Each MLB Team's Young Player with the Most Superstar Upside

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystMay 15, 2022

Each MLB Team's Young Player with the Most Superstar Upside

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    Atlanta's Ronald Acuna Jr.
    Atlanta's Ronald Acuna Jr.Brett Davis/Associated Press

    Atlanta's Ronald Acuna Jr., Toronto's Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and San Diego's Fernando Tatis Jr. headline the list of young MLB players with the potential to become the face of their franchises in the very near future (if they aren't there already).

    Maybe this season has been a disaster for your favorite team and you're already prepared to start looking not only ahead to next season but several years down the road to see if the future is any brighter. Or maybe your team is thriving and you're curious how well-positioned the franchise is to let the good times roll for the next decade.

    Either way, it's interesting to think about who's got next, if you will.

    There are only two criteria that must be met in order to qualify for consideration:

    • In age-25 season (or younger)
    • Minimum of one AB or one IP at the MLB level

    The former ensures we're actually focused on young players while the latter keeps us from going down the prospect rabbit hole. While guys like Adley Rutschman, Jack Leiter and Marco Luciano may well rank among MLB's brightest stars within the next five years, we're sticking to guys who have already made it through the minor league ranks.

    Teams are broken up by division and listed in alphabetical order.

American League East

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    Toronto's Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
    Toronto's Vladimir Guerrero Jr.David Dermer/Associated Press

    Baltimore Orioles: Ryan Mountcastle, 1B
    .268/.299/.402, 4 HR, 2 SB

    The vast majority of Orioles who make any sort of positive impact are under the age of 30, but Mountcastle is one of the only ones who isn't already 26. The young first baseman clubbed a team-best 33 home runs in 2021, finishing top 10 in the AL Rookie of the Year vote for a second consecutive year. (He played just enough in 2020 to get some votes, but not quite enough to lose his rookie status.) And in back-to-back games a little over a week ago, he hit two home runs against Minnesota and got four hits against Kansas City.


    Boston Red Sox: Rafael Devers, 3B
    .308/.338/.496, 5 HR, 16 RBI

    Devers is already a bona fide star, though he won't turn 26 until October. Boston's third baseman led the majors in total bases in 2019, batting .311 with 54 doubles, 32 home runs and four triples. He also racked up 38 home runs and 113 RBI in 2021 en route to the first All-Star Game of his career. And while the Red Sox have been a huge disappointment this season, he has continued to thrive. As of Friday morning, he was at least tied for the team lead in each of hits, doubles, home runs and RBI. He's also having an excellent season at the hot corner with just one error in 88 chances.


    New York Yankees: Gleyber Torres, 2B
    .240/.279/.448, 5 HR, 18 RBI

    It feels weird to pine for the good ol' days of a middle infielder who just turned 25 in December, but will we ever see "early career" Torres again? He hit .275 and mashed 62 home runs between 2018 and 2019, but he's hitting .252 and has been on a 162-game pace of just 14 home runs since the beginning of 2020. We know the potential for greatness is there, and he does have four home runs in his last 43 plate appearances. He might be finally emerging from his cocoon.


    Tampa Bay Rays: Wander Franco, SS
    .295/.319/.473, 4 HR, 15 RBI, 3 SB

    He's the youngest of all players in this exercise, but the Rays sure are already committed to him for the long haul. Franco just turned 21 in March, but the wunderkind shortstop signed an 11-year, $182 million deal this past offseason after less than half a season in the big leagues. And the contract already looks like a steal for the Rays, as Franco has gotten out to a better start in 2022 than the likes of Corey Seager (10 years, $325 million) or Francisco Lindor (10 years, $341 million).


    Toronto Blue Jays: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 1B
    .284/.361/.500, 7 HR, 20 RBI

    Guerrero led the majors with 48 home runs last season, finishing behind only Shohei Ohtani in the AL MVP vote. Suffice it to say, the first baseman who turned 23 less than two months ago was a very easy choice here. However, we would be remiss if we didn't also mention 24-year-old Alek Manoah and 24-year-old Bo Bichette. The former has a 2.86 ERA and 1.01 WHIP through 26 career starts, and the latter led the AL with 191 hits last season, including 29 home runs and 25 stolen bases. Quite the trio of prodigies excelling north of the border.

American League Central

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    Chicago's Luis Robert
    Chicago's Luis RobertMichael Dwyer/Associated Press

    Cleveland Guardians: Steven Kwan, OF
    .284/.387/.409, 1 HR, 19 R, 13 RBI

    With eight players on the active roster under the age of 26, Cleveland takes the cake for the most candidates. All four of the hitters (Kwan, Andres Gimenez, Josh Naylor and Owen Miller) are thriving at the dish this season, while the four pitchers (Triston McKenzie, Emmanuel Clase, Sam Hentges and Nick Sandlin) have a cumulative 2022 ERA of around 2.70. Throw in the fact that the Guardians have five of MLB.com's top 85 prospects and you almost need welding goggles in order to look at Cleveland's bright future without damaging your eyes.

    Forced to choose just one of their budding stars, however, let's go with Kwan and his Tony Gwynn-like approach to hitting. Including his minor league stats from last season, Kwan is batting .321 with a 9.0 strikeout rate since the beginning of 2021. He won't turn 25 until September, but it already feels like he is destined for at least one batting title in his career.


    Chicago White Sox: Luis Robert, CF
    .287/.323/.447, 4 HR, 6 SB

    You could easily talk me into putting the entire Eloy Jimenez, Andrew Vaughn and Lu-Bob outfield, as Jimenez looks like an MVP when he's healthy and Vaughn is certainly no slouch as the No. 3 overall pick in the 2019 draft. But with both of those guys currently on the IL while Robert is doing his darnedest to carry what has been a very disappointing White Sox lineup thus far, he gets the nod here. He hit .338 last season and is hot right now to the tune of a .405 batting average thus far in May. The 24-year-old also already has a Gold Glove on his mantle.


    Detroit Tigers: Tarik Skubal, SP
    33.2 IP, 2.94 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 9.1 K/9

    We were promised greatness from 22-year-old first baseman Spencer Torkelson, but he entered this weekend with just four hits (all singles) and 21 strikeouts in his last 50 at-bats. No sense in sending him back down to triple-A with the Tigers already in possession of the worst record in the AL, but things have not gone according to plan. Skubal is looking great, though, after a 2021 campaign in which he allowed home runs (35 in 149.1 IP) at one of the highest rates in the majors. With just two long balls (both solo shots) allowed through six starts this season, this young lefty is pitching like an ace.


    Kansas City Royals: Bobby Witt Jr., 3B
    .211/.237/.325, 1 HR, 5 SB

    Like Detroit's Torkelson, this top preseason candidate for AL ROY hasn't been nearly what we expected. Witt batted .290 with 33 home runs and 29 stolen bases in 123 minor league games last season, but he has yet to find that groove at the Major League level. He did, however, have an 11-game hitting streak with a .342 average, punctuated by his only home run to date. So, at least there have been some prolonged flashes of greatness from this 21-year-old who is practically already the face of the franchise.


    Minnesota Twins: Luis Arraez, Utility
    .304/.396/.380, 1 HR

    Arraez is basically a more established, predominantly infield-playing version of Cleveland's Kwan. Among the 358 players with at least 500 plate appearances since the beginning of 2019, only Tim Anderson (.323) and Trea Turner (.314) have a higher batting average than Arraez (.312), and only Tommy La Stella (8.3 percent) has a lower strikeout rate (9.0 percent). Home runs and stolen bases are both few and far between, but he gets a lot of hits and has a surprisingly great glove for a guy who has already in his young career made multiple starts at five different positions.

American League West

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    Houston's Kyle Tucker
    Houston's Kyle TuckerTony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Houston Astros: Kyle Tucker, OF
    .248/.358/.434, 5 HR, 19 RBI, 8 SB

    Cleveland takes the cake as far as volume of candidates is concerned, but Houston has quite the cupcake of its own with Jeremy Pena, Yordan Alvarez, Luis Garcia and Cristian Javier all eligible for consideration. But by a narrow margin over Alvarezwho already has 11 home runs this seasonlet's go with Tucker here. Both youngsters can mash the ball, each boasting at least 30 home runs in 2021. But Tucker also provides speed on the basepaths and good value on defense. He's more likely to make an impact on a nightly basis for years to come.


    Los Angeles Angels: Reid Detmers, SP
    31.0 IP, 3.77 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, 5.8 K/9

    The Angels are another team with a ton of legitimate candidates. But how could we not go with the 22-year-old left-handed rookie who threw a no-hitter earlier this month? The K/9 rate definitely doesn't scream "star potential," but Detmers had 323 strikeouts in 197.1 IP (14.7 K/9) from 2019-21 between college and the minors. He's already doing a great job of avoiding hits, and he'll be even greater once he figures out how to start missing MLB bats altogether.


    Oakland Athletics: Cristian Pache, OF
    .163/.187/.250, 2 HR, 8 RBI

    This one is much more speculative than grounded in any sort of proven dominance at the MLB level, but Pache was the main draw for Oakland in the Matt Olson trade this past offseason. The hope is that this 23-year-old outfielder will soon be worthy of the everyday reps that he has been receiving thus far this season.


    Seattle Mariners: Julio Rodriguez, OF
    .246/.305/.331, 1 HR, 10 SB

    In April, Rodriguez only batted .206, but he stole nine bases. He's hitting much better in May (.311), though curiously with just one stolen base. Once this 21-year-old rookie figures out how to combine the best of both worlds, watch out. In 74 minor league games played in 2021, Rodriguez batted just under .350 with 13 home runs and 21 stolen bases. Cutting down on the strikeouts (32 percent) will be a big first step on his road to greatness.


    Texas Rangers: Sam Huff, C/1B
    .333/.333/.333 (two games)

    Huff's 2022 statistics are so minimal that they're meaningless, but he did bat .355 with three home runs in 10 games played during the 2020 campaign. The 24-year-old who bounces between catcher and first base also had 16 home runs in 249 plate appearances last year and has seven in 83 plate appearances with the Round Rock Express this season. One of these days, they need to give him a proper, prolonged audition at the MLB level.

National League East

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    Washington's Juan Soto
    Washington's Juan SotoAlex Brandon/Associated Press

    Atlanta Braves: Ronald Acuna Jr., OF
    .282/.391/.487, 2 HR, 5 SB (10 games)

    No speculation or projection needed here. Acuna is already one of baseball's brightest stars, regardless of age. The 24-year-old was the NL Rookie of the Year in 2018 and then racked up 41 home runs, 101 RBI and 37 stolen bases for an encore in 2019. He was roughly on pace to match each of those numbers last season prior to suffering a torn ACL. And with the exception of an elevated strikeout rate in his first two weeks back on the field, there's no indication he is barely 10 months removed from that major surgery.


    Miami Marlins: Jazz Chisholm Jr., 2B
    .283/.324/.586, 6 HR, 6 SB

    Could've also gone with Trevor Rogers in this spot, considering he had a 2.64 ERA last season en route to second place in the NL ROY vote. But that left-hander has gotten out to a rough start while Chisholm has been on some kind of a tear. The 24-year-old middle infielder had 18 home runs and 23 stolen bases last season, and he's on pace to join the 30/30 club this yearand with a much better batting average, to boot.


    New York Mets: Adonis Medina, RHP
    3.2 IP, 0.00 ERA, 0.273 WHIP, 9.8 K/9

    While some teams have at least half a dozen strong candidates for this list, the Mets have no one under the age of 26 with star potential (save for 21-year-old Ronny Mauricio, who has no MLB experience yet). But perhaps Medina will amount to something? The once highly touted prospect was waived by both the Phillies and the Pirates this offseason before landing with the Mets, where he has made two solid appearances out of the bullpen.


    Philadelphia Phillies: Alec Bohm, 3B
    .313/.354/.434, 2 HR, 15 RBI, 1 SB

    As a rookie in 2020, Bohm hit .338 in 180 plate appearances, which was good enough for a second-place finish in the NL ROY vote. The No. 3 overall pick in the 2018 draft took a colossal step backward in 2021, ranking bottom 10 in the majors in Baseball Reference WAR. But it appears he has shaken off that sophomore slump and is once again the long-term plan at third base for the Phillies. In fact, he has been so good as of late that they bumped him up from seventh to second in the order, in hopes of giving Bryce Harper and Nick Castellanos more RBI opportunities.


    Washington Nationals: Juan Soto, OF
    .266/.397/.508, 8 HR, 3 SB

    The Nationals are a red-hot mess right now, but they have quite the stockpile of young talent. Victor Robles, Josiah Gray, Keibert Ruiz and Joan Adon are each 25 or younger and already making a considerable impact. But there's no question Soto is the man for this spot. This is now his fifth season in the bigs, but he's still only 23. And youth didn't stop him from leading the majors in OPS in 2020, nor from finishing runner-up to Bryce Harper in last year's NL MVP vote. The big unknown is whether Washington can sign him to a long-term deal or if he'll be headed elsewhere on a megadeal in three years.

National League Central

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    Cincinnati's Hunter Greene
    Cincinnati's Hunter GreeneAaron Doster/Associated Press

    Chicago Cubs: Nick Madrigal, 2B
    .203/.250/.241, 0 HR, 1 SB

    Even after gutting last year's roster to embrace a rebuild, it's slim pickings for the Cubs. You could make a case for Nico Hoerner or maybe even Alfonso Rivas, but let's go with the second baseman who had a career .317 batting average prior to suffering a torn hamstring last June. He has just two home runs and four stolen bases through 408 career plate appearances, so "superstar upside" might be a stretch. But he could at least become a hit with Encanto fans by changing his walk-up song to "The Family Madrigal."


    Cincinnati Reds: Hunter Greene, SP
    26.0 IP, 7.62 ERA, 1.81 WHIP, 12.1 K/9

    The results haven't always been great, as Greene is giving up home runs at an alarming rate. But this flamethrower has more mystifying gas on his fastball than any rookie since perhaps Aroldis Chapman in 2010. He'll have to adjust to the fact that major leaguers can get a barrel on 103 MPH if you sugarcoat it belt high down the middle, but his development over the next four-plus months at least gives Reds fans some reason to watch.


    Milwaukee Brewers: Luis Urias, IF
    .281/.425/.500, 2 HR

    Urias injured his quad in the first game of spring training and didn't make his 2022 debut until May 3, but the utility infielder who hit 23 home runs last season (after none in 120 plate appearances in 2020) has gotten out to a great start after that delay. He has already made starts at each of 2B, 3B and SS as the Brewers once again work to get him into the starting lineup by any means necessary. He was a career .239 hitter prior to this season, so it would be a noteworthy development if he remains anywhere near his current mark for a prolonged time.


    Pittsburgh Pirates: Ke'Bryan Hayes, 3B
    .324/.424/.410, 0 HR, 3 SB

    As has been the case for the past two seasons, Hayes is just about the only attraction for the Pirates. He hit .376 with five home runs in 95 plate appearances in 2020 before what comparatively felt like a major letdown in 2021. However, at least the batting average is back, as he already has eight multi-hit games in the young season. Let's see if the power also resurfaces, lest the Pirates start to worry whether that eight-year, $70 million contract was a good idea.


    St. Louis Cardinals: Juan Yepez, DH/OF
    .382/.432/.647, 2 HR

    With an honorable mention to Dylan Carlson, who was an everyday staple in the outfield last year as a 22-year-old rookie, Yepez is the fascinating flavor of the week in St. Louis. His career-opening seven-game hitting streak came to an end Thursday, but he went 12-for-27 with five extra-base hits during that opening flourish. He hit 27 home runs in the minors last year and had blasted nine home runs in 93 plate appearances at Memphis this season before getting the call to the show.

National League West

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    Los Angeles' Julio Urias
    Los Angeles' Julio UriasKeith Srakocic/Associated Press

    Arizona Diamondbacks: Daulton Varsho, CF/C
    .248/.331/.476, 6 HR, 3 SB

    What Shohei Ohtani does for the Angels is exceptionally rare, but Varsho is quite the unicorn in his own right, playing both center field and catcher for the Diamondbacks. Not sure we've seen that type of dual-threat since the early days of Craig Biggio (1989-91) before he carved out a HOF career as a second baseman. Maybe Varsho goes a similar route one day, and he has both the power and the speed to find a home somewhere in the lineup for many years to come. (Recently promoted Alek Thomas is also a potential star in the making.)


    Colorado Rockies: Brendan Rodgers, 2B
    .193/.242/.318, 2 HR

    It doesn't get much worse than the start to this season that Rodgers had. He went 4-for-51 in April with 16 strikeouts and one RBI. Only Atlanta's Eddie Rosario had a worse start, and he's expected to miss up to three months following laser eye surgery. But thus far in May, Rodgers has looked much more like the guy who hit .284 with 15 home runs in 102 games played last season. And thank goodness, because there is no one else under the age of 26 worth considering here.


    Los Angeles Dodgers: Julio Urias, SP
    30.0 IP, 2.10 ERA, 1.100 WHIP, 6.9 K/9

    Hard to believe Urias is still only 25, as this is the lefty's seventh season in the big leagues. And over the past three-plus years, he has logged more than 350 innings of work with a 2.83 ERA. The only other members of the 350-plus IP, sub-3.00 ERA club since the beginning of 2019 are Max Scherzer, Jacob deGrom, Gerrit Cole, Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler. Sheesh.

    Also, it's ridiculous that the Dodgers have the highest payroll in baseball and also a whole bunch of strong candidates for this list. Dustin May, Caleb Ferguson, Gavin Lux and Brusdar Graterol all would have warranted at least some consideration if Urias was not the obvious choice.


    San Diego Padres: Fernando Tatis Jr., SS
    Has not played yet in 2022 (broken wrist)

    Speaking of an obvious choice with strong candidates behind him, Tatis is the no-brainer pick for the Padres, but both 23-year-old pitcher MacKenzie Gore and 21-year-old middle infielder C.J. Abrams have extremely bright futures. But as far as 23-year-old Tatis is concerned, we're all patiently waiting for the return of our bat-flipping king. He finished fourth in the 2020 NL MVP vote and third last year. If he can stay healthy moving forward, there's bound to be at least one first-place finish on the horizon.


    San Francisco Giants: Logan Webb, SP
    41.1 IP, 3.48 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 6.1 K/9

    Yet another NL West team with multiple great candidates, as Camilo Doval is already thriving as San Francisco's closer while the No. 2 overall pick in the 2018 draft, Joey Bart, is hoping to cement a legacy as more than just "the guy who replaced Buster Posey." However, the pick here is Webb, who had a 2.40 ERA over his final 20 starts of last season before making two sensational starts (14.2 IP, 1 ER, 17 K, 0.682 WHIP) in the NLDS against the Dodgers. He also had an eight-inning gem against the Padres back in mid-April and would be the ace of this staff if Carlos Rodon wasn't putting up Cy Young-worthy numbers.