Ranking the 25 Best Baseball Players Under 25

Karl Buscheck@@KarlBuscheckContributor IIIJanuary 27, 2014

Ranking the 25 Best Baseball Players Under 25

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    It's no secret who claims the top spot on the list of the 25 greatest baseball players under 25. After that, though, the competition sure does get fierce.

    There won't be any sightings of Clayton Kershaw or Stephen Strasburg, as both of these young aces have already turned 25. However, there are still plenty of Rookie of the Year winners and former All-Stars battling it out for a spot in the rankings.

    As far as individual teams go, no club is better represented on the list than the Atlanta Braves. Of course, the St. Louis Cardinals didn't do too badly either. 

    Here's the ranking of the 25 greatest baseball players under 25. 

    Note: All stats via Baseball-Reference.com

Honorable Mentions

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    With such an array of deserving candidates, I'd be remiss not to mention some of the standouts who just barely missed the cut. The following list of players includes both young stars and top prospects who have yet to make their MLB debuts.

    Honorable Mentions

    • Jose Iglesias, SS, Detroit Tigers
    • Carlos Martinez, RP, St. Louis Cardinals
    • Kevin Siegrist, RP, St. Louis Cardinals
    • Oscar Taveras, OF, St. Louis Cardinals
    • Zack Wheeler, SP, New York Mets
    • Wilin Rosario, C, Colorado Rockies
    • Josmil Pinto, C, Minnesota Twins
    • Byron Buxton, OF, Minnesota Twins
    • Scooter Gennett, 2B, Milwaukee Brewers
    • Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Chicago Cubs
    • Salvador Perez, C, Kansas City Royals
    • Jose Altuve, 2B, Houston Astros
    • Taijuan Walker, SP, Seattle Mariners
    • Archie Bradley, SP, Arizona Diamondbacks

25. Danny Salazar, SP, Cleveland Indians

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    DUANE BURLESON/Associated Press

    Age: 24

    Danny Salazar only made 10 regular-season starts for the Cleveland Indians last season, but the right-hander sure made his mark. 

    During that stretch, Salazar went 2-3 with a 3.12 ERA while racking up 65 strikeouts in 52 innings. He even got the ball for the Wild Card Game against the Tampa Bay Rays, but he ended up taking the loss. 

    Nonetheless, the Indians have big plans for Salazar moving forward, as manager Terry Francona explained to Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer: "The sky is the ceiling for Danny."

24. Sonny Gray, SP, Oakland Athletics

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    Age: 24

    Like Salazar, the big league sample size for Sonny Gray is small, but the results have been outstanding. 

    The 2011 first-round pick compiled a 5-3 record with a 2.67 ERA in 10 starts for the Oakland Athletics last season. Also like Salazar, Gray demonstrated a remarkable ability to produce swings and misses. In 64 innings of work, he tallied 67 strikeouts. 

    Buster Olney of ESPN (subscription required) dubbed the starter the Athletics' "linchpin" for 2014 as the club pursues a third straight AL West title. 

23. Xander Bogaerts, SS, Boston Red Sox

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    Age: 21

    After breaking into the Boston Red Sox lineup last summer as a 20-year-old, Xander Bogaerts really took off during the postseason.

    On the way to Boston's World Series title, the infielder hit .296 with a .893 OPS. For now, it remains to be seen whether he will end up at shortstop or third base in the long run. Either way, Bogaerts will be a fixture on the left side of the infield in Boston for years to come. 

22. Julio Teheran, SP, Atlanta Braves

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    Age: 23

    Julio Teheran is the first of many Atlanta Braves to hit the list. 

    The right-hander made his debut for the Braves back in 2011 when he was just 20, but he really broke out for the club last season. In 2013, Teheran made 30 starts for Atlanta and ended the season 14-8 with a 3.20 ERA. 

    After finishing fifth on a stacked National League Rookie of the Year ballot last season, Teheran will help anchor the Braves rotation in 2014. 

21. Matt Moore, SP, Tampa Bay Rays

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Age: 24

    Matt Moore has already complied an impressive resume. He made a cameo in 2011 for the Rays before pitching full seasons for the club in 2012 and 2013. Last season, Moore reeled off a 17-4 record with a 3.29 ERA as he earned All-Star honors. The left-hander even finished ninth in AL Cy Young Award voting. 

20. Andrelton Simmons, SS, Atlanta Braves

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    Age: 24

    Andrelton Simmons gets the nod over Bogaerts because he's simply more proven on the big league stage. 

    Everyone knows that the 2013 NL Gold Glove Award winner is a lockdown defender, but there are still questions about his bat. Last season, Simmons hit .248/.296/.396 in his first full MLB campaign. However, the shortstop did hit 17 home runs for the Braves in 2013. 

    If Simmons maintains the power stroke in 2014, he will quickly become one of the best all-around shortstops in all of baseball. 

19. Eric Hosmer, 1B, Kansas City Royals

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    Age: 24

    After a slow start in 2013, Eric Hosmer enjoyed a big second half of the season, hitting .323/.379/.473 after the All-Star break.

    He finished the campaign with a career-best average of .302. The first baseman also led the entire AL with 60 multi-hit games, according to Pete Grathoff of the Kansas City Star.

    Hosmer also snagged the AL Gold Glove Award at first base as he's finally living up to the hype that led the Royals to select him with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2008 draft. 

18. Wil Myers, OF, Tampa Bay Rays

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    Age: 23

    Wil Myers didn't make his MLB debut until midway through June, but that didn't stop the outfielder from winning the 2013 AL Rookie of the Year Award.  

    Myers finished the campaign hitting .293/.354/.478 with 13 home runs and 23 doubles. Another season like that in 2014 will see him shoot up the list of the greatest baseball players under 25. 

17. Trevor Rosenthal, RP, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    Age: 23

    Trevor Rosenthal is the first of several standouts from St. Louis Cardinals who makes the list.

    Last September, he took over the closer's role from Eduardo Mujica, and it doesn't appear that the powerful right-hander will be relinquishing that job anytime soon. While making 74 appearances out of the Cardinals bullpen last year, Rosenthal posted an astonishing 12.9 K/9 ratio. 

    He followed up that performance by allowing no runs and piling up 18 punch-outs during 11.2 innings of postseason work. 

16. Shelby Miller, SP, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Age: 23

    Shelby Miller is yet another talented Cardinals pitcher who earns a spot on the top 25 list. 

    On the way to finishing third in the 2013 NL Rookie of The Year voting, he went 15-9 with a 3.06 ERA. Despite that success, Miller only pitched one inning during the Cardinals' postseason run last fall.

    Of course, his lack of use was more of a commentary on the Cardinals' absurd pitching depth than a critique of the right-hander's ability.  

15. Jean Segura, SS, Milwaukee Brewers

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    Age: 23

    Jean Segura got off to an explosive start last season, as he was hitting .325/.363/.487 through the All-Star break. However, the shortstop slumped badly in the second half of the season, hitting just .241 after the break.

    Segura still finished the year with a more than respectable slash line of .294/.329/.423 with 44 steals.

    His second-half slide is concerning, but with ability to hit for average and the speed to steal plenty of bases, Segura remains one of the most promising young shortstops in the game.

14. Gerrit Cole, SP, Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Age: 23

    Gerrit Cole arrived in Pittsburgh last June and promptly won his first four MLB starts. 

    The right-hander ended up making 19 starts for the Pittsburgh Pirates on the year and finished the season with a 10-7 record and a 3.22 ERA. After going 4-0 with a 1.69 ERA last September, the future looks bright for the Pirates' young ace. 

13. Yasiel Puig, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Age: 23

    Yasiel Puig had a monstrous rookie season for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

    In 104 games, he hit .319/.391/.534 with 19 home runs, 21 doubles and 12 stolen bases. That performance earned the outfielder second place in the NL Rookie of the Year voting and the No. 15 spot on the NL MVP ballot. 

    If Puig can manage to rein in his, at times, unbridled enthusiasm, his second season will be even better. 

12. Michael Wacha, SP, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Age: 22

    No single player saw his star rise more during the 2013 MLB postseason than Michael Wacha did. 

    The Cardinals right-hander went 4-1 with a 2.64 ERA during five playoff starts. In his first four postseason outings, Wacha served up just three runs overall. 

    He was equally impressive during the regular season, as he posted a 2.78 ERA over 15 games, including nine starts. 

11. Freddie Freeman, 1B, Atlanta Braves

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    John Amis/Associated Press

    Age: 24

    Despite the fact that he's still just 24 years old, Freddie Freeman has already played in parts of three MLB seasons, including two full campaigns. 

    In 2013, he earned his first All-Star selection and finished fifth in NL MVP voting after posting by far the best stat line of his young career. Freeman hit .319/.396/.501 with 23 home runs, solidifying his claim as one of the most productive first baseman in the NL. 

10. Manny Machado, 3B, Baltimore Orioles

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    Age: 21

    Despite suffering a knee injury in the final week of the 2013 season, the future looks incredibly bright for Manny Machado. 

    In his first full season for the Baltimore Orioles, Machado hit .283/.314/.432 with 14 home runs and 51 doubles. The third baseman earned an All-Star nod and even finished ninth in the AL MVP voting. 

    The 2013 AL Gold Glove Award winner at third base played such sensational defense that Cindy Boren of the Washington Post likened his skills to those of Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson.

9. Jason Heyward, OF, Atlanta Braves

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    David Goldman/Associated Press

    Age: 24

    Like his teammate Freeman, Jason Heyward has racked up extensive MLB experience at a young age. Despite the fact that he only turned 24 in August, the 2013 season marked his fourth year in the majors.

    The stats were down for the right-fielder last year, as he missed time first due to an appendectomy and then later a broken jaw. If Heyward can maintain his health in 2014, though, he should return to his 2012 form that saw him club 27 home runs while stealing 21 bases. 

8. Patrick Corbin, SP, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Age: 24

    Patrick Corbin had an absolutely electric start to 2013. 

    Heading into the All-Star break, the left-hander for the Arizona Diamondbacks was 11-1 with a 2.35 ERA. However, Corbin's season went sideways fast after the break, as he went 3-7 with a 5.19 ERA over his final 13 starts.

    That second-half skid keeps Corbin from climbing any higher on this list. 

7. Jose Fernandez, SP, Miami Marlins

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    Age: 21

    Jose Fernandez had a stellar rookie season for the Miami Marlins in 2013. 

    The right-hander went 12-6 with a 2.19 ERA on the way to earning an All-Star spot, NL Rookie of the Year honors and a third-place finish in NL Cy Young Award voting. 

    For now, though, he remains stationed in the No. 7 spot on the list, because he simply doesn't have as much big league experience as the rest of the players ahead of him. 

6. Matt Harvey, SP, New York Mets

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    Paul Bereswill/Associated Press

    Age: 24

    Like Fernandez, Matt Harvey has made a big impact during his brief MLB career. 

    Last season, the right-hander for the New York Mets went 9-6 with a 2.26 ERA in 26 starts before an elbow injury cut his year short in August. Harvey told Ian Browne of MLB.com that he hopes to return to the Mets by September. 

    That means there's still a chance that Harvey will pitch in 2014, but the Mets will obviously be highly cautious not to rush back such a talented young pitcher.

    Ultimately, just like Fernandez, Harvey's lack of MLB experience keeps him from ascending any higher on the list. 

5. Madison Bumgarner, SP, San Francisco Giants

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    Age: 24

    Madison Bumgarner sure has a lot of MLB experience for a 24-year-old.

    The left-hander for the San Francisco Giants made his MLB debut way back in 2009 when he was just just 20 years old. In each of the past three seasons, he has eclipsed the 200 inning mark and he has never posted an ERA above 3.37. 

    Last year, Bumgarner produced his best work yet, going 13-9 with a 2.77 ERA. That performance was good enough for him to finish ninth in NL Cy Young Award voting. Down the line, a first-place finish doesn't seem out of the question. 

4. Giancarlo Stanton, OF, Miami Marlins

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    Age: 24

    Giancarlo Stanton is yet another young star who seems like he's been around forever, despite the fact that he's still just 24 years old.

    In 2013, Stanton had the worst season of four-year career, and he still managed to swat 24 home runs while posting an .845 OPS. Not bad for a down year.

3. Bryce Harper, OF, Washington Nationals

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    Age: 21

    Bryce Harper has already racked up two seasons of MLB experience, despite the fact that he's still just 21 years old. 

    During his first season in 2012, the No. 1 overall pick from the 2010 draft hit 22 home runs, earning the NL Rookie of the Year Award and a spot on the All-Star team.

    In 2013, Harper played through a knee injury, but still managed to collect 20 home runs and to post an .854 OPS. If Harper can return to 100 percent health in 2014, the two-time All-Star should take his level of production to new heights. 

2. Chris Sale, SP, Chicago White Sox

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    Age: 24

    Quietly, Chris Sale has become one of the most effective starters in the entire AL. 

    After excelling as a reliever during his first two MLB seasons, Sale has been absolutely incredible since moving into the Chicago White Sox starting rotation at the beginning of the 2012 season. That year, he went 17-8 with a 3.05 ERA. 

    He followed that up by going 11-14 with a 3.07 ERA last season, which was good enough for a fifth-place finish in AL Cy Young Award voting. The left-hander also ripped off four complete games, which tied David Price for the most in the AL. 

1. Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels

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    Age: 22

    Mike Trout is unquestionably the best player under 25 in all of baseball. 

    The outfielder debuted for the Los Angeles Angels when he was just 19 and scooped up the 2012 AL Rookie of the Year Award as a 20-year-old. During that season, Trout hit .326, clubbed 30 home runs and stole 30 bases. 

    Last year, he was arguably even better, as he posted a 179 OPS+ while finishing as the runner up in the AL MVP vote for a second straight season. 

    As Buster Olney of ESPN explained to 95.7 The Game, that kind of production would be worth a ton of money on the open market: 

    .@Buster_ESPN says that if Mike Trout signed a one-year FA contract this year he would make between $35-60 million! ONE YEAR...

    — 95.7 The GAME (@957thegame) January 23, 2014

    Based on those figures, it's a good thing for the Angels that Trout can't become a free agent until after the 2017 season.

    If you want to talk baseball, find me on Twitter @KarlBuscheck