 had a 2.76 ERA on a rather lackluster TB rotation. He then followed that up with a 2.87 ERA before hitting the DL for the aforementioned surgery. Finding his form once again this past spring, he’s a lock for TBs rotation (behind staff aces Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi).
Another notable 2016 rookie (and we haven’t even gotten to the ROTYs yet) is Nomar Mazara of the Texas Rangers. Making his debut in early April, Mazara went on to play in 145 games, hitting 20 homeruns and winning 2 AL Rookie of the Month awards (April and May). One of the reasons Texas ran away with the West like they did in 2016, Mazara looks to follow up his rookie campaign with an even better sophomore campaign, hoping to up his .266 batting average.
Coming up through the Houston Astros organization, Villar made his debut at the Major League level in 2013, before being dealt to Milwaukee for Cy Sneed. Impressing in Milwaukee Camp (Spring Training), he was named their Opening Day starting shortstop and never looked back, enjoying an impressive breakout. With a 3.9 WAR in 2016, he batted .285 with a career high 19 homeruns. He led the league in stolen bases (62; 104 career) and is the quintessential lead-off guy for the Brewers. He’s definitely giving the people of Wisconsin something to look forward to other than Ryan Braun.
An upcoming free agent, the all-star 1B is a 3 time Gold Glove defender and a key member of Kansas City’s “Core 4” (Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas, Salvador Perez, Kelvin Herrera) that took them to back to back World Series in 2014 and 2015, and saw them win it all in the latter year. One of the most beloved Royals in the last 30 years, he’s an elite defender at first and an elite powerbat. He’ll expect to get a lot on the upcoming market in 2018.
More than likely the best all-around catcher in baseball not named Buster Posey, Perez is only 26 and is one of the greatest defensive catchers the American League has ever seen. With a .994 fielding percentage, Perez has an astonishing 9.6 defensive WAR and was 1st in putouts as catcher (989) in 2016. No slouch with the bat either, he has a silver slugger to his credit and 87 career homeruns while batting .364 in the 2015 World Series, winning the WSMVP award.
Barely making the qualifications for this piece, don’t let Chapman blowing the lead and almost costing the Cubs the World Series in 2016 distract you; coming off of the age 28 season and already one of the most dominant closers the game of baseball has to offer, Chapman came up with the Cincinnati Reds with an impressive 100 mile per hour fastball; and by the age of 24 was already one of the National League’s premiere 9th inning hurlers. Being the fastest pitcher in Major League history to reach 500 career strikeouts (currently at 686), the 4x All-Star has the most consecutive relief appearances with a K at 49, and averages 15.2 Ks per-9-innings-pitched. A 2.08 career ERA, the fastest pitch in Major League history and a World Series ring to his credit, Chapman’s the perfect closer for the Yankees heading into 2017.
With a more than stellar 1.99 ERA in 252 innings pitched since 2014 (which he made his first All-Star appearance and finished 3rd in ROTY award voting to eventual winner Jose Abreu and Matt Shoemaker). One of the most valuable assets in the game today, Betances is the perfect set up man for New York as he compliments Chapman so much. He’s the best set up man in baseball and it isn’t close. Betances has pitched more innings since 2014 than any other relief pitcher and has a 14.3 K-Per-9-Innings-Pitched with 405 career Ks. Betances is incredible.
The newly acquired SP by the Seattle Mariners (likely assuming the #3 spot behind staff aces Hisashi Iwakuma and Felix Hernandez), Smyly broke out in his sophomore season (2013) in Detroit, posting a 2.37 ERA in 63 games, 6-0 in middle relief for the Tigers. Dealt in 2014 at the trade deadline as apart of the deal that brought ace David Price to Detroit, and from there on out, he completely dominated opposition until the season ended. Immediately moving into the starting slot that David Price left behind him (giving them a 1-5 of Jeremy Hellickson, Alex Cobb, Matt Moore, Chris Archer and Drew Smyly) posting a 1.70 ERA in his first successes on an abysmal Tampa Bay team. Following a season that Smyly heavily disappointed, he was dealt to Seattle for Mallex Smith, where he’ll play in 2017.
After Brad Boxberger went down in Spring Training and was projected to miss a majority of the 2016 season, Tampa was out of options and stuck Alex Colome at closer and the rest is history. Enjoying what was by far the best year of his career, Colome broke out and dominated as Tampa’s closer. Ranking 4th in saves (37) in 2016, Colome posted an impressive. 1.91 ERA, with 71 strikeouts and his first All-Star appearance. From being out of options in 2016, Tampa now has an overabundance of options in the closer role, all thanks to Alex Colome.
After being the main meat in the deal that sent James Shields to Kansas City, a young kid named Wil Myers came up with Tampa and didn’t disappoint in his rookie season, batting .293 with 13 homeruns and finishing first in ROTY voting. Following a very successful rookie season, he absolutely busted in his sophomore campaign barely batting over .200 with only 6 homeruns. Following the season, TB sent a cocky Myers to San Diego in the 3 team deal (also including The Nationals) that brought Steven Souza Jr. to TB. In his first season with SD, he upped both totals from the season prior but was still abysmal at best. Then, 2016 hit and he went into a hitting frenzy after being moved to first base. With an OBP of .336, he hit 28 homerun leading the Padres team. He’s only 26 and still has an insurmountable amount of potential that he can hopefully tap in to.
While honing the best socks in the Majors, Miller is the definition of super-utility. Miller came up as a corner outfielder, started Opening Day at shortstop last year, ended the season at first and will occupy 2B longterm for Tampa this upcoming season. It’s unreal. After a few “meh” seasons in Seattle, the M’s dealt him (alongside Danny Farquhar and veteran bat Logan Morrison) to Tampa for Nathan Karns and top prospect Boog Powell. Miller broke out as TBs starting shortstop, hitting a career high 30 homeruns, with the most homeruns as a shortstop in TB history. After dealing Steve Pearce at the deadline and acquiring Matt Duffy as well as Alexei Ramirez, Miller moved to first base where he ended his phenomenal campaigning.
In his third season back from Tommy John Surgery (TJS), the Mets ace will be looking to put up his first full ace caliber season. Even though he had a shaky 4.86 in 2016, he had a 2.73 ERA in 2012, 2.27 ERA in 2013, and a 2.71 ERA in 2015, and looks to be named to his second NL Comeback Player of the Year award. “The Dark Knight” leads the superhero Mets staff into the 2017 season, the first of the four Mets’ aces to appear on the list.
The second Mets (or Matz) ace to appear on the list, Matz is the perfect example as to why you don’t give up on a prospect: he’s now a major player on the New York Mets who struck gold with the find in the second round of the 2009 draft. Following TJS (Tommy John) in the minors, Matz finally made the Majors in 2015 and did not disappoint. Posting a 2.27 in his rookie season, he followed that up with his first full season in 2016 with a 3.40 ERA and was a cornerstone of the Mets’ staff.
HONORABLE MENTIONS-Before I hit the final 20 players covered, the players that I just couldn’t find any wiggle room for. Much like the prospects, if you’re intrigued by my piece (which I truly hope you are, feedback is always more than appreciated; good or bad), I encourage you to research the following players:
Jhoulys Chacin (Padres), Byron Buxton (Twins), Tyler Austin (Yankees), Dansby Swanson (Braves), Alex Bregman (Astros), Aaron Judge (Yankees), Matt Wisler (Braves), Aaron Blair (Braves), Tommy La Stella (Cubs), Nick Franklin (Rays), Austin Pruitt (Rays), Tijaun Walker (Diamondbacks), Robert Gsellman (Mets), Jurickson Profar (Rangers), Kelvin Herrera (Royals), Tommy Joseph (Phillies), Shelby Miller (Diamondbacks), Lonnie Chisenhall (Indians), Heath Hembree (Red Sox), Hunter Renfroe (Padres), Travis Jankowski (Padres), Joe Kelly (Red Sox), Taylor Rogers (Twins), Chad Bettis (Rockies), Kolten Wong (Cardinals), Mike Foltynewicz (Braves), Andrew Benentendi (Red Sox), Dillon Overton (Mariners), Michael Conforto (Mets), Carter Capps (Marlins), Mike Moustakas (Royals), Mikie Mahtook (Tigers), Jung Ho Kang (Pirates), Richie Shaffer (Indians), Alexi Amarista (Padres), AJ Achter (Tigers), DiDi Gregorious (Yankees), Elvis Andrus (Rangers), Starlin Castro (Yankees), Maikel Franco (Phillies), Marcus Stroman (Blue Jays), Brock Stassi (Phillies), Brett Lawrie (Free Agent), Henderson Alvarez (Free Agent), Ruben Tejada (Yankees)
Probably the most notable Rule 5 pick in the Majors currently, Herrera also made his Major League debut in 2015, batting .297 in 147 games. In his sophomore season, Herrera impressed rival manager Terry Collins as Collins placed Herrera on the 2016 NL All-Star team. Batting .286 in 2016, he posted a career high in on base percentage at .361. At the young age of 25 and flashes of power, he could be the Phillies star of tomorrow.
One of the best strikeout pitchers in the Game today, Archer came rocking off of a marvelous 2015 and bombed in 2016. In 2015, Archer finished 5th in Cy Young voting, with superb numbers (3.23 era, 252K) on an otherwise crappy (for lack of better terms) Tampa team. Seemingly the clear cut ace of the staff heading into 26, he had a lackluster Opening Day and just sunk from there, as Jake Odorizzi emerged as Tampa’s ace. As I said earlier, it’s interesting to see where the road follows and who emerges as Tampa’s clear cut ace, because Alex Cobb looked sharp in his first Spring Training outing following his Tommy John Surgery and is more than likely returning to his ace ways, Blake Snell looks like a Cy Young in development and Jose DeLeon has unlimited amounts of potential.
Though his 2016 was an enormous failure (injuries and multiple bad starts), Gray’s nowhere near that bad. Prior to this, however, he was exemplary. Coming up was stuff very similar to a young Justin Verlander, he didn’t disappoint the audience making those comparisons, and immediately became Oakland’s ace after it lost Jon Lester to the Chicago Cubs. Posting an ERA of 3.08 in his first full season, he followed this up in 2015 finishing 3rd in Cy Young voting (Dallas Keuchel and David Price were #1 and #2).
With a 2.86 career ERA, Sanchez entered his first (and only) full season as a starter in 2016 and almost instantly emerged as a topline starter, finishing 7th in AL Cy Young voting while leading the league in ERA in 30 starts and 192 innings pitched. With Stroman, Happ, Estrada all having career years in 2016 alongside Sanchez, Sanchez is desperately needed to keep this up, with the absence of veteran knuckleballer R.A. Dickey. The youngest on his rotation, Sanchez is probably the best on his rotation heading into the 2017 MLB regular season.
Coming into the 2016 season as one of baseball’s most touted prospects, made his MLB debut as a teenager. Being the youngest pitcher to make his Major League debut since Felix Hernandez in 2005, Urias struggled early on adjusting to Major League hitting as the Mets mopped the floor with Urias. Though he struggled early on, Urias quickly turned it around, and started dominating the big league hitters into the postseason, with a stellar start against the Nationals.
Known as Thor for his majestic hair and incredible velocity, Syndergaard’s the ace of the future, and the current Mets staff (alongside Harvey, Matz and deGrom). Going 9-7 with a 3.24 ERA in his 2015 rookie season, he carried the Mets to the World Series alongside an amazing pitching staff (also involving former AL Cy Young Bartolo Colon). Going into his sophomore season, everyone had high hopes for Syndergaard, who didn’t disappoint. Going 14-9 with a 2.60 ERA in 31 games, carrying the Mets back to the postseason and dueling Giants’ Ace Madison Bumgarner, before the Giants ultimately won the game. Syndergaard, at 24, looks to have his first Cy Young season in 2017.
Coming up in a simply put, “awesome”, way; Puig made his MLB debut in 2013 after signing internationally with the LA Dodgers and batted over .300 with 19 homeruns in 104 games that season, finishing 2nd in ROTY voting behind the late, great Jose Fernandez. Puig followed this up with a scary 16 homerun, .296 campaign (.382 OBP, 11 SBs) and the Dodgers assumed that Puig has solidified himself as a leadoff hitter that has since been assumed by Logan Forsythe. In 2015 and 2016 hitting 11 homeruns, he’s fallen back a bit batting .255 and .263, respectively, as major league pitchers adjusted. Going into Dodger camp with a newfound attitude and motivation, Puig looks to bounce back in 2017.
Winning a World Series ring, finishing top 20 in NL MVP voting and being elected into his first NL All-Star game in 2016, the Cubs starting short is the short of the future in the city of Chicago. With great power, Russell put up 95 RBI (Runs Batted In) while in the powerful Cubs lineup, nearing the National League lead. A big piece in the Cubs future, the success of Russell’s 2016 is a must have for a possible 2017 repeat; especially since he’s not necessarily a decent contact guy, anyway.
Jackie Bradley Jr.
One of the three stud’s in Boston’s killer outfield, the 26-year-old Bradley Jr. had his first of hopefully for him, many, All-Star selections. Given the starting opportunity for 2016 Opening Day, Bradley Jr. went into the All-Star break as one of the hottest players in the sport, with a 29 game hit streak; tied with Johnny Damon as the 4th longest in Red Sox history, nearing Dom DiMaggio’s franchise record of 34. Belting 26 homeruns, also a career high, he also flashed what would be a gold glove from 2016 if not for a man named Kevin Kiermaier. Bradley Jr. broke out and became a superstar for Boston alongside Mookie Betts.
It’s scary when a guy this good is only the age of 24. A 2016 All-Star, Silver Slugger, Gold Glove and finishing 2nd in MVP voting, a majority of Boston’s success in 2016 should be credited to the breakout of Mookie Betts, as he was superb defensively and broke out offensively. After batting .291 in 2014 and 2015, Betts 2016 campaign included him batting .318, with 31 homeruns, 26 stolen bases and a .363/.534/.897 OBP-SLG-OPS statline, putting up a 9.6 WAR in 2016.
Plumber by day, ace by night; the 2016 AL Rookie of the Year went 11-7 with a 3.02 ERA and 132 Ks to keep the Tigers competitive until the Tigers lost to the Braves on the last day of the season, eliminating them from the Wild Card. One of the most underestimated players, Fulmer turned from a virtually nobody plumber to a baseball sensation seemingly overnight for the Tigers. Fulmer became the first rookie to strike out 11 in a Tigers uniform since Pat Underwood in 1979. With a 1.119 WHIP, 3.76 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching), and 3.14 K-to-BB ratio. Fulmer obviously has fantastic control on the plate and keeping runners off of the basepath (averaging 3 runners a game). Can he continue this dominance heading into 2017 or will the hitters adjust? The Tigers’ obviously have their solution long term for the ace when Justin Verlander parts ways with the club.
Easily one of the most established players on this list, the former All-Star has already amassed a homerun total in the triple digits, with 4 Gold Gloves, 3 consecutively. Heyward has a $184,000,000 contract to his name and just won the World Series with the Chicago Cubs, helping them break the 108-year “Curse of the Billy Goat.” Heyward has a platinum glove and a Baseball America Rookie of the Year award from 2010. He hit 27 homeruns in a stellar 2013 season for the Atlanta Braves, got dealt to the Cardinals (for Jordan Walden, Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins) in 2015 before signing with The Chicago Cubs for the 2016 season. Though his counting stats took a major hit in 2016, Heyward still walked more than the average player with a low BA but high OBP. He also offered Gold Glove defense in the Windy City, with an 11.1 defensive war.
Known to Beantown and the globe as baseball’s “X-Man”, Xander Bogaerts is one of the brightest stars at what might be Major League Baseball’s most premiere position: shortstop. Another former All-Star on the Sox (Betts, Bradley Jr., Pedroia, Wright, Sale, Price, Sandoval, Kimbrel, Pomeranz, Ramirez, Young), Bogaerts has won the silver slugger for shortstop for 2 straight years and has been a leader in the Boston clubhouse. With very nice accuracy and exceptional range in the shortstop position, and is one of the biggest pieces for Boston’s middle infield after trading Jose Iglesias to Detroit in the Jake Peavy deal. Bogaerts was another vital piece in the dynasty Boston’s trying to set up, and is one of the best in the Young Core (Betts, Bogaerts, Bradley, Benentendi).
If you told me at this point last year that he’d be on this list as the reigning Cy Young award winner, I would’ve honestly called you insane. The turn around and redemption story of Rick Porcello, especially in the hard-hitting AL East is amazing. With an abysmal 4.20 career ERA, Porcello came over to Boston as the main meat in the deal that sent Yoenis Cespedes to the Detroit Tigers. Going a spectacular 22-4 in 2014, Porcello had a 3.15 Earned Run Average with a career high 189 strikeouts, winning not only the Cy Young (controversially), but the 2016 AL Comeback Player of the Year, stepping up when David Price’s contract busted.
One of the best young starters in the game, this will complete our trifecta of Mets’ starting pitching (Syndergaard and Harvey aforementioned). Boasting a 2.74 career ERA (3 seasons; 479.3 IP), deGrom enters 2017 healthy with a scary fastball. Coming off of a down year after a career high in innings during the 2015 season, the 7-8 W/L record doesn’t do a guy like deGrom justice and is why one should not look at W/L as a player stat, moreso than a team stat. He had a stellar 3.04 ERA, and if that’s his down year, I want him on my team every year from here on out. Posting a 2.69 ERA in 2014 and a 2.54 ERA in 2015 respectively, deGrom is definitely an ace anchoring a fantastic Mets staff.
Before we break into our final 5 players (3 pitchers; 2 young sluggers), the following is a list of players to announce their retirement in the year of 2016 or 2017, as well as the teams they’ve played for in the Majors:
David Ortiz (MIN, BOS), Mark Teixiera (TEX, ATL, LAA, NYY), Alex Rodriguez (SEA, TEX, NYY), Prince Fielder (MIL, DET, TEX), JP Arencibia (TOR, TEX, TB), David Ross (LAD, PIT, SD, CIN, BOS, ATL, CHC), Grant Balfour (MIN, MIL, TB, OAK), Adam LaRoche (ATL, PITS, BOS, ARI, WSH, CHW), Rafael Soriano (SEA, ATL, TB, NYY, WSH, CHC), Maicer Izturis (MON, LAA, TOR), Skip Schumaker (STL, LAD, CIN), Ryan Ludwick (TEX, CLE, STL, SD, PIT, CIN), Joe Thatcher (SD, ARI, LAA, HOU), Josh Johnson (FLA, TOR), Randy Choate (NYY, ARI, TB, FLA, LAD, STL), Nick Swisher (OAK, CHW, NYY, CLE, ATL), Clint Barmes (COL, HOU, PIT, SD), Joel Peralta (LAA, KC, COL, WSH, TB, LAD, SEA, CHC)
As we kick off our final five, we get to one of the most dominant postseason pitchers of all-time: Madison Bumgarner, who’s only 27 years old. Though he’s a candidate for the Cy each year, why should I even get into his regular season accolades? “Madbum” (as named by Giants fans) is this era’s Tom Glavine: one of the best in the regular season, but the absolute best in the postseason. Of course this is heavy shoes to fill, as Glavine was a first ballot Hall of Fame lock in 2014 and has a case for the greatest starting pitcher, ever. With 3 rings and a 2014 World Series MVP award, Bumgarner sports a 2.11 career postseason ERA, with a record .25 ERA in the World Series (minimum 25 innings) and also has the lowest postseason ERA on the road in his career. His 6 scoreless postseason starts is tied for an MLB record, only matched by former ATL and NYM ace, Tom Glavine.
One of the leaders of the Bronx Renaissance, Tanaka is elite in an otherwise eliteless pitching staff. Signing with the Bronx Bombers internationally out of Japan, he made his MLB debut at Age 25, publishing a 2.77 ERA in 2014 with a 141 Ks going 13-5 in 20 games. After finishing 5th in the voting for Rookie of the Year, he followed it up with a 12-7 2015, acing for the Yankees that lost to Houston in the Wild Card round. Though he had a terrible first half in 2016, though bouncing back to be one of, if not the best, pitcher after the MLB All-Star break in 2016. Where does Tanaka go from here, especially being the only Yankee Starter with ace stuff?
One of most feisty starting pitchers that Major League Baseball has to offer, Sale’s fastball joins the reigning AL Cy Young and former AL Cy Young in David Price, alongside All-Stars Drew Pomeranz and Steven Wright. Leading the league in wins at the Break, Sale started the 2016 AL All-Star game and then saw his win percentage tank due to little-to-zero run support out of the White Sox offense. Since his MLB debut at the age of 21 in 2010, he has an ERA of 3.00 in 228 games and 1110 Innings Pitched, notching 1,244 strikeouts while compiling a 74-50 record on subpar Chicago teams. With Boston’s offense, he’s an instant Cy Young pick.
I’ve been talking about young, top shortstops throughout this entire list (Story, Bogaerts, Iglesias, Miller, Simmons, Turner, Marte, Russell, Segura, Correa, Lindor), however, probably the single most impressive in 2016 was a young kid named Corey Seager. Coming up as a 2015 September Call-up, Seager batted .337 with 4 homeruns in a mere 27 games, giving Dodger fans a small glimpse into his 2016 season where he batted .308 with 26 homeruns in 157 games. An All-Star and Silver Slugger in 2016, Seager is one of the main reasons the Dodgers made it as far as they did last year, batting .286 in the NLCS against the eventual World Champion Chicago Cubs staff. With newly acquired 2B Logan Forsythe from the Rays, it gives LAD a nice contact driven middle infield which was desperately needed. Seager’s obviously going to decline, you can’t put so much pressure on a 22 year old and expect him to live up to it, however, he’s definitely going to be very entertaining in the field of play.
We’ve gone through a majority of the talent in the MLB, but which one haven’t we covered yet? The Reigning National League Most Valuable Player….
From 2015 NL Rookie of the Year to 2016 NL MVP and fielding the ground ball that broke the Cubs 108 year drought, Bryant is easily (one of) the Cubs superstar player, and he’s only 25. Like I did for everyone else, I’m going to throw some 2016 stats at you, this time with a twist. His stellar 2015 season will be in parenthesis, showing his development at the Major League level. .292 batting average (.275), 39 homeruns (26 homeruns), 7.7 WAR (5.9), and 102 RBI (99) in 154 games (151). He’s seemingly getting better as he progresses, and with the way he just handily won the NL MVP, he shouldn’t have a problem winning it again in the future if that is actually the case. He’s the Cubs franchise cornerstone of the future.
From every major slugger and hurler that fits the mold, this is The Athlete’s Hub’s 2017 guide to MLBs young talent. What did you think of the guide? Should Athlete’s Hub have covered more players, or replaced the one’s with someone we didn’t go in depth on? Feel free to leave a comment.
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Jameus Mooney, Editor at the Athlete’s Hub