Ranking MLB's 25 Best Under 25 Entering the 2017 Season

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterFebruary 2, 2017

Ranking MLB's 25 Best Under 25 Entering the 2017 Season

0 of 26

    Warning: List possibly contains Mookie Betts.
    Warning: List possibly contains Mookie Betts.Jason Miller/Getty Images

    Mike Trout is no longer under the age of 25. Neither is Kris Bryant.

    This makes the race for Major League Baseball's best player under 25 a wide-open contest.

    It's therefore going to take some effort and cunning to whittle down a list of the 25 best players under the age of 25. This requires focusing on players who will be 24 or youngerthat's their seasonal ages, which means any player who turns 25 before July 1 is outduring the 2017 season.

    Other factors that went into making this list include:

    • Must Have MLB Experience: If a player hasn't yet played in the majors, there are no grounds for arguing he's one of the best players in the majors. 
    • No Prospects: This includes players who have played in the majors but still have rookie eligibility. Andrew Benintendi, Dansby Swanson and Alex Reyes can try again next year.
    • Production Matters: The more a player has produced in the majors, the better he's going to fare.
    • But So Does Upside: Performances aren't static from year to year. Extra consideration will be given to players who figure to get better. Likewise, consideration will be taken away from players who figure to go backward.

    Let's get started with some honorable mentions.

Honorable Mentions

1 of 26

    Roberto Osuna
    Roberto OsunaVaughn Ridley/Getty Images

    Position Players

    • SS Tim Anderson, CHW
    • OF Michael Conforto, NYM
    • OF David Dahl, COL
    • 3B Maikel Franco, PHI
    • OF Max Kepler, MIN 



    • SP Zach Davies, MIL
    • RHP Edwin Diaz, SP
    • SP Brandon Finnegan, CIN
    • RHP Roberto Osuna, TOR
    • SP Eduardo Rodriguez, BOS
    • SP Joe Ross, WAS
    • SP Taijuan Walker, ARI

25. Nomar Mazara, LF, Texas Rangers

2 of 26

    Brace Hemmelgarn/Getty Images

    2016 Stats

    145568 20 .266 .320 .419 0.4 


    2017 Age: 22

    Nomar Mazara went into 2017 as a prospect darling, ranking as high as No. 5 for Baseball Prospectus. He looked the part early on, hitting .302 with an .827 OPS and nine homers in his first 44 games.

    Then came the reality check. Mazara hit just .248 with a .696 OPS the rest of the way, effectively ruining his own coming-out party.

    Still, reasons for optimism abound. Mazara at least had a good approach and did a fine job of spreading his hits around. This is evidence of a legit hit tool. And while he could stand to get under more balls, the dingers he hit last year weren't fence-scrapers. He averaged 417 feet per pop.

    The big challenge facing the lefty swinger in 2017 is erasing a platoon split that limited him to a .548 OPS against left-handers in 2016. Otherwise, everything is there for him to get better.

24. Miguel Sano, 3B, Minnesota Twins

3 of 26

    Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    2016 Stats

    116495 25 .236 .319 .462 0.8 


    2017 Age: 24

    On the plus side, Miguel Sano hit more homers (25) in 2016 than he did as a rookie (18) in 2015.

    On the negative side, literally everything else. Sano's OPS declined 135 points, and he made a mockery of himself in right field before moving to third base and being just OK there.

    Sano has the right idea for fixing his defense problem, telling La Velle E. Neal III of the Star Tribune he planned to shed weight from his hulking 6'4" frame. He already has the arm to play third. Less weight should give him the mobility to go with it.

    Sano's 35.8 strikeout percentage says not to trust he'll cure his swing-and-miss ailment on the other side of the ball. But given his terrific eye (see his 12.9 walk percentage) and real power, his big 2015 breakthrough is a better reflection of his offensive potential than his 2016 fall from grace.

23. Kyle Schwarber, LF/C, Chicago Cubs

4 of 26

    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    2016 Stats

    2.000 .200 .000 -0.1 


    2017 Age: 24

    It's not often a dude can tear his ACL two games into a season and still come away a winner in the end. Kyle Schwarber's trick was to return in the World Series and then flex all over the Cleveland Indians.

    He hit .412 with a .971 OPS in five Fall Classic games. That's in line with the 1.308 OPS he put up in the 2015 postseason, which came after he put up an .842 OPS in the regular season.

    Point is: Schwarber can hit. Like, a lot. Despite a swing-and-miss element that's led to a 28.4 strikeout percentage, his eye for the zone (13.3 BB%) and feel for hard contact (40.5 Hard%) more than make up for it.

    But can he field? This is as big a question now as it was when the Chicago Cubs took Schwarber with the No. 4 pick in the 2014 draft. And since I don't have an answer, I hereby punish him with a low rank.

22. Byron Buxton, CF, Minnesota Twins

5 of 26

    Brace Hemmelgarn/Getty Images

    2016 Stats

    92 331 10 10 .225 .284 .430 1.9 


    2017 Age: 23

    Byron Buxton has the speed to be a blur on the basepaths and on defense. So, at least there's that.

    The bat? The bat requires a leap of faith. Allow me to illustrate:

    • First 356 PA: .199/.248/.319 with 3 HR
    • Last 113 PA: .287/.357/.653 with 9 HR

    Those last 113 plate appearances are more like it for the league's former No. 1 prospect. But they also happened in September, which is not the best proving ground. This calls for some expert corroboration. 

    "I think one thing we've seen in the last few days is he's shown a little bit more aggressiveness," Minnesota Twins manager Paul Molitor told Scott Merkin and Do-Hyoung Park of MLB.com. "I think his swing looks a little bit better in terms of quickness and reacting to pitches and recognizing pitches."

    I feel only half-sold. But then, being even half-sold on a player with this much upside is better than nothing.

21. Lance McCullers, SP, Houston Astros

6 of 26

    Bob Levey/Getty Images

    2016 Stats

    141481.011.8 5.0 0.6 3.22 1.6 


    2017 Age: 23

    The big question Lance McCullers must answer is if he can stay on the mound. 

    This was a question even before 2016, and then McCullers was laid low by the ol' double whammy: a bad shoulder and a bad elbow. That ought to have everyone crossing their fingers going into 2017.

    If McCullers does stay on the mound, though, good things will happen. He's put up a 3.22 ERA and 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings in the major league starts he has made. He cuts through hitters with a mid-90s fastball and the hardest curveball PITCHf/x has ever encountered. His changeup is a wonder in its own right.

    Control that comes and goes is a threat to bar McCullers from being a true top-of-the-rotation talent. But with his stuff, he'll be no worse than a mid-rotation guy if he can stay healthy.

20. Jose Ramirez, 3B, Cleveland Indians

7 of 26

    Jason Miller/Getty Images

    2016 Stats

    152618 11 22 .312 .363 .462 3.9 


    2017 Age: 24

    A mere bit player in 2014 and 2015, Jose Ramirez turned legit in 2016. He not only put up solid offensive numbers but also rated as a capable defender at multiple positions.

    To boot, it's hard to find nits to pick. Ramirez worked a walk percentage of 7.1 with just a strikeout percentage of 10.0, and he also improved the quality of his contact. Beyond helping his defense, his athleticism also made him an elite baserunner.

    My only suspicion is that Ramirez's 2016 was a peak that he'll be hard-pressed to repeat.

    There's no doubt he's a good sparkplug player with real abilities. But that's what Josh Harrison was in 2014, and that didn't last. Ramirez's 2016 sends off the same kind of vibes.

    That's what I have, anyway. Keep it under your hat. Just not under Ramirez's hat.

19. Rougned Odor, 2B, Texas Rangers

8 of 26

    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    2016 Stats

    150632 33 14 .271 .296 .502 2.4 


    2017 Age: 23

    The things to like about Rougned Odor are headlined by his power and athleticism. Both are legit, and he's shown he knows how to use them.

    And then there's his devil-may-care approach to the game. 

    The problem isn't his rubbing opponents the wrong way. That gets a shrug of the shoulders from yours truly. The bigger issue is how Odor's attitude creates flaws in his game, such as his complete lack of plate discipline and his shaky defense.

    Odor correcting these issues is not a hopeless endeavor. He toyed with better plate discipline in 2014 and 2015 and could do so again. And of all defensive issues to have, problems with routine plays are the easiest to correct.

    Therefore, this good player has a chance of getting even better.

18. Aaron Nola, SP, Philadelphia Phillies

9 of 26

    Hunter Martin/Getty Images

    2016 Stats

    20 20 111.0 9.8 2.4 0.8 4.78 


    2017 Age: 24

    On appearances, Aaron Nola is lucky to be on this list. His 2016 season included not just that dastardly 4.78 ERA but an elbow strain that ended his season in early August.

    However, Nola has been mostly good in his 33 major league starts. He posted a 3.12 ERA in his first 25 before being undone by a 9.82 ERA in his eight most recent starts.

    The scouting report on Nola when the Philadelphia Phillies drafted him at No. 7 in 2014 was that he could just plain pitch. He's lived up to that, showcasing strong command of an arsenal characterized by movement. He's missed bats (9.0 K/9), limited walks (2.3 BB/9) and stifled hard contact (28.7 Hard%).

    Nola will have to put last year's elbow injury behind him. If he does, he should get back on track as an up-and-coming ace.

17. Michael Fulmer, SP, Detroit Tigers

10 of 26

    Mark Cunningham/Getty Images

    2016 Stats

    26 26 159.0 7.5 2.4 0.9 3.06 4.9 


    2017 Age: 24

    Despite a late challenge from Gary Sanchez, Michael Fulmer was the easy choice for the American League Rookie of the Year in 2016. And as if that award doesn't prove it, he is indeed here to stay.

    Fulmer showed good command and real power in 2016. He averaged 94.8 mph on his fastball, one of the top marks in the league. And if his improved changeup is any indication, he's also evolving as a pitcher.

    And yet, Fulmer didn't blow many hitters away in posting his 7.5 strikeouts per nine innings. One issue is that neither his slider nor his changeup was a wipeout swing-and-miss pitch. Neither dazzled the eye test either.

    Well, nuts. This means Fulmer will have to keep getting by on his combination of command and power. He'll have to settle for being really good instead of totally amazing.

16. Trevor Story, SS, Colorado Rockies

11 of 26

    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    2016 Stats

    97415 27 .272 .341 .567 3.1 


    2017 Age: 24

    Remember when Trevor Story looked like the second coming of Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle and Zeus last year? He had a 1.199 OPS in spring training and opened the regular season with seven dingers in his first 27 at-bats.

    Fun times. But also short-lived. Story inevitably cooled off and then had his season end early due to a torn thumb ligament.

    He left behind things to quibble about. He struck out 31.3 percent of the time. He had just a .747 OPS away from Coors Field. His defensive metrics were hit or miss. He made us use too many "Story" puns.

    And yet, we haven't heard the last from him. After posting a 29.3 ground-ball percentage and a 44.9 Hard%, he has a feel for getting under the ball and hitting it hard. He should continue being an elite power-hitting shortstop, which is a rare breed.

15. Carlos Rodon, SP, Chicago White Sox

12 of 26

    David Banks/Getty Images

    2016 Stats

    2828 165.0 9.2 2.9 1.3 4.04 1.5 


    2017 Age: 24

    Carlos Rodon was in the majors less than a year after the Chicago White Sox drafted him No. 3 overall in 2014. What's followed has been a series of hits and misses, but now he's on the up and up.

    It's good enough that Rodon shaved his walk rate from 4.6 per nine innings in 2015 to 3.0 in 2016. Even better is how much Rodon took off in the second half. 

    His key rates (strikeouts, walks and home runs) all got better. This was the result of real adjustments, notably with his pitch selection. He cut way down on sinkers and worked more changeups and sliders in with his four-seamer.

    Rodon isn't yet an ace, but he's a lot closer to being one than he was this time last year. Come this time next year, he could settle the matter for good.

14. Alex Bregman, 3B, Houston Astros

13 of 26

    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    2016 Stats

    49217 .264 .313 .478 1.8 


    2017 Age: 23

    When the Astros chose Alex Bregman with the No. 2 pick in 2015, they seemed to be choosing a player who was more of a safe bet than a future superstar.

    Then 2016 happened.

    Bregman began by tearing through the minors with a .986 OPS and 20 homers in 80 games, launching himself to the top of ESPN.com's Keith Law's prospect rankings. After a slow start in the majors, he sizzled with a .931 OPS and all eight of his homers in his final 39 games. 

    Bregman's power is legit. He knows how to get under the ball and can also manage hard contact with an emphasis on his pull side. That will play at Minute Maid Park.

    To boot, defensive runs saved rated Bregman, a natural shortstop, as an asset at third base. He's ready to be a power-hitting, slick-fielding third baseman.

13. Javier Baez, 2B, Chicago Cubs

14 of 26

    Harry How/Getty Images

    2016 Stats

    14545014 12 .273 .314 .423  3.4


    2017 Age: 24

    After tiptoeing out in 2015, Javier Baez put prospect purgatory well behind him in 2016. He proved he belongs in the major leagues with strong work on both sides of the ball.

    At the least, Baez should continue being a difference-maker on defense. His combination of athleticism, soft hands, a strong arm and sheer energy allowed him to rate well at three different positions in 2016. He'll be a Gold Glove contender if he sticks mostly at second base in 2017.

    At the plate, it's clear from his 4.5 BB% and 41.4 O-Swing% that plate discipline will remain a foreign concept for Baez. That's going to leave him prone to inconsistency.

    Nonetheless, Baez's strikeout habit is becoming more tolerable. He also has more power potential to tap into. If he does, he'll turn into a slick-fielding version of Rougned Odor.

12. Gary Sanchez, C, New York Yankees

15 of 26

    Rich Schultz/Getty Images

    2016 Stats

    53229 20 .299 .376 .657 3.0 


    2017 Age: 24

    Man, a 3.0 WAR year in just 53 games? If Gary Sanchez can maintain that for a full year, he'll post one of the greatest seasons ever by a catcher.

    Of course, this is asking a lot. Sanchez has a swing-and-miss element to overcome and could stand to put more balls in the air. It would be best if his 24.9 K% and 49.3 GB% from 2016 didn't carry over as well.

    But even if they do, Sanchez will still have his good eye and tremendous raw power. He worked a 10.5 BB% last year. His batted balls averaged 94.1 mph, putting him among the elites.

    On the other side of the ball, the 41 percent caught-stealing rate Sanchez put up is testimony about one of the strongest arms in the league. He's not going to be a bat-only catcher.

    In other words, he's going to be a star.

11. Trea Turner, SS, Washington Nationals

16 of 26

    Matthew Hazlett/Getty Images

    2016 Stats

    73 324 13 33 .342 .370 .567 3.5 


    2017 Age: 24

    OK, so, we can throw a little cold water on the Trea Turner hype.

    Turner was never considered a great defensive shortstop as a prospect and could be out of practice after touring second base and center field in 2016. And thanks to an aggressive approach that's produced just a 4.9 BB%, his OBP will continue hovering just above his batting average.

    There's no question the Washington Nationals have a special talent, however.

    Turner is one of the fastest players in the majors, if not the fastest. It's therefore surprising how much power he has. That comes from his refusal to abide by the mantra that speedsters should hit the ball on the ground and leg out base hits. He's out to give it a ride.

    Not many shortstops have had this offensive profile. If Turner plays even passable defense, he'll be a superstar.

10. Addison Russell, SS, Chicago Cubs

17 of 26

    Elsa/Getty Images

    2016 Stats

    151598 21 .238 .321 .417 4.3 


    2017 Age: 23

    You may have noticed that Addison Russell is a spectacular defensive shortstop just from watching the nightly highlights. It shows in the metrics, too. He's accumulated more defensive runs saved since 2015 than all but three other shortstops.

    What's really exciting, though, is the possibility that Russell is now ready to come into his own at the plate. He hit 13 of his 21 homers last year after July. In so doing, he showed off a swing that produced more fly balls and more hard contact and made more frequent use of his pull side.

    Unlike his double-play partner, Russell also goes to the plate with a good approach. He was a .300 hitter in the minors and could be a .300 hitter in the majors.

    With his improving power, stellar defense and solid approach, Russell has all the requisite pieces to emerge as a superstar.

9. Aaron Sanchez, SP, Toronto Blue Jays

18 of 26

    Elsa/Getty Images

    2016 Stats

    3030 192.0 7.5 3.0 0.7 3.00 4.8 


    2017 Age: 24

    Aaron Sanchez Nuke LaLooshed his way through his 2015 season. He was throwing gas but often had no idea where it was going.

    Then came a 25-pound weight gain and what Sanchez called a "total transformation" of his body. That gave him much better control of his stuff. The combination of the two things was good enough to win him the American League ERA title.

    The one nit to pick is that Sanchez struck out only 7.5 batters per nine innings. But between his heat and his hammer curveball, he has the tools to push that number northward in 2017.

    If nothing else, he should remain hard to square up to. Sanchez throws heavy stuff that hitters had a hard time elevating (54.4 GB%) and pulling (36.2 Pull%) last season. 

    Lastly, the leash should be off Sanchez in 2017. His dominance should come with over 200 innings.

8. Xander Bogaerts, SS, Boston Red Sox

19 of 26

    Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

    2016 Stats

    157719 21 13 .294 .356 .446 3.7 


    2017 Age: 24

    Xander Bogaerts' usefulness hinges on his offense. While he can play shortstop without embarrassing himself, the metrics and the eye test agree he's nothing special.

    It's a slight concern that Bogaerts' offense was on the rocks at the end of 2016. His OPS declined from .863 in the first half to .729 in the second half. He was a little in love with his newfound power, as he got pull-happy, which really messed with his approach.

    Nonetheless, this is a still a shortstop with a .307 average and .789 OPS over the last two seasons. And after adjusting to hit for average in 2015 and adjusting to hit for power in 2016, Bogaerts' next adjustment should be finding the best of both worlds.

    One other thing about Bogaerts' offense: He's proof you don't need to have great speed to be an excellent baserunner.

7. Noah Syndergaard, SP, New York Mets

20 of 26

    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    2016 Stats

    3130 183.2 10.7 2.1 0.5 2.60 5.3 


    2017 Age: 24

    A pitcher like Noah Syndergaard shouldn't exist. 

    His arm should be impossible. And yet his fastball sat at 97.9 mph in 2016, the highest average on record—ahead of only the 97.1 mph he averaged in 2015. His slider and changeup can also top 90 mph.

    What's more, having control with that kind of arm should be impossible. He's walked only 2.0 batters per nine innings since arriving in 2015, putting him with the best of the best.

    What can possibly hold Syndergaard back? An injury would be one answer. Apart from that, the only other answer is a New York Mets defense that was terrible in 2016 and will probably be terrible again in 2017.

    But if that couldn't stop Syndergaard from being one of the league's best pitchers last year, it probably won't stop him from doing it all over again this year.

6. Francisco Lindor, SS, Cleveland Indians

21 of 26

    Elsa/Getty Images

    2016 Stats

    158684 15 19 .301 .358 .435 5.7 


    2017 Age: 23

    If it wasn't for Andrelton Simmons, Francisco Lindor would be the best defensive shortstop in the American League.

    Even that may be debatable before long. Lindor was right there with Simmons in defensive runs saved in 2016 and actually had a better ultimate zone rating. It's no fluke he was as much a regular on nightly highlight reels as Russell was.

    Oh, yeah. Lindor can hit a bit, too.

    It was a surprise when he emerged to hit .313 as a rookie. But after he hit .301 in 2016, it looks like a .300 hitter is the real him. Mix in some power and speed, and you get a darn good offensive shortstop.

    The catch is that Lindor may not have any more upside to tap into. But as is, he already has a case for being baseball's best shortstop.

5. Corey Seager, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers

22 of 26

    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    2016 Stats

    157687 26 .308 .365 .512 6.1 


    2017 Age: 23

    It turns out they (meaning literally everyone) were right when they said Corey Seager would be a star.

    Seager won the Rookie of the Year on the strength of an .877 OPS and 26 home runs in 2016. This was after he posted a .986 OPS in the final month of 2015. 

    Seager has all the components of a great hitter, starting with an advanced approach and extending to a feel for hard contact and an ability to aim the ball. To wit, he did no worse than a .989 OPS to all fields last year.

    The jury is out on Seager's defense, as DRS and UZR paint different pictures of how good it is. But both agree it's not bad, which an impressive enough feat for a guy who is 6'4" and 215 pounds.

    Now that he has a Rookie of the Year, Seager's next award could well be an MVP.

4. Carlos Correa, SS, Houston Astros

23 of 26

    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    2016 Stats

    153660 20 13 .274 .361 .451 5.9 


    2017 Age: 22

    It says a lot that Carlos Correa could put up a nearly six WAR season and still leave many feeling disappointed.

    His 2015 season did make a promise of bigger things, after all. He had an .857 OPS with 22 homers and 14 stolen bases in only 99 games. He didn't improve on any of these numbers in 153 games last year.

    But don't give up on Correa's enormous potential.

    He remained an easily above-average hitter in 2016, and he is just a couple of adjustments away from getting even better in 2017. He's proved to be a productive baserunner. And while his defense has rated poorly to this point, his athleticism and arm strength hint at unlocked upside.

    Bottom line: Correa has been right there with Lindor and Seager so far and could become better than either of them.

3. Bryce Harper, RF, Washington Nationals

24 of 26

    G Fiume/Getty Images

    2016 Stats

    147627 24 21 .243 .373 .441 1.6 


    2017 Age: 24

    Another year, another complicated discussion about what Bryce Harper is supposed to be.

    It seemed settled after his MVP-winning 2015 that he was a super-duper star. But then came his mediocre 2016. And if Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated is right about a bad right shoulder limiting Harper's hitting and defense, that makes it three injury-marred seasons out of five for the former No. 1 pick.

    However, proper perspective is required.

    It's actually impressive that Harper has put up an .883 OPS and hit 121 home runs despite being hurt so often. His youth makes it easy to bank on him staying healthy and reaching his upside again. Based on the 1.109 OPS and 42 homers he put up in 2015, said upside is enormous.

    And don't forget: Harper is a good defender and baserunner too. If he's healthly in 2017, his spot on this list could soon be badly outdated.

2. Mookie Betts, RF, Boston Red Sox

25 of 26

    Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

    2016 Stats

    158730 31 26 .318 .363 .534 9.6 


    2017 Age: 24

    Mookie Betts tried to snag the AL MVP in 2016 and would have gotten away with it if not for that meddling Mike Trout.

    The numbers Betts put up jump off the page and are reflective of a player who can do it all. He can hit for average. He can hit for power. He can run the bases. He can catch anything. And he can throw too.

    Looking ahead, the one area of doubt about Betts' game has to do with his power.

    The 31 dingers he hit last year are an awful lot for a guy listed at 5'9" and 180 pounds. Much less a guy who wasn't special at getting the ball airborne (39.4 FB%) or hitting it hard (33.4 Hard%).

    But even with less power in 2017, Betts will stand tall as one of the most well-rounded players in the league. Such things don't go unnoticed these days.

1. Manny Machado, 3B, Baltimore Orioles

26 of 26

    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    2016 Stats

    157696 37 .294 .343 .533 6.7 


    2017 Age: 24

    Manny Machado is a different player now than he was at the start of his career. He used to be a superb defender who was just an OK hitter. Now he's superb on both sides.

    Machado has remained one of the league's elite defensive third basemen in the last two seasons. He's also put up an .869 OPS and cranked 72 home runs. He's gotten better at driving the ball, getting it airborne (40.6 FB%) with a solid hard-hit rate (34.3 Hard%).

    When looking at Machado's game through a microscope, it's hard to find areas where he could get even better in 2017. He seems to be who he is at this point.

    But lest anyone think that's a crying shame, what he is at this point is a guy who's averaged roughly seven WAR the last two seasons. When you get to that point, there's no need to go any further.


    Data courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com (including WAR), FanGraphsBaseball Prospectus, Brooks Baseball and Baseball Savant.

    Follow zachrymer on Twitter