With a year having passed since our last Under 25 list, it’s safe to assume that many of the top ranked players have graduated. In fact, 15 players from last year’s list are no longer eligible for this season’s Top 25 Under 25. Gone are the likes of Giancarlo Stanton, Madison Bumgarner, George Springer and Anthony Rizzo. In their place you’ll find Gregory Polanco, Mookie Betts, and Yordano Ventura. While it may appear to be a significant drop-off from last season, I’m certain that many of these players will break out in a big way in 2015. If you want to look ahead to 2016, the following players will almost assuredly be added to this group: Joc Pederson, Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler, Noah Snydergaard, Daniel Norris, Carlos Rodon, Dalton Pompey, and Aaron Sanchez.
There are no prospects listed this year, only players not found on the Top 100 Prospects list. These non-prospect eligible players are all under 25 years old as of March 31, 2015.
Special thanks to Jim Finch for helping with the comments below!
1. Mike Trout, Anaheim Angels (23): Trout is the best [young] player in baseball, and frankly has been since his first season at age 21 in 2012. His .938 OPS of last year’s MVP season was actually the lowest of his three full seasons. Trout is a generational talent and whether this list was Top 25 Under 25 or the Top 25 Under 50, his is the only name you’d find at Number One.
2. Anthony Rendon, Washington Nationals (24): Anthony Rendon led the NL in runs scored with 111, while batting .287/.351/.473 in his first full season. He has hit everywhere he’s played from college right through, with only health issues holding him back. Now a sprained knee ligament has put Opening Day in jeopardy for Rendon. Some missed time and reduced stolen bases from last year’s 17 are likely in store for 2015, but this is an extreme talent in the long run.
3. Jose Altuve, Houston Astros (24): Altuve has already played in 514 major league games, making him the veteran among the Top 25. The results so far: a .302/.340/.401 line with 131 career stolen bases. At 24 years old, last year Altuve hit .341/.377/.453 with 56 stolen bases. Was this a career year, or can Altuve repeat these numbers or even take a step forward? One thing is certain; with an improved lineup, Altuve is in line to score more runs as the première lead-off man in the major leagues.
4. Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals (22): Harper has perhaps the second most talent among this group, but has yet to put it all together for a full season. The closest he has come was in his rookie (age 19) season when he hit 22 home runs, stole 18 bases while hitting .270. Since then, he’s yet to play more than 118 games because of injuries, mostly due to his hard-nose playing style. The sky is the limit for Harper, who has yet to face a pitcher younger than him, if he can stay on the field. While his contact rates and power numbers fell last season, it’s too early to give up on this immense talent, who just happens to be 9 months younger than Kris Bryant.
5. Yasiel Puig, Los Angeles Dodgers (24): Puig is coming off a second half where he hit .274/.366/.414 with just 4 home runs. Fortunately, he’s hit 4 home runs already this Spring Training, showing his deflated 2014 HR/FB rate of 11% was likely the culprit. Couple 20+ home runs with 10-15 stolen bases and a .290 average, and Puig is someone who fills the stat sheet quite nicely.
6. Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies (23): Arenado had the highest slugging percentage among all third basemen in 2014. Higher than Adrian Beltre, Josh Donaldson, Todd Frazier and Anthony Rendon; and he did it at 23 years of age. Arenado increased his flyball percentage and increased his average flyball distance. He did this while increasing his average, reducing his GB % and K %. There is still a discount on Arenado after he missed 50 games last year, but this is the last chance to get in on the top 3B in baseball.
7. Jose Fernandez, Miami Marlins (22): Jose’s rise to immortality was put on hold thanks to Tommy John, but it is only a temporary setback in what should be a long and successful career. Had Fernandez not gone down he would probably be listed at #2 right behind Mike Trout. With 224 innings under his belt, Fernandez has an ERA of 2.25, a 0.97 WHIP and a K/9 of 10.31. If ever there was a pitcher who deserved to be mentioned in the same breath as Clayton Kershaw it is Fernandez; providing he returns from surgery good as new. His rehab is coming along nicely and he is a month away from facing live hitters. He’s a no-brainer to stash for the second half in redraft leagues and an ace in the hole for keeper and dynasty leagues.
8. Manny Machado, Baltimore Orioles (22): Machado has now had major knee surgery on both of his knees, causing enough worry at the draft table to allow him to fall to the middle of the 8th round. This is still an elite talent who was breaking out in 2014 prior to getting hurt, hitting .307/.350/.505 over his final three months. It won’t be long before Machado becomes a staple in the first round.
9. Gerrit Cole, Pittsburgh Pirates (24): When you combine a 24% K rate and a 49% GB rate, generally great things happen. Cole is no exception. While 2014 results may seem underwhelming, Cole managed to strike out a batter per inning with a 3.25 xFIP. In the second half he got even better, striking out 10.3 per 9 innings with a 2.75 xFIP. Cole is an ace, plain and simple; it’s just his current price tag that hasn’t caught on yet.
10. Julio Teheran, Atlanta Braves (24): I am truly vexed by this one. Teheran’s two-seam fastball sits at 89.5 MPH and the four-seam is just over 91 MPH. He utilizes these two pitchers over 60% of the time mixing in a slider (81 MPH), change (81 MPH) and curve (73 MPH). His K/9 in 2013 was 8.24; that fell to 7.57 in 2014. His xFIP for the past two years averages out to 3.74. Despite the lack of zip on his fastball and lack of an elite K rate Teheran has posted an ERA of 3.20 and 2.89 the past two seasons. Maybe mixing in the off-speed secondary pitches has helped keep hitters off-balance. Maybe Teheran is one of those pitchers who will consistently outperform his xFIP. Maybe he’s been lucky. Whatever the case may be, Teheran has worked his way into the top 20 for starting pitchers. I may not understand his success, but I would not hesitate in drafting him.
11. Alex Wood, Atlanta Braves (24): Like Julio Teheran, Wood doesn’t possess a blazing fastball (90 MPH); it was his newly improved curveball which lead to his success in 2014. 20% of his strikeouts as a starter were because of his curve, knuckle curve to be exact. His fastball, curve and changeup are all above average offerings so there is no weak link in his repertoire. Although hi s minor league career was short (so small sample size), Wood produced a BB/9 of 2.56 and a HR/9 of just 0.15. In 2014, he actually lowered his walk rate and while he gave up a few more homers, he still allowed less than the average starter. Oh, and then there are the strikeouts, 8.91 K/9 last season compared to 8.93 in the minors. While Teheran may be a regression candidate, Wood should be able to hold his own and keep most of his 2014 totals.
12. Michael Wacha, St. Louis Cardinals (23): After posting a 2.40 ERA over 3 years with Texas A&M, Wacha flew through the minors with the same success he had in college. After only 108 minor league innings he was in show. The first two months were a big success, but an injury in June skewed his final line along with some shaky outings upon his return. While the first few months and limited minor league experience only shows a small sample size, he has the talent and ability to excel in the majors. That talent and upside is what put Wacha this high on the list. Combine that with the Cardinals magical pitching staff and you should get a future top 20 pitcher. Experience is the only ingredient missing here.
13. Christian Yelich, Miami Marlins (23): Yelich’s first full season saw him hit .284/.362/.402 with 94 runs and 21 stolen bases. His heavy ground ball rate makes it difficult to project any power growth, but he hits for a good average and gets on base at a high clip. Yelich is a hard-contact, line drive machine who needs to elevate the ball to get to the next level for fantasy owners. Time will tell whether that happens.
14. Xander Bogaerts, Boston Red Sox (22): An inconsistent first season for Xander Bogaerts should have been expected, even by his most ardent supporters (not mentioning any names). A look at April, May and September yielded a .307/.355/.455 line while June, July and August – after Stephen Drew pushed him to third base – netted him .161/.200/.254. Expect Bogaerts to inch closer to the former as he continues to develop in a deep Red Sox lineup. The talent that made him a consensus top 3 prospect just last year is not only still there, but he showed it for half the 2014 season at just 21 years old.
15. Yordano Ventura, Kansas City Royals (23): Armed with a 96 MPH fastball, Ventura was able to rack up a 10.18 K/9 in the minors. That’s 431 strikeouts in 381 innings for us simple folk. Problem is there is little sink to his fastball and his secondary pitches need some work. Without improved command and control of his changeup and curve Ventura is only a big fastball; that is fine for the minors but he’ll eventually need more in the big show. Last year Ventura impressed the brass in KC enough to allow James Shields to leave, and this year he has been named the Opening Day starter. There is a lot more upside than downside here. Worst case scenario is he becomes an average major league pitcher.
16. Gregory Polanco, Pittsburgh Pirates (23): Mike Trout batted .220 with 5 home runs and 4 stolen bases over his first 40 games in 2011. Does that make you feel any better about Polanco hitting .235 with 7 home runs and 14 steals over his first 89 games? His average fly ball distance was only 275 feet last year and the ISO was an abysmal .108 so it may take another year or two for the power to come out. Polanco was more successful on the bases stealing 14 bags in 19 attempts. Considering he stole 131 bags over 1548 minor league at bats there should be more speed to come. The patience was present (9.6 BB%) which is a good sign, and the Pirates plan on batting him second this year in front of McCutchen, another good sign the club hasn’t lost faith. Expect modest improvements in 2015 and a potential breakout in 2016.
17. Mookie Betts, Boston Red Sox (22): Betts should be ranked lower based upon the fact he hasn’t proven himself in the majors, but his upside is higher than everyone ranked below him. In 2014 at 21 years old he hit 16 home runs and stole 40 bases with a K/BB ratio of 1/1 (81/82) across 3 levels (AA, AAA, ML). He had 15 home runs and 38 steals across 2 levels of A ball the year prior. Betts was a .300 hitter in the minors, doing so in parks that favor pitchers slightly more than hitters. If, when pitchers adjust to him, he can quickly make the same adjustments he made in the minors, the sky’s the limit here.
18. Billy Hamilton, Cincinnati Reds (24): The stolen base potential is enough to make any fantasy owner giddy with joy, but Hamilton needs to get on base at a better clip to take advantage of it. His walk rate was above 10% in A+ and AA but hasn’t cracked 7% above that. The same thing goes for the OBP which was above .400 across those 2 levels but was .308 or lower in AAA and last year in the majors. Hamilton did have 17 walks over the final 2 months tying his total from the first four so there is reason for optimism. The speed makes him a one-category wonder, but if Hamilton improves his contact skills and walk percentage he will be an asset in runs as well with an average that won’t kill you.
19. Taijuan Walker, Seattle Mariners (22): If Walker hadn’t been derailed by injuries the past 2 years we could very well be talking about him in the same breath as Gerrit Cole. Walker has big strikeout potential evident of his minor league K/9 of 9.73. His ERA at AAA was a little high (4.29) as was the WHIP (1.34) and BB/9 (3.60); considering that was in the PCL and he will now call Safeco home, I’m confident that will come down. Those numbers are eerily similar to the minor league numbers of teammate Felix Hernandez. Even the pitch type and use is similar with the exception of a cutter for Walker over a slider for Hernandez. As long as the former first round pick can stay healthy and improve his control, you’re looking at a future top 20 pitcher
20. Nick Castellanos, Detroit Tigers (23): Other than the .337 he hit in June it was a ho-hum year for Castellanos. There are a lot of mixed signals here. He demonstrated in AAA the ability to draw more walks and strikeout less, but that wasn’t evident in the lower levels nor in the majors. His average fly ball distance last year was 284 feet which is a sign that a few of those double should turn into home runs, but his ISO last season was .135 which contradicts that. The batting average should improve but his minor league numbers suggest Castellanos will only be a .280 hitter (at best). At 23 years old there is room for growth, but realistically you’re looking at 20 home runs with a serviceable average. Not great, but not bad at a third base position full of aging stars.
21. Rougned Odor, Texas Rangers (21): Last year’s injury to Jurickson Profar opened the door for Odor; this year’s injury could cement his role with the team. He struck out on the base paths in 2014 with only 4 steals (in 11 attempts), but he did steal 67 bases over 329 games in the minors. While he struggled with batting average early on, Odor batted .305 in A+ and .293 in AA. His ISO over those 2 levels was just over .190; while you should not expect big power here, Odor should reach double digits and maybe a little more once he fills out. In his prime you could be looking at a .290 hitter that will deliver 15 home runs, 25 steals and an average close to .300. There will be some bumps in the road and growing pains, but long-term this is a sound investment.
22. Javier Baez, Chicago Cubs (22): Somewhere hidden away beneath the obscene strikeout percentage is a future 30/20 player. Baez has struggled each time he has advanced levels but slowly figured things out to progress onward and upward. Players like Adam Dunn and Dan Uggla have made their game work with a high strikeout rate, but the number of players who have had success striking out that much are few and far between. Baez is only 22 years old so have some patience; this type of power and speed is a rare thing for a middle infielder.
23. Wil Myers, San Diego Padres (24): His .362 BABIP inflated debut in 2013 could not be sustained in 2014; the batting average took a nose dive and the power went along for the ride. Now a post hype sleeper, can Myers regain his minor league stroke or will he follow the path of Brett Lawrie as an overhyped prospect whose numbers never (or take longer to) translate to the majors? Myers has protection in the name of Justin Upton and Matt Kemp, but he also has a cavernous new home park that suppresses power.
24. Marcell Ozuna, Miami Marlins (24): I can see why some are skeptical here considering Ozuna only played 10 games above A+ ball before being promoted to the majors. Still, despite the inexperience he has big league power. His average fly ball distance last year was 291 feet, several inches short of Mike Trout’s average. With the exception of an elevated strikeout percentage, the line he produced last season was very similar to what he put up in the minors in 2011 and 2012. At his peak you’re looking at a 30 home run hitter with an average around .265, basically Jay Bruce with slightly less power but a more consistent batting average.
25. Avisail Garcia, Chicago White Sox (23): This one can go either way. Garcia was successful at stealing bases below AA, but in AA and higher the totals and success rate hasn’t been there. While his ISO says he should reach double digits and could reach 20 home runs at his peak, the power hasn’t come through as much as we had hoped it would at the higher levels either. A 7.4 BB% last season showed improved patience, but it remains to be seen if he can maintain or improve upon that given he never cracked 5.0% in the minors. Finally, Garcia needs to improve his batting average; part of that will require he lower the strikeout percentage below 20. There is upside, there is athleticism and there is potential, but none of that matters if he can’t produce at the ML level. The next two years will be very telling on what the future holds here.