It's a really slow winter break, and I'm doing nothing but studying for the LSAT and writing blog posts, so here's another, yet shorter series for you all. This series will focus on the fact that baseball has an ever-present youth movement that continuously feeds new talent into the MLB ranks. Sometimes, the player of focus will be a minor leaguer who is ready to make the move up, and sometimes it will be a MLB player who has a couple of years under his belt and is ready to take off. To qualify for this write up, a player only needs to be 25 or younger on opening day of 2012, and he either needs to be in the bigs or needs to be extremely close to playing every day. The numbers are loose rankings, but they are more intended to separate the individuals and make the post easier to read. Without further ado, let's take a look at the first group of young future studs:
25. Craig Kimbrel, RP, Atlanta Braves
Rarely would a relief pitcher make this kind of list for me, but this most certainly is a special occasion. This explosive right hander has the opportunity to be a once-in-a-lifetime reliever. Think of guys like Mariano Rivera and Billy Wagner (yes, he COULD be that good). Kimbrel has a two-pitch combo that is absolutely lethal in the context of bullpen pitches. At 24 years old, Kimbrel is well qualified for this list, as he already has a rookie of the year award under his belt. At 5'11, 205 pounds, Kimbrel packs a lot of talent into an undersized body. His fastball and slider are both elite pitches that Kimbrel uses as out pitches. He lacks the control right now to become a GOAT at his position, but he should be up there with the greats at the end of his career if he stays healthy.
Tools: High-90's fastball, high 80's slider (tons of late movement)
Notable stats: 97.2 IP/ 15.4 K/ 2.06 xFIP/ 1.77 SIERA/ 12.8 wFB/ 13.8 wSL
24. Peter Bourjos, CF, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
This is a name that may surprise some people, but it is absolutely a name that needs to be on this list. Bourjos will be 25 by opening day 2012, but he's already established himself as one of the elite defenders and speedsters in all of baseball. However, don't just assume that Bourjos is a speed guy. He'll surprise you with his "sneaky" power. In the bigs, he already has a .170 ISO over 745 plate appearances, and it's not all triples (although he did lead the league with 11 last year). Bourjos has a rare combination of power and speed that has really come out and shocked some of us in the baseball world, as Bourjos barely snuck into the top 100 prospect list pre-2010 (#97 on BA). However, with all of his speed and the power he has, there is no question that defense is where Bourjos thrives. He's already combined for a 24.1 UZR in the majors and has 2.9 combined defensive wins using b-ref's metrics. That is crazy good defense.
Tools: Quick bat, speed, reaction time
Weaknesses: Plate discipline, strikeouts
Notable stats: .170 ISO/ 32 SB (12 CS)/ 24.1 UZR (2.9 dWAR)
23. Jemile Weeks, 2B, Oakland Athletics
Oakland has a lot of young talent, and because of all of the recent trades they've done (along with improvements by Texas and LA) that talent often gets overlooked. One of the younger studs they've got is Jemile Weeks, who is another speedster. Weeks won't be an attention-grabber with elite power, fantastic plate discipline, or stellar defense, but he will be a guy who puts the ball in play and makes plays with his amazing speed. In his first year (just over half a season), he swiped 22 bags in 33 attempts, which isn't a fantastic rate, but should get better as Weeks progresses. Weeks has decent, but not great plate discipline. However, he does not strike out a lot and uses his speed to beat out weakly hit balls. This allows him to have a high BABIP rate, and when that is combined with his limited strikeouts, it generally leads to a high batting average. This will help Weeks be a hitter who is consistently around .300 with a .350 OBP.
Tools: Contact ability, speed
Weaknesses: Power, patience, defense (for now)
Notable stats: BABIP consistently .340+, 22 SB, 14.2% K
22. Aroldis Chapman, LHP, Cincinnati Reds
I don't think there is any individual who is more of a complete wild card than this guy. For now, it appears that the Reds are going to try to make Aroldis Chapman a starting pitcher, so we'll focus on projecting his skill set to that role. Chapman is one of those guys that has extremely high upside with equally high bust potential. Amazing stuff and a complete lack of control makes him extremely hard to project to the future. Chapman features a fastball that has averaged 98.2 MPH in his limited time in the majors and a slider that sits in the high 80's and moves a ton. However, Chapman's problem is control, as he's averaged 6.54 BB/9 between the minors and majors. Amazingly, his 12.79 K/9 gives him a somewhat respectable 1.95 K/BB rate. Chapman still has a lot of work to do as a starting pitcher, but if he can control his pitches and develop a third pitch, he could be elite.
Tools: Explosive fastball, devastating slider
Weaknesses: Control, Lack of a 3rd pitch
Notable stats: 12.79 K/ 0.28 HR
21. Ike Davis, 1B, New York Mets
I once did not believe in Ike Davis as a prospect as much as I should have, but I am glad to announce that I am going to force-feed myself some crow, here. Ike Davis features just about everything I would want in a first baseman. While I don't think he has the patience at the plate to be an elite first baseman, he has all of the tools to be a great first baseman. With Ike, everything starts in the field, where his smooth scoops and solid range give him the ability to lock down first base, which helps the defensive value of everyone else in the infield. On the offensive side of the ball, Davis features truly enormous power. He has a career ISO of .189 (remember, Citi Field), and he had a .240 ISO (with 7 HR in 36 games) prior to going down with an injury last year. Davis doesn't strike out a ton, even with his rather long swing. Surprisingly, Davis also has a .325 BABIP, which is great for a big guy with no speed. This allows him to keep up a high batting average.
Tools: Defense, power, average on balls put into play
Notable stats: .189 ISO/ 11.9% BB/ .325 BABIP
20. Madison Bumgarner, LHP, San Francisco Giants
Few players in our countdown have already had the success that Bumgarner has had in the majors. If you read the blog regularly, you've probably already read the write up I did on him being a breakout candidate for 2012. Bumgarner features something very special that points to long-term success in Major League Baseball: elite control. Bumgarner's BB/9 to this point in his career is 2.1 through 325 innings pitched. He uses a mix of fastballs, sliders, curveballs, and change ups to keep hitters off balance, and he is able to throw all of them for strikes. However, Bumgarner isn't just a control freak. He also excels at striking batters out, and he showed that with a K/9 rate of 8.40 over 200 innings last year. Bumgarner already has a big year under his belt, but improvement should be expected from him. This kid's got a very high ceiling.
Tools: Control, 4-pitch mix
Notable stats: 3.83 K/BB/ 1.31 GB/FB
19. Devin Mesoraco, C, Cincinnati Reds
Mesoraco is the first member of the countdown to not really have any time in the majors. However, with choosing to not bring back Ramon Hernandez, the Reds seem to have made it clear that they are going with Mesoraco in 2012. Mesoraco is, by all means, an offensive-minded catcher. He's got a ton (and I mean a ton) of power with great contact ability. He doesn't have the greatest patience in the world, but the other offensive skills should make up for it. Defensively, Mesoraco has a ways to go, but his skills should get better with experience. His arm strength is great, but his footwork behind the plate is probably his weakest skill overall. He has a tendency to get lazy on balls in the dirt, which leads to a higher frequency of passed balls than is ideal. This will likely change in the majors, though, as Mesoraco is sure to realize what is going to be expected of him.
Tools: Power, contact ability, throwing arm
Weaknesses: Plate discipline, footwork
Notable stats: .180 ISO
18. Brett Lawrie, 3B, Toronto Blue Jays
Lawrie was recently involved in a trade that sent RHP Shaun Marcum to Milwaukee and Lawrie up to the Great White North. Originally, Lawrie started out as a second baseman, but sketchy fielding moved him over to the hot corner, where he's expected to be an offensive weapon. Lawrie is another member of the countdown with really strong power. He's hit a bunch of home runs and has put up ISO numbers of .180 and .164 in his two full seasons in the minors, and his average ISO between AAA and MLB in 2011 was .297 (insane) over 500 PA. Lawrie also features good contact ability and decent patience at the plate. His K/BB ratio at the plate is about 2, which is good for an offensive player. These skills will keep him a great threat at the plate and should allow him to avoid major slumps throughout his career.
Tools: Power, Contact ability
Notable stats: ISO numbers, 62 SB (28 CS) in minors
17. Buster Posey, C, San Francisco Giants
Buster Posey stormed onto the baseball scene in 2010 when he won rookie of the year and served as the spark plug for San Francisco's championship run. Unfortunately, 45 games into the 2011 campaign, he suffered a nasty fractured ankle, which ended his season. Due to the nature of the injury, this should not greatly impact Posey's potential or development, which is great (for everyone but non-Giants NL West fans). As a catcher, Posey excels offensively and defensively. Like Mesoraco, he's a low strikeout, low walk batter with tons of power. A 7.4% BB rate, 13.8% K rate, and .168 ISO (at AT&T Park no less) show that Posey has the ability to avoid major slides and create opportunities in many ways on offense. On defense, he has a rocket arm, good footwork, and good reaction time. These skills have helped him achieve a 37% kill rate for base runners and a combined 0.4 dWAR in the majors.
Tools: Power, Contact Ability, Defense
Notable stats: 13.8% K/ .168 ISO/ 37% Kill rate
16. Jay Bruce, RF, Cincinnati Reds
Jay Bruce is one of the few young players in the majors that, if he ever manages to figure it out, can be an elite all-around player at the MLB level. He hits, he fields, and he can even swipe a few bags when you need him to. Bruce came up as the pre-2008 #1 overall prospect by Baseball America, and he has not yet disappointed in the majors. He'll be 25 at the start of 2012, which hurt his spot in the rankings slightly, but Bruce has the ability to be a mega star in baseball. The first thing that stands out with Bruce is teh combination of power and patience. A .217 ISO and a BB rate that hovers around 10% make Bruce a major threat at the plate. He can be somewhat prone to the strikeout (23.1% K rate), but that is expected from someone who is patient at the plate. In the field, Bruce shows great reaction, takes good routes to the ball, and has a great throwing arm. 2011 was a bit of a setback year as he saw a dip in average, didn't have good rates in the field, and didn't see the explosion in power that so many people are anticipating. Hwever, he'll only be 25, so he's got tons of time to figure it all out. When he does, he'll be an elite player in MLB.
Tools: Power, Patience, Fielding
Notable Stats: .217 ISO/ 9.6% BB/ 25.7 UZR