Power Ranking the Next Generation of Baseball Stars

Zachary PeterselFeatured ColumnistAugust 28, 2012

Power Ranking the Next Generation of Baseball Stars

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    The next generation of baseball has never looked so bright.

    For as long as I can remember there has not been a season like this in which so many young players have dominated the game.

    Mike Trout. Bryce Harper. Stephen Strasburg. The list goes on and on.

    The future of baseball is developing right in front of our eyes and the players on this list, both young and old, will continue to get better as they get more experience. 

    Not everyone is bound for Cooperstown, but I grabbed someone from each position on the diamond to show just how young and versatile this game has become.

    It is an incredibly exciting time to be a baseball fan and it will be great to watch the next generation of baseball flourish as we head into the hunt that is October.

Honorable Mention: Prospects Jurickson Profar, Wil Myers and Billy Hamilton

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    The art of stealing bases has been gone from baseball a long time, but if Billy Hamilton has anything to say about it, that is going to change very soon.

    After breaking Vince Coleman's minor league stolen base record of 145 steals in a single season, the Cincinnati Reds prospect has shown potential to become one of the most exciting players since Rickey Henderson.

    No, he does not have nearly the same amount of power, but he has shown tremendous plate discipline and the ability to hit for average with a .318 BA and .418 OBP this season, and with the Reds pushing toward October, we just might get a glimpse of his potential this season.

    Wil Myers is regarded by most "experts" as the top hitting prospect in all of baseball. In 127 minor league games this season, Myers is hitting .307 with 35 homers and 103 RBI with a . 597 slugging percentage. If not this season, we will see the 21-year old slugger driving in runs in the middle of the Kansas City's order starting in April 2013.

    When listening to baseball scouts talk about Jurickson Profar, you don't normally hear much except the sound of licking lips and drool.

    Profar has the Rangers thinking about moving All-Star and Gold Glove-winning shortstop Elvis Andrus because his potential is that high. CBS Sports' Jon Heyman tweeted Monday that a scout would rank him behind Mike Trout but ahead of Bryce Harper in terms of long-term potential.

    This kid is going to be special. 

    As a 19-year old in Double-A, the Rangers SS is hitting .284 with 14 homers and 16 steals and playing spectacular defense. Perhaps his most impressive stat is that he has 64 walks against just 78 strikeouts, showing incredible plate discipline for someone his age in such an advanced minor league level.

13. Houston Astros 2B Jose Altuve

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    Jose Altuve hit .276 with a paltry .296 OBP last season in a brief cup of coffee with the Houston Astros, but showed glimpses that there could be more. 

    As a 22-year-old this season, he fulfilled that potential and then some.

    Altuve currently sits eighth in the National League in hits, and 10th in the league in batting. With 31 doubles, he is showing the potential for more power down the road despite hitting in the worst lineup in all of baseball.

    While he has the least amount of "star" power and fanfare of anyone on this list, Altuve already has his first All-Star appearance under his belt and with little depth at the position, he could be the NL starter at second base for many seasons to come. 

12. St. Louis Cardinals 3B David Freese

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    David Freese made quite the name for himself last postseason, playing a key role in the Cardinals miraculous World Series run to capture the MVP trophy.

    Freese hit .397 with 21 RBI and an earth-shattering .794 slugging percentage in 18 games during the playoffs last year, and has followed that up with his first All-Star game and a more than respectable .299 average and 71 RBI in 2012.

    The one thing that is holding the Cardinals third baseman back from true stardom is his health as Freese averaged just 84 games played the two seasons before this one.

    However, if he can lead St. Louis on another World Series run this season, he will shoot up this list as one of the games biggest and brightest stars.

11. Chicago Cubs SS Starlin Castro

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    On potential alone, Starlin Castro is one of the top five young hitters in all of baseball.

    Despite being just 22 years old, the Cubs' star is already in his third full season as Chicago's full-time shortstop. While his average has tailed off a bit this season, hitting .276 heading into Tuesday's action, Castro hit over .300 in each of his first two seasons and led the National League in hits last year with 207.

    Another thing Castro has going for him is he plays in one of the biggest markets and for one of the best fan base's in baseball: Wrigleyville, Chicago. He already has two All-Star games and as long as he keeps his head on straight and eliminates the mistakes, he will continue to only get better from here on out.

    Before you know it, Theo Epstein and company will have a winning team taking the field every day in the Northside. After signing Castro to a 7-year, $60M extension, they showed they want their young shortstop to be the player leading the charge. 

10. San Francisco Giants C/1B Buster Posey

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    After a horrific injury ended his 2011 season prematurely, Buster Posey has bounced back with flying colors.

    The Giants' 25-year old catcher/first baseman is having a career year, on pace for career highs in just about every important hitting category, such as batting average, OBP, slugging, doubles, homers, RBI, not to mention he leads all NL backstops with 134 hits.

    Catchers are not usually good hitters, especially ones that have had surgery to repair three torn ligaments in an ankle.

    Buster Posey is an exception to that rule and if this year has taught us anything, he is only going to continue to get better.

9. New York Mets SP R.A. Dickey

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    If his journey tells us anything, R.A. Dickey has the confidence to overcome anything.  

    In a gripping interview by ESPN's Jeremy Schaap, Dickey talks about overcoming a multitude of issues both on and off the baseball field he dealt with growing up. From being sexually abused as a child to finding out his elbow was missing the crucial ulnar collateral ligament, Dickey's career was virtually over before it even started. 

    But as he would tell you in excerpts from his book Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest for Truth, Authenticity and the Perfect Knuckleball, everything happened for a reason. Through hard work and determination, he has become one of baseball's best pitchers and most dynamic players with the game's most unusual pitch, the knuckleball.

    Due to the lack of stress the knuckleball causes the arm and elbow, Dickey's career is only just beginning. Despite being 37 years old, he will continue to get better as he enters his late 30s because he is still honing his craft with the pitch.

    R.A. is tied for the NL lead in both strikeouts and wins and could be in line for a Cy Young at the end of the season, which will add a little more shine to his already glowing star.

8. San Francisco Giants SP Madison Bumgarner

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    Madison Bumgarner is to pitching as Joey Votto is to hitting.

    Underrated.

    The Giants LHP started his climb with an incredible second half of the 2011 season and has not cooled off since. 

    A rising K/9 and GB rate, combined with a lower BB/9, HR/FB led to a second half during which Bumgarner went 9-4 with a 2.52 ERA and 1.08 WHIP, as compared to a 3.87 ERA and 1.34 WHIP in the first half.

    Heading into Tuesday's action, the North Carolina native has the fifth best WHIP in baseball, sits tied for the third most wins, seventh in innings pitched and 12th in strikeouts. Despite all of that, I still doubt that 50 percent of baseball fans on the East Coast know who he is.

    Nobody on the East Coast deserves any blame of course, as Bumgarner just happens to be the third most popular pitcher on his own team. However, sooner rather than later, he will become the Giants ace and force the media's hand.

    At just 23 years of age, Bumgarner is just tapping into his potential as one of the best pitchers in the game. 

7. Oakland Athletics OF Yoenis Cespedes

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    Take a look at these pre- and post-All Star game splits:

    Pre-All Star: 54 Games, .263/.326/.465; 9 HR, 36 RBI

    Post-All Star: 39 Games, .340/.401/.551; 7 HR, 26 RBI

    Not only has Yoenis Cespedes shown dramatic improvement, but he has also drawn more walks, struck out less while maintaing one of the quickest, most violently powerful swings in the game today.

    When the A's signed Cespedes from Cuba to a four-year, $36 million deal, they received a lot of scrutiny. When they called him up after just 11 minor league plate appearances, people were calling for Billy Beane's head.

    So much for that.

    Cespedes led the A's to the top of the AL Wild Card standings, and his contract looks like it will be the steal of the offseason. He still has plenty to improve upon to move higher up this list, but the potential is most certainly there.

6. Cincinnati Reds 1B Joey Votto

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    Quite possibly baseball's most unheralded, unknown MVP, Joey Votto has become one of baseball's best players that does not get the recognition he deserves.

    Before landing on the DL with a knee injury in July, Votto was on his way to earning his second MVP award with some incredible numbers.

    The Reds' 1B was (and still is) leading baseball with a .465 OBP and 1.069 OPS. His .604 slugging percentage would still lead the league if it qualified, but he does not have enough at bats. In addition, Votto was on his way to breaking the MLB record for doubles in a season, a record that stood for a remarkable 81 years.

    The Ontario native is still only 28 years old and just signed a massive 13-year, $263 million extension with Cincinnati, which means he is not going away any time soon.

5. Closers Aroldis Chapman & Craig Kimbrel

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    These guys have been so good I just could not separate them.

    After winning the Rookie of the Year award last season, it was hard to imagine Craig Kimbrel getting better than a 2.10 ERA with a 14.8 SO/9 and 3.97 SO/BB.

    I know I wasn't the only one fooled. 

    Not only has he cut his ERA in half to 1.15, but his WHIP is 0.63, SO/9 is up to 15.9 and SO/BB is also to 6.92. In his last 28 innings, Kimbrel has given up just two runs on nine baserunners while striking out 53 hitters. 

    As if that wasn't good enough, Aroldis Chapman has been just as good, if not better.

    With 112 strikeouts in just 62 innings, the Reds' closer has the 37th most strikeouts in the National League. That includes every starting pitcher.

    He strikes out 16.3 batters per nine innings with a SO/BB ratio of 7.47.

    Just to put these two seasons in perspective, Mariano Rivera only posted one season with a SO/BB ratio greater than Kimbrel's 6.92, and he never posted a SO/9 higher than 10.9.

    I'm not saying they will be as great as Mo was for as long as hie was, but what Kimbrel and Chapman are doing is not even done in video games anymore. Since both are 24-year olds in only their third major league seasons, these numbers could just be the beginning.

4. Pittsburgh Pirates OF Andrew McCutchen

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    Ever since Andrew McCutchen made his professional debut, he has been getting better.

    In 2009 he finished fourth in the Rookie of the Year voting with a .286/365/.471 triple slash line but had the look of a player oozing with five-tool potential. 

    The next season he showed subtle improvements with increased patience at the plate and more speed while in 2011, he showed he could be a middle of the order bat with improved power but was unable to put everything together.

    That all changed in 2012.

    "Cutch" leads the NL with 162 hits, 88 runs and is the favorite to win the league MVP award at this point in the season. He's attempting to lead the Pirates to their first playoff appearance in 20 years. 

    He has become a fan favorite in Pittsburgh and is becoming more well-known across the country. With the Pirates franchise continuing to take positive steps in the right direction, it is only a matter of time before McCutchen is a household name, if he has not become one already.

3. Washington Nationals SP Stephen Strasburg

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    At 23 years old, just over two years removed from Tommy John surgery, Stephen Strasburg is already the most dominant pitcher in all of baseball.

    The Nationals flamethrower would most likely be headed toward his first of many Cy Young awards if not for his innings limit, which has become one of the most stirring debates going in sports.

    Should the Nationals shut down the righty as they compete for the franchise's first championship or risk an injury that would demoralize the entire baseball community? 

    Possibly the greatest pitching prospect of all time, Strasburg has a fastball that averages 95.7 mph, according to Fangraphs.com, to go along with a devastating breaking ball and change-up. His 15-5 record speaks for itself, but his league-leading 183 strikeouts in just 145 innings shows just how dominant he has become.

2. Washington Nationals OF Bryce Harper

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    Bryce Harper, otherwise known as baseball's "Chosen One", has become the sport's most hyped teenager since Ken Griffey Jr. debuted in 1989 in the same lineup as his father as a 19-year-old.

    Having said that, even Junior didn't get the scrutiny, publicity and the pressure that Harper faced before he was even drafted.

    Ever since he was put on the cover of Sports Illustrated and written about as a 15-year-old who hit a 517-foot home run, he has been mentioned in the same breath as LeBron James and Wayne Gretzky. Harper has handled those expectations smoothly and blown right past them. 

    The Nationals star has shown glimpses of everything that was written about him—power, speed, the ability to hit for average, a cannon of an arm and the ability to play a stellar center field.

    What has become even more impressive than his ability is his demeanor on the field, his all-out hustle and his Pete Rose style of play in doing anything possible to give his team a better chance to win.

    Harper might not be as talented as the next man on this list, but with his work ethic and desire to be great, it would not shock me to see him surpass him as some point in the future.

    If not, he can always fall back on dissing the media for "clown questions"

1. Los Angeles Angels OF Mike Trout

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    After the season this young man has had, could No. 1 have gone to anyone else besides Mike Trout?

    Not. Even. Close.

    The Angels outfielder just turned 21 years old, yet leads the league in batting, OPS, stolen bases and runs scored. Oh yeah, he also missed most of April because he was playing in the minor leagues (where he hit .403 over 20 games).

    According to Fangraphs.com's WAR, Trout has he been more than a win better than any other position player in baseball, despite playing in 20 fewer games than most players on the list. Even if the Angels fall out of contention, and they currently sit 4.5 games out of the Wild Card, Trout should be win the MVP unanimously and become the youngest award winner in the history of the sport.

    Whether you are talking about this generation or the next, Mike Trout is the biggest and brightest star in all of baseball.