B/R's 25-and-Under MLB All-Star Game: Which League's Young Stars Would Win?

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterJuly 11, 2017

B/R's 25-and-Under MLB All-Star Game: Which League's Young Stars Would Win?

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    G Fiume/Getty Images

    When the players take the field for the 2017 Major League Baseball All-Star Game on Tuesday, they'll come in all shapes, sizes and ages.

    But what if they were only the best and the brightest of MLB's young stars?

    The idea here is to entertain that exact scenario by imagining what the American League and National League All-Star teams would look like if they consisted only of 25-and-under players. It's a golden age for young stars, so why not?

    The ground rules are:

    • Nobody over the age of 25, obviously.
    • Good health at the moment isn't required, but players must have played in the majors in 2017.
    • 25-man rosters with nine starters (with a DH), four-man benches and 12-man pitching staffs, the latter consisting of seven starters and five relievers.
    • Players aren't necessarily tied to their primary position.

    Also, players will be rated according to their career WAR average (per 650 plate appearances for hitters, per 162 games for pitchers) at Baseball Reference. It's a solid perspective of their baseline ability and will be handy for determining which of the two squads would be superior.

    Let's take it away.

American League Starters

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    Matt Brown/Getty Images
    POSPlayer (Age)WAR Avg
    C Gary Sanchez (24)7.0
    1BJoey Gallo (23)3.3
    2B Carlos Correa (22)7.2
    3B Manny Machado (25)6.0
    SS Francisco Lindor (23)5.5
    LF Mookie Betts (24)7.6
    CFMike Trout (25)9.5
    RFAaron Judge (25)7.4
    DHMiguel Sano (24)3.2

    Man, just look at that outfield.

    Aaron Judge leads all outfielders with 5.3 WAR. Mookie Betts is second at 4.3. Mike Trout is below them with 3.4 WAR, but that should trick nobody. With a 1.203 OPS, 16 home runs and 10 stolen bases through 47 games, he was carrying on as baseball's best player before he injured his thumb in late May.

    "On a day-to-day aspect, we don't really notice him getting better," Los Angeles Angels teammate C.J. Cron told Jon Tayler of Sports Illustated in May. "It feels normal to me."

    Where things get messy is at the three infield spots beyond first base. With Francisco Lindor and Manny Machado slumping for much of the year, only Carlos Correa is having a great season.

    It's foolish to think Lindor and Machado are past their primes, though. And their track records certainly speak for themselves. The two of them are also better defenders than Correa, who rates as a below average shortstop. So, he's the one who gets bumped off his natural position to second base.

    Elsewhere, Gary Sanchez is a no-brainer to be in the squat, and Miguel Sano is a natural fit at designated hitter. First base is more of a mystery, but Joey Gallo's long-awaited power surge (21 home runs in 81 games) allows him to stand out.

American League Bench

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    Jason Miller/Getty Images
    POSPlayer (Age)WAR Avg
    INF/OFJose Ramirez (24)4.8
    OF/INFMax Kepler (24)4.2
    OFByron Buxton (23)3.9
     INF Xander Bogaerts (24)3.5

    The question here is basically: Who's left once the starters are picked out of the AL's best young players?

    Jose Ramirez is the toughest omit, so it's fortunate that he checks all the boxes for an ideal utility player. He's a switch-hitter with some power, some speed, a versatile glove and a sparkplug quality to boot.

    Xander Bogaerts is another tough omit, but he's a solid bench option in his own right. He can play shortstop and third base, and he's a good guy to get a hit in a pinch.

    Max Kepler is more of an unusual suspect, but he really shouldn't be. He's a solid hitter who can play all three outfield spots and a bit of first base as well.

    Byron Buxton, Kepler's Minnesota Twins teammate, is a tougher sell due to his painfully bad bat. But think of him as a Jarrod Dyson type: an excellent defensive outfielder who can also run the bases.

National League Starters

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    Harry How/Getty Images
    POSPlayer (Age)WAR Avg
    C Willson Contreras (25)5.0
    1BCody Bellinger (21)5.3
    2B Trea Turner (24)6.0
    3B Kris Bryant (25)6.8
    SSCorey Seager (23)7.0
    LFChristian Yelich (25)4.4
    CF Odubel Herrera (23)4.4
    RFBryce Harper (24)5.7
    DHMichael Conforto (24)4.4

    As established superstars who are having superstar-like seasons, Bryce Harper, Kris Bryant and Corey Seager are easy picks to lead the NL's young All-Stars.

    Willson Contreras is another. Now that J.T. Realmuto is a geezerly 26 years old, he's the only good young catcher in the NL.

    Cody Bellinger is still another no-brainer at first base. He may only have 70 major league games to his name, but his 25 homers put him on track to break the NL rookie record of 38.

    That takes care of most of the lineup. The other four spots are...well, they're tricky.

    There are slim pickings at second base, as well as a dropoff after Harper in the outfield. That leaves two options: either make do with lesser stars or insert guys with standout track records.

    The latter is a better way to fill out an "All-Star" team, and Trea Turner, Odubel Herrera and Christian Yelich make the grade. Turner has been rocked by injury and regression in 2017, but his 2016 outburst as a second baseman/shortstop/center fielder still looms large. Herrera has two good seasons under his belt. Yelich has four.

    Of course, Michael Conforto could take Yelich's place in left field. But since he mostly lets his bat do the talking, he's a perfect candidate to DH. 

National League Bench

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images
    POSPlayer (Age)WAR Avg
    INFAddison Russell (23)4.9
    OF Joc Pederson (25)3.5
    INFJavier Baez (24)3.0
    INF/OFChris Owings (25)2.1

    Based strictly on 2017, Eugenio Suarez and Domingo Santana are good players who deserve recognition.

    However, they're brought down by spotty track records and limited versatility. The alternative bench presented here is more well-rounded.

    Addison Russell is a defensive wizard at both shortstop and second base, and he has solid pop for a middle infielder. Chicago Cubs teammate Javier Baez is frustratingly inconsistent at all things, but he has power and speed and is a defensive wiz in his own right.

    Despite producing only 0.3 WAR this year, Joc Pederson has generally been a solid all-around center fielder. Chris Owings had a terrible offensive year in 2015 but has otherwise been a decent hitter who plays both the infield and the outfield.

American League Pitchers

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press
    POSPlayer (Age)WAR Avg
    SPMichael Fulmer (24)6.7
    SPSean Manaea (25)4.6
    SPLance McCullers (23)4.4
    SPJordan Montgomery (24)4.3
    SPAaron Sanchez (25)4.2
    SPLuis Severino (23)3.7
    SPDylan Bundy (24)3.3
    RPRoberto Osuna (22)2.6
    RPAlex Claudio (25)2.2
    RP Keone Kela (24)1.7
    RPEdwin Diaz (23)1.7
    RPDominic Leone (25)1.2

    Michael Fulmer was the Rookie of the Year in 2016, and he is now the best young starter in the AL by way of his 3.19 ERA in 115.2 innings. 

    "He's unique," Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said in June, per Shawn Windsor of the Detroit Free Press. "You don't see many people come around like him and have instant success. Sometimes you have a rookie flash-in-the-pan, but the league catches up with him. But he's kind of maintained."

    Below Fulmer, Sean Manaea is an underrated success story. Although he's pitched in relative obscurity for unspectacular Oakland A's teams, he owns a solid 3.82 ERA in 238 major league innings.

    Below him, Lance McCullers, Jordan Montgomery and Luis Severino are in the middle of big breakout seasons. Aaron Sanchez has missed much of the year with injuries, but his rise as the AL's ERA champion last year remains difficult to ignore.

    There is one tricky spot, as Dylan Bundy actually has the same WAR average as Eduardo Rodriguez. But since Bundy had a better 2016 and has been healthier and more productive in 2017, he gets the nod.

    The bullpen options are largely unspectacular outside of the esteemed Roberto Osuna. But Alex Claudio, Keone Kela and Dominic Leone are having solid seasons. Edwin Diaz is not, but he hasn't been terrible enough to erase memories of his excellent 2016.

National League Pitchers

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press
    POSPlayer (Age)WAR Avg
    SPJameson Taillon (25)6.0
    SPKyle Freeland (24)5.9
    SP Noah Syndergaard (24)4.9
    SPCarlos Martinez (25)3.7
    SPAaron Nola (24)3.2
    SPJon Gray (25)3.1
    SPRobbie Ray (25)2.7
    RPArchie Bradley (24)2.6
    RPCorey Knebel (25)1.7
    RP Carl Edwards Jr. (25)1.5
    RPMichael Lorenzen (25)1.4
    RP Wandy Peralta (25)1.2

    Between his sizzling stuff, pinpoint command and superhero-like appearance, it sure feels like Noah Syndergaard should be atop this list.

    But he's not, and them's the breaks. Syndergaard is an amazing talent who had an amazing 2016 season. On either side of it, however, is a merely good breakthrough in 2015 and an injury-marred 2017.

    Besides, Jameson Taillon and Kyle Freeland deserve no shortage of credit. Taillon has quietly put up a 3.13 ERA in 166.2 major league innings. Freeland has a 3.77 ERA in 107.1 innings this season, no small feat for a rookie who has to tangle with Coors Field.

    Antonio Senzatela and German Marquez have also pitched well despite having to play at Coors Field. But since neither has been as good as Freeland, there's an opening for Jon Gray instead. He's put up a 4.28 ERA and whiffed 9.8 batters in 21 starts dating back to last July.

    Otherwise, what you see among the starters are usual suspects.

    Carlos Martinez has ups and downs but is generally dominant. Aaron Nola has mostly been good when he's been healthy. And despite his modest standing here, Robbie Ray has been the best young pitcher in the NL this season.

    Meanwhile, that bullpen consists of the best young relievers the NL currently has going for it—minus Felipe Rivero, who just turned 26. Archie Bradley and Corey Knebel are All-Stars, and Carl Edwards Jr., Michael Lorenzen and Wandy Peralta are making names for themselves in the NL Central.

Survey Says...

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    Mike Stobe/Getty Images

    If you didn't bother to do any math along the way, fear not. Here are how the WAR averages for each league's young All-Stars add up:

    • American League: 113.7 WAR
    • National League: 100.4 WAR

    The edge goes to the AL. And by slightly more than a nose.

    It's not because the AL's squad is better at every position. Or even most positions. It's just that nothing on the NL side can top the AL's single biggest advantage: that outfield.

    Trout, Betts and Judge have a cumulative 24.5 WAR average. That dwarfs the cumulative 14.5 WAR average of Harper, Herrera and Yelich. Without that edge, the gap between the two teams would be considerably smaller.

    It really can't be said often enough that Trout is the best player in baseball. Betts isn't on his level, but he's the player who's come the closest over the last three seasons. And while Judge lacks a track record of stardom, it's awfully hard to downplay a rookie who's leading MLB in OPS (1.139) and home runs (30).

    So if the AL and NL were to play a 25-and-under All-Star Game, the AL would have the single biggest weapon and enough weapons elsewhere to get the job done.


    Data courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.

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