My dynasty rankings: The top players under age 25

I have often been asked how the most recent crop of minor league up-and-comers compares with the best of the youngsters already in the majors. There’s no better way to express my thoughts than to give you a black-and-white listing of the best players in baseball under age 25.

1. Evan Longoria / 3B / Tampa Bay. Longoria has some strong competition, but for my money, he’s the best third baseman in baseball and the top fantasy pick at his position in every league format, let alone a dynasty league.

2. Justin Upton / OF / Arizona. It’s hard to believe that Upton is still only 22 years old (for another week or so). Like Longoria, Upton sports the triple threat that creates a fantasy superstar: power, speed, and batting average. Longoria gets the slight No. 1 nod due to the position scarcity.

3. Jason Heyward / OF / Atlanta. Heyward and Upton sport comparable skill sets, and I would argue that Heyward has even more power potential. Heyward is in the midst of a fine rookie season, propelling him up this board, but he has further steps to take before anyone even dreams of taking him ahead of Upton.

4. Stephen Strasburg / SP / Washington. Strasburg has been a revelation, exciting the entire baseball universe. His only negatives (and it’s more stigma than personal faults) are the long-term team surrounding him in Washington and the fact that injuries can derail a young pitcher’s career more so than a position player.

5. Felix Hernandez / SP / Seattle. Hernandez quietly has a Hall of Fame career brewing and he’s just 24 years old. He has the ability to be a Top-5 fantasy pitcher every year for the next decade.

6. Clayton Kershaw / SP / LA Dodgers. Kershaw is a special talent who seems to get better with each passing year. His command still comes and goes at times and may be the fault that ultimately keeps him one peg below Strasburg and King Felix.

7. Colby Rasmus / OF / St. Louis. Rasmus is another five-tool outfielder who is progressing nicely. But when all is said and done, I don’t think he will have the career that Upton and Heyward will have.

8. David Price / SP / Tampa Bay. His command is a work in progress and he plays in the rough-and-tumble AL East, but I have no problems labeling Price an ace in this his first full year in the big leagues.

9. Yovani Gallardo / SP / Milwaukee. Gallardo doesn’t have the velocity of the pitchers in front of him, but he gets his strikeouts with his fear-inducing curveball, one of the best in the business. He has the makeup of a long-term ace.

10. Carlos Santana / C / Cleveland. The leg injury notwithstanding, at this early stage I am projecting Santana to be a 30-home-run hitter in his prime, which is fantasy gold at catcher. His batting average and tremendous walk rate will be assets as well.

11. Tommy Hanson / SP / Atlanta. I have a lot of faith in Hanson being the next great Atlanta ace. After all, he did end the year No. 2 on my 2009 Top-100 list. With another step up in his development, he will be right there with the best pitchers in baseball.

12. Matt Wieters / C / Baltimore. I might be a bit thickheaded, but Wieters’ early major league struggles aren’t dissuading me much. I do have Santana ahead of him, however, which is noteworthy. But the potential to be a .300/30 hitter is still there. It’s just much less of a sure thing.

13. Mat Latos / SP / San Diego. Petco is a pitcher’s park, and Latos will take full advantage for as long as he can. He isn’t just a product of his surroundings, however. He is a legit ace at just 22, with room to grow. I just worry about his injury history continuing to pile up.

14. Mike Stanton / OF / Florida. Stanton absolutely has a chance to be one of the best power hitters in baseball, but he is oh so young with much to prove.

15. Billy Butler / 1B / Kansas City. Butler appears to be a perennial .300 hitter, but the home run pop is still not all there. I am counting on it developing, however.

16. Carlos Gonzalez / OF / Colorado. I have never been a big Gonzalez fan, but wow, he has really taken off in 2010. I was thinking 15-20 home runs would be his prime maximum, and here we are in early August and he’s thinking about 30. His walk rate is paltry and I’m not sold on the power being an annual mainstay, but give the young man credit.

17. Buster Posey / C / San Francisco. Posey, at times, has been hitting like a man possessed. But make no mistake, he is not the next Joe Mauer, and he has benefited from being able to split his defensive duties between catcher and first base. Full-time catching duties take their toll.

18. Madison Bumgarner / SP / San Francisco. Bumgarner got off to a slow start in 2010, but he quickly picked up the pace. I would say he has matured nicely this year. The future is bright, but there are more lessons to be learned.

19. Phil Hughes / SP / NY Yankees. The hype did not destroy Hughes. The Yankees may have found themselves a long-term ace who they don’t need to pay $25,000,000 a year. Hughes isn’t quite there yet, but his electric stuff sure is.

20. Jesus Montero / C / NY Yankees. With everyone else on this Top-10 graduating to the big leagues, that leaves Montero as my early favorite for No. 1 prospect in 2011. It’s hard to believe considering his early struggles, but he has turned his season around and possesses superstar potential in his bat.

Just missing the cut:
21. Andrew McCutchen / OF / Pittsburgh
22. Jay Bruce / OF / Cincinnati
23. Brett Anderson / SP / Oakland
24. Jeremy Hellickson / SP / Tampa Bay
25. Bryce Harper / OF / Washington
26. Johnny Cueto / SP / Cincinnati
27. Desmond Jennings / OF / Tampa Bay
28. Mike Moustakas / 3B / Kansas City
29. Brian Matusz / SP / Baltimore
30. Martin Perez / SP / Texas

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Comments

  1. W said...

    “really, Billy Butler over Carlos Gonzalez? is there any scenario where that is the case.”

    Any league that counts Ks, BBs, or OBP, maybe?

  2. Jonathan Sher said...

    Hey Matt,

    It’s always hard to come up with dynasty lists because players under 25 are at such different stages of development.

    Going way down on your list, Mike Moustakas is an interesting choice. While he has re-established himself as a top prospect, some Royals insiders would rank him second or third in their organization behind Eric Hosmer and Wil Myers.

    I personally like Hosmer better as a prospect. His 2009 season was marred by bad vision and a nagging injury but both were corrected prior to this year and he has been a force. He’s a year younger than Moustakas but has put up comparable numbers at AA this year and much better numbers at High-A than Moustakas did last year. I think they have comparable power but Hosmer has better plate discipline and contact skills.

    If Moustakas was a good-fielding 3b, that might balance things out, but there are questions about his defense.

    Myers is even farther away and whether he remains at catcher is hard to say, but the possibility he might has elevated his prospect status.

  3. Anthony T said...

    I hear you on the KC prospects Jonathan. 
    The only thing that gives me caution on Moustakas is his plate discipline.  The guy has great power, but he just doesn’t walk.  I think big league pitchers will take advantage of his hacking (1 walk in 98 AAA AB’s).  He makes good contact (just 12 K’s in 98 AAA AB’s), but I think he’ll be exploited at the next level if he doesn’t learn to take some pitches.  His OBP in AA this year looks good, but a great many of those were intentional passes.

    The issue with putting Hosmer ahead of Moustakas is that Hosmer plays 1B.  Hitting wise, I’d say most definitely.  But since he plays at a strong position,  he gets notched down in my book.

    Putting Bryce Harper on this list might be a bit premature.  I think Domonic Brown would’ve been a better choice.

  4. this guy said...

    Starlin Castro? Delmon Young? Strasburg above Felix?

    This list is terrible. It’s going to look like a joke 5 years from now. I don’t even know where to begin.

  5. W said...

    “Naming a power hitting 3B with no speed as #1 keeper = Fantasy noob.”

    Is that supposed to be serious? Longoria is 15/18 in stolen base attempts so far this year.

  6. this guy said...

    @W

    Thats more than I thought he had, to be honest. With that said, that’s not enough to offset the positional scarcity at other positions. Alvarez, Zimmerman, Sandoval, Gordon, Wright, Ramirez, Youkilis (in some leagues), Arod, etc.

    SS, C >>>>> 3B

    Longo is an awesome keeper, and cornerstone of any team. Amazing player. He’s just not dominant enough to be #1 as a 3B. He has to be “Arod in his prime” good. It’s possible he gets there, but given that Arod breaks records every year, it’s doubtful.

  7. W said...

    @this guy

    I hear what you’re saying about position scarcity, but maybe you are misunderstanding the list? Its a list of top keepers under age 25. Matt Hagen is not necessarily suggesting that Longoria is an outright #1 keeper, rather, he is the best keeper under age 25 right now. IMO, its tough to argue with that assertion.

  8. Miles said...

    @this guy

    I don’t think that the author is implying that Longoria should be a consistent #1 pick or top pick amongst under-25’s every year.  However, in terms of an investment in a dynasty, Longoria is the best (along with Justin Upton).  Given the attrition rate/stagnation of most catchers and the lack of production of under-25 SS’s, position scarcity shouldn’t eclipse a consistently excellent #1/2 dynasty investment.

    I’m surprised how low McCutchen is, though.  I’d have him in the CarGo/Butler range, seeing as how he has the tools to improve in power and remain valuable in steals.

  9. stephen said...

    Jay Bruce? Are you serious? If you’re going to mention him at #22, then doesn’t Ike Davis deserve some credit? They’re the same age, but Davis has a higher WAR and wOBA than Bruce this year, and he’s a rookie. Bruce has been around a few years and is regressing.

  10. PJ said...

    That little statement under Buster Posey is the dumbest fantasy analysis I have read on the internet in a while. And the funniest part is that while catching will take a toll o Posey, it won’t take a toll on a guy that has already had 2 knee injuries i his rookie year. Great job!

  11. Matt said...

    How is what Hagen wrote about Posey dumb? The basic point of the comment was to explain why Posey doesn’t rank higher, despite hitting like 2009-era Mauer (minus the walks). The reason he doesn’t rank higher is that A) He’s been getting super lucky (.370+ BABIP), and B) He’s almost certainly not going to keep splitting his time equally between C and 1B, which will either have a further negative impact on his hitting (if he moves primarily to C—- pretty much everybody hits worse as a C) or have a negative impact on his positional eligibility (if he moves primarily to 1B).

    Also, he didn’t say that catching would take a toll on Posey but not Santana. That’s what we call a straw man argument. My guess is that Hagen ranks Santana higher because where Posey’s been lucky at the plate, Santana’s been unlucky (.277 BABIP), and also, Santana’s played catcher in 40 of his 46 games, meaning, small sample sizes aside, that the detrimental impact of full-time catching is already accounted for in his batting stats.

  12. starkweather said...

    As the owner of both Posey and Carlos Santana in a keeper league I have to ask the question: is Posey going to catch more games next year?  Or is he going to end up at 1B?  He’s already C eligible for next season anyway but I wonder if his bat might be too valuable to take the chance on him getting broken like Santana.  Am I nuts for thinking Elvis Andrus belongs on this list?

  13. PJ said...

    Okay, you’ve convinced me. The guy hitting .260 and has 2 knee injuries and will be out for 4-6 months is a better keeper then the guy who plays two positions and almost broke the Giants hitting streak record.

    And I think a guy named Smoak can attest that BABIP is not all dependent on “luck.”

  14. hugekiwi said...

    Would Domonic Brown not have jumped ahead of Desmond Jennings at this stage? He has displayed power, speed, and contact skills already, and Jennings’ power is still a projection (not to mention the dodgy injury history).

  15. Nick said...

    PJ, ya maybe, but Posey’s LD% is 23.4% compared to Smoak’s 22.6% doesn’t explain the 157 point difference in batting average between the two.

  16. Bobby A said...

    I like the author’s take on Longoria, Upton, Heyward, and Strasburg as Top 4.

    I’d agree that Alvarez and Castro belong.

    Butler, Stanton, and Bumgarner stand out as the most overrated.

    I’m not a Rangers fan, but other guys I like are Neftali Feliz and Nelson Cruz, if he’s under 25.

    Isn’t Aroldis Chapman worth a mention?

  17. Fletch said...

    @bobby A

    Nelson Cruz is 30 thus not qualified for an under 25 list.

    I’d never keep a pitcher. Ever.

  18. Matt said...

    You’re right, PJ, if the 340-plate appearance career of Justin Smoak has taught us anything, it’s that the Buster Posey will continue to turn 38% of his balls in play into hits, that the Giants will continue to use a man who’s such a good catcher that he plays first base half the time at the fantasy position at which he’s most valuable, and that, more than likely, you are the last person in the world who can be reliably counted on to bite on a sucker sell-high offer.

    By the way, I never said (read carefully!) I’d take Santana over Posey in a dynasty format. Given Santana’s recent troubles, I’d be leery of him too. It just irritated me to see you calling out Hagen, who has solid reasons for what he thinks, for stupidity, when you were guilty of so much more of it.

  19. chris said...

    Gonzalez @ 16 is just silly.  He’s MUCH better than Rasmus and you’ve qualified your statement that “you’ve never been that big of a fan of Gonzalez”.

  20. Matt Perkins said...

    Strasburg over Kershaw is hilarious. Anyone who puts Strasburg over Kershaw has no business writing lists. Strasburg is the second coming of Mark Prior. Strasburg could barely go 50 innings without an injury and can’t even go 100 innings without getting a second injury. And now has great chance of seeing Dr. Andrews which means a sign of a possible serious injury.

    Do yourself a favor and leave writing list for the experts who don’t rank players solely by hype. I hate when n00bs write lists.

    Where’s Harper at he’s gotta be top 10 overall as well if Strasburg is ahead of Kershaw.

  21. Matt Perkins said...

    Here let me break down this list and show you why it’s wrong.

    5. Strasburg over Felix Hernandez. Felix Hernandez is the best SP keeper around. He’s got a more proven track record and until someone actually out performs him, he’s the best

    5. Strasburg over Kershaw. Both are of similar age. Kershaw was a bigger talent when he was 18 than Strasburg was at 18. Kershaw has thrown over 400 innings and has only been injured once. Strasburg hasn’t even thrown 100 innings and has been injured twice.

    17. Buster Posey . Buster Posey should be the top Catcher on this list. He was a top prospect, has not suffered any injuries (Unlike Santana) and has been more consistent than Wieters.

    27. Desmond Jennings over Domonic Brown. Domonic Brown is now the top prospect in baseball and already has played in the majors. No way should Jennings be rated ahead of Brown.

    I also don’t get why so many players are listed who have failed to live up to their expectations for year (Like Bruce and Butler) and why so many who haven’t played a single MLB game are on this list.

    Potential is great but if a player has been failing to meet his potential year in and year out, you have to move him down the list in favor of those who have reached their potential.

    It’s these things is why I say the author has no business writing articles, it’s solely based on hype and potential. It doesn’t factor in injury possibilities, or the reality of the chance the player actually reaches his potential.

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