The winds of change are blowing in Major League Baseball.
An injection of youth, energy and talent has been the rage lately, seemingly regardless of which team you root for.
Obviously, the Washington Nationals phenom Bryce Harper has been stealing national headlines (no pun intended) while many other players are surfacing as solid, productive, borderline stars for their respective ballclubs.
The idea in putting this piece together was to examine each team and deduce which player, if the team were forced to start from scratch tomorrow, the team should build around. In other words, the faces of the future of Major League Baseball.
These players can be prospects, or even a year or two into their MLB careers. Either way, all of the names on this list show promise of being essential to the success of their teams in years to come.
My natural inclination on the first slide is to go with a minor league prospect. It would make sense and build some credibility, right?
As much as I wanted to go with a player like Trevor Bauer, Justin Upton is just too good, and too young, to overlook.
Bauer, in just his second season in A-ball has an impressive 1.96 ERA through his first seven games with a 6-1 record. His WHIP is slightly higher than I'd like to see, sitting at 1.258. That being said, he's just 21 years old.
At 24 years old, Upton is on the higher end of what I would consider to be the "future" of the Diamondbacks, but he's still just 24.
In his six seasons in Arizona, he's managed to win the hearts of the fans while maintaining a .275 career batting average, earning two All-Star bids and showing that he is capable of being a power hitter, similar to a young Barry Bonds.
Sure, he's off to a slow start in 2012, but he's far too talented to be down for long.
In general terms, the Braves are playing well this season behind the play of their stud first baseman, Freddie Freeman.
Freeman came up for 20 games in 2010 before becoming a permanent fixture in Atlanta in 2011.
He hasn't looked back.
His young career batting average is .279, slightly hampered by the .169 he posted in his 20 game stint in 2010. Otherwise, he manages to get on base and currently leads the Braves in RBI and home runs.
In other words, he does exactly what you would want your first baseman to do: get on base and drive in runs.
The Baltimore Orioles have themselves a terrific find in the 19-year-old right-handed pitching prospect.
While he has been in just six games for the Delmarva Shorebirds, he has been untouchable.
In his six starts, he has thrown 20 innings and posted a perfect 0.00 ERA with a WHIP of 0.200. If the Orioles handle him appropriately and allow him to flourish, in time Bundy could be quite an impressive force at the front of their rotation.
While Bryce Harper has been stealing all the headlines, Will Middlebrooks has been putting together an impressive string of games for himself in Boston.
He's put up a batting line of .381/.409/.952/1.361 in four games. He has managed three home runs (one being a grand slam), nine RBI and a steal.
Did I mention that was just in four games?
Those stats place him first on the Red Sox in batting average, slugging percentage and OPS, and he has just seven less RBI than Adrian Gonzalez in 24 fewer games.
The Chicago Cubs are already in rebuilding mode, therefore it makes sense to focus on the player around whom they're already building: Starlin Castro.
In his first ever major league game against Cincinnati, Castro hit a three-run home run and later added a three-run triple to bring his RBI total to six on May 7, 2010.
Here we are in 2012 and we find that the now 22-year-old Castro is still a hitting machine, posting a .350 average early in this young season.
His career .309 batting average is nothing short of impressive either. Castro led the NL in hits in 2011 with 207. Already he has 41 this season, which ties Matt Kemp for second overall in the NL and third in all of baseball.
In his first year as a starting pitcher for the White Sox, Chris Sale is proving that he can make a smooth transition.
The big lefty is just that: big at 6'6", and a left-handed pitcher. Two factors that weigh heavily in his favor.
Thus far in 2012, Sale has started five games for the White Sox. The 23-year-old owns a 3-1 record with a 2.81 ERA and an even 1.000 WHIP.
He may not be the next Randy Johnson, but Sale gives the White Sox a solid, young arm in the rotation for years to come.
Billy Hamilton is a beast, pure and simple.
The Reds' 21-year-old prospect is tearing things up in the California League. His stat line looks like this: 40 H, 107 AB, 26 R, 14 BB, 18 K, 31 SB, .374/.447/.542/.989.
Oh, and those 31 stolen bases came on 38 attempts. That's just insane.
The down side to Hamilton is his defense. While he is being worked out as a shortstop, thus far this season he has committed eight errors.
He has the speed and bat to be a major league leadoff hitter in no time, possibly as soon as this year. While the Reds already have a couple of young studs they're building the team around in Joey Votto and Jay Bruce, Hamilton will add a nice dynamic to the lineup.
Francisco Lindor is the top prospect in the Cleveland Indians' system, and not without good reason.
The 18-year-old is having a solid start in A-ball, batting .299 with 11 RBI and a matching 11 stolen bases in 29 games for the Lake County Captains.
While many scouting reports have Lindor as having average speed and hitting capabilities, he appears to be breaking out of that mold slightly.
The true value for Lindor comes in the form of his defense, which has been impressive.
Lindor has an above-average arm with great body control, and he shows quick feet in the field.
Naturally, I wanted to place Jason Giambi or Jamie Moyer in this spot, but ultimately decided to go with a player that was about half their ages in Nolan Arenado.
Arenado is proving himself to be a solid player in 31 games for Double-A Tulsa. He has managed a .295 batting average with 16 RBI on 33 hits.
The combination of Arenado and Troy Tulowitzki on the left side of the infield could provide the Rockies with a solid foundation for the foreseeable future.
The Detroit Tigers are built to win.
Between having one of the most feared 3-4 combinations in baseball behind Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, coupled with starting pitching led by Justin Verlander, it is hard to envision this team not being solid for years to come.
With that comes natural progression in the form of 22-year-old Drew Smyly.
In his first five games playing for the big club, he is 1-0 with a 1.61 ERA and 1.179 WHIP in 28.0 innings pitched. Add in his 29 strikeouts and Smyly is performing admirably.
For a while, it appeared as though the Astros were just having a fire sale on everyone.
Truth be told, they have a nice stash of young talent.
With this exercise in mind, I was tempted to go with Jose Altuve, a player that is performing on the major league level already.
However, Jonathan Singleton has performed admirably in Double-A. He is batting .309 with 30 hits and 14 RBI in just 28 games.
The 20-year-old Singleton has tremendous upside, being able to play the outfield or first base.
No, 22-year-old Eric Hosmer is not tearing up major league pitching right now. However, in due time I have faith that he will.
The easy selection here would have been to take third base stud Mike Moustakas. However, Hosmer is in his second season in the bigs and has already proven that he can perform in the major league.
Last season, he batted .293 with 78 RBI and 19 home runs for the Royals.
While he has yet to bat .200 this season, he will heat up and provide the Royals with a stud first baseman for the future.
Mike Trout has long been thought of as the future for the Angels.
While the team had taken on the likes of Vernon Wells and Bobby Abreau, Trout sat in the minors. Now, at just 20 years of age, he is finally breaking through.
After appearing in 40 games in 2011 for the Halos, Trout started back in the minors in 2012. Now having appeared in eight games, he is starting to adjust to the majors.
If the Angels allow for him to develop properly, Trout can easily become the face of the franchise in short order.
I know, this one seems like a bit of a cop-out.
However, the fact is that Kershaw is just 24-years-old and yet he is already in his fifth major league season.
The way he pitches makes him seem like he's been in the big leagues for 10 years. He's dominant, he's young and he can be the backbone of this Dodgers franchise for the next decade if they'd like.
In general terms, the Miami Marlins are a young team.
The outfield consists of Logan Morrison, Emilio Bonafacio and Giancarlo Stanton, all 27 or younger.
However, in their farm system they have 20-year-old Christian Yelich, who is ripping things up.
Yelich leads all batters (who have appeared in 20 or more games) on the Jupiter Hammerheads in average with .298, .392 OBP and .512 SLG.
Should the Marlins decide to trade away one of their young outfielders, Yelich is developing nicely to slide right on in and take over.
Scooter Gennett has been making a name for himself in the Brewer organization and continues to produce in 2012 for the Huntsville Stars.
He is solid defensively with a still developing bat.
While he is projected to join the team in 2013 or even 2014, the 22-year-old could very well find himself called upon to take over at shortstop for Alex Gonzalez after this season, as it is unlikely he'll take over for Rickie Weeks any time soon.
Miguel Sano is just 19 years old and already a very highly rated prospect in A-ball.
The Twins were tenacious in their courtship of Sano, and for good reason: He is one hell of a ballplayer.
He is now in his third season in the Twins organization, and the team that is in full-blown transition is showing patience in bringing forth the future.
Sano will certainly be its future.
Zack Wheeler is absolutely mowing down the competition in Double-A Binghamton.
He currently posts an ERA of 1.75 with a 1.208 WHIP in five games and 25.2 innings.
The Mets are another organization that has been down for quite some time, and fans can see the future on the horizon. They have a lot of young talent in their farm system, led by the 21-year-old Wheeler.
The 21-year-old Manny Banuelos has been the top-dog in the Yankees organization for some time now.
While his numbers in Triple-A aren't that eye-popping, don't be fooled—Banuelos is a solid pitcher with tremendous potential.
Standing all of 5'10" tall, he has velocity in the mid-90s and a very smooth delivery.
Oh, and he's a lefty—just another plus for the Yankees.
Oakland has always been able to produce great, young arms.
Jarrod Parker appears to be no exception.
While he has only started three games for the A's this season, the 23-year-old is 1-0 with a 1.80 ERA and 1.150 WHIP.
Parker is easily one of the most exciting young pitchers to watch and hearkens back to the Barry Zito/Tim Hudson days in Oakland.
The Phillies are a bit thin in the top-prospect category, but 22-year-old Trevor May is worth watching out for.
The big righty is an imposing figure on the mound, and while he stands 6'5" and weighs in at 215 lbs, he is still a bit raw.
While he does possess the tools to become a solid fastball pitcher, he is still developing. On the upside, the Phillies have the pitching staff to allow for May to get starts in Double-A Reading.
At just 21, young Gerrit Cole is highly anticipated to join the Pirates' pitching staff.
He is showing just what he is capable of in Single-A Bradenton right now, posting a 3.54 ERA and 1.071 WHIP in just six games and 28 innings.
He has managed to strike out 34 batters along the way.
That's about half of what A.J. Burnett is putting up in terms of ERA and WHIP.
Casey Kelly was part of the prospect package that the Boston Red Sox sent to San Diego in exchange for Adrian Gonzalez.
Since coming to the West Coast, Kelly has flourished.
He is currently having one of the best seasons of his young career. The Padres are taking their time with him, but when he arrives up with the big club, the dimensions of Petco Park will only help decrease his ERA from his career 3.76 mark.
At just 22 years of age, Bumgarner is making a name for himself as a premier pitcher on a premier pitching staff.
His ERA is 2.31 with a 1.077 WHIP through his first six starts and 39.0 innings.
It doesn't hurt that his 5-1 record leads the Giants' pitching staff.
In fact, Tim Lincecum, Barry Zito, Matt Cain and Ryan Vogelsong have five wins between the four of them.
The New York Yankees gave up Montero in part of a deal that sent pitcher Michael Pineda back to New York.
The Mariners seem to be quite alright having arguably the best catching prospect in baseball on their team.
In just 28 games for the Mariners, he is already batting .275 with 16 RBI and four home runs.
Pretty solid production from a rookie catcher.
I know he is a bit older than the rest of the players on this list (25 years old), but I like Garcia quite a bit.
His performance in the 2011 World Series was solid.
He has proven that he can win double-digit games for two consecutive years and is off to a pretty good start thus far in 2012.
He may not be the next Tom Glavine, but he can be a hell of a reliable starter for the red birds for the next few years.
There is a lot of hype around the 22-year-old Matt Moore.
The way the Rays churn out young starting pitching, there is plenty of evidence to believe that he will be a very good pitcher in Tampa.
While he is starting off a bit slowly in 2012, the Rays are quite confident that he will settle down and return to his minor league form.
While he isn't exactly a rookie, considering his past in Japan, Yu Darvish is leading all Rangers pitchers in ERA and is tied with Matt Harrison for wins.
The Rangers have the foreign phenom locked up for the next six seasons, so it is hard not to consider him the future of the franchise.
The Yu-mania has been well-deserved thus far and should only prove to be more interesting as batters begin to face him the second time around.
If you read my columns regularly, you know I am a huge fan of Will Middlebrooks. Some may even think I made this list just to write about him once again.
Truth be told, I wanted to write about Lawrie. I love this guy. He might be my favorite young player in all of baseball.
He is absolutely killing it for the young and hungry Blue Jays squad.
Currently, he is leading the Jays in batting average and hits and has tremendous defensive skills.
He reminds me of Evan Longoria a lot.
I expect great things out of Lawrie in time, great things.
I feel like all I really need to write here is: "Bryce Harper is the future of the Nationals, period." That could be good enough.
But seriously, the kid is a phenom that is drawing comparisons to Ken Griffey, Jr.
He has speed, can hit and has an amazing arm. The kid has a cannon!
I can understand to a certain degree why people (*ahem* Cole Hamels) may not like him.
He's good. Real good. He is going to be good for a very long time.
Not only is he going to be the face of the Nationals, but he will also eventually be the face of baseball.