Which MLB Team Has the Most Elite Young Talent Ahead of 2020 Season?
If and when Major League Baseball returns in 2020, at least one thing will remain unchanged: Young talent will still be the game's most valuable currency.
Today's task is to discern which teams are well-stocked with it.
As in years past, we set our sights on major leaguers and prospects who are 25 years old (seasonally speaking) or younger and applied a scoring system that emphasizes quality over quantity:
- Superstars (10 Points): For the most part, these are players who already have at least one five-WAR season under their belts, according to either Baseball Reference or FanGraphs. We also squeezed in a certain Washington Nationals star who ZiPS has been projecting as a five-WAR player for 2020.
- Lesser Stars (5 Points): These are players who have managed at least a two-WAR season or who are projected for one in 2020 by ZiPS or Steamer. However, any prospects who made the cut were instead scored according to the next stipulation.
- Key Prospects (1-3 Points): Prospects got one point for each appearance in the top 100s of MLB.com, ESPN.com and FanGraphs.
Though some players fell through the cracks, we'll be sure to mention the ones who deserve their due credit.
Let's go ahead and count 'em down.
30-21: Texas Rangers-Kansas City Royals
30. Texas Rangers (8 points)
Lesser Star (High WAR): LHP Kolby Allard (2.0 zWAR)
Prospects (Lists): 3B Josh Jung (1), C Sam Huff (1), RHP Yerry Rodriguez (1)
This isn't counting Willie Calhoun, Ronald Guzman and Nick Solak, who could make a difference in the Texas Rangers lineup this season. Yet none is a proven star, and Kolby Allard likely won't live up to his projection unless he cracks Texas' star-studded rotation.
29. Baltimore Orioles (9 points)
Prospects (Lists): C Adley Rutschman (3), RHP Grayson Rodriguez (3), LHP DL Hall (2), 1B Ryan Mountcastle (1)
To be fair, this could be the year that former top prospect Austin Hays breaks out as a star center fielder. But generally, it'll be another year or two before the Baltimore Orioles' rebuild starts making a difference at the major league level.
28. Chicago Cubs (10 points)
Prospects (Lists): INF Nico Hoerner (3), C Miguel Amaya (3), OF Brennen Davis (3), LHP Brailyn Marquez (1)
Ian Happ will be a difference-maker for the Chicago Cubs this season if he carries over his red-hot September from last season. Likewise, Nico Hoerner has a chance to emerge as the team's everyday second baseman.
27. San Francisco Giants (11 points)
Prospects (Lists): C Joey Bart (3), OF Heliot Ramos (3), SS Marco Luciano (3), OF Hunter Bishop (1), LHP Seth Corry (1)
Keep an eye on Mauricio Dubon, who's set to be the San Francisco Giants' second baseman after a strong showing late in 2019. It also won't be long before Joey Bart supplants Buster Posey behind the plate.
T-25. Philadelphia Phillies (12 points)
Lesser Star (High WAR): RHP Seranthony Dominguez (2.3 rWAR)
Prospects (Lists): 3B Alec Bohm (3), RHP Spencer Howard (3), SS Bryson Stott (1)
More so than Seranthony Dominguez, whose elbow is on the fritz, it's center fielder Adam Haseley who represents the Philadelphia Phillies' best hope of having a young star in 2020. Alec Bohm and Spencer Howard could also debut this season.
T-25. Detroit Tigers (12 points)
Prospects (Lists): RHP Casey Mize (3), RHP Matt Manning (3), LHP Tarik Skubal (3), OF Riley Greene (3)
Missing from this picture is Joe Jimenez, an All-Star reliever who probably deserves better than the 4.34 ERA he's posted over the last two seasons. Yet the Detroit Tigers are surely more excited about the prospects they have waiting in the wings, among whom Casey Mize is the best.
24. Colorado Rockies (13 points)
Prospects (Lists): INF Brendan Rodgers (3)
Antonio Senzatela doesn't inspire nearly as much confidence as German Marquez, who boasts an above-average 116 ERA+ since 2017. Speaking of, the Colorado Rockies are probably feeling confident in second baseman Ryan McMahon in light of his strong finish to 2019.
23. Oakland Athletics (14 points)
Lesser Star (High WAR): CF Ramon Laureano (3.9 fWAR)
Prospects (Lists): LHP Jesus Luzardo (3), LHP A.J. Puk (3), C Sean Murphy (3)
Ramon Laureano is one of the best two-way center fielders in baseball today, and each of the Oakland Athletics' top three prospects is a Rookie of the Year candidate for 2020. This could also be a breakthrough year for former top prospect Franklin Barreto.
22. Cincinnati Reds (16 points)
Lesser Star (High WAR): RHP Tyler Mahle (2.2 zWAR)
Prospects (Lists): RHP Hunter Greene (3), LHP Nick Lodolo (3), SS Jose Garcia (2), C Tyler Stephenson (2), 3B Jonathan India (1)
Similar to Allard, Tyler Mahle will have a hard time living up to his optimistic projection if he can't get into the Cincinnati Reds' starting rotation. He does have good stuff, though, and the Reds are sitting on a solid farm system.
21. Kansas City Royals (17 points)
Prospects (Lists): SS Bobby Witt Jr. (3), LHP Daniel Lynch (3), RHP Brady Singer (1)
Brad Keller is the Kansas City Royals' ace, and Adalberto Mondesi has superstar potential as a slick-fielding shortstop with speed and power. Meanwhile, the club's farm system is arguably one of the 10 best in all of baseball.
20-11: Seattle Mariners-Arizona Diamondbacks
T-19. Seattle Mariners (18 points)
Lesser Star (High WAR): SS J.P. Crawford (2.2 sWAR)
Prospects (Lists): OF Jarred Kelenic (3), OF Julio Rodriguez (3), 1B Evan White (3), RHP Logan Gilbert (3), RHP George Kirby (1)
Though only J.P. Crawford is represented here, the Seattle Mariners also have some intriguing youngsters in the persons of outfielder Kyle Lewis and left-hander Justus Sheffield. They're also clearly high on Evan White, who signed a six-year contract before even making his debut.
T-19. Los Angeles Angels (18 points)
Prospects (Lists): OF Jo Adell (3), OF Brandon Marsh (3), OF Jordyn Adams (2)
Jaime Barria has much to prove after going bust in 2019, but a healthy Shohei Ohtani is a potential superstar on the mound and in the box. And in Jo Adell, the Los Angeles Angels might have the best outfield prospect of them all.
T-17. Pittsburgh Pirates (19 points)
Lesser Star (High WAR): OF Bryan Reynolds (4.1 rWAR)
Prospects (Lists): RHP Mitch Keller (3), 3B Ke'Bryan Hayes (3), SS Oneil Cruz (3), OF Travis Swaggerty (2), SS Liover Peguero (2), RHP Tahnaj Thomas (1)
By way of his .314 average and .880 OPS, Bryan Reynolds was a bright spot in the Pittsburgh Pirates' otherwise dim 2019 season. Mitch Keller also pitched much better than his 7.13 ERA would suggest, and he might not even be the best prospect in Pittsburgh's farm system.
T-17. Minnesota Twins (19 points)
Lesser Star (High WAR): 2B Luis Arraez (2.8 zWAR)
Prospects (Lists): SS Royce Lewis (3), OF Alex Kirilloff (3), OF Trevor Larnach (3), RHP Jordan Balazovic (3), RHP Jhoan Duran (2)
Though his diminutive power makes him an odd fit for the Minnesota Twins lineup, Luis Arraez hit .334 last year. And if not this year, the Twins should start harvesting the best players from their farm system no later than 2021.
T-15. Washington Nationals (21 points)
Superstar (High WAR): LF Juan Soto (5.7 zWAR)
Lesser Star (High WAR): CF Victor Robles (4.1 rWAR)
Prospects (Lists): 3B Carter Kieboom (3), SS Luis Garcia (3)
Juan Soto is one of the very best hitters in baseball, while Victor Robles might be the best defender in the league. Throw in how Carter Kieboom and Luis Garcia are both well-regarded prospects and the Washington Nationals have plenty of quality to make up for their shortage of quantity.
T-15. Milwaukee Brewers (21 points)
Prospects (Lists): SS Brice Turang (1)
Granted, Orlando Arcia is now on the Milwaukee Brewers' bench after struggling in each of the last two seasons. But don't underestimate Keston Hiura and Luis Urias as a potential star duo in the middle of the infield. Likewise, Eric Lauer is a better pitcher than he gets credit for.
14. New York Yankees (22 points)
Prospects (Lists): OF Jasson Dominguez (3), RHP Deivi Garcia (3), RHP Clarke Schmidt (2), SS Alexander Vargas (2), 2B Ezequiel Duran (1), OF Kevin Alcantara (1)
Especially now that he's back at shortstop, Gleyber Torres is this close to becoming the New York Yankees' next great superstar. This could also be a bounce-back year for Miguel Andujar, who had shoulder surgery last May. Because he's only 17, just don't expect to see Jasson Dominguez in the Bronx any time soon.
13. New York Mets (23 points)
Superstar (High WAR): 1B Pete Alonso (5.2 rWAR)
Lesser Star (High WAR): SS Amed Rosario (2.7 fWAR)
Prospects (Lists): SS Ronny Mauricio (3), C Francisco Alvarez (2), SS Andres Gimenez (2), 3B Brett Baty (1)
Pete Alonso is fresh off setting a new rookie record with 53 home runs, and Amed Rosario had a pretty good season in his own right in 2019. Also, don't overlook Dom Smith, who'll get a chance to play every day for the New York Mets if the National League adopts the designated hitter for 2020.
12. Miami Marlins (24 points)
Prospects (Lists): RHP Sixto Sanchez (3), SS Jazz Chisholm (3), OF JJ Bleday (3), RHP Edward Cabrera (3), OF Jesus Sanchez (2)
Even if that's an overly bullish projection for Pablo Lopez, the Miami Marlins have to like how he and Sandy Alcantara fit into their young, talented rotation. They also have to like that they've built one of the very best farm systems in baseball.
11. Arizona Diamondbacks (25 points)
Prospects (Lists): OF Kristian Robinson (3), OF Alek Thomas (3), C Daulton Varsho (3), SS Geraldo Perdomo (3), OF Corbin Carroll (3)
Zac Gallen and Carson Kelly are overlooked rising stars at their positions, yet the main attraction here is surely the Arizona Diamondbacks' farm system. Even after those five headliners, there are still quality prospects like first baseman Seth Beer and right-handers Corbin Martin and J.B. Bukauskas.
10. Boston Red Sox (26 Points)
Superstar (High WAR): 3B Rafael Devers (5.9 fWAR)
Prospects (Lists): SS Jeter Downs (3), 1B Triston Casas (3)
Even sans Mookie Betts, the Boston Red Sox must like how their lineup largely consists of exciting young hitters.
There are more questions surrounding Andrew Benintendi and Alex Verdugo, but both have tantalizing skill sets on offense and defense. Benintendi, in particular, was on an All-Star trajectory through 2018 before he endured a down season a year ago.
Also intriguing are second baseman Michael Chavis and left-hander Darwinzon Hernandez. The former powered his way to 18 home runs as a rookie in 2019, while the latter has a sort of Josh Hader profile as a fastball-ing reliever.
Though Boston's farm system is lacking in depth, Jeter Downs and Triston Casas do much to redeem it. Both could force their way onto the club's infield within the next few seasons.
9. Cleveland Indians (28 Points)
Superstar (High WAR): RHP Shane Bieber (5.6 fWAR)
Prospects (Lists): 3B Nolan Jones (3), SS Tyler Freeman (3), OF George Valera (2)
It'll be odd to behold a Cleveland Indians rotation headed by someone other than Corey Kluber in 2020. Shane Bieber, however, is well-suited for the job.
He went into 2019 as a breakout candidate, and he more than made good on the hype. He logged a 3.28 ERA over 214.1 innings, notably with the help of an American League-low rate of 1.7 walks per nine innings.
It's harder to buy into Oscar Mercado and Zach Plesac as stars, but they shouldn't be sold short, either. Mercado notched 15 home runs and 15 stolen bases while playing an outstanding center field in 2019. For his part, Plesac had a solid 3.81 ERA in 21 starts.
Otherwise, Franmil Reyes at least deserves a shoutout. Albeit with only a .310 on-base percentage and no defensive value, he did slug 37 homers last season.
There's less to speak of regarding Cleveland's farm system, but Nolan Jones is worth keeping an eye on. He has potential as a power-hitting third baseman.
T-7. St. Louis Cardinals (29 Points)
Superstar (High WAR): RHP Jack Flaherty (5.7 rWAR)
Prospects (Lists): OF Dylan Carlson (3), 3B Nolan Gorman (3), LHP Matthew Liberatore (2), C Ivan Herrera (1)
When last anyone saw the St. Louis Cardinals, their ace was arguably the best pitcher in baseball.
That was Jack Flaherty. Starting on July 7, he rode his deadly fastball/slider combination to a 0.93 ERA with 130 strikeouts and only 24 walks over his final 16 starts of 2019.
Despite his MLB-high 86 walks, Dakota Hudson turned in a 3.35 ERA over 174.2 innings of his own in 2019. And if Tommy Edman can't hold down left field after hitting .304 last year, fellow youngsters Tyler O'Neill and Lane Thomas will push him for the job.
For that matter, so will Dylan Carlson. He might not be baseball's best outfield prospect, but he might be its most major league-ready after posting a .914 OPS with 26 homers and 20 steals at Double-A and Triple-A in 2019.
You might notice that right-hander Alex Reyes, who's still just 25, isn't featured here despite his 2.3 rWAR as in 2016. Because that was four years and multiple serious injuries ago, it seemed fair to exclude him.
T-7. Houston Astros (29 Points)
Superstar (High WAR): SS Carlos Correa (7.0 rWAR)
Prospects (Lists): RHP Forrest Whitley (3), RHP Jose Urquidy (1)
Even though he's heading into his sixth major league season, Carlos Correa is indeed still only 25 years old.
Because he's played in only 294 games since 2017, the Houston Astros must hope that the 2020 campaign is a healthy one for Correa. But when he is healthy, he's proved himself as an elite offensive shortstop. Per outs above average, he was also one of the position's top defenders in 2019.
Yordan Alvarez, meanwhile, needed only 87 games to capture the American League Rookie of the Year for 2019. That's what happens when a guy hits .313/.412/.655 with 27 home runs.
Wondering why Kyle Tucker has such an optimistic projection? Well, he was an elite prospect just last year, which ultimately saw him achieve a 30/30 season with a .909 OPS at Triple-A.
Apart from when he was suspended for 75 games for a violation of the MLB's Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse policy, Roberto Osuna has been one of baseball's top relievers since 2015. For their part, Forrest Whitley and Jose Urquidy are both out to claim spots in Houston's Gerrit Cole-less rotation.
T-5. Toronto Blue Jays (30 Points)
Prospects (Lists): RHP Nate Pearson (3), SS Jordan Groshans (3), RHP Simeon Woods Richardson (3), SS Orelvis Martinez (1)
At the heart of the Toronto Blue Jays lineup are three talented sons of famous fathers.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Cavan Biggio are the sons of Hall of Famers Vladimir and Craig, respectively. Bo Bichette's old man, Dante, isn't in Cooperstown, but he was an All-Star and MVP contender during his heyday with the Rockies.
All three showed promise as rookies in 2019, ultimately combining for an .810 OPS and 42 home runs in 269 total games. And if Danny Jansen doesn't join them as a partner in crime, fellow catcher Reese McGuire might be up to it after breaking in with an .872 OPS in 30 games for the Blue Jays last season.
And keep in mind, this is just the first wave of prospect talent coming from Toronto's farm system.
There are still more prospects down there, including Nate Pearson. He has a true 80-grade fastball that sure looked ready for The Show back in spring training.
T-5. San Diego Padres (30 Points)
Prospects (Lists): LHP MacKenzie Gore (3), SS CJ Abrams (3), RHP Luis Patino (3), C Luis Campusano (3), OF Taylor Trammell (3)
Right now, you might be thinking that Fernando Tatis Jr. deserves better than to be referred to as a "lesser star."
That's fair given that he put up a .969 OPS with 22 homers and 16 steals in only 84 games as a 20-year-old rookie in 2019. He has some rough edges to smooth over before he can go any further, but there's little question he has MVP-level upside.
To his credit, Chris Paddack might have Cy Young Award upside if he finds a third pitch to go with his fastball and changeup. Tatis also has some young company in the San Diego Padres lineup. Trent Grisham is coming off a massive year in the Brewers organization, and Francisco Mejia has the goods to be a star catcher.
Underneath all this, meanwhile, is arguably the best farm system in the National League.
San Diego's system is marked by both depth and headliners, none of whom are as electric as MacKenzie Gore. By way of four plus pitches and plus command, he has a strong case as baseball's best pitching prospect.
4. Los Angeles Dodgers (40 Points)
Lesser Stars (High WAR): C Will Smith (2.7 zWAR)
Prospects (Lists): INF Gavin Lux (3), RHP Dustin May (3), RHP Josiah Gray (3), C Keibert Ruiz (3), RHP Brusdar Graterol (2), RHP Tony Gonsolin (1)
These final four teams are unmatched with regard to their hordes of young talent, and the Los Angeles Dodgers boast the shiniest piece of the collective treasure.
Cody Bellinger led the National League in WAR last season, which he also marked with a 1.035 OPS and 47 home runs. Given his ability to play right field, center field and first base at above-average levels, he might also be the best pure defender in the majors.
Not to be outdone, Walker Buehler matches up with any pitcher when it comes to pure stuff. It was certainly working for him last year as he had a 3.26 ERA and a 5.8 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 182.1 innings.
Will Smith also had a strong season in 2019, quietly putting up a .907 OPS with 15 homers in 54 games. Why the projections don't favor left-hander Julio Urias as well is something of a mystery. He's mostly been productive when he's pitched over the last four seasons, and he now has a rotation spot in hand.
It borders on unfair that the Dodgers also have an outstanding farm system. Moreover, Gavin Lux isn't just their best prospect. He's generally recognized as the best prospect in the National League.
3. Chicago White Sox (42 Points)
Prospects (Lists): OF Luis Robert (3), 1B Andrew Vaughn (3), RHP Michael Kopech (3), 2B Nick Madrigal (3)
It might not happen this season, but it seems inevitable that the Chicago White Sox will climb back atop the American League Central in the near future.
When it happens, Yoan Moncada and Lucas Giolito will have a lot to do with it. Both are coming off breakout years in 2019. Moncada had a .915 OPS and 25 homers, and Giolito had a 3.41 ERA with 11.6 strikeouts per nine innings. Plus, both have potential beyond what they showed last season.
Ditto for Eloy Jimenez, who hit 31 home runs as a rookie despite having only two hot months in June and September. Dylan Cease had a ruder introduction to the majors, but he whiffed 10 batters per nine innings with the help of his 96.5 mph fastball.
Michael Kopech can throw even harder than that, so it's saying something that he isn't even Chicago's best prospect. Nor is Andrew Vaughn, even though he projects as an elite hitter and slugger.
Nope, the best prospect the White Sox have is Luis Robert. And they're all-in on him after his electrifying 30/30 season in the minors last year. He effectively locked up a job in center field when he inked a six-year contract in January.
2. Tampa Bay Rays (44 Points)
Prospects (Lists): SS Wander Franco (3), LHP/DH Brendan McKay (3), INF Vidal Brujan (3), INF Xavier Edwards (3), RHP Brent Honeywell Jr. (3), OF Josh Lowe (2), RHP Shane Baz (1), LHP Shane McClanahan (1)
The Tampa Bay Rays' farm system is the best there is, and it features a truly generational talent.
Wander Franco was just 18 as he played through 114 games at the Single-A and High-A levels of the minors in 2019. Yet he hit .327 with an .885 OPS and 21 more walks than strikeouts. If that's a sign of things to come, the Rays have a potential MVP shortstop in their future.
In the meantime, it's not like they're hurting for talent at the major league level.
Austin Meadows was the best hitter in Tampa Bay's lineup last year, in which he went off for a .922 OPS and 33 home runs. Brandon Lowe also did well with an .850 OPS in an injury-shortened rookie season, while Willy Adames held it down at shortstop with 20 homers and slick defense.
Are Manuel Margot and Jose Alvarado really that good? Maybe not, but the former is at least a dazzling defender, and the latter is famous for throwing that fastball. So they're not slouches, either.
1. Atlanta Braves (45 Points)
Prospects (Lists): OF Cristian Pache (3), OF Drew Waters (3), RHP Ian Anderson (3), RHP Kyle Wright (2), C Shea Langeliers (2), RHP Bryse Wilson (1), SS Braden Shewmake (1)
Among the many reasons the Atlanta Braves have won back-to-back National League East titles is this one: As a duo, Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies are as productive as they are entertaining.
Acuna isn't even a finished product yet, but that hasn't stopped him from winning the NL Rookie of the Year in 2018 and then coming three steals shy of a 40/40 season in 2019.
Albies is more of a low-key star, but there's ultimately little he can't do on the diamond. Last year, for instance, saw him post an .852 OPS with 24 homers and 15 steals while playing Gold Glove-caliber defense.
Mike Soroka was an oddity in that he posted a 2.68 ERA despite striking out only 7.3 batters per nine innings in 2019. Yet that reflects his excellence at managing contact, which is most easily seen in his NL-low rate of 0.7 home runs per nine innings.
For now, these three are all the Braves have for 25-and-under talent on their major league roster. But there's plenty more where it came from in their farm system, and that's not even counting former top prospect Austin Riley. After hitting 18 homers in the majors last year, he should be heard from again in 2020.