Ranking the Top Five Players in Baseball 22 Years Old and Younger
More than any other time in recent memory, Major League Baseball is inundated with young budding superstars. Mike Trout has established himself as the best of these young studs, but Manny Machado and Bryce Harper aren't far behind.
I use 22 as the cutoff since that is the age the majority of college seniors graduate and enter the workforce on a full-time basis. It's quite amazing that several players in baseball have already established themselves as big-time players when many others their age are just graduating college. (Note: To make this list, players cannot have celebrated their 23rd birthday yet.)
To compile this list, I took into account not only what each player has done to date, but also the potential they offer in the future.
Potential is measured by each player's performance in the major and minor leagues and their overall package of tools or stuff.
Due to the large amount of solid young players in the league, it was inevitable that some great young players would be left off this list.
The player who was closest to making this list but didn't is without a doubt Shelby Miller of the St. Louis Cardinals. The first-round draft pick is in the midst of a great rookie season, and has the stuff to be an ace in the big leagues. He just missed out on the list since the five players ahead of him have performed just as well to date and have arguably brighter futures.
Other players that were considered for this list were Atlanta Braves stater Julio Teheran, Miami Marlins outfielder Marcell Ozuna, Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado and Texas Rangers shortstop Jurickson Profar.
Teheran missed out because of a lack of consistency, and the other three players mentioned have great potential, but haven't played up to it early in their careers.
5. Jose Fernandez
Performances like this 10 K performance have established Fernandez as one of the better young hurlers in the game.
2013 Stats: 5-4, 9.13 K/9, 3.21 BB/9, 2.72 ERA, 1.9 WAR
Career Stats: 5-4, 9.13 K/9, 3.21 BB/9, 2.72 ERA, 1.9 WAR
Date of Birth: 7/31/1992
The choice between Fernandez and Shelby Miller for the No. 5 spot on this list was a difficult one, but Fernandez gets the slight age because he's almost two years younger and because of his superior fastball velocity.
Fernandez's fastball has averaged 94.7 MPH on the year according to FanGraphs and when you couple that with a knockout slider and a changeup that has the potential to be an above-average pitch, you have the best pitcher under the age of 22 in the game.
Fernandez is only going to improve as he matures and it would surprise no one if he were one of best two or three pitchers in the game within the next couple years.
The footage above from his most recent start against the San Diego Padres showcases his dominant arsenal and proves he's more than worthy of a spot on this list.
4. Yasiel Puig
Highlights from Puig's amazing first month.
2013 Stats: 8 home runs, 23 runs, .430 AVG, .455 OBP, .719 SLG, 1.9 WAR
Career Stats: 8 home runs, 23 runs, .430 AVG, .455 OBP, .719 SLG, 1.9 WAR
Date of Birth: 12/7/1990
Puig has been the story of the first half in Major League Baseball this year as he has electrified fans with his all-out style of play and torrid first month of his career.
Despite his hot start to the season, Puig ranks only fourth on this list because he has to show that he sustain his production over the course of more than just one month.
The players who rank ahead of him on this list have just as much potential and have proven themselves at the big league level for longer periods of time.
Still, Puig was a budding star in his native Cuba before being signed by the Dodgers, so it's not like his success is coming completely out of nowhere.
He'll inevitably cool off, but I have no doubt that we'll be talking about Yasiel Puig as one of the best players in the game for years to come.
The video above shows all five of his tools in a highlight reel that would take most players a full season to compile.
3. Bryce Harper
A breakdown of Bryce Harper's swing.
2013 Stats: 13 home runs, 31 runs, .267 AVG, .371 OBP, .558 SLG, 1.6 WAR
Career Stats: 35 home runs, 129 runs, .269 AVG, .348 OBP, .496 SLG, 6.1 WAR
Date of Birth: 10/16/1992
Due to injuries and a slow start for his Nationals team, Harper hasn't received the attention this year that he did last season. Make no mistake, though. Harper is still one of the best young players in the league.
Harper was the first overall pick in the 2010 MLB draft and he's shown why he was one of the best power prospects of all time early in his career.
Harper's raw power is unmatched by anyone on this list, including the amazing Puig. He can hit the ball out to any part of the park. At his peak, he has a chance to hit 50 home runs a year; a claim few other players can make.
In his second full season in the big leagues, it's easy to forget that Harper has yet to turn 21 years old and is only going to get better as time goes on.
He doesn't play a premium position, but he is an above-average right fielder.
The above video shows why his picture perfect swing helps him create his superior power.
2. Manny Machado
Machado's amazing defensive plays from 2012. There will be many more before his career is finished.
2013 Stats: 6 home runs, 53 runs, .319 AVG, .349 OBP, .481 SLG, 4.2 WAR
Career Stats: 13 home Runs, 77 runs, .299 AVG, .330 OBP, .469 SLG, 5.5 WAR
Date of Birth: 7/6/1992
Machado's placement over Harper on this list may be a bit of a surprise but his magnificent season thus far, coupled with his superior defense, have moved him passed the Nationals' right fielder.
The young third baseman is second only to Miguel Cabrera in hits and already has 38 doubles on the season.
If Machado can start turning some of those doubles into home runs as he gets bigger and stronger, he could become a perennial MVP candidate in the American League.
Part of the reason that Machado was placed this high is that he has the potential be move over to shortstop and play above-average defense there.
J.J. Hardy's presence has kept Machado from playing his natural position early in his career, but at some point Machado will take over for Hardy. When he does, his ability to hit for average and power will make him a very rare commodity.
The video above shows Machado's defense, as he as established himself as a Gold Glove candidate at third base this season.
1. Mike Trout
Trout became the youngest player in AL history to hit for the cycle
2013 Stats: 13 home runs, 57 runs, .314 AVG, .389 OBP, 537 SLG, 4.7 WAR
Career Stats: 48 home runs, 206 runs, .309 AVG, .382 OBP, .534 SLG, 15.4 WAR
Date of Birth: 8/7/1991
Trout is not only No. 1 on this list but he might be No. 1 on the list of all players in baseball. He's that good.
He's certainly in a league of his own on this list, and his ability to do everything on the baseball field well is what separates him from other players.
It's scary to think that he's just in his second season in the big leagues and should only get better as he matures.
He's one of the fastest players in the game, is a perennial 30-home run threat and should win several batting titles before his career is over. Couple that with his Gold Glove-defense in the outfield and he's the most dynamic player the game has seen in a long time.
He was the youngest player in American League history to hit for the cycle and there's no doubting he'll break many more records before long.