A Young Man’s Game

The 2015 season is just half over, but the cycle of young players has already impacted the season. Carlos Correa, Kris Bryant, and Joc Pederson are just a handful of young players making a big impact.

Every year, Major League Baseball will see an influx of new, young talent. It’s the cycle of sports as highly regarded prospects — in many cases too highly regarded prospects — finally climb from the Minor Leagues. Fans clamor for these new players as the lure of youth inspires endless possibilities and builds seemingly impossible expectations. It is rare that a young player gets called to the Major Leagues and suceeds right away. Mike Trout struggled during his initial call up. A year later, he was a MVP candidate. Some players follow that path. Most need time to acclimate to Major League Baseball.

2015 seems different. This season, it feels as if there are more young players making an immediate impact. Perhaps that feeling is kindled a bit because of the fact that the sport’s two best players — Mike Trout and Bryce Harper — are 23 and 22 years old respectively. With the All-Star Game featuring 18 players 25 years old or younger, a new generation of players is set for the next era of Major League Baseball.

Making 2015 even more spectacular is that the game has seen more teams promote their top prospects to the Major Leagues. It’s not surprising that Trout and Harper are dominating. Nor is it surprising to see the Pirates’ Gerrit Cole become one of the game’s best pitchers. Even Carlos Martinez of the Cardinals isn’t all that surprising given his success in the bullpen last year. With Manny Machado, Chris Archer, Nolan Arenado, Anthony Rizzo, the New York Mets’ rotation, Mookie Betts, Shelby Miller, and so many others, the future of Major League Baseball is as bright as ever.

And, the current list of rookies are not only top newcomers, but they are already making their respective cases as one of the top players in the game. Youth is being served in Major League Baseball; that youth is already producing at an elite level.

Carlos Correa: 20 Years Old

The Houston Astros have arrived about a year earlier than expected. Their 49 wins are the most in the American League. Much of their success has been the result of a rebuild plan by General Manager Jeff Luhnow, who made a combination of savvy draft picks and trades. The Astros, who signed Jed Lowrie to be their shortstop, had a hole once Lowrie went down with an injury. Eventually, Luhnow called up his top propsect in Correa.

Since his debut, Correa has been one of the most exciting players in the game. His 7 home runs already lead all American League shortstops. In 27 games, he is batting .292/.322/.552 with 9 doubles, 7 home runs, 19 RBI, and 5 stolen bases. Defensively, he has a DRS of +1. With the Astros atop their Division and Correa already ascending to the third spot in the order, he will play a key role for the rest of the season. The League is beginning to adjust to him as pitchers are beginning to pitch him inside a bit more so the youngster will have to make adjustments as well.

With just over 120 plate appearances on his Major League resume, Correa is already the Astros’ best player, climbing his way up the shortstop ranks, and seems like the favorite to win the American League Rookie Of The Year Award. Not bad for a 20 year old.

Lance McCullers: 21 Years Old

Correa’s main competition for the Rookie of The Year Award looks like it will come from his teammate, 21 year old right hander Lance McCullers. While there was the normal expectations for a first round draft pick, most didn’t project the right hander to succeed like he has during his first 10 starts. In those 10 starts, he has pitched 58.1 innings, allowed just 43 hits, 21 walks, and has struck out 61 batters. His excellent 2.16 ERA has been aided by some solid defense, but his 2.77 FIP still paints the picture of a very dominant 10 starts. Even more impressive, McCullers has a groundball rate of 47.7 percent and has elicited swings and misses with pitches thrown for strikes at a clip of 11.5 percent.

The Astros will carefully monitor his innings for the rest of the season as he pitched just 103 innings in the Minor Leagues last season. But, since his May 18th call up, he has been the Astros’ second best pitcher.

Kris Bryant: 23 Years Old

Remember when the Chicago Cubs sent their best Spring Training hitter down to the Minor Leagues to start the season and it was supposed to sabotage his and their season? Both the Cubs and their start 23 year old survived. Now, the Cubs have an extra year of control and Bryant is still making his case for National League Rookie Of The Year.

Since making his debut on April 17th, Bryant has slashed .275/.380/.473 with 14 doubles, 2 triples, 12 home runs, 49 RBI, and 8 stolen bases. Adding to those stellar statistics, Bryant is also walking at a 13.6 percent rate and has produced a wOBA of .373 and a wRC+ of 137. He leads the team in RBI and is second in home runs, stolen bases, on base percentage, and slugging percentage.

The argument can be made that Bryant debuted as the player with the most pressure. With the Cubs’ well documented World Series drought, Bryant’s imitation of Babe Ruth during Spring Training, and all of the fallout from the Cubs’ decision to demote him before the season, Bryant faced intense scrutiny once he was recalled. He’s outperformed even the most unrealistic of expectations.

Joc Pederson: 23 Years Old

Of all the players on this list, Pederson is the only one who has started from day one. The left handed hitting centerfielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers leads the first place team in home runs and is second on the team in RBI, on base percentage, and slugging percentage. In 84 games and 346 at bats, Pederson is hitting .230/.368/.496 with 14 doubles, 1 triple, 20 home runs, 39 RBI, and 45 runs scored. He has shown remarkable patience at the plate — 16.2 percent walk rate, and has slightly better periphery stastistics than Bryant as his .374 wOBA and 143 wRC+ indicate. Thus far, Pederson has outperformed Bryant defensively as the centerfielder is at +2 according to DRS while Bryant is slightly below average at -1.

The argument can be made that Pederson was able to step in on a team full of stars and ease his way into the season. With a roster that includes the likes of Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Yasiel Puig, and Adrian Gonzalez, there wasn’t an immediate expectation for Pederson to carry the offense. But, he quickly became the main power threat in the lineup and has been, perhaps, their most important everyday player.

The National League Rookie of the Year race will be interesting as Bryant has narrowed the statistic gap. Both players deserve the award. Right now, Pederson is still having a better season, even if it is by the smallest of margins.

Maikel Franco: 22 Years Old

Franco won’t win the Rookie of the Year Award. That’s most likely due to being on the worst team in the National League. However, the 22 year old is putting up a season that is on par with any rookie in the Major Leagues. Through 50 games, the 22 year old from the Dominican Republic is hitting .296/.352./.528, all of which lead the Phillies. He’s added 14 doubles, 1 triple, 10 home runs, and 34 RBI. While not the most patient of hitters — 6.8 percent walk rate — Franco makes good contact, as evidenced by his 26.8 percent hard contact rate.

Defense, at least at third base, has been an issue thus far, but Franco is one of the few bright spots in a dark time in Phillies’ history. His offensive skills give the Phillies’ new management team a player to build with. He may not be a guy to build around, but based on his solid Minor League resume and his plus power, Franco’s future is bright.

Miguel Sano: 22 Years Old

He’s been a Major Leaguer for all of six games, but the Twins’ top power prospect has made a splash, hitting two doubles and a home run — nine hits overall — in his first 20 at bats. A year removed from Tommy John Surgery, the Twins’ third baseman of the future is now the designated hitter of the present. With the Twins holding on to a Wild Card berth and losing other top prospect Byron Buxton to injury, calling up Sano is a sign that the Twins will go for it this year after a stretch of four straight losing seasons.

Already moved to the cleanup spot in the order and showing he has some patience (4 walks), Miguel Sano has the look of Baseball’s next great power hitter. With 105 home runs hit — between the ages of 17 and 22 — in 445 Minor League games, Sano will be a key figure in Minnesota’s resurgance. The Twins are hoping he can be the added piece that helps them continue their surprising season.

Mets’ Rotation Rookies

The New York Mets are one of the few teams with elite level pitching. Entering the season, they had a rotation fronted by Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom. As the season wore on, they’ve unleashed two more of their promising pitchers.

Noah Syndergaard, 22 years old, got the call on May 12th and has been one of the better pitchers in the National League since. The 6'6 southpaw has made 10 starts, compiling a 3.38 ERA (2.89 FIP), while pitching 58.2 innings and allowing 56 hits, 12 walks, and striking out 58 batters. With the miniscule walk rate and the ability to generate swings and misses in the strike zone, Syndergaard has lived up to his advanced billing.

The southpaw was joined by fellow left hander, Stephen Matz just a couple of weeks ago. It’s been just two starts, but the 24 year old has dazzled, beating both the Reds and Dodgers. In his two starts, he has thrown 13.2 innings, allowed 7 hits, 2 runs, 5 walks, and has struck out 14 batters. While it is most definitely a small sample size and he has much to prove, Matz’s first two starts fall right in line with his Minor League numbers.

The Mets will need to upgrade the offense in order to get into the playoffs, but they now boast a legitimate six man rotation with four pitchers under the age of 27. It is a rotation that can bring championships. The fact that Syndergaard and Matz have both excelled so early in their respective careers only generates more excitement.

And, that’s not even all of the young, promising players who have made their debuts in 2015. The Astros are relying on Vincent Velasquez to pitch important innings in the rotation. Preston Tucker, Jake Marisnick, Domingo Santana, and Jon Singleton will play a role on offense. The Blue Jays are trying to contend with Devon Travis at second base, Kevin Pillar excelling in center field, and 20 year old Roberto Osuna looking like he is taking hold of the closer role. The Indians are relying on rookies Francisco Lindor and Giovanny Urshela to solidify the left side of their infield.

The point? The cycle of Baseball has swung back to where youth is being infused. And, that youth is already making a great impact. The sport has never been better.