Bryce Harper and Baseball's Future Ambassadors

Dan HiergesellFeatured ColumnistMay 18, 2012

Bryce Harper and Baseball's Future Ambassadors

0 of 20

    Baseball will always have a handful of elite players.

    From home run hitters to shutdown closers, the spectrum of talent is limitless.

    But as years turn into weeks and week into days, the spotlighted careers of today's best will ultimately dwindle.

    Albert Pujols, Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera are not going to be around forever. And if they are, it'll be in a fashion better left for dusty dugout shelves.

    But when old players ship out, new players ship in. The revamped collection of the next decade's elite players is seemingly upon us.

    Here are 20 players who have shown the baseball world that they're more than capable of running the league come 2020.

Starlin Castro

1 of 20

    Starlin Castro is already one of the most complete young players in baseball today.

    At 22 years of age, Castro has already done enough for the Chicago Cubs to warrant the No. 3 spot in their lineup.

    He can steal 40 bases, hit 15 home runs and bat well over .300.

    And even considering Castro is stuck on one of the worst offenses in baseball, his game should continue to grow as his body fills out.

    Come 2020, Castro could be the best shortstop around.

Brett Lawrie

2 of 20

    There's no arguing that Brett Lawrie has shown signs of becoming a perennial All-Star for the next 10 years.

    In just one season, the 22-year-old has become one of the most promising players around.

    As a third baseman, Lawrie's potential to go 30-30 somewhere down the line instantly makes him a special talent overnight.

    Going forward, the second-year phenom should be able to harness his skills in one of baseball's best lineups. 

    And when the day comes when Jose Bautista can no longer hit 40 home runs, Lawrie will be waiting in the helm to continue Tornoto's swinging ways.

Matt Moore

3 of 20

    Matt Moore has certainly struggled this year after an impressive debut in 2011, but the future All-Star is still only 22 years old.

    And considering the young hurler is part of a Tampa Bay Rays staff consisting of James Shields, David Price and Jeremy Hellickson, he'll have plenty of time to adjust to the majors before being counted on as the staff's ace.

    The fact of the matter is that Moore has all the ingredients to be one of the best pitchers in baseball come 2020.

    He's obviously young, is learning to punch out big-league batters and will always have a competitive team behind him, resulting in an array of wins heading into the next decade.

Aroldis Chapman

4 of 20

    How do you not put Aroldis Chapman on this list?

    His fastball tops out at roughly 105 mph. That's unreal.

    With that type of talent, alongside his youth, it's easy to see how he has become one of the best punch-out relievers in baseball.

    But for the sake of Chapman's superstar potential, his days as the Cincinnati Reds' go-to bullpen option should be numbered.

    Once the Reds decide to stretch the 24-year-old's arm to starting pitcher standards, he'll automatically become a top-25 pitcher in baseball based on his strikeout abilities alone.

    I mean, look at what Chapman has done so far in 2012. Three wins, 34 Ks, no earned runs and a 0.57 WHIP in 19.1 innings of work. Those numbers speak for themselves.

Mike Trout

5 of 20

    There's a reason why Mike Trout is one of the most heralded young prospects in baseball today.

    He can hit for power, steal bases, hit for average and play Gold Glove defense. Basically, the 20-year-old is the quintessential five-tool star.

    And luckily for Trout, the Los Angeles Angels just signed Albert Pujols to a lucrative and lengthy contract, giving the young outfielder the pieces he needs to grow into a superstar in the coming years.

    Based on what he's been doing over the past two weeks, Trout could be on his way to becoming that special superstar sooner rather than later.

Jason Heyward

6 of 20

    Sure, Jason Heyward had a very disappointing season in 2011, but the kid can flat-out rake.

    As one of the most highly talked-about prospects in recent memory when he made his MLB debut back in 2010, Heyward hasn't exactly lived up to his All-Star potential.

    However, the five-tool outfielder is still a raw talent at 22 years of age, albeit an established one at that.

    With a competitive team behind him, including the talented and young Freddie Freeman, Heyward has all the potential in the world to become a top five NL player over the next five years.

    Add in the past comparisons to Ken Griffey Jr. and you have one of the biggest blue-chip prospects in the game today.

Michael Pineda

7 of 20

    Even with a season-ending injury in his first season since being traded away to the New York Yankees for Jesus Montero, Michael Pineda still possesses some of the best stuff that a young pitcher can.

    As he gradually strengthens his arm and gets back into shape, the Yankees will be waiting with open arms.

    Consistently one of the best offenses in baseball, New York will always have that championship-esque effort from management to put the right pieces in place for their starters.

    And even though the 23-year-old may not have the opportunity to pitch alongside Mariano Rivera, Pineda's fastball and strikeout potential still make him a dangerous threat within the AL East heading into the next decade.

Jay Bruce

8 of 20

    On a team that employs the 2010 NL MVP in Joey Votto and a young ace in Johnny Cueto, Jay Bruce has arguably become the Cincinnati Reds' most valuable player.

    That's saying a lot.

    Currently on pace for 50 home runs—even though that's a fairly lofty expectation—the 25-year-old has been one of the hottest hitters in baseball since the start of the 2012 season.

    With Bruce's average finally filling out, alongside his new-found power to all gaps and walls, the past comparisons to Larry Walker are finally seeming realistic.

    And even though Bruce is one of the oldest players on this list, he'll only be 33 at the start of the 2020 season.

    At that point, Bruce may be considered one of the best hitters in baseball. But at worst, he'd be as efficient as a Matt Holliday.

Madison Bumgarner

9 of 20

    Madison Bumgarner is already a top-25 pitcher in baseball today.

    And even on a pitching staff that includes a two-time Cy Young winner and one of the highest-paid starters around, Bumgarner is arguably the San Francisco Giants' most consistent ace.

    The 22-year-old has already eclipsed 200 innings in a season and should be looked at as one of the most durable pitchers around for the next 10 years.

    With strikeout potential, great command and the ability to limit runs with the best of them, Bumgarner simply needs a well-rounded offense to one day win 20 games.

    Quite frankly, come 2020, the lefty should be considered a lock to become a top-five pitcher in baseball.

Justin Upton

10 of 20

    Justin Upton may one day be the best all-around player in baseball.

    It's true. He's that damn good.

    The fact of the matter is that the 24-year-old is arguably already a top-10 player in the NL and he hasn't even tapped his power potential.

    Having already surpassed older brother B.J. for family supremacy, Upton has more or less carried the Arizona Diamondbacks offense for the last few years.

    As he gets older and bigger, the potential MVP will build his resume to be considered one of baseball's ambassadors in 2020.

Giancarlo Stanton

11 of 20

    Giancarlo Stanton, previously known as Mike, has recently battled injuries, but if he can stay healthy for the majority of his career, the sky is the limit.

    With a supporting cast consisting of speedsters Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes and Emilio Bonifacio, the 22-year-old will have a chance to lead the NL in RBI for the foreseeable future.

    And with a recent batting-average jump in 2012, it looks like Stanton is finally coming around at the plate besides just simply possessing overwhelming power.

Felix Hernandez

12 of 20

    Felix Hernandez is already a top-five pitcher in the MLB.

    He may be stuck on one of the least intimidating teams in baseball, but with incredible strikeout potential and an arm that can literally last eight innings every outing, Hernandez has staked his claim as "King Felix."

    The fact of the matter is that once the Seattle Mariners start producing at the plate on a yearly basis, Hernandez will see more wins. 

    And with more wins alongside his already ace-like ERA, Ks and WHIP, the 26-year-old should win multiple Cy Young Awards over the next 10 years.

    He'll be 34 years old at the start of the 2020 season, which could prove troublesome considering he has already logged nearly 1,500 innings in eight seasons.

    However, many pitchers continue their dominance well into their 30s, so as long as Hernandez takes care of himself, his spot as a top-tier hurler won't escape his grasp heading into the future.

Stephen Strasburg

13 of 20

    Stephen Strasburg is the epitome of a future Cy Young Award winner.

    He has already became one of the most trustworthy starters in baseball even after coming off Tommy John surgery in 2010.

    The bottom line is that as long as the 23-year-old stays healthy, which is usually the case for young fastball specialists, he'll continue to make the Washington Nationals more relevant by the month.

    It doesn't hurt that he has Bryce Harper supporting his cause on a weekly basis, as well as Drew Storen shutting the door.

Freddie Freeman

14 of 20

    There's no doubt in anybody's mind that Freddie Freeman has the raw talent and supporting cast to someday become the best offensive first baseman in the NL.

    And with the recent departure of Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder to the AL, that potential may come to fruition sooner than later.

    The 22-year-old already leads the Atlanta Braves in RBI this season and is currently on pace to the end season with well over 100.

    Not many people remember that Freeman was only 20 when he made his MLB debut back in 2010.

    Taking that into consideration—alongside the breakout campaign he's seemingly in the midst of—it's evident that Freeman has exceeded all early-career expectations.

    With more exposure to future seasons, playoffs and numerous All-Star games, Freeman may be considered the best bet to reign supreme in 2020.

Mike Moustakas

15 of 20

    Over the past 10 years, blue chip third basemen have been somewhat of a rarity.

    Ryan Braun, Evan Longoria, Ryan Zimmerman and David Wright are the only deserving names that come to mind. 

    But hey, that's not bad company.

    Regardless, Kansas City's Mike Moustakas is currently breaking that trend, helping the Royals build a formidable offense for the first time in what seems like forever.

    "Moose" has literally all the talent in the world. 

    With home run power, gap power, respectable speed and an impressive eye at the plate for a 23-year-old, he is currently on the fast track to becoming a top-five player at his position.

    It also doesn't hurt that he's serving as one of fantasy baseball's biggest surprises.

Jarrod Parker

16 of 20

    It may be too soon to crown Jarrod Parker as a legitimate No. 1 pitcher heading into the future, but the Oakland Athletics' newly acquired tactician isn't considered one of the best young prospects for nothing.

    He has huge potential. Cy Young potential at that.

    But even though all of these expectations aren't going to be met overnight, Parker has still showcased his top-tier talents in the limited time he has been in the majors this season.

    With an ERA below 2.50 and a respectable 1.29 WHIP, the secret is out.

    The next thing to watch for is how Parker handles AL lineups the second time around. 

    But he should be fine. Now and in the future.

Jesus Montero

17 of 20

    The Seattle Mariners made a big offensive splash this offseason when they dealt away their best young pitcher, Michael Pineda, for the New York Yankees' best young hitter, Jesus Montero.

    It seems as if the 22-year-old is struggling out of the gate this season—specifically, sharing time at catcher—but his power and plate presence is too strong to ignore.

    Whether it's this year or next, Montero should be able to provide the Mariners relatively similar numbers to what Carlos Santana has done for the Cleveland Indians.

    And at such a rare position, once Montero gets a full season of production under his belt, he'll automatically be considered a top-five catcher.

    However, Montero isn't going to do it alone, so Dustin Ackley and Justin Smoak better get their acts together.

Craig Kimbrel

18 of 20

    Now that Mariano Rivera prefers shagging fly balls instead of closing games out for the New York Yankees, Craig Kimbrel has more or less taken over as the best closer in baseball.

    He pitches for a top contender, strikes out nearly two batters per inning, and set the rookie record for most saves in a season with 46 last year.

    Bottom line—the 23-year-old is as legit as they come.

    As long as he can stay healthy, being a top player in the league in 10 years will be a cakewalk.

    Heck, he may even be close to reaching Rivera for the all time saves record.

Bryce Harper

19 of 20

    Well, this is no secret.

    Not only is Bryce Harper currently the hottest ticket in baseball, but the 19-year-old phenom may in fact be the most promising prospect in baseball history.

    At such a young age, Harper has already transformed the Washington Nationals into one of baseball's most talented organizations.

    He can hit for power, steal bases, rock a wicked mohawk, and gives 110 percent every game he plays.

    Right now, it seems Harper is the real deal. His power stroke has recently come around, and considering he has flashed future Gold Glove potential in the outfield, Washington isn't going to demote him anytime soon.

    Let's be fair. 

Clayton Kershaw

20 of 20

    If there's anybody that deserves to be on this list, it's Clayton Kershaw.

    The 24-year-old has eclipsed nearly all competitors, NL and AL, as one of the best pitchers in baseball, if not the best.

    With age on his side and strikeouts under his belt, Kershaw is simply the crown jewel of pitchers.

    Also, the Los Angeles Dodgers have finally figured out a way to produce runs for him, which has gone a long way as far as Kershaw's recognition as one of the best is concerned.

    He'll only be 32 years old when the 2020 season starts, so there's really no argument that would suggest he can't sustain the torrid pace he's currently on.

    I'd even go as far as saying he's the next Roy Halladay, as far as longevity is concerned.

     

    For more MLB/Sports news and coverage,