MLB Power Rankings: The 23 Best MLB Players Who Are 23 Years Old and Under
They're young, they're exciting, they sell tickets. They are the young stars of Major League Baseball.
The average baseball fan doesn't check his schedule to make sure he gets to see Derek Lowe come to town. He doesn't pay extra for tickets on the first-base line to get a closer look at Aubrey Huff.
These are also the stars who baseball hopes will bring the sport out of the steroid era and into a new generation of America's pastime. And it's not just the future with these guys. They're pretty good right now.
No. 23 Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves
The 21-year-old Freddie Freeman made his debut in 2010, batting .167 over 20 games, amounting to 24 at-bats.
There was no doubt from the first pitch of spring training that the franchise first baseman had arrived in Atlanta to stay.
His start has been streaky. Through 35 games, he's batting just .241 with four homers and 12 RBI. But the future is bright. In 461 at-bats in Triple-A in 2010, Freeman batted .319 with 18 homers.
No. 22 Michael Brantley, Cleveland Indians
Brantley barely makes the cut, turning 24 on Sunday. But the kid has earned his spot on this list.
Through 35 games with the Indians, Brantley is batting .287 with 15 runs scored and four bases stolen.
He played center field for Cleveland until Grady Sizemore was fully healed and has since moved to left, playing well enough to hold onto his starting spot, and occasionally batting leadoff when Sizemore gets a day of rest.
Brantley has the speed and contact rates to be a solid leadoff man for years to come.
No. 21 Zach Britton, Baltimore Orioles
The 23-year-old Britton was forced into the rotation when it was decided that Brian Matusz would begin the year on the disabled list.
He has grabbed the opportunity and gone 5-2 with a 2.93 ERA and 1.163 WHIP in seven starts, cumulating 43 innings.
The Orioles may have had plans to start Britton in Triple-A, but after this extended impressive start, he may have solidified his place in the Baltimore bullpen, a place he could hold for the foreseeable future.
No. 20 Drew Storen, Washington Nationals
The other pitcher drafted by the Nats in the 2009 first round was meant to finish what the first-overall pick started.
Storen is the closer of the future in Washington, and the future might be now. In 17 games so far, Storen has seven saves, an ERA of 0.48 and a WHIP at 0.857.
The lesser hyped of the Washington youngsters, Storen will undoubtedly have the most immediate impact.
No. 19 Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds
The fireballer needs to learn control. The Reds expect him to develop his 105-mph fastball and accompanying arsenal into becoming a formidable starter or closer, but for now, he is being used in a setup role.
Chapman has appeared in 14 games and carries a solid 2.13 ERA and 10.7 K/9, but his WHIP hangs at an ugly 1.500.
The Reds are sure to give their star arm of the future time to develop, and they have a young rotation and an excellent closer to hold down the fort until he is ready.
No. 18 Madison Bumgarner
The 21-year-old southpaw landed in the best rotation in baseball last season, and he more than held his own. He made 18 starts, posting a 3.00 ERA.
Even more impressive for a boy his age, Bumgarner went 2-0 with a 2.18 ERA in three postseason starts and threw eight shutout innings in a World Series win over the Rangers.
Bumgarner is off to an 0-5 start to 2011, but he has allowed just two earned runs over his last three starts and looks to have righted the ship. There is a long and prosperous future for the youngster who, along with Matt Cain (26) and Tim Lincecum (26), could pitch in the best trio of the next decade.
No. 17 Kyle Drabek, Toronto Blue Jays
It says something that Drabek was the main demand of the Blue Jays in their trade negotiation with Philadelphia about Roy Halladay.
They believe he is their ace of the future.
Drabek has been up-and-down this season, with a 2-2 record and a 4.50 ERA over seven starts. But he has 25 walks against 28 strikeouts and will need to improve his control.
As most 23 year olds, Drabek is a work in progress, but not many have the star potential of this one.
No. 16 Elvis Andrus, Texas Rangers
For those who remember, Juan Pierre and Luis Castillo were chaos starters for opponents of the 2003 Marlins, on their way to a World Series title. Pierre got on, Castillo got him over and Miguel Cabrera got him (or them both) in.
The Rangers look into their future and see Elvis Andrus, Ian Kinsler and Josh Hamilton serving a similar plate of havoc. Andrus had a combined 65 steals between 2009-2010. But he was caught 21 times.
In 2011, Andrus has successfully stolen 10 bases without being caught. He is batting .270 with 22 runs scored. If the offense can stay healthy (and Hamilton can get healthy), Andrus is a safe bet for 40 steals and 100 runs scored this year and for the future.
No. 15 Michael Pineda, Seattle Mariners
Michael Pineda, at 22 years old, was ready. The Mariners saw no reason to start him off in Triple-A if he was ready to go, and they proved right.
Through his first six major-league starts, Pineda has a 2.58 ERA, 1.070 WHIP and 9.2 K/9.
Pineda and fellow young star Felix Hernandez will keep the woeful Mariners' offense in enough games to give the team a chance to be decent.
No. 14 Mike Stanton, Florida Marlins
Alex Rodriguez led baseball in home runs over the decade of the 2000s. Mike Stanton could do it in 2010s.
He came up last season and hit 22 homers in just 100 games for Florida. He has five so far in 2011. The bopper will likely never hit for a high average, but 40 home runs per year could become the norm.
In a team loaded with young talent, a future with Chris Coghlan (25), Logan Morrison (23), Stanton, Gaby Sanchez (27) and Hanley Ramirez (27), plus Josh Johnson (27) heading up a young rotation...this is a team capable of a run of division titles in this decade.
No. 13 Jordan Walden, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Fernando Rodney was never going to be the Angels' long-term closer. He was just a bridge to Walden. Turned out, Jordan was ready to go.
Walden allowed one earned run in 13 April appearances. He notched four saves and 12 strikeouts in 12.1 innings.
In 17 games, Walden now has an ERA of 2.20 and an impressive 8.3 K/9. On a team that struggles to score runs, Walden could see ample save chances and looks to be the new permanent closer for the Angels.
No. 12 Mat Latos
After a slow start to 2010, Latos ended the season with 184.2 innings and a 2.92 ERA with a 9.2 K/9.
And 2011 has seen another slow start and some injury trouble, but Latos pitches in one of the most pitcher-friendly ballparks in baseball, still is among the leaders in K/9 and is likely to rank among the best arms in baseball for years to come.
The only thing that could keep him from elite standing is the San Diego offense's ability to support him. Latos may have elite ERA, WHIP and K/9, but his win totals may never do him justice.
No. 11 Trevor Cahill, Oakland Athletics
Trevor Cahill, at 22 years old, won 18 games with a 2.97 ERA and 1.108 WHIP. The knock on him was his lack of strikeouts. He had just a 5.4 K/9 rate.
Enter 23-year-old, 2011 version of Cahill. Through seven starts, Cahill is 5-0 with a 1.79 ERA. He has a 1.125 WHIP and look at that, 7.5 K/9.
In a rotation loaded with young talent, Cahill might just be the best of the bunch. Don't expect 180 strikeouts, but if he ends up around 7 K/9, Cahill could be a dark-horse Cy Young candidate.
No. 10 Jose Tabata
It is easy to slide under the radar in Pittsburgh. A team that bad will barely allow for one superstar to get attention, and Andrew McCutchen has that covered.
In 102 games last season, Tabata batted .299 with 19 steals and 61 runs scored.
Include his 108 at-bats in 2011 and Tabata has 162-game averages of .285, 96 runs and 34 SB. With the Pirates quietly getting respectable, and Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez capable of producing runs, Tabata could become one of the better left fielders in baseball very soon.
No. 9 Neftali Feliz, Texas Rangers
The Rangers knew, going into 2010, that Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz and Ian Kinsler would hit (when healthy).
But they never could have expected a 22-year-old closer would make the All-Star Game, win Rookie of the Year and play an integral part in an American League Championship.
Neftali Feliz threw 69.1 innings in 2010, with 2.73 ERA, 0.880 WHIP and 40 saves. Then he added a 1.23 ERA in seven games of the postseason.
Look for Feliz to be an elite closer for as long as he stays there. Moving him to the rotation would be a mistake of catastrophic proportions.
No. 8 Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves
Ask me who will lead the 2010 decade in saves, and Kimbrel would be the first name I'd bet on.
In 21 games of 2010, Kimbrel posted an otherworldly 17.4 K/9 and a 0.44 ERA.
Taking over as the Braves closer in 2011, Kimbrel has appeared in 16 games with eight saves, a 1.72 ERA and 12.6 K/9. This kid is going to be coming out of the Braves' bullpen for a long time to come.
No. 7 Starlin Castro, Chicago Cubs
Castro is an old-fashioned baller. He is not afraid to get dirty, and he gets the job done.
Over 462 at-bats as a rookie in 2010, Castro batted .300, scored 53 runs and stole 10 bases. His fielding struggled at times, but he was 20 years old, too.
Now, at 21, Castro is more mature and looks like a veteran at the plate. In 140 at bats so far, he is batting exactly .300 with 18 runs scored and four stolen bases already. Castro will be among the elite shortstops of this generation.
No. 6 Jhoulys Chacin
If you've seen him pitch, Chacin appears older than 23 years old. In 43 career games, including 28 starts, Chacin has a 3.28 ERA, 1.262 WHIP and 8.7 K/9.
With the injury to Ubaldo Jimenez early in this season, Chacin stepped up in to the ace role, and performed admirably. In six starts this season, he carries a 4-2 record, with a 2.85 ERA and 1.146 WHIP.
Jimenez, Chacin and Jorge De La Rosa (30) should provide enough backbone to support the overpowering Rockies offense, led by Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez.
No. 5 Brett Anderson, Oakland Athletics
If Anderson can stay healthy, he will be one of the 20 best starting pitchers of the next decade.
In 19 starts in 2010, Anderson posted a 2.80 ERA and 1.193 WHIP before being shut down due to a series of injuries.
Now he has started 2011 healthy and owns a 2.77 ERA over seven starts.
No. 4 Logan Morrison, Florida Marlins
Somebody told a 6'3", 235-lb 23-year-old he was doomed to a career of high batting average and lots of runs scored, but little power. Morrison went out and hit four home runs in his first 55 at-bats of 2011, while batting .327.
He is recovering from an injury and is expected to rejoin the team within the week. There is potential for a seasonal .320 hitter with 20 homers and 100 runs scored in a lineup stacked with young hitters.
Morrison is likely to have his ups and downs in 2011 and shouldn't be expected to produce more than .290, 15 home runs and 90 runs this year, but there is upside aplenty.
No. 3 Jason Heyward, Atlanta Braves
Perhaps the most-hyped rookie of 2010, Heyward battled injury and some severe slumps to finish at .277 with 18 home runs and 11 SB, 72 RBI and 83 runs. He made the All-Star team and was second in NL Rookie of the Year voting.
That was playing hurt and, at 20 years old, learning the major league game. He is off to a slow start in 2011, batting only .226, but has already clubbed seven home runs.
He is the third Brave on this list, and looking at the rosters, the Braves and Marlins look stacked for an epic, Yankees/Red Sox-type dominance of the NL East in the coming decade.
In his prime, Heyward could produce seasons of .300 batting average, 35 home runs, 120 RBI, and 20-plus SB.
No. 2 Justin Upton, Arizona Diamondbacks
Fantasy owners have paid dearly for hype since the game was invented. Upton has gone in the early rounds of drafts since he was 20.
Into his fifth pro season, Upton is a career .271 hitter, but he is only 23 years old. He might have the most pure talent of anyone close to his age in the game. There is still perennial 30/30 potential, if he can learn patience and maturity at the plate.
If Heyward excels early, Upton could forever drift into his shadow, but for now, Upton is the better player.
No. 1 Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
This wasn't really all that close. For all the potential, upside, talent and hype surrounding the other 22 members of this list, Kershaw is easily the most accomplished.
In 2009, at 21, Kershaw threw 171 innings to the tune of 2.79 ERA and 9.7 K/9. In 2010. As a 22-year-old, Kershaw threw 204.1 innings with a 2.91 ERA, 212 Ks and a 9.3 K/9.
So far in 2011, Kershaw has made eight starts and holds a 3.12 ERA and 9.2 K/9. In other words, the kid is good and going to be good for a long time. Expect Kershaw to be among the yearly leaders in strikeouts and the ace of the Dodgers for a good number of years.