Selecting MLB's All-Phenom Team
In baseball, maybe more than any other sport, fans gravitate toward phenoms. The thought of a pitcher that can be the next Justin Verlander or outfielder that can match the swing and power of a young Ken Griffey, Jr. can almost be more tantalizing than watching a finished product through the latter stages of a career.
The world of social media, instant gratification and, in the minds of baseball executives, cost-controllable stars equal fan interest, victories and potential.
A phenom can be described as anyone who is outstandingly talented. In sports, we add an addendum to our phenom criteria: youth.
Sure, Ryan Braun and Robinson Cano are phenomenal baseball players. They're also old news. We know how good they've been and that their next likely destination in Cooperstown. While fans yearn and search for the next big thing, a list has been compiled here.
While each team in the sport would love to possess four or five of these players, it's more fun to imagine an entire roster of phenoms.
In searching through the respective rosters around baseball, two criteria for this team became clear: First, no phenom could be older than 24. Second, no player with more than two full seasons in the big leagues would be considered.
Imagine needing to win one game using only phenoms. What would the lineup card look like? Who would toe the hill? Who closes out the ninth inning?
Let's take a look at MLB's All-Phenom Team.
Catcher: Salvador Perez, Kansas City Royals
As the Royals attempt to burst into contention in 2013, expect the following narratives to play out among media and fans: Dayton Moore's vision coming to fruition, stable, veteran pitchers headlining the starting rotation and a group of young, homegrown stars fulfilling their collective potential.
It's among that final narrative that Perez's name should be listed alongside Alex Gordon, Billy Butler, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas.
While Perez's contributions certainly don't go unnoticed in Kansas City—the Royals handed him a five-year contract after seeing him play less than a full big league season—his name isn't yet mainstream.
That will change if Perez continues his early career path as a very good hitter and excellent defensive catcher. In fact, his game is reminiscent of the present-day All-Star catcher in Missouri, Yadier Molina.
Heading into 2013, Perez had played 115 major league games. During that span, he hit .311, posted a .471 slugging percentage and was worth 4.4 WAR. Over the last two seasons, Molina has hit .310 with a .484 slugging percentage.
If he can duplicate his value over a 162-game regular season, Perez could be worth up to 5.9 WAR for Kansas City. To put that into perspective, only three catches have been valued that high at any point over the last five seasons: Joe Mauer (twice), Buster Posey and, of course, Yadier Molina.
First Base: Matt Adams, St. Louis Cardinals
Perhaps the most unlikely inclusion on this roster, Adams, a former 23rd-round draft pick, is struggling to find a spot in the everyday lineup for the St. Louis Cardinals.
That, of course, has much more to do with the embarrassment of versatile, talented hitters littered throughout the Cardinals roster than it has to do with Adams' potential.
In eight games this month, Adams is posting a nonsensical batting line of .542/.593/1.042 with three home runs. Thus far, more than half of his hits have been for extra bases.
While his name didn't pop up in columns about future stars prior to the season, don't expect this talented hitter to fade as St. Louis sorts out playing time. If he can't start, he'll pinch hit. If necessary, Adams could be sent down to Triple-A for regular playing time or traded as part of a mid-summer deal to a franchise that will use him everyday.
Second Baseman: Jurickson Profar, Texas Rangers
Although Profar is a shortstop by trade, his ability to play second base, as he did in five games for Texas last summer, makes him versatile and valuable to any lineup, including this All-Phenom Team.
Due to a talented, expensive middle-infield combination in Texas, Profar, 20, is the most tantalizing player not yet donning a uniform in the majors.
At some point, talent, injury or change of scenery will force Profar's emergence into an everyday major league lineup.
After becoming only the third teenager in history to homer in his first big league at-bat last summer, Profar jumped on to the radar screens of baseball fans everywhere.
His 14 home runs for Double-A Frisco stand out because power generally develops later in middle-infield prospects. If Profar has that kind of stroke at the age of 19, the sky is the limit when he finally lands a starting gig.
Odds are, it will be sometime this summer.
Third Baseman: Manny Machado, Baltimore Orioles
While small sample size statistics can be misleading, it's easy to recognize the growth Machado made in the offseason after being inserted as an everyday player during Baltimore's postseason push last August.
A 19-game sample in 2013 may point to an OPS and isolated power down from his 19-year-old season, but his approach is on the trajectory to yield big results for the Orioles this summer.
His walk rate (5.8) is up from last season, continuing a trend of improving every time he spends an additional year at a different level of competition.
In 2010, Machado's first year of Single-A ball, he posted a walk rate of 9.4. It jumped to 13.5 in his second year of Single-A competition.
In 2011, his first season at the High-A level, his walk rate was 8.5. Last year, before being called up to Baltimore in August, it had improved to 10.5 in Double-A.
As the years go on, Machado will likely swing at less pitches out of the zone (something he's already doing at a good pace this season) and become a better, more selective hitter.
After that, natural gifts take over. For a guy once compared to a young Alex Rodriguez, there's plenty to take him to stardom.
Shortstop: Andrelton Simmons, Atlanta Braves
Regardless of your preference when it comes to judging defense on a baseball diamond—defensive runs saved, Gold Glove voting, eye test, fielding percentage, UZR—Andrelton Simmons likely rates out highly in your evaluation.
Last season, according to Baseball Info Solutions' metrics used by Baseball-Reference, Simmons was second among infielders in the major leagues with 19 defensive runs saved. That's impressive enough on it's own. When you factor in that he did it in just 49 games, it becomes astounding.
The jury is still out on how much of an impact Simmons will have with the bat, but his early approach at the plate in 2013 is encouraging for the long-term. His identical walk-to-strikeout ratio (10.8-10.8) suggests he's walking more than enough to justify a top-of-the-order batting position, but not striking out in abundance.
Simmons is slated to be a valuable everyday player for a long time because of his glove. If or when his bat develops into a weapon, the Braves could have a superstar in their infield.
Left Fielder: Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals
There haven't been many players in the history of the sport as good and polished as Harper is at the age of 20.
Using Baseball-Reference.com's Play Index, the home run power displayed by Harper thus far in his major league career comes into focus. Only eight players hit more home runs before their 21st birthday than the 29 Harper currently sits on.
Those names: Mel Ott, Tony Conigliaro, Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey, Frank Robinson, Mickey Mantle, Mike Trout, Al Kaline and Ted Williams.
Of course, there's one catch: Harper just turned 20 in October. If he continues the power display he's shown so far this month, he could hit 33 more home runs from now through September.
That would put him atop the list, surpassing Ott's total of 61.
If that occurs, every future phenom may have to live up to what Bryce Harper is doing right now.
Centerfield: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels
Of all the phenoms on this team, it's unlikely that any ever reach the level that Trout did during the 2012 season.
Last season, at the age of 20, Trout was worth 10.9 Wins Above Replacement for the Los Angeles Angels. While it wasn't good enough for MVP voters to give him the AL trophy over Miguel Cabrera, it remains one of the most impressive seasons in big league history.
To put that in perspective, here's a list of players who never reached that level during any season of their respective careers: Mickey Mantle, Ken Griffey, Alex Rodriguez, Mike Schmidt and Albert Pujols.
Maybe more astonishing, here's a player who has never even been worth 5.5 Wins Above Replacement in a season, or, in other words, half of Trout's value from 2012: Ryan Howard.
That's not a knock on Howard, who is struggling now but was a legitimate star hitter from 2006-08. Rather, it's another way to show how much Trout brings to the table as a hitter, defender, base runner and all-around talent.
Right Fielder: Oscar Taveras, St. Louis Cardinals
Any 20-year-old called a young, left-handed Vladimir Guerrero would be thrilled with the comparison. You would assume scouts would be ecstatic, if not elated, at the praise.
Not so fast when it comes to Taveras.
He's been labeled a free-swinger, but he's a man with a plan at the plate, eliciting his name above names like Orlando Cepeda, Roberto Clemente and Guerrero when they approached the big leagues.
In a conversation with The Oklahoman, longtime Yankees scout Ron Brand had this to say about Taveras' potential:
“A lot of guys that come into the game hit, but they don't know why they hit,” Brand said. “(Roberto) Clemente was like that. (Orlando) Cepeda was like that. Guerrero was like that. Unless someone messes with his head he should continue to hit... He's very advanced for his age.”
Advanced enough to start in right field for the All-Phenom Team.
Starting Pitcher: Matt Harvey, New York Mets
Phenoms are a big deal in sports. Phenoms in New York have the tendency to become larger than life.
Hyperbole aside, here's a list of absolute truths about the 24-year-old ace of the New York Mets. As you'll soon find out, there's little reason to embellish how good Harvey has been in his short major league career thus far.
-In four starts this season, Harvey is 4-0 with a 0.93 ERA and 32 strikeouts.
-On Friday night, Harvey became the second pitcher in Mets history to win his first four starts while allowing one or fewer earned runs in each of the outings.
-He's the first pitcher since 1900 to win his first four starts while allowing a total of just 10 hits over those games.
-In 14 career starts for New York, Harvey has struck out 10.4 batters per nine innings. Over the last decade, only 11 starting pitchers have missed bats at that frequency over the course of a full season: Randy Johnson, Tim Lincecum, Kerry Wood, Max Scherzer, Oliver Perez, Erik Bedard, Zack Greinke, Johan Santana, Mark Prior, Scott Kazmir and Yu Darvish.
-Despite the cold, Harvey shuns the tradition of pitchers wearing jackets while running the bases.
-In the midst of out-dueling Stephen Strasburg last week, his performance elicited one of the more original crowd chants in recent years: "Harvey's better! Harvey's better!"
When considering phenoms to start for this team, it's hard to argue and come up with a better name. Right now, Harvey is the best choice.
Closer: Trevor Rosenthal, St. Louis Cardinals
From power bats to power starting pitcher to a power arm out of the pen.
Last Thursday against the Philadelphia Phillies, 11 of Rosenthal's 12 pitches reached 99 MPH or higher on the radar gun.
Of course, Rosenthal may not be destined for this role for St. Louis in the present or future. Currently, he's serving as a setup man in Mike Matheny's pen, but his long-term spot has not been decided upon.
Before arriving last summer to aid the Cardinals bullpen, Rosenthal was a starter in the minor leagues, striking out more than a batter per inning with a complete arsenal of pitches.
In this role, he likely can get away with one: 100 MPH gas.