24 and so much more: (with apologies to Neil Young)
If you follow baseball, it’s assured that you know the players I am about to talk about. They are the brightest, the future of baseball for years to come. They will carry the MLB sigil with honor and they will respect the game, as well as their own capabilities. They created a buzz before they even were drafted. They have now arrived and the fantasy nerds are drooling pools of awe.
My criteria for this team:
•You must be 24 years old or younger
•You must have at least one year of MLB service time.
I now present to you my 2013…24 and under team.
At Catcher Wilin Rosario (24) of the Colorado Rockies. When a rookie hits .270 it warrants an encouraging pat on the back. When that same rookie is a catcher who also blasts 28 homers, its time to shower your scouts in champagne and pray for a repeat performance. His balance at the plate and his swing are light years ahead of his age.
At First Base Freddie Freeman (23) of the Atlanta Braves. This six foot six beast has now blasted back-to-back 20 homer run seasons. Some may look at his 2011 batting average of .282 compared to his .259 average of 2012 and think he has lost some plate discipline. What you don’t see in the every day box scores is that his peripheral percentages are still mostly gaining. He took a slight dip in on-base percentage but otherwise his slugging percentages, walk rate and strikeout rate have all improved. The brains at Baseball Prospectus have compared him to the likes of Kent Hrbek and Prince Fielder. I think that is a pretty fair and realistic assumption. With the Brothers Upton in tow and protecting him into his prime years I like for those percentage improvements to continue.
At Second Base Jose Altuve (23) of Houston Astros. At every minor and major level this five foot eight warrior has held his own with the bat by never hitting below .276. He literally stole fantasy owners hearts with 33 steals in 2012. He also hit .290 with just 74 strikeouts in 630 plate appearances. Those are elite totals for a second basemen. Minus one year where he missed 31 games the power hitting fellow second basemen Chase Ultey struck out at least100 times every time he has achieved 600 plus plate appearances in a season. Jose is destine to prove his prime is still to come and most reliable experts agreed.
At Shortstop Starlin Castro (23) of the Chicago Cubs. This early bloomer has already been in the Majors league for almost three full seasons. He is already a two-time all-star and he has 529 hits is just 1912 plate appearances.As his mixture of power and speed continue mature lofty “Ernie Banks” like goals are being spouted. He might eventually be a 30-30 guy. Starlin does a lot of things well. He will probably never lead the league in any major stat category but his well-rounded play is his key asset.
At Third Base Mike Moustakas (24) of the Kansas City Royals. He arrived in Kansas City with limitless potential. He was the guy the Royals faithful had been waiting for since George Brett hung up his cleats 20 years. Moustakas is a very different player than the Royals legend. Mike is a power first guy and Brett was a patience contact hitter who used the whole field. Moustakas is a projected clean-up hitter for years to come. I see him as a candidate to hit 500 career homers as long as he stays healthy.
In Left Field Bryce Harper (20) of the Washington Nationals. When I said earlier that these players have created a buzz before they were even drafted, I was mainly thinking of Harper. He is not old enough to drink, yet his team is hoping by his birthday on October 16th that they have more reasons to toast. The one stat that alarmed me about Harper was his 120 strikeouts in 597 plate appearances in 2012. I know that is not as alarming as Mark Reynolds (159 in 538 PA’s) or Adam Dunn (222 in 649 PA’s.) Percentage wise Harper’s mark is 20.1% which is slightly above the league average of 19.8%. Then I remembered he is only 20 and he hit 22 homers. If he is average now who know what he will be in five years.
In Center Field Mike Trout (21) of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Last year the world fell in love with this kid from New Jersey. His maturity shown true in his willing to adjust to major league pitching. He seems to be a perennial .300 hitter. While his place in the exclusive 300 homer run/300 stolen base club is being prepared, I would like to remind all stat junkies that the 400/400 club is not a distant chatter. The only member of the latter club is Barry Bonds. That makes one think if Trout can achieve that membership in today’s game without chemical enhancements, his place in history should amongst the game’s elite.
In Right Field Giancarlo Stanton (23) of the Miami Marlins. As I read my 2013 Baseball Prospectus I nearly soiled myself when I saw Stanton’s age. I remembered upon his Major League arrival thinking he was too young. That was just three years ago and I still stand by my statement. He still hit .259 with 22 homers in roughly half a season of at-bats in 2010. I believe his natural gifts enabled him to ward off pitches over the fences. It’s hard to predict or burden a player with a historical goal, but Stanton who already has 93 career homers seems destine to step in 600 homer territory. I view him as a spawn of Dave Winfield and Darryl Strawberry when I watch him swing with that tenacious reach. I also see flashes of Harmon Killebrew and Andre Dawson in his brute strength and in the way he truly punishes the ball.
On the mound Madison Bumgarner (23) of the San Francisco Giants. He has started 83 games and won 36 on them. He has averaged 7.9 strikeouts per nine innings on his career. Did I mention he is 23 years old. He has had some bad stretches but so far this innings eater has adjusted. Traditionally young arms are often limited but Bumgarner has been given a long leash and he has worked his way through with some on the job training. It’s hard to set benchmarks for pitchers because year-to-year team status is a constant flux. At such a young age though, Bumgarner, to put simply has a chance to advance to Cooperstown.
In the bullpen Kelvin Herrera (23) of the Kansas City Royals. The Royals handed Herrera the ball 76 times last season and he responded with bolt after bolt of pure lightning. He projects as a closer and he throws enough gas to be an effective one. In 84.1 innings of work, Kelvin struck out 77 batters with 2.35 ERA and 1.18 WHIP. For his age that kind of consistency is not typical. Rumors are swirling out of Royals camp that he has added a curveball to his arsenal, which means his strikeouts could be on the rise. I very widely regard him as mixture of LaTroy Hawkins and Mariano Rivera. Am I saying he going to record 600 saves? No! I am saying like Hawkins he will have the ability to mix pitches, which will prolong his career. Also like Hawkins he might be a bullpen journeyman. And, like Rivera he too possess an overpowering out pitch. Herrera should be closing somewhere in a year or two and if he is not he will be the best set-up man in baseball.
A Most Honorable Mention:
At First Base Eric Hosmer (23) of the Kansas City Royals. Though his 2012 campaign was forgettable Hosmer is still potent topic of discussion when the game’s future is in question. In 2011 he hit .293 with 19 homers and 11 stolen bases at the ripe age of 21. In 2012 his ground balls increased and that sliced 70 points off his batting average. He also hit just 14 homers in 35 more plate appearances than he logged in 2011. He did will himself to steal 16 bags. Hence whispers of a 20-20 season are gaining strength like a rodeo bull seeing red. I would like to caution any Hosmer haters that a baseball hitter’s prime years are 27 to 30. Hosmer is an open book with a weak and mysterious second chapter. Though the outline is a predication, it is far from a conclusion.
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