Let’s talk process. Unlike other Top 25 under 25 articles that are bound to come out in the next few weeks, this one is different. It is specifically geared for managers in dynasty leagues, and it answers just one question: Who has the most trade value? If I were evaluating a one-for-one trade between any two players on this list, who would I take regardless of roster needs? The more highly ranked player.
Another inclusion that is unique to this list is that I don’t exclude minor leaguers (or even players who haven’t been drafted yet). There is something to be said about young players who have had success in the major leagues, but excluding all players who haven’t seen or thrown a big league pitch is either lazy or…lazy. Let’s put it another way: If Harrison Bader was listed below and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. wasn’t (because he isn’t yet a major leaguer), I’d assume you’d rather have Bader than Guerrero—which is a position even Bader’s mother wouldn’t defend. The only reason not to do so is that you want to limit the player pool to make it easier to compare values and write an article about them. What would you rather read about: the best 25 players under 25 in the majors, or the best at any level?
That’s what I thought. Let’s get started.
25. Miguel Andujar, 3B, 24
I went back and forth with including Miguel Andujar. On one hand, he exceeded expectations with his 2018 rookie campaign, slashing .297/.328/.527 with 27 dingers. On the other hand, he is a third baseman, and those are a dime-a-dozen right now. Instead of Andujar, I considered Jose Berrios, Mike Soroka, Edwin Diaz, Yoan Moncada, Vidal Brujan, Rafael Devers, Adley Rutschman, and Willy Adames. Adames is probably No. 26 on this list (or Rutschman). It’s hard to ignore the counting stats for Andujar, and the fact that he plays for a perennially fantastic Yankees lineup will only help. What troubles me about him is he doesn’t walk very much, which will always limit his potential. Reaching a .900 OPS is very difficult when you don’t walk. Don’t get me wrong, an .800 is certainly above average, but he’s never likely to be an elite option because of that lack of taking a free pass.
24. Adalberto Mondesi, SS, 23
I could make five different predictions about the career trajectory of Adalberto Mondesi and still be very wrong. Did he stumble upon something special at the plate in 2018, slashing .276/.306/.498 with 14 home runs and 32 stolen bases? Or was his 75-game stretch with the Royals just a flash in the pan? Is he closer to the player he showed in 72 games between 2016 and 2017 where he hit roughly .180 with a slugging percentage that wouldn’t have been a good batting average? The point is, there is simply too low of a floor and too high of a ceiling to put Mondesi anywhere but at the end of this list. If he is the 2018 version this entire season, he will be 10-ish spots higher next year.
23. Victor Robles, OF, 21
This past offseason, so much has been said about Victor Robles it is hard to tell whether he is going to be a superstar or Juan Pierre. He’s got great swing mechanics, but he makes too much soft contact. His line-drive rate is high (21 percent) but his exit velocity is low (82.5 mph). He draws a good amount of walks but also racks up the HBP, and injuries are a concern. He’s fast, but the last two years his SB% was 73 in the minors. Who is the real Robles? Whoever he is, he will be a useful player. Despite a low exit velocity, Robles still shows the kind of plate patience to post a respectable OBP even if the average dips. The power could be less of a revelation, but the speed will likely be enough to make him an upper-level outfielder even without dingers. He’s the kind of guy who needs a great offense around him to post All-Star numbers, but there is a future of that in Washington in both the present and the future. Really how much the power develops as Robles matures will determine how good he ends up being.
22. Andrew Vaughn, 1B, 21
Yes, I believe a college player is one of the 25 best players under age 25. If you haven’t noticed, first base is a wasteland, prospect wise. The position has become one where prospects go who cannot field other positions. The last really good first base prospect was Cody Bellinger, and the Dodgers are still trying to find ways to get his athleticism and fielding prowess into the outfield.
Like the center position in the NBA, the days of the lumbering power hitter at first are all but gone. Most teams aren’t willing to invest time to develop a player who can’t field, and very few players fit the profile of a passable fielding first baseman who isn’t athletic enough to play another position. Enter the University of California’s Andrew Vaughn. He’s built like a brick house and can rake the maple orchard around it.
For fantasy purposes, I say Vaughn (a stout, right-handed, 1B-only prospect) is the best prospect in the 2019 MLB draft. Sure there are more talented players, but the combination of high floor/high ceiling he possesses is unmatched. Depending on your view, first base fantasy-wise is either loaded or in crisis mode. Aside from Bellinger, Paul Goldschmidt, Freddie Freeman, Anthony Rizzo and Joey Votto, there are a bunch of Peter Alonso/Matt Olson/Joey Gallo types. The kind of guys that might as well be swinging a log with their eyes closed. Vaughn represents the kind of great-hit, good-power, elite-eye upside that only the Top Five first basemen of 2019 have. Look at what he’s been doing in Berkeley:
Those are better college numbers than both Goldschmidt and Kris Bryant. Vaughn has started 2019 running out of the gate with a 1,400 OPS and a BB-K rate of 7-1. I know, I know, he’s just a college player. I will be banging on this drum all season—and I am driving the Vaughn bandwagon. How could I want him more than 99% of the players under the age of 25? I’ll tell you in two years.
21. Julio Urias, SP, 22
There was a time when Julio Urias would have been a Top 15 entry on this list. He was once dubbed the next Felix Hernandez because of his advanced skill for a teenager. Two major injuries later, including the dreaded anterior capsule surgery, and Urias’ stock is down. I don’t consider him damaged goods, however—not since he returned in 2018. He only did so for four innings, but in those four innings his velocity was back and so were his slider, changeup and curve. I’m not going to say he’s a great target for any team trying to win this year. Whether he returns to the rotation in 2019 is still up in the air, but he is still a good bet to be a valuable pitcher. It’s hard to believe that Urias is still only 22, so really he is still a year or two away from when most pitchers make their big league debut. A lot can happen in those two years (especially due to injury), but I would bet on his talent until there is a reason not to.
20. Casey Mize, SP, 21
The first pick in the 2018 MLB draft could be on the Tigers’ big league roster sometime in 2019: He’s that good. Whether he starts this season in High-A or Double-A is anybody’s guess, but most believe wherever he starts, he won’t be there long. Multiple promotions are in Mize’s near future due to a deadly mix of a mid-90s fastball, a plus-plus cutter, a plus splitter and a decent slider. Also he has the command of an MLB vet. Fellow former SEC pitcher Aaron Nola is a good comp when speaking about both polish and readiness for the big leagues. Nola was drafted in 2014 and made his debut in the second half of 2015. Mize is one to watch, but he’s better to own.
19. Keston Hiura, 2B, 22
When Keston Hiura was drafted in 2018, the thought was the only thing that could hold him back was his defense. Now that he’s shown he can be serviceable at second base, he’s cleared the way for his bat to shine. Likely to be brought up sometime in 2019, Hiura possesses the kind of power and hit tools that suggest multiple All-Star trips are in his future.
18. Luis Severino, SP, 23
What? A 23-year-old ace is only No. 18? Well, that’s only half true because right now Luis Severino is only half an ace. He challenged Gerrit Cole and Chris Sale as the best American League pitcher of the first half in 2018, with a 2.31 ERA and 144 K’s over 128.1 innings. Unfortunately, the other half of 2018, Severino did not look like an ace. He was so bad, he looked as unplayable as an Uno card mixed into a Skip-Bo game. Severino’s last three months went as follows:
Where does that three-month performance rank? Somewhere between Sonny Gray and my three-year-old daughter. Some might point out his 2018 FIP (Field Independent Pitching) of 2.95, which is essentially what your ERA would be without defense. This is generally a good compass for how to value a pitcher’s control/stuff because it weighs BBs and HR against K’s. The problem with this stat and Severino is he is fantastic at two of those outcomes (BBs and K’s) all the time. When he is bad, he still doesn’t walk many and strikes out a lot—padding his FIP—but he just gives up a lot of home runs.
What does this mean? When Severino is good, he is getting swings and misses and weak contact because he is locating his pitches. When he is bad, his control is off but he’s avoiding walks by pitching toward the middle of the plate and hoping his velocity is enough to keep getting strikeouts—but it isn’t. Instead, it gets strikeouts and home runs. Until he figures out how to pitch when his stuff isn’t as good, he can’t be higher on this list.
17. Ozzie Albies, 2B, 22
Ozzie Albies, hit the ground running in Atlanta to the tune .281/.318/.516 with 20 home runs and nine stolen bases. He fell off considerably in the second half, slugging just .342. The weird thing is Albies’ strikeout rate stayed roughly the same from the first half to the second, and he actually improved his walk rate. It’s hard to know what Albies is yet, but he’s going to be good. I think we’re going to see both more stolen bases and fewer home runs in 2019 and beyond, but that still puts him in reach of a 20/20 season, and I’ll take that to the bank at second base for the next five or more years.
16. Nick Senzel, 3B/OF, 23
Does Nick Senzel have the best hit tool in the minor leagues? He just might. It’s his incredible contact ability and solid approach that have seen him hit better than .300 in every level but the Pioneer League. Never playing more than 62 games at any level, Senzel has rocketed through the minors. What’s more? The Reds are seemingly making him a super-utility player. Despite playing third base most of his college career and every game in the minors, Senzel is being groomed to take over center field in Cincinnati. Early reports are so good that he’s the front-runner for the starting spot in 2019. That is impressive in its own right. Senzel has the ability to play almost any position on the diamond and might have to over the next few years to help the young Reds get the most out of their farm system. Multiple position eligibility should be something that Senzel has over most of the players on this list—and might be an annual bonus for his owners throughout his career.
15. Gleyber Torres, 2B/SS, 22
Like Albies, I don’t think we’ve seen the real Gleyber Torres yet, but I do think his 2018 will be closer to what he’s capable of than what Albies showed us. I like Torres more than Albies because he’s bigger, can play shortstop or second base and I like his approach. He’s more likely to draw a walk and about as likely to strike out. Also, there is less speed here but more power. Torres smoked 24 dingers in 2018, and I think that is right about in his range. He’s a 25- to 30-home run guy in the future with a .275 average.
14. Eloy Jimenez, OF, 22
What gets me excited about Eloy Jimenez isn’t just his power potential. He hits home runs without while posting a modest 15% strikeout rate. Even if that climbs his first year or two in the majors (which is most certainly will), he’ll still be near the league average. Jimenez also has the approach, bat speed and quick hands to hit near .300. I don’t see him quite getting there but .280 with 30+ is a reasonable assessment in the future for Jimenez with the potential for much more.
13. Josh Hader, RP, 24
I know what you’re thinking: How is Josh Hader more valuable than Severino? Consistency. Hader has been so good in relief the past two years without a blip on the radar. Yes, it’s easier being a reliever than a starter, but that has actually nothing to do with fantasy baseball. There are roughly a dozen pitchers like Severino, but with a near 16 K/9, Hader is the best at what he does. And if anyone wants to know the kind of impact a guy like Hader can have in your H2H league, read about my Delosh Betader theory. I also would not be surprised if Hader and Severino switch roles in five years.
12. Wander Franco, SS, 18
I get it. Wander Franco is 18 years old. He’s at least one year away from the majors. He hasn’t even seen Single-A pitching yet. What he did in Rookie A at 17 is impressive to say the least, but how impressive? It’s time to play everybody’s favorite game: Guess Who.
Player A is Guerrero Jr. who like Franco played in Appalachian League for Rookie A. Player B is Franco, and C is Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout during his time in the Arizona Rookie League. It’s hard to point out what is more striking about this line, so let’s take a deep breath and go one at a time: (1) In just 61 games he had 28 extra-base hits or almost one every other game, (2) he had almost an RBI per game, (3) his strikeout rate was an absurd 7%, and (4) he showed patience with a 9.9% walk rate. Sure, a 27-19 walk ratio is particularly impressive even at this low level if you factor in Franco’s age. He’s the next big thing; you heard it here—a probably other places by now.
11. Forrest Whitley, SP, 21
If you’ll notice, there area only seven pitchers on this list—and one of them can also hit. That’s just 28 percent of the list. Pitchers are that volatile. However, sometimes there’s a man… I won’t say a hero, ’cause, what’s a hero? But sometimes, there’s a man. And I’m talkin’ about the Forrest Whitley here. Sometimes, there’s a man, well, he’s the man for his time and place. He fits right in there. And that’s Whitley, in Houston. If you are lucky if they have three legit pitches. Most have two and are working on a third. Whitley has five! Whitley can control them! Whitley might be in the majors this year! Seriously, his fastball sits mid-90s, his power curve is one of the best in the minors, and he has a very good slider as well as an even better changeup that fades away and a 90-mph cutter.
10. Walker Buehler, SP, 24
I should have used that Big Lebowski quote for Walker Buehler. After all, he is in Los Angeles. I refuse to use a Ferris Bueller quote. Basically, Buehler is what we hope Whitley will become when he’s 23—minus the Tommy John surgery. Like Whitley, Buehler has five pitches, although his fifth—a changeup—certainly brings up the tail. No matter: His fastball/slider/curveball combo would be enough to garner him No. 1 potential on a staff. Combine that lethal stuff with already exceptional control and you start seeing Cy Young Awards in his future. After all, the young burgeoning Dodgers ace was as good as anybody could expect, posting a 2.62 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and 9.90 K/9 in 137 IP in 2018. You can’t expect much more than that from Buehler, to be honest, except more innings.
9. Corey Seager, SS, 24
In terms of talent, Corey Seager probably ranks sixth on this list. But life has gotten in the way for Kyle’s brother. With Seager, there isn’t just the potential for .300 with 25 homers, there is an expectation of it—as long as he’s healthy. Even though he didn’t produce as he typically does in an injury-plagued 2018, the encouraging sign is he still reduced his K rate and increased his walk rate.
8. Cody Bellinger, 1B/OF, 23
Another good year from Cody Bellinger and he could easily jump one or two spots, but that might be his ceiling. What makes Bellinger so special is he plays first base, he can hit, and he’s just 23. Look at the starting first basemen around the league, just being an under-25 starting first baseman is rare. Add being one who can hit better than 85% of all first basemen means he has no peers at his position in terms of dynasty league value at first. Sure, it helps that he also qualifies for the outfield, but that is really minor here because you’re not likely to have first baseman good enough to bump him off the bag. There’s .280 with 40-homer potential here. I bet it happens at least once in the next five years. Who else can you say that about at first base?
7. Andrew Benintendi, OF, 24
Has Andrew Benintendi gotten better over his two-plus MLB seasons, or just been this good the whole time? There is a case to be made for both. In his “breakout” 2018 campaign he basically slashed almost exactly the same as he did in his 34-game call-up at the end of the 2016 season:
He was essentially the same player. And his Double-A numbers in 2016 looked similar to his major league numbers. Really: Has he always been this good? Like could the Sox have drafted him 10 years ago and he’d be a 14-year-old kid getting on base at a solid clip, swiping the occasional bag and knocking the occasional dinger? It’s hard to say. Still, there is one thing that Benintendi has gotten better at since coming into the league: managing the strike zone. His walk rate has climbed each year and his K rate has declined as well. He reminds me of another Red Sox favorite of mine from the late ’80s and early ’90s, Mike Greenwell. All Benintendi needs to do is add a little pop, and he is the second coming of Greenwell. We’ll know this season, because look what Greenwell did when he was 24:
|Mike Greenwell (24 Years Old)||.325||.416||.531||22||16||87||38|
Just about all of those are possible for Benintendi in 2019 (accept the only 38 K’s—I’m not an idiot). Greenwell finished second in MVP voting that year to Jose Canseco, who went 40/40.
6. Carlos Correa, SS, 24
Just two years ago, Carlos Correa was an MVP candidate. He was the next Alex Rodriguez. A tall, athletic shortstop who can hit for power and average, and steal a few bases. Then played 109 bullish games in 2017 and 110 sluggish games in 2018. Now we don’t know what Correa is except injury prone. I will say this: Talent-wise, Correa is still the shortstop to own who’s younger than 25 in any dynasty league. He’s got just as good of a hit tool as Seager and more power. I’m not buying that his skills regressed last season. I believe it was just a nagging back injury all year that made him swing differently. Let’s see what Correa can do in 2019 before we start to write him off. In my mind, he’s still a top-20 pick in dynasty leagues.
5. Shohei Ohtani, DH/SP, 24
It’s a good thing that Ohtani turns 25 this season, otherwise, he could top this list next year if he takes another step forward with his bat. Just to be clear, a step forward would be .290 with 30 home runs and 15 steals. That basically means he’s Ronald Acuna Jr. who also pitches every sixth day. If Ohtani would not have hurt his elbow this season, he would essentially be on this list twice.
As someone who watched every pitch and at-bat of Ohtani in 2018, it’s clear that he has the ability to do both as long as his body holds up. Yes, I realize that is a big “if,” but the potential fantasy payoff is unlike any other player on this list. We like to use the term position eligibility as positive for hitters. If you are in a league where the pitcher and the hitter take up only one roster spot, Ohtani has an incredible impact.
4. Juan Soto, OF, 20
I’m going to make this short about Juan Soto. It is possible he has the best approach/patience of anybody on this list. Only three players can you reasonably predict a batting title—and the other two have yet to be named. Soto is the youngest player listed with MLB experience, but if you watch him at the plate, he works the count like he’s been in the league for 10 years. It’s possible he could have more walks than strikeouts at age 20. You know when that last happened. The correct answer is never. You should know that.
3. Ronald Acuna Jr. OF, 21
Hot take: Soto is a better hitter than Acuna. Out of the two, it is much more likely that Soto will have a higher OPS on a yearly basis—and he certainly will strike out less. The difference is that Acuna is really fast. He’s a potential 30/30 candidate, and he is the only one I can say that about on this list. Like Soto, Acuna has a natural feel for hitting, unlike Soto, there is swing-and-miss in his profile, but not enough to worry about. He’s already proved he can handle MLB pitching. Where he goes from here is straight to All-Star games and MVP voting lists.
2. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. 3B, 20
What makes Baby Vlad so valuable despite yet having a single at-bat with the Blue Jays? Is it his Hall of Fame bloodlines? Is it his meteoric rise through the minors? Or is it because, as far as we can tell, he hasn’t yet been challenged on a baseball field by any level of competition he’s seen?
It’s true. Vlad II has done nothing to indicate that he will be slowed by MLB pitching. Sure, just about every prospect does—and that is what people who don’t put prospects in their Top 25 under 25 articles will say. Except not all prospects have an adjustment period. Here are a few crazy facts about the spawn of Vladimir Guerrero Sr. as a teenager in the minor leagues: In the past two years, through four levels of the minors, he has never posted lower than a .889 OPS, and that “low” mark was just after he turned 18. During that same time, Vlad Jr. never posted an OBP of lower than .400. His K rate is 11%—meaning he strikes out just about every other game. What does all this say? He’s not just a power hitter. This kid, who is not old enough to drink, is already a consistent OBP machine that knows the strike zone and has elite contact skills.
1. Alex Bregman, 3B, 24
In a dynasty draft, there are only four players I wouldn’t trade Guerrero Jr. for: Trout, Mookie Betts, Jose Ramirez and Alex Bregman. Only one of those guys is 25. That might all change if/when Vladito wins Rookie of the Year in 2019, but for now there are two reasons Bregman is the best Top 25 player under 25 years of age:
- In two full seasons, Bregman has managed to live up to all of the highest expectations the Astros had when they picked him No. 2 overall in 2015. Bregman’s improvement from 2017 to 2018 was impressive to say the least. He boosted his OBP by 42 points from .352 to .394 the hard way: flipping his BB-K ratio from 55-97 to 96-85. His power also improved significantly, totaling 83 extra-base hits, 20 more than the previous year. He did all of this with a near career-low (both minors and majors) .289 BABIP.
- Out of the two of them, Bregman is the only one guaranteed to be manning the hot corner in 2022. Baby Vlad could be moved off third as early as 2020—he’s just too big and like his dad, going to get bigger.
(Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire)