There’s something to be said for experience. But, as in any industry, veterans with years of experience are expensive. It’s a delicate balance, getting a young player with talent experience without losing confidence. Each player handles adversity differently. A promotion when the player isn’t ready could be detrimental, not just to the players development but potentially to his career trajectory. The following is a list of the best player at each position who is 25 or younger. The player was selected based on his performance thus far in his career.
Catcher – Salvador Perez, 25
Salvador Perez has been the Royals starting backstop since midway through the 2012 season when he was 22. In the last few years we’ve come to appreciate the importance of the catcher (thanks Yadier Molina). The last catcher prior to Perez to handle his teams pitching staff full-time and put up a better season than Perez has been when Joe Mauer hit .347 hit 13 homers and drove in 84 as a 23-year-old in 2006. He’s off to a good start this year hitting .288 with five homers and 21 rbi. Perez has already made two AL All-Star teams and won two Gold Gloves. It appears that only injury can force him from behind that plate and we hope that doesn’t happen.
First Base – Freddie Freeman, 25
Freddie Freeman is starting his fifth year as the Braves starting first baseman. He is far and away the best first baseman in Braves history at this age. Joe Adcock is about the only Braves first baseman who has better career numbers and Freeman, assuming health, should be able to surpass most if not all of those in a few years. Freeman plays a lot but for some reason seems to get overlooked. During his first four full seasons he has average 153 games a year hitting .287 and averaging 21 homers and 89 rbi. He’s starting to show more patience as last year he walked a career high 90 times. His high prior to 2014 was 66 in 2013. He finished second in NL Rookie of the Year voting in 2011 to then teammate Craig Kimbrel. He’s also made the last two NL All-Star teams and in 2013 finished fifth in NL MVP voting. Freeman will continue to produce, albeit, rather quietly.
Second Base – Jose Altuve, 25
Jose Altuve turned 25 earlier this month (May 6) and is entering his fourth season as Houston’s starting shortstop and leadoff hitter. Altuve may be baseball’s best leadoff hitter. He doesn’t walk a lot but with his batting average above .300 he is on base enough to cause serious havoc stealing 33, 35, 56, bases the past three years. He led the NL with 225 hits last year. Only four second baseman in history have had more than 225 hits in a season; Rogers Hornsby (250, 235, 229, and 227), Nap Lajoie (232 & 227), Charlie Gehringer (227), and Billy Herman (227). So far he has led the league in hits (225), stolen bases (56), and batting average (.341) once, all in 2014. He’s also be elected to two All-Star teams and won a Silver Slugger in 2014. He’s off to a good start this year hitting .316 with five homers, 24 rbi, and a league leading 14 stolen bases.
Third Base – Manny Machado, 22
Manny Machado, still only 22, is back from a season ending knee injury in 2014. He was known as a can’t miss defensive prospect who might need some seasoning at the plate. After playing hitting .262 in 51 games in 2012 as a 19-year old Machado proved that he was ready to challenge big league pitching right away. In 2013 he led the AL in doubles with 51 while hitting .283 and earning an All-Star selection and his first Gold Glove after shifting over to third base. He looks to be continue his better than expected offensive output hitting .276 with six homers and 16 rbi while continuing to be a plus defender. He’s only 22 so the sky’s the limit, if they can develop more patience.
Shortstop – Starlin Castro, 25
Starlin Castro has been the full-time shortstop in Chicago since 2010 when he was a 20-year-old. He’s entering his sixth big league season and barring injury will become just the 23rd player in history to get 1,000 career hits through his age 25 season. That means he’ll join a list that includes Ty Cobb, Mel Ott, Al Kaline, Alex Rodriguez, Robin Yount, Hank Aaron, Jimmie Foxx, Mickey Mantle, Rogers Hornsby, Ken Griffey, and Miguel Cabrera. That’s pretty good company. Castro has been the subject of, hypothetical, trade rumors that would allow the Cubs to acquire some much-needed pitching depth and make room for Javier Baez. Castro has had his struggles but at 25 he still has room to grow into a middle of the order player to complaint Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo. Castro has made three All-Star teams (2011, 2012, & 2014), led the league in hits (2011) and at-bats three times (2011-2013). It will be interesting to see what Theo Epstein does with his most experienced infielder.
Outfield – Mike Trout, 23
Mike Trout, what can I say that hasn’t already been said. He is today’s generations Mickey Mantle. He can run, hit, and play defense. He spoiled Bryce Harper‘s coming out party by having the best rookie season in baseball history. He will make untold riches when he hits the open market. He is the best player on a team that has Albert Pujols and for two years Josh Hamilton. His 30.3 career WAR through May 19 is fourth highest in history through the age 23 season behind only Ty Cobb (36.0), Ted Williams (34.2), and Mel Ott (31.4). Trout will most likely pass Cobb and own this record too. Trout won the 2012 AL Rookie of the Year, has been selected top three All-Star teams, finished second in MVP voting twice and was last years AL MVP. He shows no signs of slowing down either. So far this season he’s hitting .281 with 10 homers and 21 rbi, and seven stolen bases. By seasons end it’ll be in the running for yet another MVP.
Outfield – Bryce Harper, 22
Before our very eyes Bryce Harper is becoming the player we were told he would be when he made his debut four years ago. I don’t want to say I told you so but I did tell you that he was the most undervalued player in the game. I told you so. Don’t forget, he’s still only 22, the youngest player on this list, tow months younger than both Manny Machado and Jose Fernandez. Harper has added patience to his game this year which undoubtedly is helping him make better contact. Until he gets two strikes he’s looking for one pitch in one zone and if it’s not there he’s not swinging. This appears to be his breakout year. Thus far he is leading the league in runs (36), homers (14), rbi (37), walks (36), OBP (.476), slugging (.729), OPS (1.206), and total bases (97). Most likely he won’t be able to keep up this pace but he’s definitely reminding the baseball world that he was once the most hyped player in baseball and for good reason.
Outfield – Yasiel Puig, 24
Yasiel Puig is the best offensive player of the recent Cuban imports. Much like Harper Puig quickly became a polarizing player. Some say it’s the difference between the flare of Cuban baseball and the job-like approach of the American game. Others say he is an immature player still trying to learn some of the games fundamentals (hitting the cutoff man and smart base running). Regardless, the 24-year old has put up some impressive numbers during his first two campaigns. Like his fellow Cuban Yoenis Cespedes Puig can run, throw and has raw power to burn. Among all Cuban born players Puig has the second highest WAR through his age 24 season with 10.9, trailing only Jose Canseco‘s 14.5. Puig needs only a decent season to eclipse Canseco. In his first two years he finished second in Rookie of the Year voting in 2013, was selected to the 2014 All-Star team.
Starting Pitcher – Jose Fernandez, 22
In 2013 Jose Fernandez could have joined Dwight Gooden as the only 20-year olds to ever win the CY Young award had it not been for Clayton Kershaw. 2013 was the Cuban born’s first season in the big leagues and he did more than hold his own. He started 28 games, seven of those were at least seven innings allowing one or no runs, struck out 187 in 172 2/3 innings, had the fewest hits per nine innings with 5.8 (111 hits allowed), was selected to the NL All-Star game and won the NL Rookie of the Year. Fernandez was showing the league that he was for real, 70 Ks in 51 2/3 innings, 2.44 ERA, and three of eight starts lasting at least seven innings while allowing one or no runs, then like so many other pitchers, he was bit by the Tommy John bug, missing the rest of the 2014 season and the first half of 2015.
Closer – Trevor Rosenthal, 24
Trevor Rosenthal was a starter in the minors and the Cardinals decided he could fill a role they needed at the end of games. After starting 48 games in the minors over three years he has become one of the best at closing out games in the majors. In 187 2/3 innings so far in the majors, Rosenthal has struck out 243, saved 61 games (as of May 24th), with a 2.69 ERA. This is his third year in a row that he has a strikeout per nine innings rate of 10 or higher. With the Cards you never know what they will do with Rosenthal, but rest assured whether he continues to anchor the late innings in St. Louis or whether they move him to the rotation he will be a force.