This era of Major League Baseball has been dominated by young stars, a trend that will only intensify with the added emphasis on promoting rookies to the big leagues early by eliminating service time manipulation. Let’s take a look at the 25 best players in the league under 25-years-old.
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When it comes to young stars in today’s game, Nationals superstar Juan Soto is as good a place to start as any. The left-handed swinging outfielder burst on the scene at only 19 and hit 22 homers in basically 2/3 of a full season. As a 20-year-old he played a starring role in Washington’s World Series title–keynoted by three enormous home runs in the Fall Classic. These days Soto is in the difficult position of being the one core player on a team in the midst of a dramatic rebuild, and his 2022 numbers are noticeably down from what you would expect. Make no mistake though, Soto is one of, if not the premier young hitter in the sport, with a career batting average just a tick under .300 and a lifetime OBP of well over .420 in over 500 big league games.
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Ronald Acuna Jr. is very much linked to the aforementioned Juan Soto, as both outfielders came up in ’18 and have become the faces of two NL East rivals. Acuna Jr. won NL Rookie of the year over Soto in that 2018 season thanks to a .293/.366/.552 slash line with 56 extra-base hits. The following season he finished just three stolen bases shy of becoming just the 5th member of MLB”s 40/40 club, a goal he has not been shy about voicing. Last summer Acuna Jr. suffered a torn ACL in Miami and Atlanta has been conscious to work him back in slowly early this season which is why he’s been DHing quite a bit. But when he’s fully healthy there is not a more exciting player in the game.
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Toronto’s Vladimir Guerrero Jr. came up a year after Soto and Acuna Jr., and the second-generation slugger has been tormenting opposing pitchers ever since. The season Guerrero Jr. put together a year ago was simply incredible. Appearing in all but one of the Blue Jays’ games, he slashed .311/.401/.601 with 48 homers and 111 RBI. If it weren’t for the unfathomable two-way prowess of Shohei Ohtani in Anaheim, he would have easily won the AL MVP award.
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One of the biggest bummers of the ’22 season to date is the absence of Padres’ star shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. He’s currently working his way back from a fractured wrist that is expected to keep him out until late June, which can’t come soon enough for San Diego fans. The electric Tatis Jr. blasted 42 homers, doubled 31 times, and stole 25 bases in 130 games for San Diego a year ago. On a Padres team that is right among the best in the NL thus far, adding Tatis Jr. to the line-up in a few weeks will take them to a whole another level.
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White Sox outfielder Luis Robert arrived in the Major Leagues to much fanfare during the truncated 2020 campaign, and while he struggled a bit as a rookie, he figured it out a year ago. Limited to only 68 games because of a hip issue, Robert hit .338 with 13 bombs and 22 doubles. He’s become one of the premier players on a very good White Sox team that hopes to win back-to-back AL Central titles and avenge their early playoff exit from a year ago.
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Switch-hitting Wander Franco is only 21-years-old and is already armed with an enormous long-term contract–which says all you need to know about how the generally budget stingy Rays feel about him. In over 200 career minor league games Franco slashed .331/.399/.535, and while he hasn’t had quite that level of success in a shade over 100 big league contests, he’s still been very good. Franco is a legitimate five-tool talent, and as he gets more and more comfortable in the big leagues look for him to really take off.
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Last season’s Toronto Blue Jays were an absolute offensive juggernaut. I mentioned Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s exploits earlier, but the catalyst to the ‘Jays line-up was and still is their 24-year-old shortstop Bo Bichette. Last season Bichette hit .298 with 29 homers, 102 RBI, 30 doubles, and 25 steals. He was voted to his first all-star team and the Blue Jays fully expect him to be patrolling position number six on your scorecard for years to come. Like many of the Toronto hitters, Bichette is off to a slower start in ’22, but as we get into the summer look for this offense to take off.
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Astros’ DH Yordan Alvarez has been an absolute offensive monster for Houston since debuting in ’19, yet he’s somehow not talked about nearly enough in national circles. Last year alone the powerful left-handed slugger slashed .277/.346/.531 with 33 homers and 104 RBI. Thus far in 2022 only New York’s Aaron Judge has launched more homers. The Astros are a different looking team this year than they’ve been, but Alvarez is one of the biggest reasons they’re once again leading the AL West.
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The Mariners decided to keep their best prospect, outfielder Julio Rodriguez, on the big league roster on opening day, and the decision has certainly paid dividends. Rodriguez has shown off all five of his tools during the first two months of 2022, flashing incredible power, and leading the big leagues in stolen bases. He’s used his speed to play terrific outfield defense for Seattle, and mark my words. It won’t be long before this kid is a household name.
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Particularly with long-time first baseman Freddie Freeman now in Los Angeles, the faces of the Braves franchise have become the earlier mentioned Ronald Acuna Jr. and their switch-hitting second baseman, Ozzie Albies. Albies was in the big leagues at only 20-years-old and enjoyed the best season of his career during Atlanta’s championship run a year ago. In ’21 he set new career highs in homers (30), RBI (106), and steals (20). He was an enormous reason the Braves captured the 2021 World Series title, and he’ll be patrolling second base at Truist Park for a long time.
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The Marlins are hoping a dynamic young pitching staff will eventually return them to relevance. But from an offensive standpoint, their most exciting player is their 24-year-old second baseman, Jazz Chisholm Jr. The left-handed swinger is a nice power/speed mix to his game –as evidenced by the 18 homers and 23 stolen bases he racked up in only 124 games a year ago. This season Chisholm Jr. leads the Marlins in RBI, OPS, stolen bases, and triples.
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The Twins acquired righty Joe Ryan in a deadline trade with Tampa Bay last summer that sent Nelson Cruz to the Rays as a rental bat down the stretch. The transaction is certainly looking like one the Rays would like to have back. In Minnesota, Ryan has emerged as a front-line starter and is a big reason the Twins have a healthy lead over the White Sox in the AL Central. In eight starts thus far he’s boasting a 2.28 ERA with a sub-one WHIP.
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It feels like we’ve been hearing about MacKenzie Gore coming for years, and in ’22 the third overall pick from the 2017 draft is finally here and making a difference at the big league level. In his first eight Major League outings, Gore has worked to a 1.71 ERA with a 1.07 WHIP, while holding the opposition to a .208 batting average and striking out 47 hitters in 42 innings. In short order, he’s become an integral piece of the San Diego rotation and played a big role in the Friars’ early-season success.
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Reds’ second baseman Jonathan India was the 5th pick in the 2018 draft coming out of the University of Florida, and he emphatically proved Cincinnati right for that pick a year ago. Playing in 150 of the Reds games in ’21 India slashed .269/.376/.459 with 21 homers, 69 RBI, 34 doubles, and 12 steals. After the season he was voted the NL Rookie of the Year, and it would appear he’ll be potentially the only Reds player that will still be with the club on the other side of their current rebuild. Right now India is, unfortunately, being slowed by a hamstring injury, but fans in Cincinnati can’t wait to get him back on the field as they have very little else to root for.
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Speaking of high draft picks, the White Sox took slugging right-handed hitter Andrew Vaughn #3 overall in 2019. The former California Bear is just coming up on a full 162 season’s worth of career games and has hit 20 homers and logged 27 doubles to date. No hitter in baseball has more raw power than Vaughn, however, and when he eventually fully settles into this level, Chicago believes he will annually become an annual threat to hit 40 bombs.
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While several young pitchers have been making names for themselves across the league in 2022, the very best one so far this season very likely resides north of the border. Blue Jays’ righty Alek Manoah has been absolutely brilliant during his first nine starts, currently boasting a 5-1 record with a sparkling 1.77 ERA. His WHIP is a minuscule 0.91, opponents are hitting only .206 against him, and he’s struck out just under a batter/inning. Manoah is looking every bit like the pitcher Toronto hoped he’d become when they selected him in the first round three years ago, and they hope he can ultimately lead their staff for years to come.
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Righty Triston McKenzie was hurt badly by both walks and home runs in 2021 which contributed to a high 4.95 ERA, but a quick look at his peripheral numbers would tell you that in a lot of ways he threw the ball very well. During the first two months of ’22 McKenzie has dramatically lowered his walk rate and kept the ball in the ballpark, and the results have been magical. In nine outings his ERA is only 2.65 and his WHIP is 0.86. Cleveland is trying to hang in with Minnesota and Chicago in the AL Central race, and they’ll need their budding ace to continue pitching like this as the season goes on.
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Sticking with the Guardians. Closing out a lot of the games McKenzie starts is Emmanuel Clase, who has developed into a pretty dominant stopper for Cleveland. In 71 outings last season he notched 24 saves and put up a 1.29 ERA with a 0.96 WHIP while striking out 74 hitters in 69.2 innings. This season Clase has not been quite that good, but that’s not to say he’s struggled. He’s continued to strike out well over a batter/inning with dominant peripheral stats and has converted seven of his first nine save chances.
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Adley Rutschman’s inclusion on this list has more to do with his future potential than anything he’s accomplished in the big leagues to date. The Orioles made Rutschman the first overall pick in ’19 coming out of Oregon State, and he simply dominated every level of the minor leagues. In 179 games in the minors, the switch-hitting catcher slashed .309/.427/.515 with 30 homers and 110 RBI. Baltimore brought him to the Major Leagues on May 21st, and they’re confident he’s going to become a star in very short order.
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Elk Grove, CA native Dylan Carlson enjoyed a terrific first full season in the big leagues last season for the Cardinals. In 542 at-bats the switch-hitting outfielder slashed .266/.343/.437 with 18 homers, 65 RBI, and 31 doubles. Early in 2022, Carlson has struggled to really get on track, and St. Louis has tried moving him all over the line-up to try to get him going. At only 23-years-old his future still looks immensely bright, and the Cardinals will give him every opportunity to recapture last season’s magic.
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Young Keibert Ruiz spent most of the past several years as one of the premier catching prospects in the game. Blocked by Will Smith in Los Angeles, the Dodgers capitalized on his value at the trade deadline last summer, shipping him to D.C. as part of a larger package that netted Max Scherzer and Trea Turner. With the Nationals in 2022, Ruiz has gotten a legitimate chance to play and has taken advantage. He hasn’t hit for much power, but a .281/.340/.381 slash line from a rookie catcher is nothing to sneeze at. As he gets more comfortable at this level look for the rest of Ruiz’s game to catch up.
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When the Astros lost all-star shortstop Carlos Correa in free agency last winter, most people around the game likely thought Houston’s production from position number six would take a dramatic dip. About that. Rookie Jeremy Pena has burst onto the scene and played at an incredibly high level, serving as a key component of the Astros’ hot start. In the first 42 games of his career, Pena has slashed .282/.331/.497 with eight homers, 23 RBI, and six doubles. Defensively he’s committed eight errors which is a lot, but Houston remains confident he can ultimately be their long-term replacement for Correa.
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While Julio Rodriguez has opened eyes in the Mariners’ outfield, fellow heralded prospect Logan Gilbert is doing the same thing on the mound. While Gilbert was a little up and down as a rookie a year ago, he’s been brilliant through 10 starts in 2022. In 10 outings he’s posted a 2.29 ERA with a 1.03 WHIP while striking out almost exactly a hitter/inning and holding the other team to just a .201 batting average. The big righty is the man the Mariners expect to lead their staff for years to come, and he appears to be up for the task.
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Alexis Diaz’s brother Edwin is already one of the best closers in baseball, and the younger Diaz is doing everything he can to follow in his brother’s footsteps. Diaz made the Reds’ opening day roster coming out of spring training, and he’s been nothing short of incredible over the first two months of 2022. In 21 outings the righty has allowed only three earned runs in 22.2 frames ( a 1.19 ERA), and he’s already struck out 28 hitters. Diaz has one save and five holds thus far, but look for him to eventually take over as the full-time closer for Cincinnati later this summer.
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The Royals made infielder Bobby Witt Jr. the 2nd overall pick in the 2019 draft–directly after the earlier mentioned Adley Rutschman–and as a result of the CBA changes addressing service time manipulation he found himself on Kansas City’s opening day roster. Early in 2022 Witt Jr. has experienced some rookie growing pains, but he’s also shown every bit of the potential that has a lot of evaluators expecting him to become a superstar.
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