The Best Major Leaguers 26 or Under
Baseball analysis has never been the most objective discipline.
Despite being the most statistic heavy sport in the world, baseball is still full of things that statistics can't measure, like how good a shortstop is at getting a ball in the hole or how a runner is able to go from first to third on a single.
But, I'm going to do my best and come up with the best MLB players at each position age 26 or younger.
Catcher: Joe Mauer
The first professional baseball season took place in 1876. The accepted "modern" era of baseball started in 1900.
But more than a century passed until a catcher won a batting title.
That player was Joe Mauer, who has now won two batting titles as a catcher.
Mauer is also very good defensively and everything I've seen from him leads to me to believe he can also handle a pitching staff.
Mauer doesn't have a reputation as a power hitter, but he's been an impressive run producer, especially in 2009.
It is easier to be a productive hitter when Justin Morneau is hitting in front of you. They're not called the M&M boys for no reason.
First Base: Miguel Cabrera
If I were to ask you how old Miguel Cabrera was, what would you say? 28? 29?
Actually he's still a fresh faced 26-year-old and a grizzled Major League veteran at the same time.
When Cabrera was called up by the Marlins during the 2003 season, he was only 20 years old.
In his first game he hit a walk-off home run in the 11th inning to win the game against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
If that's not a great way to start a career, I don't know what is.
He was also a major difference maker in the Marlins World Series run in 2003. He played a pivotal role in the NLCS against the Cubs, particularly in Game 7.
Since then, what has Cabrera done playing at spacious Dolphin Stadium and at a relatively roomy park in Detroit? He's posted a .315 batting average, 33 home runs and 118 RBI per season with an OBP close to .400.
There are few players—past or present—that can match such great numbers.
Miguel is unquestionably one of the game's offensive powerhouses alongside Albert Pujols, A-Rod, and Ryan Howard.
If there is one weakness in Cabrera's game, it's in the field.
He is both uninterested and unskilled when it comes to playing defense, which is why he's playing first base and not outfield or third base for the Tigers.
Second Baseman: Dustin Pedroia
The American League and National League MVP awards have been around since 1931. In that time only 10 second basemen have won the award.
The latest was Dustin Pedroia.
Other second basemen to win the award were Ryne Sandberg, Joe Morgan and Jeff Kent. All of them are in the Hall of Fame or will be soon, which puts Pedroia in good company.
Pedroia is a clutch hitter, a great run producer and a leader. Second basemen aren't normally expected to drive in runs, or be "productive," so when one comes around who does those things it's quite amazing to see.
He is a good defensive player and a very good base runner, and he will be remembered in Boston for a long, long time.
Third Base: David Wright
There are few players in any sport who you can say are superlative at everything they do. David Wright is one of those players.
I would say he's one of the most talented baseball players to come along in a long time.
Pundits, writers, sabermetricians, and front office executives have fallen in love with the phrase the "Five Tool Player."
If there is somebody who embodies what a FTP is more than Wright, he is a rare sight to behold.
Wright's career batting average is .311, which is 10th on the active list, right behind Miguel Cabrera. Wright is as close to a sure thing when it comes to offensive consistency as anybody in the game.
Wright is a marquee player in the post-steroids era.
The common 50-plus or 60-plus home run season is dead and gone—like those shorts the White Sox wore in 1976.
A 30 home run/110 RBI season is now considered a good productive season.
A lesser known facet of Wright's game is his speed on the basepaths. He's stolen more than 20 bases three times in his career, and that's always a plus for your cleanup hitter.
Defensively, Wright is a staple on ESPNs Baseball Tonight's Web Gems and he's won two consecutive gold gloves.
Evan Longoria is making a case to be the best young third baseman in the league but for now it's still D.W.
Shortstop: Hanley Ramirez
There have been only 52 30-30 seasons in the history of baseball.
Of those 52 seasons, only 32 men have accomplished the feat.
One of those men is Hanley Ramirez.
In every sport the combination of "power" and "speed" has created the most impressive athletes, be it Julius Peppers, LaDainian Tomlinson, or LeBron James.
In baseball that combination is even more deadly.
A player who can both run the bases and drive in runs creates a huge threat because pitchers and defenses need to plan for both the speed and power aspects of the player's game.
Earlier in his career, his defense used to be more of an issue than an asset. But usually as players mature they're defense gets better and that's what's happening to him.
Left Field: Ryan Braun
In the past two decades steroids, the so called "juiced ball," league expansion, and just weaker pitching have watered-down the concept of slugging.
In a world where Luis Gonzalez—for God's sake, LUIS GONZALEZ!—can hit 58 home runs, the premium on power just goes away.
But Braun is bringing back slugging without being either a defensive burden or a strikeout threat. He's a player on the mold of Ted Williams, Joe Dimaggio, Ralph Kiner or Carl Yastrzemski.
Braun looks like a throwback to the golden age, a strong player—not a 'roids-freak, but somebody who looks like a real human being.
There are a lot of really good players around today, but I think that Braun will be the poster boy for this generation of baseball players. He's somebody who is a great power hitter and a great character, a new hope for baseball.
Center Feld: Matt Kemp
Matt Kemp is another guy who harkens back to the days of Mickey, Willie and the Duke.
Players like Mantle and Mays were such great players because in the 1950s great athletes used to play baseball, not football or basketball.
Kemp is a career .300 hitter with lots of pop and surprising speed. He's also a very slick fielding center fielder.
He's an asset for any team who can hit either first or second and be a great table setter.
Right Field: Justin Upton
If you haven't noticed a pattern forming yet, this will seal it.
The key word to describe Upton is athleticism.
During the series the Marlins played against the D-backs both in Miami and in Arizona, Upton absolutely destroyed the Fish with his bat and his legs.
I was legitimately concerned every time he came up to bat. He's got scary power—reminiscent of Ken Griffey Jr.—and I think he's got a Griffey-like ceiling.
He's that talented.
Right-Handed Starter: Tim Lincecum
I was kind of unsure about putting Lincecum on the list, not because of anything he's done, but because it's just so hard to describe Lincecum and his stuff.
I could throw buzzwords around like "electric," "nasty," and so on, but I don't think that's enough.
There are lots of pitchers with so called "electric" stuff, and lots of them can't get people out.
He's just got it. I don't know what "it" is. But he's got it—the control, the movement, the velocity.
He has a ridiculous strikeout to walk ratio, two 200-plus strikeout seasons and has a career winning percentage over .700. Those numbers are just hard to fathom.
In the next decade, the 24-year-old will be unquestioned as the best pitcher in baseball and we might see the first clear Hall of Fame pitcher of the post-steroid era.
Left Hander: Clayton Kershaw
Lincecum at 24 is already a finished product.
On the other hand, the 21-year-old Clayton Kershaw is still a work in progress.
But from what I've seen of him in Dodger Blue he is—get ready for the Dodger southpaw cliche—the next Sandy Koufax.
That slow 12-6 curveball is eerily reminiscent of Koufax's. Kershaw's blazing fastball is a live wire and sets up the slow stuff perfectly.
His future is extremely bright, and he's definitely one of the top pitchers to watch in the next few years.
Also the possibility of a Kershaw/Lincecum rivalry is really enticing. It could make an already intense Giants-Dodgers rivalry even more exciting.
This is what baseball should be about: great rivalries with great players.