Top 25 Under 25: Nos. 16-20
In this installment, we find some young pieces well known to baseball fans. From fire-spitting future frontliners to homer-happy hitters, the list doesn’t cease to excite. These young players are only held back by their lack of experience, which will be negated with the playing time they should receive soon.
You can see players 21-25 here.
Here are the top 16-20 players under the age of 25:
20. Taijuan Walker, RHP, Mariners
BA: 2014 #11
BP: 2014 #8
Taijuan Walker is poised for a breakout season. Ignore the stinker line he put up in the minors this year. Six of his starts were on MLB rehab, and the remaining others were in the notoriously offense-friendly PCL. Walker, 22, shrugged off a shoulder injury early in the year, and then proved his health as the year went on. Over the last two seasons, Walker has thrown 53 spot start/relief innings for Seattle, posting a 2.89 ERA (3.28 FIP), with a respectable 7.8 K/9. With the departure of soft tossing Chris Young, a spot has cleared for Walker to claim. Equipped with a 94 mph fastball and a scintillating cutter, he’ll likely take the opportunity and thrive. Seattle could have a heir to the King’s throne in Taijuan Walker.
19. Kolten Wong, 2B, Cardinals
BA: 2014 #58
BP: 2014 #33
Destined to make fans forget his World Series gaffe, Kolten Wong had a solid rookie season. The 24-year-old Wong finished third in NL Rookie of the Year voting – behind only budding Mets ace Jake deGrom (ineligible for this list) and defensive WAR superstar Billy Hamilton. Wong hit .249/.292/.388, adding in 20 steals (only 4 CS) and league average defense. Wong displayed surprising power for someone of his rather diminutive height (listed at 5’9’’), cranking out 12 home runs. The University of Hawaii alum displayed even more surprising pop in the 2014 postseason, cranking out three more HRs (including a walkoff against the Giants) in only 30 plate appearances. Wong’s future value rests in his bat, and whether his contact ability can translate to the majors. Kamehameha High’s finest has pedigree, opportunity and a solid foundation. Now, it’s time for him to produce.
18. Carlos Martinez, RHP, Cardinals
BA: 2014 #31
BP: 2013 #43
Carlos Martinez’s surface numbers don’t tell his story to form; his career 4.28 ERA and 1.41 WHIP mask a much better pitcher underneath. Martinez, 23, has MLB experience in the rotation and the bullpen, with the development of his changeup deciding whether his future role belongs in the former or the latter. He’s armed with a fastball that sits 96 MPH (tops out at 101), a 95 MPH two-seam, a hammer of a curve, and the previously mentioned developing changeup. In 117.2 MLB innings, Martinez has a 3.15 FIP, and a more-than-adequate 8.3 K/9. Martinez really makes his bread by limiting home runs, only allowing five so far in his career. Martinez is set to compete for the fifth starter spot this spring, where he’ll be up against former first round pick Marco Gonzales. In the event that St. Louis acquires another starting pitcher (a distinct possibility), Martinez would return to his late inning stead, where he’s excelled in recent years.
17. Kevin Gausman, RHP, Orioles
BA: 2014 #20
BP: 2014 #10
At this point in his career, Kevin Gausman is best known for his powdered donut addiction. That should change, as the 24-year-old Gausman is equipped with a power pitcher’s arsenal and spectacles to boot. In his young career, Gausman has posted a 4.19 ERA (3.59 FIP) with solid control and decent strikeout numbers. With only Chris Tillman ahead of him, he has a chance to excel as the staff ace of an AL East team. He surely looks the part, with a fastball that clocks in at 94-99 mph (he can also two-seam it), a super splitter he uses to get groundball outs, and a decent slider that he flashes, but hasn’t been successful with just yet. During Baltimore’s playoff run, Buck Showalter used him as a Brian Kenny Approved multi-inning reliever. Versus Detroit’s potent offense and the AL Champion Royals, Gausman threw three multi-inning outings (8 innings total), posting a 1.13 ERA. If he corrals his arsenal, Gausman should become a frontline type in short order; the LSU product has the stuff and potential to rack up groundballs and strikeouts (and donuts!) by the dozen.
16. Marcell Ozuna, CF, Marlins
BA: 2013 #75
BP: never made top 100
Behind Giancarlo Stanton, the left-center field home run monstrosity, and Christian Yelich lays Marcell Ozuna, the fourth most recognizable thing in Miami’s outfield. Even with three consecutive minor league seasons with 20 home runs, Ozuna flew under the radar as a prospect. Hidden by Yelich and Jake Marisnick, Ozuna was often the third best prospect in his minor league outfields. It’s time to recognize Marcell Ozuna. He’s a bona fide three-tool player as-is; he presently has 25 home run pop, a cannon throwing arm (he’d be in right field if not for Stanton), and he graded out as above average in center field. In 2014, Ozuna hit .269/.317/.455 with 23 home runs. If he doesn’t improve from this point, he’s an incredibly useful player; if he learns how to take a walk, he’ll be a star. Ozuna is very productive, and should continue to be Giancarlo’s right hand man through their primes. UPDATE: With the acquisition of Ichiro, Ozuna has slid to the fifth most recognizible thing in Miami’s outfield.