A Young Man's Game: Major League Baseball's Best 25-and-Under Team
Some of these players are already household names. Some soon will be.
As the past couple of offseasons have shown, older players are having a harder time finding work.
Philadelphia's Dominic Brown has GM Pat Gillick breathing easier at the possibility of not resigning Jayson Werth. Tampa GM Andrew Friedman can sleep a little better knowing Carl Crawford's impending free agency is met by the arrival of Baseball America's sixth-best rated prospect, Desmond Jennings.
Get to know these players. They represent the lifeline for small and mid-market teams. They also represent the future (and for some, the present) of baseball.
The following slides are comprised of baseball's best 25-and-under team.
Catcher: Matt Wieters
Young catchers are thin right now after Joe Mauer and Brian McCann have turned 26, but Baltimore's Matt Wieters begins the new wave.
This fifth overall draft pick of the 2007 draft broke into the majors last season and held his own, displaying power, plate discipline, and ability to hit for contact.
Very few catchers have middle-of-the-order ability and can handle pitchers the way Wieters can. Already Wieters deserves to be put in the same breath as McCann. His performance this year will likely make him a top-three fantasy catcher pick for the next 10 years.
Runner-Up: None (until Buster Posey takes over in San Francisco)
Graduates: Joe Mauer, Brian McCann
First Baseman: Prince Fielder
Last season this powerful vegan showed this his 2007 50-homer campaign was no fluke, knocking 46 over the fence and tying for first in the majors with an eye-popping 141 RBI.
His dominance can be seen by his five fewer walks than Albert Pujols.
Runner-Up: Kansas City's Billy Butler.
Butler is quietly emerging as one of the best pure first base hitting prospects in the game and is a great under-the-radar guy for fantasy players.
Graduates: Joey Votto, Miguel Cabrera, Kendry Morales
Second Baseman: Gordon Beckham
This 23-year-old earned a midseason call-up last year and did not disappoint.
His 347 at-bats last season showed tons of promise and potential and put him into AL ROY consideration. Beckham showed he could handle the hot corner last season but is now moving over to second base in 2010.
Graduates: Dustin Pedroia, Jose Lopez
Shortstop: Troy Tulowitzki
Tulowitzki's star returned to form last season, as the 25-year-old emerged as the clear face of the franchise and rebounded from an injury-shortened sophomore season.
Tulowitzki also surprisingly lit up the base paths, too, swiping 20 bags.
Runners-Up: Cleveland's Asdrubal Cabrera, Texas Rangers' Elvis Andrus
Graduate: Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes
Third Baseman: Evan Longoria
Perhaps the most complete player in the game already at age 24, Longoria followed up his 2008 ROY by winning his first of probably many Gold Glove awards in 2009.
His bat also didn't disappoint, slugging 77 extra-base hits, third-most in the AL behind Mark Teixiera and Adam Lind.
Many national pundits are predicting more hardware for Longoria this season, to the tune of a Most Valuable Player award.
Runner-Up: Pablo Sandoval, Ryan Zimmerman
Left Fielder: Chris Coghlan
The 24-year-old 2009 ROY played well in left field despite being Florida's second baseman of the future after the imminent departure of Dan Uggla.
Coghlan batted to a tune of a .321 average last season, holding down the lead-off position and acting as a table-setter for guys like Hanley Ramirez. The Marlins expect big things out of this Palm Harbor native this season.
Runner-Up: Delmon Young
Graduates: Ryan Braun
Center Fielder: Matt Kemp
With only two full seasons under his belt, Kemp has already become one of the best five-tool players in the game.
Last season Kemp hit .297 and set career-highs in home runs (26) and RBI (101) in addition to adding over 30 stolen bases and a Gold Glove to boot.
Kemp, along with Andre Ethier and Manny Ramirez, gives the Dodgers one of the best middle-of-the-order lineups in all of baseball.
Runner-Up: Adam Jones, B.J. Upton
Graduate: Jacoby Ellsbury
Right Fielder: Justin Upton
Justin Upton is coming off a 2009 season that appears to be just tapping into his potential.
Apparently the Diamondbacks have noticed, locking him up this offseason to a six-year, $50-plus million dollar contract.
Why would they give so much coin to just a 22-year-old? Perhaps it had something to do with posting a .300 average, 63 extra-base hits, and 20 stolen bases for the most part at the tender age of 21.
Now the pressure is on Upton to show he is worth the money Arizona shelled out.
Graduates: Hunter Pence, Nick Markakis
Right-Handed Starting Pitcher: Tim Lincecum
This presents the biggest challenge of any of the positions. There are two franchise right-handers that any team would love to have in Felix Hernandez and Tim Lincecum.
It seems like King Felix is already a grizzled veteran, and yet the Venezuelan will only turn 24 in April. Always loaded with immense potential, last year Hernandez put it all together, pitching career-highs in innings, strikeouts, and a career-low 2.49 ERA en route to a 19-win season. There's no reason to think the King's reign won't continue, perhaps even adding a Cy Young to his throne.
Lincecum is the face of the Giants franchise and the face of video games. This 25-year-old San Franciscan "wild child" also deserves a nomination for best hair.
Lincecum managed to follow-up his 2008 Cy Young performance with an equally impressive 2009 Cy Young season. Not seemingly possible, Lincecum managed to get even better last year, doubling his complete games from the previous season and lowering his already-low ERA.
Lincecum has all the tools to shoot for a three-peat Cy Young season.
Forced to pick, I'd go with the one who has the most hardware.
Runner-Up: Yovanni Gallardo
Graduates: Zack Greinke, Josh Johnson, Justin Verlander
Left-Handed Starting Pitcher: Clayton Kershaw
Kershaw provided the Dodgers with an excellent sophomore campaign and then some.
Still working on his first full season in the bigs, Kershaw dominated hitters with a 2.79 ERA and 181 strikeouts in only 171 innings pitched.
Control is his only blemish (91 walks last season), but that's to be expected from a young pitcher gaining experience and confidence in his stuff. As he gets more comfortable in the strike zone and confident in his pitches, look for that to go down, taking away many batters' only shot at getting on base against him.
Runner-Up: David Price
Graduates: Jon Lester
Closer: Jonathan Broxton
Broxton, even at 25, is probably the most dominant closer in the game. At the very least, he has the filthiest stuff, and the stats back him up.
Broxton struck out 114 batters in only 76 innings last year.
Probably the position that has the best depth, Broxton earns the nod over Kansas City's Joakim Soria and Oakland's AL 2009 ROY Andrew Bailey.
Runner-Up: Joakim Soria, Andrew Bailey