There’s an awful lot of quality young talent in Major League Baseball right now. We’re not talking Phoenix Suns young, but many of the game’s brightest stars are on the more energetic side of 25, including eight guys who play shortstop (at least part-time), which indeed is a young man’s position.
All players on this rundown will be 25 of younger on Opening Day, although a few will eclipse the cutoff during the season. In ranking these players, we considered how they project but paid some deference to guys who’ve built more of a track record as well. Let’s get to it.
Alex Bregman (3B/SS) -- Houston Astros (3/30/94)
The No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 MLB Draft, Bregman got an extended taste of MLB action in the second half of the 2016 season, slashing .264/.313/.478 across 49 games and 201 at-bats after a brutal 2-for-38 start at the dish. With Carlos Correa entrenched at shortstop, Bregman enters this season as Houston’s starting third baseman -- a line-drive hitter with 20-plus-homer power.
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Javier Baez (2B) -- Chicago Cubs (12/1/92)
The defensive stud shined as the MVP of last year’s NLCS but then struck out in nearly half (13 of 30) of his World Series at-bats. He’ll probably shape into something in-between: a budding star who needs to cut down his K rate (25% during regular season).
In his second full season in the bigs, Polanco found his power stroke, depositing 22 home runs over the fences and slashing .258/.323/.463. Injuries played a role the 6-foot-5, 230-pounder’s lackluster second half and he’s working through some shoulder discomfort this spring, but the right fielder is a pretty solid bet to reach the 20/20 mark in 2017.
Jonathan Villar (SS/3B/2B) -- Milwaukee Brewers (5/2/91)
Along with Marcus Stroman, Villar will age out of the “25 and unders” early in the season but makes the cut for our purposes here. After coming over from Houston prior to the 2016 season, the infielder got an opportunity to start for a full season and made the most of it, swiping a league-leading 62 bases with an on-base percentage of .369 in a 3.9-WAR effort.
Gary Sanchez (C) -- New York Yankees (12/2/92)
How was that for an introduction? After his Aug. 3 call-up, the young catcher clobbered 20 home runs, tying an 86-year-old MLB record for fastest to reach that milestone in just 51 games (Wally Berger). Sanchez’s defense has also improved, giving the the Bronx Bombers a home-grown superstar in the making – and making the decision easy to move on from Brian McCann.
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Kyle Schwarber (OF/C) -- Chicago Cubs (3/5/1993)
If not for some deficiencies on defense, Schwarber would rank higher, especially considering his magical healing abilities and October 2016 heroics. Alas, he’s probably going to stick in the outfield given his knee injury and do most of his damage at the plate (and do it often) as Chicago’s primary leadoff hitter this season.
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Edwin Diaz (RP) -- Seattle Mariners (3/22/94)
Seattle converted Diaz from a starter to a reliever, and he did so well in that role that he became the team’s closer in early August. How'd that go? Diaz combined a 97-mph fastball with a devastating slider to strike out a whopping 88 batters in just 51.2 innings en route to collecting 18 saves.
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Roberto Osuna (RP) -- Toronto Blue Jays (2/7/95)
The precocious closer used his fastball-slider-changeup combo for another fine season in ‘16, notching 36 saves after debuting with 20 saves at age 20 in 2015. The organization has given some thought to converting him back to a starter but apparently doesn’t want to fix what’s working quite well in the bullpen (2.68 ERA, 0.93 WHIP).
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Rougned Odor (2B) -- Texas Rangers (2/3/94)
In addition to jacking up Jose Bautista’s jaw last season, Odor slugged 33 home runs and 33 doubles, although his .296 OBP could use improvement. After inking a six-year, $49.5 million extension, he'll be a staple in Texas’ lineup for at least half a dozen more years.
Carlos Martinez (SP) -- St. Louis Cardinals (9/21/91)
Say hello to your new Cardinals Opening Day starter. After Martinez twirled a 3.04 ERA with a .233 batting average against in 2016 in nearly 200 innings pitched (195.1), he earned it.
Marcus Stroman (SP) -- Toronto Blue Jays (5/1/91)
Stroman has gone from heartbreak to heroics very quickly after tearing his ACL during spring training in 2015 and getting back to the mound before season’s end. His 2016 wasn’t quite as dazzling (3.71 FIP) as he had hoped, but now he’s entering the ‘17 season after leading Team USA to a World Baseball Classic title with six no-hit innings against Puerto Rico in the championship game.
Trevor Story (SS) -- Colorado Rockies (11/15/92)
Story burst onto the scene with a whopping seven home runs in his first six games last season and would have contended for the NL Rookie of the Year Award if not for a season-ending thumb injury in late July (he still finished fourth in the voting). The phenom finished with 27 dingers and a slash line of .272/.341./.567 and will look to pick up where he left off. Troy Tulowhoski?
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Christian Yelich (OF) -- Miami Marlins (12/5/91)
A career .293 hitter with a .368 on-base percentage, Yelich, entering his fourth full season in the bigs, proved he can hit for some power last season, too, finishing with 21 dingers.
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Trea Turner (SS/OF/2B) -- Washington Nationals (6/30/93)
After his call-up at the All-Star break last season, Turner performed like a total All-Star, batting .342, swiping 33 bags and hitting 13 homers, tallying 3.5 WAR in just 73 games played. With Adam Eaton in Washington’s center field and Danny Espinosa gone, Turner will move to his natural position of shortstop for 2017.
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Xander Bogaerts (SS) -- Boston Red Sox (12/1/92)
The arrow is still pointing up for Bogaerts after 115-run, 21-homer, 89-RBI season in which he got on base at a click of .356 during an All-Star and Silver Slugger campaign. He might get a little more attention if not for another 25-and-under stud named Mookie Betts, which is a wonderful problem for the Red Sox to have.
Corey Seager (SS) -- Los Angeles Dodgers (4/27/94)
The much-hyped Seager rightfully swept the first-place vote for NL Rookie of the Year in 2016 and finished third on MVP ballots after a thoroughly dominant campaign in which he slashed .308/.365/.512 and jacked 26 home runs in a 6.1 WAR effort. He’s working through an oblique strain but should be fine for Opening Day and should only get better. Chew on that along with your Dodger Dogs, folks.
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Carlos Correa (SS) -- Houston Astros (9/22/94)
There’s so many great young shortstops in the game today that Correa took the national attention backburner in 2016 while launching 20 homers and getting on base at a .361 click. He’s so polished in the field and at the plate it’s hard to believe he’s still just 22 years old.
Noah Syndergaard (SP) -- New York Mets (8/29/92)
The Norse god of pitching, as you may have heard, put on some weight in the offseason in a bid to get stronger and more durable and fire even harder lightning bolts at his subjects. The flamethrower (with a four-pitch repertoire, including his devastating slider) has seized the role of the Mets ace. Coming off a season with 10.68 K/9 and a 2.60 ERA (2.29 FIP), there’s somehow still room for improvement -- a scary notion for NL hitters.
Francisco Lindor (SS) -- Cleveland Indians (11/14/93)
The Gold Glove-winning defensive wizard is every Indians pitcher’s dream come true, and he’s pretty solid at the dish, too. Lindor slashed .301/.358/.435 in 2016, which is great, but if his hitting ever catches up to his defense or comes close, there’s probably an MVP Award in his future.
At third or shortstop or somewhere in shallow left field, it doesn’t matter, Machado will get the ball to first with his cannon arm. After debuting at age 19, Machado is still ascending after hitting career highs in 2016 in homers (37), RBI (96) and OPS (.876), among other categories.
Nolan Arenado (3B) -- Colorado Rockies (4/16/91)
Speaking of cannons, Arenado has a rocket launcher attached to his body and his bat as the NL home runs leader (tied at 42 with Bryce Harper in 2015) and total bases leader two years in a row. Some home/road splits are there, but Arenado actually hit more dingers on the road (22) in 2015 than he did at Coors (20).
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Bryce Harper (OF) -- Washington Nationals (10/16/92)
Harper’s “down” year in 2016 following an NL MVP season would mark a pretty successful campaign for most mortals (.373 OBP), but expectations are higher for Harper from baseball fans and Harper himself. His BABIP plummeted from .369 to .265 year-over-year, so some regression there and recovery from a possible shoulder injury should spell bounceback in 2017.
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Kris Bryant (3B/OF) -- Chicago Cubs (1/4/92)
For an encore, the 2015 NL Rookie Year won the 2016 NL MVP (clobbering 39 homers) and helped the long-starved Chicago Cubs win their first World Series since 1908. Okay, let’s nitpick and suggest Bryant cut down his K rate a bit, which he’s already improved, going from 199 his rookie season to 154 in 2016 in 44 more at-bats.
Mookie Betts (OF) -- Boston Red Sox (10/7/92)
Well, that was something last season. Betts nearly hit double digits in WAR (9.6) as he cranked 42 doubles, 31 homers and swiped 26 stolen bases, leading the league in total bases (359) while playing Gold Glove defense in right field. He’s a special player.
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Mike Trout (OF) -- Los Angeles Angels (8/7/91)
Yeah, it’s hard to believe Trout is still just 25. The phenom made his debut in 2011 at age 19 and then won AL Rookie of the Year in 2012 and AL MVP in 2014 and 2016 (finishing second in the MVP voting in the odd years, meaning … Mookie Betts will win the MVP this season and Trout will finish second?). He’s a model of consistency and excellence, and it would be really nice if the Angels could field a postseason contender around him so baseball fans could see Trout in October again (2014).