Building the Ultimate MLB 25-and-Under Team
This year's National League Cy Young winner was Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and deservedly so. He earned it by leading the league in wins, strikeouts and ERA in a breakout year for the budding superstar. And even though he's on my favorite team, he royally pisses me off.
He is 10 months older than me. And I'm sure not one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball.
Life just isn't fair. Here's the slideshow that's guaranteed to make you feel older than anything your kids can say regarding smart phones, dub step or how J-Lo must be like...80 years old by now.
The best player in Major League Baseball at each position, equal to or under the age of 25. Enjoy! If you can see the screen, ya golden oldie...
Catcher: Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants
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This is only based on one real season, since Posey missed the majority of 2011 with a nasty leg injury. But I think we can all agree that this kid rakes. He was a key cog to the Giants' World Series run and plays a good defense behind the plate.
Assuming Scott Cousins isn't barreling down the base path at him, we can look forward to seeing a lot more years of Posey's sweet swing. If he'll be at catcher from now on remains to be seen.
Honorable Mention: Carlos Santana, Cleveland Indians
First Base: Eric Hosmer, Kansas City Royals
Brian Kersey/Getty Images
Oh, these Royals will be fun to watch for the next half decade. Hosmer is the first of many boys in blue you will see on this team. The highly regarded prospect made his major league debut in 2011 and proved all that hype was justified with a season worthy of rookie of the year consideration.
He's got a picture-perfect lefty swing and has tons of power to all fields. He had a scary amount of composure in K.C. this year and will be a middle-of-the-order batter providing opposing rotations chills for years to come.
Honorable Mention: Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves
Second Base: Jemile Weeks, Oakland Athletics
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This is the reason the A's can afford to let Coco Crisp walk this winter. Jemile Weeks is a younger, cheaper, dare I say faster version of Crisp and broke into the bigs this year in a fury. The kid is a terror on the base paths, smooth in the field and makes contact to all fields.
I think Weeks surprised even the most optimistic fans with the numbers he put up in half a season in the majors in 2011. In any other season where the American League rookie class wasn't so impressively deep, Weeks might have been a shoo-in for the Rookie of the Year award. A's fans can expect at least a few more years of a high average, lots of stolen bases and flashy plays from Rickie's little bro.
Honorable Mention: Danny Espinosa, Washington Nationals
Third Base: Pablo Sandoval, San Francisco Giants
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It kills me to put two Giants on this team, but I have to be fair. Kung-Fu Panda is well on his way to becoming one of the best all-around young players in the National League. Once he starts to stay healthy, people will start to take notice. This guy is really good.
You can tell he loves baseball and has dedicated himself to getting in shape and fixing his swing over the last couple seasons. The results have started to show—and that's something the hitting-starved Gigantes must be very grateful for.
Honorable Mention: Brett Lawrie, Toronto Blue Jays
Shortstop: Starlin Castro, Chicago Cubs
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Well at least the Cubbies are doing something right. Their barely legal (21 years old) star shortstop is good and just getting better. There were actually quite a few legit options here, with players like Dee Gordon for the Dodgers bursting on to the scene and guys like Asdrubal Cabrera in Cleveland just missing the age cut.
When all is said and done, however, Castro is the guy who gets the nod. He can make a play or two in the field and definitely knows how to set the table. He can hit for average and get on base, and remember, he's just barely old enough to order a beer. Watch out world, Starlin's going to explode in 2012.
Honorable Mention: Elvis Andrus, Texas Rangers
Left Field: Jay Bruce, Cincinnati Reds
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I'm cheating a little bit. I'm forcing my outfielders to play whichever darn position out there that I choose. That is my power as hypothetical manager. That being said, the 25-year-old Jay Bruce is just a monster. He already has 100 career home runs and has proven himself extremely clutch.
Hitting in a lineup surrounded by Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips, he has been the quietest star on the Reds for a couple seasons now. He has got a pretty good arm in the outfield, but it won't really matter when he's crushing baseballs into the upper deck from the left side of the plate all day.
Honorable Mention: Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates
Center Field: Justin Upton, Arizona Diamondbacks
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I'm moving Upton over to center, because he's a freaky athlete in the field and would definitely be able to make that transition. His speed would easily enable him to chase down fly balls in that spacious outfield in Arizona. At the ripe age of 24, he became the undeniable superstar hitter for the D'Backs.
The younger (and better) Upton was a true MVP threat until dropping off a bit at the end of the season—when his team was already assured a playoff berth. He's going to be a fun player to watch for years to come. And oh my gosh if his homers aren't the most beautiful things I've ever seen...
Honorable Mention: Desmond Jennings, Tampa Bay Rays
Right Field: Mike Stanton, Florida Marlins
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I'm 10 months older than this guy. No big deal. I'm also about six inches shorter and incredibly less athletic. If we were talking about monster home runs, look no further than this Southern California-bred masher. I don't think he's ever hit a long ball short of the upper deck.
He has pretty good speed and a great arm in the outfield to boot, but people are going to be paying to watch him do one thing over the next 10 years—swing the wood. If he can cut down on strikeouts and start bringing his average up again, he will truly be up there with the likes of Matt Kemp and Upton as elite National League outfielders in the near future.
Honorable Mention: Jose Tabata, Pittsburgh Pirates
Designated Hitter: Billy Butler, Kansas City Royals
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Butler has quietly become one of the best hitters in baseball. The breakout season took a little longer than expected, but after his big 2010 and 2011, Butler is a bona fide star. He will be anchoring the heart of Kansas City's young lineup for what should be a playoff run in the next couple years.
Butler can play outfield and first base, but he is usually relegated to DH'ing duty because of other talent on the Royals. His value really lies with his bat though, as he's got tremendous power to all fields and is a smart hitter at the plate. He's going to be good for a .300 average and 25 homers until his arms fall off.
Honorable Mention: Mark Trumbo, Los Angeles Angels
Starting Pitcher: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
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This is an absolute no-brainer. Kershaw won the pitching Triple Crown and a Cy Young at age 23 and has only improved every season of his young career. He's already garnering comparisons to Sandy Koufax. That's a ton of pressure for a young guy to handle, but he's earned it.
With a powerful fastball and filthy curveball, Kershaw is just scratching the surface of his real capabilities and should be a top-tier ace for the next 10 years, barring injury. Now for my sake, let's all say a little prayer that Ned Colletti is smart enough to sign him long-term.
Honorable Mention: Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants
Starting Pitcher: Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners
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I'm just as shocked as you—King Felix is only 25?? It seems like Hernandez has been dominating hitters for a decade now, but the truth is he just came up young. This is shocking, considering he's one good season shy of 100 wins and could have anywhere from 12 to 15 more seasons ahead of him.
Could Hernandez be the next lock for 300 wins? I certainly hope so, because he's a pleasure to watch. If anyone deserved a Cy Young with 13 wins, it was him. His dirty breaking balls and explosive fastball will rule the American League for a long, long time.
Honorable Mention: Ivan Nova, New York Yankees
Starting Pitcher: Tommy Hanson, Atlanta Braves
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Hanson has been one of the most unappreciated young talents in the game for a couple years now. It must be the quiet demeanor on the mound that lets him sneak by unnoticed. But if he continues to throw the way he has to start his career, the kid will be a star in no time, whether he likes it or not.
He is the typical Braves mold: a big, tall country kid with a power fastball and some knee-buckling off speed pitches to go with it. He's struggled a little bit with consistency, but that will come with experience. Watch for him to contend for the Cy Young for the next few years.
Honorable Mention: Jaime Garcia, St. Louis Cardinals
Starting Pitcher: Jeremy Hellickson, Tampa Bay Rays
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I know you didn't think I would leave off the 2011 Rookie of the Year! Hellickson was every bit the uber prospect he was supposed to be this season, putting up huge numbers on top of the calmest demeanor I've seen from a rookie pitcher in years.
Hellickson was huge down the stretch for the Rays as they came back to claim a playoff spot. He's already earned his due as a pressure pitcher, and his stuff should only get better as he gets older. This rotation in Tampa is going to be scary for a while.
Honorable Mention: Brett Anderson, Oakland Athletics
Starting Pitcher: Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals
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My rotation isn't very practical with four righties and just one southpaw, but there's no way this legend is left off the team. It's still mostly based on potential, but he's been so absolutely dominant when healthy that it definitely warrants a fifth spot in the rotation.
We all know what he brings to the table, and he seems to have taken great care in recovering from his injury. He's still hitting near triple digits on his fastball and the off speed stuff is just unfair. Even if Strasburg never wins 300 games, I promise he will retire as the all-time leader in buckled knees.
Honorable Mention: Michael Pineda, Seattle Mariners
Closing Pitcher: Neftali Feliz, Texas Rangers
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Forget the fact that Feliz blew the World Series-clinching out with one strike to go. And forget that he will probably be bumped to the rotation in the very near future. The guy is absolutely dominant and cemented himself as one of the best closers int he game over the last two years.
He can regularly hit in the high 90s with his fastball and has a good arsenal to mix up breaking balls that dip and dive at insane speeds. He reminds me a lot of a young K-Rod, and I mean the sane version of him. I'd love to see him stay in that role, but chances are he'll be toeing the rubber to start by 2013 at the latest.
Honorable Mention: Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves
Ultimate Prodigy Team
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The fantasy baseball nerd in me is drooling at the idea of signing this lineup and rotation to represent my fake ball club for a solid six or seven years. If we don't take home at least a few titles...oh, just check it out already:
1. Jemile Weeks, 2B
2. Justin Upton, CF
3. Eric Hosmer, 1B
4. Billy Butler, DH
5. Jay Bruce, LF
6. Mike Stanton, RF
7. Buster Posey, C
8. Pablo Sandoval, 3B
9. Starlin Castro, SS
Rotation + Closer:
Clayton Kershaw, LHP
Felix Hernandez, RHP
Tommy Hanson, RHP
Jeremy Hellickson, RHP
Stephen Strasburg, RHP
Neftali Feliz, RHP - Closer
Don't forget to comment and tell me who I left off (it broke my heart to not include Jair Jurrjens, for example). But if you say I forgot Bryce Harper I will hunt you down and beat you with a sweaty jock strap. Thanks for reading!