Handicapping MLB's 'Player of the Future' Race at Every Position
We need something in between the MLB All-Star Game and the MLB Futures Game to showcase young talents like Starling Marte and Kyle Seager who have already made it to the big leagues but aren't yet popular enough for the Mid-summer Classic.
Guys playing in the Futures Games don't always pan out and guys playing in the All-Star Games are usually already reaching the end of their prime. They both hit on some of the best candidates, but neither one gives us a proper perspective on what the MLB landscape will look like five years from now.
In order to do that, it's necessary to assemble a list of the top, young candidates at each position.
Some of these guys will be all-stars in 2013.
Barring injury, all of them should be all-stars in 2018.
*Unless otherwise noted, all statistics are courtesy of FanGraphs.com and are accurate through the start of play on Wednesday, June 12.
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In order to qualify for consideration, a player must meet the following three criteria:
1) 25 years of age or under
You can't very well be a player of the future if you'll be considering retirement within five years.
2) Already in the majors
Maybe guys like Xander Bogaerts and Oscar Taveras will be the top dog at their respective positions within the next couple of seasons, but there are more than enough options already in the majors to keep the promising prospects out of this conversation.
If you really want to read about which minor leaguers might be stars in the near future, go read Mike Rosenbaum's piece on the top 50 prospects.
3) Must be good
Congratulations to Aaron Hicks and Jackie Bradley Jr. for making the opening day rosters as centerfielders, but if you aren't batting .200 in 2013 I can't very well assume you'll be batting .300 in 2015.
First Basemen of the Future
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Front-Runner: Paul Goldschmidt (.313/.389/.571, 15 HR, 59 RBI, 2.8 WAR)
Not only is Goldy the runaway favorite for top first baseman of the future, but he belongs in the overall discussion for top player of the future.
Since the start of the 2011 season, Goldschmidt is one of just six players with at least 40 home runs, at least 25 stolen bases and a slugging percentage of at least .500. The other five on that list are Ryan Braun, Carlos Gonzalez, Mike Trout, Matt Kemp and Curtis Granderson.
That's pretty good company.
Next-Best: Freddie Freeman (.310/.372/.468, 6 HR, 44 RBI, 0.7 WAR)
When fully healthy and fully mature, Freeman should be the type of guy who can string together several consecutive seasons of batting .300 with 30 home runs. Projecting him as an Albert Pujols or Miguel Cabrera type of hitter would probably be pushing it, but I don't see why Freeman couldn't equate to what Paul Konerko or Todd Helton did in their prime.
Also-Ran: Anthony Rizzo (.252/.331/.471, 10 HR, 39 RBI, 1.2 WAR)
Rizzo has enough power to stay in the discussion with Goldschmidt and Freeman, but that career .248 batting average makes me worry that his ceiling at the plate would be as the second coming of Richie Sexson.
Second Basemen of the Future
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Front-Runner: Jedd Gyorko (.284/.341/.461, 8 HR, 25 RBI, 1.8 WAR)
It's a shame he hit the DL with a groin injury earlier this week because Gyorko was really starting to showcase some of the power that he showed off in the minors. He averaged 30 home runs per year in the past two seasons in the Padres farm system, but wrapped up the month of April batting .247 with no homers.
Since then, he has batted .309 with eight home runs in 139 at-bats. If he still has that hot bat in two weeks, he could potentially catch Dan Uggla for the league lead in home runs by a second baseman.
Next-Best: Jose Altuve (.296/.330/.393, 3 HR, 24 RBI, 9 SB, 1.0 WAR)
Let's at least hope he'll be an elite second baseman a few years from now, or the Astros might be rebuilding again before we know it.
Altuve doesn't have a lot of power, but as long as he's batting .300 and stealing 30 bases per year, you can live with the single-digit home run totals.
Also-Ran: Jurickson Profar (.269/.324/.388, 2 HR, 6 RBI, 0.0 WAR)
This is the one instance where I'm keeping a guy in the discussion even though he hasn't yet shown us much at the big league level.
The love affair that scouts everywhere have with Profar has been palpable for two years now. He finally got an extended chance when Ian Kinsler hit the DL a few weeks ago.
I wouldn't say he has disappointed, but he hasn't excelled either. He profiled in the minors as the type of middle infielder who could hit .280 with 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases, but he's 0-for-2 in stolen base attempts in his 27-game career with the Rangers—putting him on pace for a 12-HR / 0-SB season.
Third Basemen of the Future
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Front-Runner: Manny Machado (.315/.350/.480, 5 HR, 34 RBI, 3.1 WAR)
In case you haven't heard 50 times this season, third base is not Machado's natural position. He was drafted as a shortstop, but third base was the opening they had for him. As luck would have it, he's one of the best fielding third basemen we've seen in many moons.
Machado is no slouch with the bat, either. He remains on pace to break the all-time record for doubles in a season.
Next-Best: Kyle Seager (.289/.354/.470, 8 HR, 30 RBI, 2.4 WAR)
If you close your eyes and concentrate hard, you might be able to hear Kyle Seager making some noise over the past year and a half with the Mariners.
You'll have to tune out the chatter over the other amazing third basemen in the league right now (Miguel Cabrera, David Wright, Evan Longoria and Machado to name a few), but Seager has quietly emerged with enough power and enough speed to rack up the fifth-most WAR at third base since the start of the 2012 season.
Also-Ran: Nolan Arenado (.255/.290/.441, 5 HR, 15 RBI, 1.1 WAR)
He got the call to the big leagues in late April and appears to have worked out the growing pains over the past week. Arenado is 12 for his last 31 with three doubles, two triples and a home run, and is working his way up to the .305 batting average that he had over the past two-plus seasons in the minors.
Shortstops of the Future
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Front-Runner: Jean Segura (.340/.373/.538, 9 HR, 29 RBI, 19 SB, 2.9 WAR)
If the Brewers weren't 16 games out of first place in their division, we might be talking about Segura as an MVP candidate right now.
As it is, he has been a pleasant surprise on a historic pace.
Segura is projected to finish the season with 23 home runs and 48 stolen bases. If he can reach those numbers, he would become the 14th person in MLB history to do so, and would join Hanley Ramirez (2007) and Mike Trout (2012) as the only people to do it since 1990. None of those 14 people had a better batting average than .332.
[Research done independently from a FanGraphs file of the 14,615 qualified seasons in MLB history.]
If this is a sign of things to come, he might become the most exciting player to watch over the next decade.
Next-Best: Starlin Castro (.240/.279/.337, 3 HR, 22 RBI, -0.5 WAR)
Quite the far cry from Segura, it has been a forgettable season for Castro. After averaging 12 home runs and 24 stolen bases over the past two seasons, he's only on pace for about seven of each in 2013.
Yet, he just turned 23 during spring training and has a career batting average of .290. He should be able to turn things around. If not this season, then in the years to come.
Also-Ran: Andrelton Simmons (.254/.288/.359, 5 HR, 22 RBI, 1.0 WAR)
It's highly unlikely that Simmons will match the offensive numbers that Segura and Castro figure to put up over the next few seasons, but he could win a lot of Gold Gloves over the next decade. His UZR/150 and fielding runs above average are best among NL shortstops.
Catchers of the Future
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Front-Runner: Salvador Perez (.317/.340/.428, 2 HR, 22 RBI, 1.4 WAR)
Salvy just turned 23 last month. That certainly doesn't mean he's inexperienced, because he has been in the Royals' farm system since he was 17 years old.
He doesn't have a ton of power. 20 home runs in a season might be pushing it, but it isn't completely out of the question. He has batted at least .283 at every major stop in his career and currently has a .313 career average in the majors. We might not be looking at the next Ivan Rodriguez, but he could become the next Victor Martinez.
Next-Best: Wilin Rosario (.246/.279/.431, 10 HR, 31 RBI, 0.4 WAR)
He doesn't have the batting average of a guy like Buster Posey, but his power in Colorado is going to go a long way. Rosario leads all catchers in home runs since the start of the 2012 season, mashing 38 of them since becoming a mainstay at the major league circuit.
Also-Ran: Yan Gomes (.271/.287/.542, 6 HR, 17 RBI, 1.1 WAR)
Gomes only qualifies as 25 or under for another five weeks, so soak him in before he's replaced by Yasmani Grandal on this list.
As is the assumed case with most young catchers that can hit well, Cleveland may eventually protect their investment in Carlos Santana by moving him to first base to effectively prolong his career. When they do, Gomes should emerge as one of the most valuable catchers in the American League. He has the potential to bat .300 with 15 home runs while gunning down his fair share of would-be base robbers.
Left Fielders of the Future
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Front-Runner: Bryce Harper (.287/.386/.587, 12 HR, 23 RBI, 1.7 WAR)
Harper is already one of the most talked about baseball players, and he isn't even old enough to legally drink in the United States. He's one of those rare players who might just spend his entire career in the spotlight.
Next-Best: Domonic Brown (.284/.324/.586, 19 HR, 47 RBI, 1.4 WAR)
In 247 plate appearances, Brown is one home run away from matching the total that he put up between all levels over the past two seasons in 878 plate appearances. He has finally begun to tap into the potential that we had been promised for the better part of the past decade.
With the way he's hitting over the past six weeks, the sky is the limit.
Also-Ran: Justin Upton (.250/.359/.482, 14 HR, 29 RBI, 1.6 WAR)
This is Upton's seventh year in the majors, but he's somehow still only 25 years old.
At his best, he has the potential to go for 40 home runs and 25 stolen bases in a season. He also has the potential to follow up a 12-homer month by batting .216 with two home runs over the next six weeks.
Center Fielders of the Future
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Front-Runner: Mike Trout (.303/.373/.561, 12 HR, 42 RBI, 14 SB, 3.5 WAR)
Trout leads the universe in WAR since the start of the 2012 season. This is the easiest decision of them all.
Next-Best: Starling Marte (.279/.349/.418, 6 HR, 18 SB, 2.1 WAR)
Technically he has been a left fielder with Andrew McCutchen manning center for the Pirates, but Marte primarily played center field in the minors so we'll rank him here.
Through 109 games at the big league level, Marte is on pace for roughly 15 home runs and 40 stolen bases per season. Based on those projections, he's looking like a Carl Crawford or Jacoby Ellsbury type of outfielder—the kind of guy who is revered in fantasy circles, but rarely mentioned in the "greatest at his position" discussions.
Also-Ran: Marcell Ozuna (.322/.361/.456, 1 HR, 17 RBI, 1.6 WAR)
Over the previous three years in the minor leagues, Ozuna averaged 23 home runs per season while batting .266.
Given the lack of other youthful options at center field behind Trout, if he can bring that power to the major leagues Ozuna could quickly emerge as a household name.
Right Fielders of the Future
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Front-Runner: Giancarlo Stanton (.229/.333/.410, 4 HR, 11 RBI, -0.3 WAR)
It has been an injury-filled and disappointing 2013 season thus far for Stanton, but he's still only 23 years old and has the power to hit 60 home runs in a season. Puig-mania has taken the world by storm in recent days, but in the long run it's still Stanton that you would rather have in your lineup.
Next-Best: Yasiel Puig (.471/.500/.882, 4 HR, 10 RBI, 0.8 WAR)
Through nine major league games, Puig seems like he could become Vladimir Guerrero with a little extra speed. He'll be right up there with Mike Trout and Bryce Harper as the most exciting young players to watch over the next decade.
Also-Ran: Jason Heyward (.208/.321/.354, 5 HR, 12 RBI, 0.9 WAR)
Once promised as the next great thing, Heyward is now projecting as a slightly slower version of Grady Sizemore or a slightly faster version of Ruben Sierra.
The potential is definitely there for more. He did hit 27 home runs and steal 21 bases just a season ago, and is batting .357 with three home runs during his current nine-game hitting streak.
Starting Pitchers of the Future
Front-Runner: Matt Harvey (5-0, 2.10 ERA, 9.5 K/9, 1.9 BB/9)
There are 11 different pitchers who are 25 or younger with at least 70 innings pitched and a sub-3.00 ERA in 2013, so you really have your pick of the litter in this spot.
We're going with Harvey at the head of the class because playing in the New York market automatically makes him more of a noteworthy player than any comparable peer, but you could easily see any of these five nominees becoming a perennial Cy Young winner.
Next-Best: Clayton Kershaw (5-4, 1.88 ERA, 8.61 K/9, 2.51 BB/9)
If you're only concerned about the next few seasons, Kershaw is the youngster you want. He'll still be an ace five years from now, but he'll also likely have logged over 2,000 innings in his career by that point.
Of the 14 current pitchers that have pitched more than 2,000 innings, only CC Sabathia resonates as a name that might still belong in a Cy Young discussion.
Also-Ran: Stephen Strasburg (3-5, 2.54 ERA, 8.84 K/9, 2.54 BB/9)
One of these years, he's going to last an entire season without an injury and without an innings limit. If and when that happens, it's going to be glorious.
Apologies to: Chris Sale and Shelby Miller
Relief Pitchers of the Future
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Front-Runner: Craig Kimbrel (18 saves, 1.85 ERA, 12.58 K/9, 2.22 BB/9)
Aside from Mariano Rivera, Kimbrel is already the most reliable closer in the game, and I don't see why that would change any time soon.
Next-Best: Aroldis Chapman (16 saves, 2.25 ERA, 15.43 K/9, 3.86 BB/9)
The uncertainty over whether or not he'll be a closer five years from now keeps Chapman from even challenging Kimbrel for the top spot. If not for that caveat, his unreal ability to strike people out would project him as one of the best closers in the future.
Also-Ran: Trevor Rosenthal (32.0 IP, 1.69 ERA, 12.94 K/9, 1.69 BB/9)
Rosenthal has the rarely combined abilities to throw a ball 100 miles per hour and actually put it in the strike zone. Edward Mujica has been a great closer and virtually every starter they throw out there has been reliable, but being able to count on Rosenthal in the eighth inning has been one of the biggest keys in getting the Cardinals to 20 games over .500.
He has the highest WAR among all relief pitchers.
Apologies to: Addison Reed and Kenley Jansen