Top 25 Under 25: Top Five
The Top 5 is the cream of the crop, the budding (and bona fide) superstars under massive amounts of team control. Four of the top five have been All-Stars, three of them have Gold Gloves, and all five have been one or the other.
This final group contains some of the most polarizing figures in the game – players well debated by the factions of baseball fandom over their youthful brashness.
Before we get to the Top 5, let’s take a look back at Nos. 6-25 (click on the links to see the full lists):
Did your player of choice not make the list? Use the comments below, or ask me about it on Twitter (@joeserrato1).
Without ado, here are the Top 5:
5. Manny Machado, 3B, Orioles
BA: 2012 #11
BP: 2012 #8
If he were still a shortstop, Manny Machado’s two knee surgeries would be a severe concern. Luckily for the 22-year-old budding star, he still has incredible athleticism and a rocket arm. At the tender ages of 19-21, Machado has been well above average at third, with gap power (he posted a league-leading 51 doubles in 2013). While the two knee injuries limited his playing time in 2014, he was a league average hitter for the third straight year, a very valuable feat in recent seasons. Machado has had some issues with maturity, punctuated by his bat-throwing/catcher-hitting event versus Oakland. Hopefully, Machado has matured, as he’ll turn 23 during the season; he’s young but he’s running out of time to blame flare-ups on mere youth. He’s a top-of-the-scale defender at third, better than both Nolan Arenado (No. 6 on this list) and 2014 AL Gold Glove winner Kyle Seager. If Machado can stay healthy in 2015, expect him to continue his ascent into stardom. His calling card will always be defense, but as he fills out, his power profile should expand also. For now, expect Machado to hit second for Baltimore, providing star-level defense and a projectable bat.
4. Christian Yelich, LF, Marlins
BA: 2013 #15
BP: 2013 #23
A former first-round pick, Christian Yelich has delivered on his massive potential in the past two seasons. At the ripe old age of 23, Yelich is one of the top defenders in the game and is already an above average hitter. Yelich is a four-tool player with an advanced idea of what he wants to do at the plate. That fifth tool, power, could show up soon. Yelich will probably never be a 30 HR guy, but his swing has gap power, which in time could turn into 15-20 home run power. That’s incredibly useful, as the Marlins young leadoff hitter already has a strong hitting base. Yelich was a center fielder in the minors, and has translated into a defensively strong left fielder. It’s possible that Yelich is better than Marcell Ozuna (No. 16 on this list) in center, but it would be best not to tinker with a working formula. The next step for Yelich would involve improvement in the power department, though at current he’s in line for a solid career as a better version of Ryan Sweeney. Expect Yelich to hit in the top four in Miami for years to come.
3. Bryce Harper, RF, Nationals
BA: 2012 #1
BP: 2012 #3
Bryce Harper first was on the cover of Sports Illustrated six years ago. The two-time All Star, still only 22, has had an eventful first three years in the majors. Contrary to the astronomical expectations placed on him at age 16, Harper is quite underrated. While some see that he hasn’t reached his full power potential, that’s true of many 22-year-olds, many of whom would be waiting to be drafted this June. And, glimpses of Harper’s gargantuan gap-to-gap home run power peaked through this postseason; he had three mammoth-sized blasts against the eventual World Series champion Giants. If Harper could face Hunter Strickland every single at bat, he’d hit .600 for the next 20 years. Alas, he can’t. That doesn’t make him any less of a ballplayer. In three seasons (including a partial season as a teenager), Harper has been 21 percent better than the average hitter (using OPS+, which is adjusted for ballpark). That’s an uber rare, franchise cornerstone type of player. With Jayson Werth out for the first month of the season and Adam LaRoche gone, it’s Harper’s time to shine. Expect Harper to continue his torrid career start in 2015.
2. Yasiel Puig, OF, Dodgers
BA: 2013 #47
BP: 2013 #79
Yasiel Puig is probably the most exciting player in the modern game. Behind all the batflips, bubble machines and insane outfield assists lies a stellar player, one who is much more fundamentally sound than many lead fans to believe. In over 1,000 career plate appearances, Puig has above plate discipline, helping him post a .386 OBP and an astronomical .503 slugging percentage. Even his defense has been steady, as he grades out as a plus defensive right fielder and an average center fielder. Mind you, he’s only 24, with power potential he merely flashes now, and raw tools to fill a Home Depot. Enough with the baloney that Puig is a reckless, immature man-child; he is a bona fide five-tool superstar. Puig’s “immaturity” is, more or less, a byproduct of youthful exuberance, something lost on many modern players. Puig plays the game the “right” way, the fun way, the “I wouldn’t rather be doing anything in the world” way. That’s the way we should remember him. While yes, he can overrun a sign or miss a cutoff man, those are mere scratches on a Maserati. He has the whole package, and he is one of the faces baseball fans and writers should carry, instead of knocking down. Puig will be a huge part of the Dodgers this season, with his exact position (RF or CF) determined by Joc Pederson’s emergence (or lack thereof).
1. Mike Trout, CF, Angels
BA: 2012 #3
BP: 2012 #3
One name above all others will be remember from this baseball era: Mike Trout. A pessimist would bring up that Mike Trout strikes out a ton, is already losing speed, and has an “old player’s skill set” at the plate. Even with those attributes (which are begrudgingly accepted by the writer), he’s the best player in the game. After all, when a sports car goes fast, does it matter much if it’s going 95 or 90? The 23-year-old Trout struggled through a .287/.377/.561 season, just scraping enough together to unanimously win his first MVP award. The knock against Trout when he was a prospect was his power, as not many felt that he would become even a 20 home guy and his calling card would be speed, defense and a solid bat. Trout blew that expectation far out of the water. He’s averaged 31 home runs per year in his age 20-22 seasons. Where many on this list have “developing power,” Trout has legitimate top-of-the-scale power. He’s combined with an elite bat, still-lightning fast speed and solid defense. An absolutely insane-sounding 40/40 season with plus center field defense isn’t too far out of the question for the young superstar.