Ranking MLB's 25 Best Players Under 25 Entering the 2019 Season

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterJanuary 30, 2019

Ranking MLB's 25 Best Players Under 25 Entering the 2019 Season

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    Bob Levey/Getty Images

    If Major League Baseball's lifeless offseason has anyone feeling down about the future of the league, just think of the bright young players who will soon be in the spotlight.

    To help, we've made a list.

    As we do every year, we ranked the 25 best players under the age of 25 (as of Opening Day on March 28) heading into the 2019 MLB season. Here are the ground rules:

    • Must have MLB experience: If a player hasn't yet played in MLB, there are no grounds for arguing he's one of the best players in MLB. 
    • No prospects: This means all players who still have rookie eligibility, even if they've already logged time in the majors.
    • Production matters: The more a player has produced in the majors, the better he's going to fare.
    • But so does upside: Extra consideration was given to players who figure to get better. Likewise, consideration was taken away from players who figure to go backward.

    We'll begin with some honorable mentions.

Honorable Mentions

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    Rafael Devers
    Rafael DeversBillie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

    Position Players

    • CF Albert Almora Jr., Chicago Cubs
    • SS Orlando Arcia, Milwaukee Brewers
    • CF Franchy Cordero, San Diego Padres
    • OF David Dahl, Colorado Rockies
    • 3B Rafael Devers, Boston Red Sox
    • CF Ramon Laureano, Oakland Athletics
    • RF Nomar Mazara, Texas Rangers
    • SS Amed Rosario, New York Mets

                

    Pitchers

    • LHP Jose Alvarado, Tampa Bay Rays
    • RHP Jaime Barria, Los Angeles Angels
    • RHP Corbin Burnes, Milwaukee Brewers
    • RHP Seranthony Dominguez, Philadelphia Phillies
    • RHP Zach Eflin, Philadelphia Phillies
    • RHP Jordan Hicks, St. Louis Cardinals
    • RHP Roberto Osuna, Houston Astros
    • LHP Julio Urias, Los Angeles Dodgers

25-21: Jose Peraza-Josh Hader

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    25. Jose Peraza, SS, Cincinnati Reds

    Opening Day Age: 24

    Jose Peraza was known for his speed when he was a prospect, and he's since put it to work while swiping 67 bases over the last three seasons. He's also played passable defense at shortstop.

    The big question is what Peraza is capable of at the plate, where his tendency to swing is a big hurdle in the way of a consistent on-base habit. He nonetheless learned to lift and drive the ball in 2018, resulting in a career-high 14 homers. That points to 20-20 potential in 2019.

                   

    24. Brad Keller, SP, Kansas City Royals

    Opening Day Age: 23

    Here's something that not many outside of Kansas City may be aware of: Brad Keller led all rookie pitchers in wins above replacement in 2018, according to Baseball Reference.  

    Keller finished last season with a 3.28 ERA over 118 innings as a starter. Though he wasn't overpowering (he had only 83 strikeouts as a starter), Statcast's xwOBA metric—based on contact quality—suggests he didn't overachieve. Upon closer inspection, he's a master of deception who can survive on ground balls.

                 

    23. Shane Bieber, SP, Cleveland Indians

    Opening Day Age: 23

    Shane Bieber debuted in the majors on May 31, 2018, less than two years after the Indians selected him in the fourth round of the 2016 draft. He went on to strike out 95 more batters than he walked in 114.2 innings.

    That and his xwOBA raise suspicion about the 4.55 ERA he put up as a rookie. Bieber is better than that, and he should be revealed as such in his sophomore season.

               

    22. Yoan Moncada, 2B, Chicago White Sox

    Opening Day Age: 23

    Yoan Moncada played in 149 games this past season and made it to double digits in homers (17) and stolen bases (12). However, he also led MLB with 217 strikeouts and struggled on defense.

    It's still too soon to abandon Moncada's potential. He has outstanding physical tools, and his strikeout problem shouldn't obscure his outstanding eye. There's an All-Star in him somewhere, and 2019 could be the year he reveals himself.

                

    21. Josh Hader, LHP, Milwaukee Brewers

    Opening Day Age: 24

    Josh Hader looked like The Next Big Thing in relief pitching when he debuted with a 2.08 ERA and 12.8 strikeouts per nine innings in 2017, and he made good on the hype in 2018. He appeared in 55 games and finished with a 2.43 ERA and 113 more strikeouts than walks in 81.1 innings.

    Hader faded a bit in his final 26 appearances of 2018, but he's nonetheless a singularly dangerous pitcher with a style that augments stuff that's plenty electric in its own right. With greater consistency in 2019, he can achieve a truly historic season.

20-16: Ian Happ-Willy Adames

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    Mike Stone/Associated Press

    20. Ian Happ, OF/INF, Chicago Cubs

    Opening Day Age: 24

    Ian Happ broke through with an .842 OPS and 24 home runs in 2017. However, he took a step back in 2018 with a .761 OPS and 15 homers, no thanks to an NL-worst 36.1 strikeout percentage.

    But as evidenced by his 15.2 percent walk rate, Happ maintained his eye for the strike zone in 2018. That can only help him cut down on his whiffs and reestablish his offensive ceiling. And even though he isn't necessarily a good defender, his versatility is worth something.

                        

    19. Harrison Bader, CF, St. Louis Cardinals

    Opening Day Age: 24

    Harrison Bader deserves a spot here if for no other reason than his defense. Even noting that he had 19 defensive runs saved in 2018 may be underselling him. Per Statcast's outs above average metric, he was up there with Lorenzo Cain and Ender Inciarte among MLB's best outfielders.

    Bader's bat is more of an unknown, in part because he isn't much for making contact. But as long as he keeps his hard-hit rate up, he should hit enough for the Cardinals to justify keeping his glove in the lineup.

                 

    18. Miguel Andujar, 3B, New York Yankees

    Opening Day Age: 24

    While posting minus-25 defensive runs saved, Miguel Andujar might have been the worst defensive infielder in all of MLB last year. Though it isn't the only reason, it contributed to him losing the AL Rookie of the Year award to Shohei Ohtani.

    On the bright side, Andujar earned his keep with an .855 OPS and 27 homers. He likely would benefit from swinging less often than he does. But as long as he keeps his strikeouts down and his hard contact up, he won't need to change how he goes about his business.

                 

    17. Jack Flaherty, SP, St. Louis Cardinals

    Opening Day Age: 23

    In 2018, Jack Flaherty became one of only five rookie pitchers ever to log over 150 innings and strike out more than 10 batters per nine innings. He also had a rock-solid 3.34 ERA.

    If Flaherty has a flaw, it's control. He walked 3.5 batters per nine innings last season, and his BB/9 was above 4.0 in the second half. Even if that problem persists in 2019, however, his stuff should lead to enough strikeouts to warrant All-Star consideration.

               

    16. Willy Adames, SS, Tampa Bay Rays

    Opening Day Age: 23

    Willy Adames was widely considered a top-25 prospect going into 2018, and he announced his presence with authority by homering off Chris Sale for his first MLB hit.

    Adames hit some bumps in the road after that. But by the end of the year, his swing rate was down and his hard-hit rate was up, and he was rewarded with an .886 OPS over his final 51 games. He'll be an All-Star-caliber shortstop if he picks up where he left off.

15-11: Ozzie Albies-Jose Berrios

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    15. Ozzie Albies, 2B, Atlanta Braves

    Opening Day Age: 22

    From August 2017 through April 2018, Ozzie Albies was sitting on an .872 OPS with 15 homers and 11 steals through his first 84 major league games. Then came the reality check, as he slumped with a .705 OPS through the rest of 2018.

    All the same, it's hard not to be intrigued by any guy this young who packs power, speed and a well-above-average glove. It also bodes well for 2019 that Albies cut way back on his swings and started taking some walks late last season. More of that will put him back on an All-Star path.

                 

    14. Matt Olson, 1B, Oakland Athletics

    Opening Day Age: 24

    Matt Olson could barely be contained in 2017, when he racked up a 1.003 OPS and 24 homers in only 59 games. He took a step back in 2018, but he still finished with a respectable .788 OPS and 29 homers while playing in all 162 games.

    Not to be overlooked, meanwhile, is Olson's defense, which netted him a well-deserved Gold Glove in 2018. Between that and his (at least) 30-homer power potential, he's an easy pick as the AL's best first baseman.

                     

    13. Adalberto Mondesi, SS, Kansas City Royals

    Opening Day Age: 23

    Though he played in only 75 games, Adalberto Mondesi might have had the best season that nobody noticed in 2018. The son of Raul finished with an .804 OPS, 14 homers and 32 steals, plus solid defense.

    Mondesi loves to take his hacks, which likely means he'll never be much of an OBP merchant. But that'll be OK as long as he continues to rack up hard contact. He has the potential to be a speedier version of Javier Baez, which would make him one of the most dangerous players in the American League.

                  

    12. Gleyber Torres, SS/2B, New York Yankees

    Opening Day Age: 22

    Gleyber Torres' rookie season in 2018 was largely undone by a strained right hip.  Before that, however, he was teasing superstar potential with a .905 OPS and 15 homers through his first 63 games.

    Though Torres, like Andujar, could stand to swing less, he has a good enough knack for hard contact to get away with an aggressive approach. He's also a more gifted defender than Didi Gregorius, and the early portion of 2019 will give him a chance to show off in place of his fellow young Yankee at shortstop.

                                     

    11. Jose Berrios, SP, Minnesota Twins

    Opening Day Age: 24

    Jose Berrios earned his first All-Star nod in 2018 on the strength of a first half that included a 3.68 ERA over 127.1 innings. He then tailed off a bit with a 4.15 ERA and 32 walks in only 65 innings in the second.

    Reestablishing command of the strike zone will be Berrios' top goal at the outset of 2019. Otherwise, he doesn't have much to work on. His strikeout rate has been trending up, and he effectively eliminated his platoon split in 2018. A second straight All-Star nod will be within his reach.

10. Andrew Benintendi, LF, Boston Red Sox

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    Tom E. Puskar/Associated Press

    Opening Day Age: 24

    Key 2018 Statistics: 148 G, 661 PA, .290 AVG, .366 OBP, .465 SLUG, 16 HR, 21 SB

    Total MLB WAR: 7.0

    The 2018 season was easily the best of Andrew Benintendi's brief MLB career, yet the bulk of his production came in the first half before the second half came and took it all away:

    • 1st Half: .897 OPS with 14 HR and 17 SB
    • 2nd Half: .727 OPS with 2 HR and 4 SB

    Given how drastically Benintendi's hard-hit rate declined in 2018, his second-half slump may have been inevitable. It wouldn't hurt him to hit the ball on the barrel more often in 2019.

    Failing that, Benintendi can at least be counted on for consistency. His excellent feel for hitting is reflected in how often he takes his walks (10.7 BB%) and avoids strikeouts (16.0 K%), and he has a line-drive stroke that he can apply to all fields.

    Meanwhile, Benintendi is also an easily above-average left fielder and a productive baserunner. The total package is that of a player with a sky-high floor.

9. Shohei Ohtani, DH, Los Angeles Angels

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    Masterpress/Getty Images

    Opening Day Age: 24

    Key 2018 Statistics: 104 G, 367 PA, .285 AVG, .361 OBP, .564 SLUG, 22 HR, 10 SB

    Total MLB WAR: 2.7

    Due to his recovery from Tommy John surgery, Shohei Ohtani won't pitch in 2019. But if there's a bright side to that, it's that he'll get to focus on honing his craft as an elite slugger.

    The .925 OPS that Ohtani put up in 2018 translates to a 152 adjusted OPS+. That ranked seventh among all hitters who had at least 350 plate appearances, not to mention first among rookies.

    Ohtani endured a rough stretch between May 1 and August 2, during which time he landed on the disabled list and mustered only a .745 OPS with five homers in 45 games. In his final 47 games, however, he enjoyed a spike in fly balls and finished with a 1.048 OPS and 13 homers. 

    According to Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register, the Los Angeles Angels don't yet know when Ohtani will be ready to serve as their full-time designated hitter in 2019. But he should be available for most of the year, and there will be no limit to his offensive ceiling if he picks up where he left off.

8. Juan Soto, LF, Washington Nationals

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Opening Day Age: 20

    Key 2018 Statistics: 116 G, 494 PA, .292 AVG, .406 OBP, .517 SLUG, 22 HR, 5 SB

    Total MLB WAR: 3.0

    Teenagers aren't supposed to hit like Juan Soto did in 2018, and we don't say that just because he was a time-traveling home run hitter.

    Soto, who played the entire 2018 season as a 19-year-old, became the first teenager to accrue at least 400 plate appearances and post an OBP north of .400. To boot, his 142 OPS+ topped Mel Ott's 139 mark from 1928 as the best ever for a teen.

    At the root of Soto's ability is a plate approach that's absurdly beyond his years. He drew walks in 16.0 percent of his plate appearances, which placed sixth among qualified hitters. He balanced that against a respectable 20.0 K%.

    Soto's power output, meanwhile, had a lot to do with a feel for opposite-field hitting that's also absurdly beyond his years. Per FanGraphs, he hit nine homers with an MLB-best 1.494 OPS the other way.

    Alas, Soto isn't much of a defender or a baserunner. But if he can be one of the game's top hitters as a 19-year-old, the National League ought to be wary of what he'll do as a 20-year-old in 2019. 

7. German Marquez, SP, Colorado Rockies

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Opening Day Age: 24

    Key 2018 Statistics: 33 GS, 196.0 IP, 10.6 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, 3.77 ERA

    Total MLB WAR: 8.1

    Most Colorado Rockies pitchers are doomed to be held back by the nigh impossible task of pitching effectively at Coors Field.

    Unless you're Kyle Freeland, of course. Or, for our purposes, German Marquez.

    Marquez broke through with a respectable (by Rockies standards) 4.39 ERA over 29 starts in 2017. He got off to a slow start in 2018, but he turned a corner and wrapped up the year with a 2.47 ERA over his final 17 starts. Notably, he struck out 124 more batters than he walked in 113.0 innings.

    A fastball that sat at 95.2 mph and peaked at 99.9 mph remained the centerpiece of Marquez's arsenal. The big difference was the slider that he introduced to complement his curveball. Not so coincidentally, the contact rate against him plummeted as 2018 progressed.

    Marquez should build on allof  this to make his first All-Star team in 2019. Though Coors Field won't help, a run at the National League Cy Young Award could also be in the cards.

6. Walker Buehler, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Opening Day Age: 24

    Key 2018 Statistics: 23 GS, 137.1 IP, 9.9 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, 2.62 ERA

    Total MLB WAR: 3.2

    Clayton Kershaw is no longer the best pitcher on the Los Angeles Dodgers.

    Walker Buehler didn't hold that title for all of 2018, but it was his by the end of the year. He ran a 1.55 ERA with 87 strikeouts over 75.1 innings in his final 12 starts of the regular season. He found success in the postseason, too, including a masterful seven-inning performance in Game 3 of the World Series.

    "He's got tremendous stuff, and he lives for moments like this," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts told reporters after Buehler's scoreless Game 3 outing.

    He isn't kidding about Buehler's stuff. His fastball averaged 96.2 mph and climbed as high as 100.1 mph in 2018. He also boasts a curveball, cutter, changeup and slider that got slower and bendier as the year went along. Overall, he packs an overpowering punch of velocity and movement.

    At the least, Buehler should be an All-Star candidate in 2019. As long as the Dodgers don't put too many restrictions on his innings, he could even be a Cy Young Award contender.

5. Corey Seager, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    Opening Day Age: 24

    Key 2018 Statistics: 26 G, 115 PA, .267 AVG, .348 OBP, .396 SLUG, 2 HR

    Total MLB WAR: 13.7

    It's been a while since Dodgers fans have been treated to a healthy Corey Seager. He was beat up at the end of 2017, and Tommy John surgery brought his 2018 campaign to an end after only 26 games.

    Team president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman indicated to reporters that the Dodgers expect Seager to be "full-go" for Opening Day, but they aren't taking anything for granted. Until Seager gets in some games in spring training, his official timetable remains unknown.

    Well, pardon us if we're feeling optimistic.

    This is, after all, a shortstop who racked up more WAR than all but seven other position players between 2016 and 2017. Seager mainly hit his way to that spot by way of an .867 OPS and 48 homers. He also silenced doubts about whether he was too big (6'4", 220 pounds) to play good defense at short.

    Put simply, a healthy Seager is one of the best players in MLB. Even if he has to shake off some rust first, Seager should reclaim that status in 2019.

4. Carlos Correa, SS, Houston Astros

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Opening Day Age: 24

    Key 2018 Statistics: 110 G, 468 PA, .239 AVG, .323 OBP, .405 SLUG, 15 HR, 3 SB

    Total MLB WAR: 18.3

    Speaking of superstar shortstops who were hampered by injuries in 2018, there's also Carlos Correa. He had trouble shaking a bad back en route to a modest .728 OPS and 1.7 WAR in 110 games.

    "It's been a tough year, obviously the toughest year of my career," Correa said in September, per Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle. "Not performance-wise, just staying healthy and being able to play and contribute."

    Given that a torn thumb ligament limited Correa to only 109 games in 2017, he's trending dangerously close to being stuck with the dreaded "injury-prone" label. Staying healthy in 2019 is a must.

    But if Seager deserves optimism, so does Correa. Beyond the fact that he isn't recovering from a major operation, Correa boasts the more impressive track record of the two. All he did between 2015 and 2017 was rack up an .863 OPS, 66 homers, 29 steals and 16.6 WAR.

    One nit worth picking is that Correa isn't much of a defensive shortstop. Despite that, his offensive prowess is good enough to make him one of the best at the position.

3. Cody Bellinger, 1B/OF, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Opening Day Age: 23

    Key 2018 Statistics: 162 G, 632 PA, .260 AVG, .343 OBP, .470 SLUG, 25 HR, 14 SB

    Total MLB WAR: 8.3

    Cody Bellinger was unstoppable as a rookie in 2017. He set a new National League rookie record with 39 home runs, and he piled on a .933 OPS, 10 steals and 4.2 WAR.

    After a season like that, it's hard not to feel disappointed by what Bellinger did in 2018. He suffered a power outage that limited him to 25 home runs. Elsewhere, his OPS fell to .814 and he once again produced 4.2 WAR despite playing in 30 more games than he did in 2017.

    But as "disappointing" seasons go, Bellinger's 2018 was nonetheless a darn good one. And it isn't as if he lost what made him so special in 2017. His strikeout and walk rates barely budged, and his hard contact rate didn't decline as much as his power output would suggest.

    Bellinger could thus be in for better offensive results in 2019 even if he doesn't change a thing. Otherwise, all he has to do is continue applying his impressive athleticism on the bases and on defense. That's a player with an All-Star floor and an MVP ceiling.

2. Ronald Acuna Jr., LF, Atlanta Braves

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Opening Day Age: 21

    Key 2018 Statistics: 111 G, 487 PA, .293 AVG, .366 OBP, .552 SLUG, 26 HR, 16 SB

    Total MLB WAR: 4.1

    At this point, anyone who doubts Ronald Acuna Jr. is a fool.

    In 2017, he was a relatively anonymous prospect up until he hit his way from High-A to Triple-A, and he then dominated the Arizona Fall League for good measure. He thus entered 2018 as the hottest prospect on the planet, and he made good on the hype by capturing the NL Rookie of the Year award.

    The impressive part is how Acuna didn't even find his footing in the majors until the second half of 2018.

    He went into the All-Star break with a pedestrian .742 OPS and an ugly 30.4 K%. The Braves pushed him to make some changes to his swing, and he responded by morphing into an outright superstar. He dropped his K% down to 22.1 and let loose with a 1.028 OPS, 19 homers and 14 steals in 68 games.

    In light of his outstanding athleticism, it's a safe bet that Acuna hasn't yet displayed his best defense in left field. Nor his best baserunning, for that matter. If those things come and his bat stays on fire, he'll be an easy MVP candidate this year.

1. Alex Bregman, 3B, Houston Astros

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Opening Day Age: 24

    Key 2018 Statistics: 157 G, 705 PA, .286 AVG, .394 OBP, .532 SLUG, 31 HR, 10 SB

    Total MLB WAR: 12.7

    How did the Astros win 103 games in 2018 despite Correa's injuries and down years by Jose Altuve and George Springer?

    Start with Alex Bregman.

    Bregman debuted as a good hitter in 2016, became a better hitter in 2017 and finally transformed into an elite hitter last season. Among American League batting title qualifiers, his 156 OPS+ ranked behind only Mike Trout, Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez.

    Bregman arrived at that destination by steadily erasing his flaws and playing up his qualities. To wit, he walks more often than he strikes out, and he hasn't had to sacrifice any power to make that happen.

    According to the metrics, Bregman isn't much of a defender at the hot corner. Yet that conclusion warrants a healthy amount of skepticism. He's a regular on highlight reels, and he was last seen letting nothing get by him in the American League Championship Series.

    Even if Bregman doesn't get any better, he should still contend for the AL MVP in 2019. But since getting better is kind of his thing, nothing should be ruled out.

                 

    Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs, Baseball Savant, Baseball Prospectus and Brooks Baseball.