Incoming MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred is going to have a lot of his plate when he assumes the office next January. From the Pete Rose issue, to declining attendance, to attempting to remove the taint of the steroid era – a scandal that reached all the way into the Commissioner's office – from the game of baseball, there will be no shortage of things on his to-do list. But one of the more interesting, and perhaps most pressing concern will be in attempting to make America's national pastime – well – national again.
Though outgoing Commissioner Bud Selig did a lot of things wrong during his tenure, he deserves credit for doing a lot of things right. In some ways, he grew and strengthened the brand of Major League Baseball, but in other ways he may have weakened it. During his tenure, professional baseball has gone from a national sport to a more regional one. Though that also owes much to regional television network deals and the impact those have on national networks. The overall impact has lessened people's knowledge of ballplayers outside of their immediate television market.
While there are certainly some players who are transcendent, who are widely known across the nation, they are few and far between. Most regular people in New York won't have the first clue about the players on the roster down in Houston – the fantasy geeks are of course, the exceptions to that rule. But it's unfortunate that some very excellent players, who are well known in their markets, get no national run.
Commissioner-elect Manfred is going to need to address that before professional baseball descends into little more than tribal warfare. The good news for him though, is that he has some incredible young talent dotting the rosters of quite a few clubs. There are some genuinely transcendent players across the landscape of the major leagues and they can help elevate the sport as a whole. If only they can get some national run.
With that in mind, let's look at just 15 of those young, potentially transcendent players who all happen to be age 25 of younger...
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15 George Springer (Houston Astros)
After a very successful run through the minor leagues, Springer was ranked as one of the best prospects in baseball today. He has an incredible upside – so much so that the Astros reportedly tried to sign him to a 7-year, $23 million deal before they ever called him up. Springer and his agent rejected the deal. But the Astros, needing some offense, called him up in 2014. Though he's been slowed by injury – he's only appeared in 78 games – he's still managed to crush 20 home runs and knock in 51 RBI's. He has a very respectable .804 OPS, and has scored 45 runs. When he's back, healthy and 100%, Springer looks like he's going to be a force to be reckoned with.
14 Matt Moore (Tampa Bay Rays)
A torn elbow ligament and subsequent Tommy John surgery ended Moore's 2014 season very prematurely, but there is no denying the just turned 25 year old leftie's talent. In his first full season with the Rays (2012), Moore threw 177 innings, posting a record of 11-11 with a 3.81 ERA. But in 2013, in a rotation that featured a Cy Young winner in David Price, and the AL Rookie of the Year in Jeremy Hellickson, Moore went a very healthy 17-4 and posted an ERA of 3.29. He was 0-2 at the time of his injury, but had lowered his ERA again to 2.70. Fans and the organization are hoping that he can bounce back and return to his old form again next year.
13 Jose Fernandez (Miami Marlins)
We don't have an extensive body of work from Fernandez to dissect and analyze, but what we have seen so far has been pretty spectacular. Breaking in with the Marlins in 2013 as a 20 year old, Fernandez went 12-6 and posted a pretty insane ERA of 2.19 – insane in that baseball has done everything in their power to increase scoring offense. In 172 innings of work, Fernandez struck out 187 and gave up just 5.8 hits per 9 innings. He put up some of the best numbers in the league, took home the NL Rookie of the Year honors, was an All-Star, and finished 3rd in Cy Young voting. At just 22 years old, Fernandez was Miami's Opening Day starter in 2014 and started the season strong, going 4-2 with a 2.44 ERA before he went down with an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery and ended his year.
12 Madison Bumgarner (San Francisco Giants)
Breaking in with the Giants in 2010, Bumgarner found himself in a rotation that included top level pitchers like Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain. It would have have been easy for Bumgarner to get lost amidst the starpower and talent on the Giants' roster. Instead, he turned himself into a vital piece of the rotation, won at least 13 games in every season since breaking in, helped the Giants to two World Series titles in a 4 year span, and has become one of the most dominant southpaws in the game. And oh yeah, he just turned 25 on August 1st.
11 Sonny Gray (Oakland A's)
When talking about Sonny Gray, we don't have a very big body of work to draw from. But there is no denying Gray's talent and incredible upside – talent and upside that led Oakland to pick him in the first round of the 2011 draft. In 10 starts for the A's in 2013, Gray posted a 5-3 record with a 2.67 ERA. But more impressive were his 67 K's in just 64 innings of work. The results thus far in 2014 are just as impressive – 13-7, 3.00 ERA, 143 K's in 171 innings pitched. Gray is a vital part of an Oakland rotation that is battling for a playoff spot.
10 Jose Altuve (Houston Astros)
Altuve is a vastly underrated and pretty terrific second baseman who has gotten progressively better as the seasons have worn on. At just 24 years old, Altuve has been with the Astros for 3 full seasons now and has been a rock at 2nd base. Though he's been very good, 2014 seems to be his true breakout season. Through just 125 games this year, he's batting .334, has collected 178 hits in just 533 at bats, has taken 30 walks, and stolen 47 bases. And in the field, he's been even better, committing just 8 errors in 605 total chances for a fielding percentage of .987. Altuve is proving to be one of baseball's brightest young stars – it's just unfortunate that he plays for such a bad team.
9 Giancarlo Stanton (Miami Marlins)
Stanton is another of those players who is very young (24) but has seemingly been in the game forever. That's because in 2010 at the age of 20, he played in 100 games for the Marlins, posting a .259 batting average to go along with his 22 homers and 59 RBI's. 2013 was his worst year statistically speaking (.249 batting average), and he still managed to bang out 24 homers and 62 RBI's – which is still pretty good for a down season. In 2014, he's having one of his best seasons to date, posting a .299 batting average with 32 home runs and 94 RBI's. And he's just 24 years old.
8 Chris Sale (Chicago White Sox)
Does anybody outside of the Windy City even know who Chris Sale is? Primarily a reliever in his first two seasons in the Bigs, Sale was moved into the rotation in 2012 and really excelled, posting a record of 17-8 to go along with his 3.05 ERA. In 2013, he went 11-14 with a 3.07 ERA – mostly the result of the White Sox being a very bad team – tied David Price of Tampa Bay for the most complete games (4) and finished 5th in the Cy Young voting that year. This season, Sale has been ridiculous, going 10-3 with a 2.03 ERA in 20 starts. He's just 25 years old and has many years of dominance left in him.
7 Julio Teheran (Atlanta Braves)
Though Teheran debuted for the Braves all the way back in 2011 at the age of 20, it wasn't until 2013 that he really showed his stuff and had an impact, going 14-8 in 30 starts with a 3.20 ERA and 170 K's in just over 185 innings of work – and finishing fifth on a loaded NL Rookie of the Year ballot. Thus far in 2014, Teheran is 12-9 with a 2.96 ERA in 27 starts and at just 23 years old, is establishing himself as a cornerstone of Atlanta's rotation for many seasons to come.
6 Michael Wacha (St. Louis Cardinals)
Wacha is perhaps the rookie whose star rose the furthest and shined the brightest in 2013. It took just under one calendar year for Wacha to go from the minors to starting against the Royals. He was optioned back to the minors, but joined the Cardinals for good in mid-August. And given his performance, he won't be going back down again any time soon. He posted a 4-1 record with a 2.64 ERA, but it was his performance in the playoffs that made him a star. In 3 playoff series against the Pirates, Dodgers, and Red Sox – the latter being the World Series – Wacha posted a record of 4-1 with a 2.64 ERA. Not too bad at all for a 21 year old.
5 Freddie Freeman (Atlanta Braves)
Freeman is just 24 years old, but counting 2014, he's already been with the Braves for 4 full seasons after a 20 game audition back in 2010. And given the way he's played, we can expect to see him in an Atlanta uniform for a lot of years to come. In his brief career to this point, Freeman has a career batting average of .287 to go along with 85 homers and 348 RBI's. The Braves wisely locked Freeman up with an 8-year, $135 million dollar deal that doesn't allow him to dabble in free agency until 2022. It's an impressive start to what is looking like it's going to be a very long, very productive career.
4 Manny Machado (Baltimore Orioles)
He suffered an injury late in the 2013 season, and has now suffered another injury to his repaired ligament late in the 2014 season, but there is no question that Machado is a special player and the resurgent success of the Baltimore Orioles is in large part, owed to him. In 2013, his first full season with the O's, Machado went for a .283 batting average to go along with 14 homers and 71 RBI's. He also stroked 51 doubles for the season. He was having a pretty good 2014 season before it was unfortunately derailed. If Baltimore misses the playoffs, it's because Machado is on the DL.
3 Bryce Harper (Washington Nationals)
Harper is one of the more polarizing figures in baseball today. Some people love him – mostly Nationals fans – and others absolutely loathe him. He's got a big personality, that's for sure. But he's also got big time talent. As a 19 year old in 2012, Harper put up a .270 batting average to go along with his 22 homers and 59 RBI's. In 2013, Harper was forced to play through a knee injury, but still managed to club 20 homers and post a .854 OPS – which aren't shabby numbers. An injury to his thumb that required surgery has limited Harper to just 70 games in 2014, so of course, his numbers are down. Though at just 21 years old, Harper still has a lot of years left to pad his stats.
2 Yasiel Puig (Los Angeles Dodgers)
Yasiel Puig was a sensation the moment he put on the Dodgers' uniform last season. In 104 games in 2013, Puig batted .319 with 19 bombs and 42 RBI's. The knock on him was his sometimes immature attitude and its impact on his game, as well as on the team. He's more or less kept it in check in 2014, and through 119 games this season, he's batting .307 with 13 homers, 59 RBI's and 70 runs scored. At 23 years old, he's already a fantastic all around player with tools most major leaguers can only dream of. If he can learn to mature and rein in his attitude, the sky really is the limit for Puig.
1 Mike Trout (Los Angeles Angels)
Trout is not just the best player under 25, he very well may be the best player in all of Major League baseball. After coming up for a brief stay with the Angels in 2011 in which he belted 5 home runs in 123 plate appearances, he started off the 2012 season with the big club and began to pay immediate dividends. That season, Trout batted .326, crushed 30 homers and knocked in 83 RBI's. Oh yeah, he also stole 49 bases and had an impressive .963 OPS. In 2013, his average was .323, and he had 27 homers, 97 RBI's, and another 33 stolen bases. 2014 is something of a down year for Trout in that he's only batting .289, only has 28 home runs and 90 RBI's in his stat columns. Trout is good. Really, really good. And if he continues playing the way he has been, he could wind up being one of the best to ever play.
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