Major League Baseball gets a bad wrap for having a pace that does not energize younger fans and for often times acting as the ‘fun police' (see flip, bat). Major League Baseball's marketing department however came up with a pretty inspiring commercial narrated by Buck Showalter celebrating that these are the golden days of baseball. If you haven't seen it, you should check it out.
Essentially, rather than harken back to the nostalgic days of old ---- days when most people walked to the park and players lived in the same neighborhood as fans - spectators should put into perspective what the game has become today.
Yes, salaries are at an all-time high, and players sometimes have a reputation for acting entitled when interacting with the public, but the truth of the matter is that between the lines, the game has never been better. As Showalter says in the linked video, "these are the best 750 players the world has to offer". What's more is that many of them are early in their careers where all of us should be able to take a step back and enjoy their prime.
Here is a look at the best lineup baseball has to offer for players 25 and under:
|Position||Player||Age||2014 fWAR||2015 Projected fWAR*|
|C||Salvador Perez||24 y 10 m||3.1||4.8|
|1B||Anthony Rizzo||25 y 8 m||5.6||4.1|
|2B||Jose Altuve||24 y 11 m||4.9||4|
|3B||Anthony Rendon||24 y 10 m||6.5||3.6|
|SS||Starlin Castro||25 y 0 m||2.7||3.2|
|OF||Giancarlo Stanton||25 y 5 m||6.2||5.6|
|OF||Mike Trout||23 y 8 m||8||9.8|
|OF||Yasiel Puig||24 y 4 m||5.3||5|
*Per Fangraphs ZiPS Projection System
The starting eight 25 and under team amassed a collected fWAR last year of 42.3, which is significantly more than any actual team (I did create an all-star team here, after all). The Dodgers led the league with a positional player fWAR of 31.1 with the Angels (30.5), Orioles (28.9), Pirates (27.0), and Nationals (25.8) rounding out the top five.
Salvador Perez leads the young team behind the dish and it is not even close. He posted a 3.1 fWAR and showed historical durability. Perez caught a record 143 regular season games and followed it up up catching all 15 Royals postseason games. As an encore, he was the starting backstop for the MLB team that toured Japan shortly after the season ended. He did struggle down the stretch a bit, but as an everyday catcher, Perez is MLB's iron-man and the ideal player behind the dish for the ‘25 and under' team.
First base was close, Freddie Freeman is 25, and has put up an excellent two seasons in 2013 and 2014 (totaling 9+ fWAR) but Anthony Rizzo had a monster 2014 and projects to be one of the league's top first basemen in 2015 and beyond.
Rizzo has been a member of three different franchises in his young career (he was drafted by Boston in 2007, shipped to San Diego in the Adrian Gonzalez trade and then sent to Chicago's north side for Andrew Cashner) so it is easy to forget that he is the same age as Freeman. Rizzo posted a wRC+ of 153 in 2014 and was one of only 11 players to hit 30+ home runs. His on-base percentage last season was .386, as he walked 12% of the time. Complimenting a .270-.290 batting average makes him a complete player at the plate. The Cubs are entering a renaissance of young talent (some guy named Kris Bryant has been written about on this site a bit recently) but Chicago is in great shape with the experienced Rizzo manning first base for the foreseeable future.
Second base has turned into somewhat of an old man's club in major league baseball. Last year's leaders include 32 year olds Robinson Cano and Ian Kinsler, and 33 year old veteran Ben Zobrist. By contrast, Houston's Jose Altuve is only 25 years of age and ascended to be the Astros best player. Last season the young second baseman stole 56 bases in 65 tries, a success rate of 86%. He blew away his second base rivals with a .341 batting average and was only five points behind Robinson Cano in on base percentage finishing the year with a .382 OBP. What Altuve lacks in stature he more than makes up for in impact.
Anthony Rendon was the sixth overall pick in the 2011 draft and yet it still seemed like he came out of nowhere in 2014. Last season he was as valuable as Josh Donaldson and had a better year than Adrian Beltre (both of whom are well beyond the 25 and under threshold).
In 2014, Rendon did a little bit of everything, showing power, speed, hitting for average and getting on base. Rendon finished 2014 with 21 home runs, 17 stolen bases (in 20 tries) and a .287/.351/.473 slash line. He was third in wRC+ among qualified third baseman (behind Beltre and ultra-utility-man Josh Harrison). He also finished the season having flashed some solid leather, putting up well above average defensive numbers per Fangraphs.
The biggest question mark on Rendon is his health. He has yet to play a game in 2015 and a timetable for his return remains difficult to project. When Rendon gets back on the field, make it a point to watch him play.
Cal Ripken redefined the shortstop position for big men (Ripken stood at 6'4") which heralded an era for taller players to play the up-the-middle position ----- guys like Derek Jeter (6'3") and Alex Rodriguez (6'3"). The current crop of shortstops are also 6-feet or taller and includes defensive whiz Andrelton Simmons (6'2"), Xander Bogaerts (6'1") and Starlin Castro (6'0"). While the 25 year old Simmons has the advantage in the field, and Xander Bogaerts has a youthful advantage (he's only 22), Starlin Castro makes it as the starting shortstop on the 25 and under roster.
Castro is an average defender but an above average hitter. He hit 14 home runs in 2014 and posted a .327/.353/.408 slash line, good for a wRC+ of 115. Castro has played in at least 125 games since 2010 so his durability and ability to stick at shortstop put him at the top of the list.
If we are acknowledging the excellence of youth in Major League Baseball, we need not look further than the outfield. Picking three players for the starting lineup is awesomely difficult. Mike Trout has started his career like no one in recent memory (or any memory for that matter) posting two 10+ win seasons in his rookie and sophomore campaigns, and an 8-win season in 2014. Again Trout is projected to be the best player in baseball and has already started 2015 where he left off, as he's cracked three home runs and currently has a .354 batting average and a .407 on-base percentage. His appearances at the plate are must-see-tv. The impact he has at the dish and in the field are unmatched, it's wild to think that he is only 23 years old.
Giancarlo Stanton has been a starter for the Marlins since 2010, so it is sometimes overlooked that he is only 25 years old. Stanton is one of the best power hitters in the game, but also hits for average and has an exceptional eye. Stanton has put up a near 15% walk rate the past three seasons and has demonstrated his plus plus power having already hit 156 home runs in his young career. There is a reason he has a guaranteed contract for the next decade.
Yasiel Puig is another key addition to the ‘25 and under' outfield. Having a Cuban player on the team exemplifies Buck Showalter's point that the current major league crop are truly the best 750 players in the world. The world has gotten smaller and MLB is ripe with players from all areas of the globe. Puig brings a level of excitement to the game nearly unmatched by anyone else on the list leading Vin Scully to nickname him: "the wild horse". Puig's seamless integration into the American version of the game is a testament to his sheer ability and his toughness. Puig is projected for a .290 average and 20+ home runs, which would be a nice step forward from last year's .267/.353/.533 slash and 16 homers. Bat flips or not (please be bat flips!) Puig will be one exciting player to watch grow.
I would be remiss if I did not mention Bryce Harper and Jason Heyward as two excellent outfielders who qualify for the ‘25 and under' roster. A significant portion of Heyward's value is derived from his defense, so he often does not get his due credit. Harper is still in the process of tapping into his monumental potential, and at only 22 years old, could very easily top this list in another year or two.
This lineup is really impressive and exemplifies that we truly are living in a golden age of baseball. With the baseball world becoming smaller and players' skills being more refined at a young age, the golden era is now.
Steven Martano is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @SMartano.