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