Travis Sherer’s Top 22 Players Under 22

Keep your eyes open, there is a Thundercat spotting as Travis Sherer breaks down the top 22 players under 22 years old.

 

We all know that at any given time, there are some players in the minor leagues who are better than many major leaguers, so why don’t lists act accordingly? I spent considerable time doing the mental gymnastics to get as close as I could to my own version of “the snap.” I endeavored to rank the top overall baseball players at every age from 21-25. Essentially, these would be the best players at their age or younger if they were all playing for their big league clubs.

 

Top 22 Under 22

 

With this being the second installment of this series of five, you can see how it is going to work. There will be players/prospects from the Top 21 Under 21 because they are that good. As we continue all the way to 25, there will be players who are in all lists, but the further we go, the fewer there will be.

A few notes about the under 22 list: 21 is still early to be in Double-A and especially early to be in the majors despite the recent well-documented successes of a number of young prospects at the highest level recently. You’ll notice that other than a few entries, the Single-A kids are gone. Twenty-one is an interesting age because that is when most college draftees begin their professional careers. How does one rank them? Does their collegiate training count for something? Or are prospects who spent their 18-, 19-, and 20-year-old seasons getting more out of their experience?

Let’s start to answer some of these questions:

 

22. Jarred Kelenic, CF, SEA, Age: 19
Highest Level: A+

 

Much to Mets fans’ collective chagrin, Jarred Kelenic barely stays on the list as we jump a year in age. His contact/power combination is just too good already to not be here. Sure, he’d have to iron out pitch selection and get better choosing his spots to steal bases. I’ll concede those, but he’s also not far off defensively from being a decent center fielder at 19. To read more about Kelenic, go to the Top 21 Under 21.

 

21. MacKenzie Gore, LHP, SD, Age: 20
Highest Level: AA

 

What kind of MLB player would Mackenzie Gore be today? An inconsistent one. We know that much by how he’s feeling out Double-A. On some days, he’s brilliant; on others, he’s not. Still, not many under 22-year-olds have the ability to be brilliant in more than lucky one game in the majors. To read more about Gore, go to the Top 21 Under 21.

 

20. Carter Kieboom, SS/3B, WAS, Age: 21
Highest Level: AA

 

Does it count if you already made it to the majors but looked lost when you were there? It actually does. All Carter Kieboom has done since being sent back down in May is hit. I get the argument that if you had your shot (especially recently) and you didn’t look ready, you shouldn’t be here. I just disagree. There is a chance the next time he comes up, which could be any time, he’s a competent third baseman with power. He will likely struggle with pitch selection still, but I think there is more power than he showed in his first cup o’ joe.

 

19. Cristian Pache, CF, ATL, Age: 20
Highest Level: AA

 

Defense. Defense. Defense. To read more about Cristian Pache, go to the Top 21 Under 21.

 

18. Adley Rutschman, C, BAL, Age: 21
Highest Level: Rookie

 

Adley Rutschman might be the only catcher on any of these lists. I believe he is the kind of talent we see once every five to 10 years: a catcher prospect who needs fewer than two years to go through the minors. What that means is he’s already close. It’s possible he’s already better defensively than some MLB catchers, he really needs to work on the bat. Not because it needs work but to refine the plus hit tool and plus power that are already unlocked.

 

17. Vidal Brujan, 2B, TB, Age: 21
Highest Level: AA

 

One of the things you’ll begin to notice about this list is there are two ways to prove you can contribute in the bigs right now: defense/speed or hitting/power. While Vidal Brujan doesn’t have much power, everything else he’s got on lock. The guy steals bases (55 in 2018, 38 so far in 2019), he gets on base (.403 OBP in 2018, .361 so far in 2019), and he doesn’t strike out (14.63 strikeout rate in 2019). He would be fine at the next level and probably the highest level right now.

 

16. Matt Manning, RHP, DET, Age: 21
Highest Level: AA

 

Already thought of as a high-potential arm, Matt Manning has found another level in 2019. He really should have already been moved up into Triple-A. He’s got nothing to prove with the SeaWolves:

 

Matt Manning IP ERA WHIP K BB
Double-A 99.0 2.82 1.09 112 34

 

The Tigers are beginning to develop a reputation for cultivating pitchers. The reinvention of Matt Boyd followed by a number of well-performing prospects has them in decent shape in the future. Much like his counterpart, Casey Mize, Manning is built to succeed in the minors. He’s got size (6-6, 215 pounds) and stuff, sitting 94 with a plus curve and a usable changeup. Next!

 

15. Andrew Vaughn, 1B, CWS, Age: 21
Highest Level: Rookie

 

A Golden Spikes Award winner in college for California-Berkley, Andrew Vaughn put together maybe the most accomplished offensive college career ever. So far through two levels of Rookie-A, Vaughn is doing what you would hope he would: .322/.436/.511. It’s hard to imagine he isn’t in High-A before the end of the season. His bat is so advanced that it is possible he could be a decent hitter right now in the majors.

 

14. Wander Franco, SS, TB, Age: 18
Highest Level: A+

 

Something that is not said enough about just how much Wander Franco is owning High-A pitching at just 18 years old: In his 26 games with the Charlotte Stone Crabs, he’s walked 15 times and struck out on just six occasionsin 92 at-bats. There is no questioning this kid’s approach. To read more about Franco, go to the Top 21 Under 21.

 

13. Jo Adell, CF, ANA, Age: 20
Highest Level: AA

 

An update on Jo Adell since yesterday’s Top 21 Under 21: He’s good. He’s so good, in fact, that one could argue that he should be sharing the same outfield as Mike Trout. He’s dropped to the midteens today because there are too many players who have succeeded in Triple-A at a similar age. To read more about Adell, go to the Top 21 Under 21.

 

12. Andres Munoz, RHP, SD, Age: 20
Highest Level: MLB

 

Andres Munoz has future closer written all over him. Because the Padres have Kirby Yates, however, that means he will be relegated to blowing away National League hitters in the seventh or eighth inning. To read more about Munoz, go to the Top 21 Under 21.

 

11. Deivi Garcia, RHP, NYY, Age: 20
Highest Level: AAA

 

Something not mentioned in Deivi Garcia’s blurb in the Top 21 Under 21 yesterday is just how difficult he is to hit. Averaging just 7.08 hits/9 and just a 0.54 HR/9 this year, one thing is apparent: When minor leaguers do finally hit Garcia, which isn’t often, they don’t hit him hard.

 

10. Dustin May, RHP, LAD, Age: 21
Highest Level: AAA

 

On paper, Dustin May is everything you want in a starter: 6’6″, 185 pounds, and sits at 95 mph. Then you watch him and you forget about all of that because it doesn’t matter what the paper says, he’s got a plus-plus slider, plus cutter, and 80-grade hair. If you think Noah Syndergaard has a mane, Thor’s got nothing on Lion-o. That’s right. You heard it here first! That needs to be May’s nickname. Exhibit ABCDEFGHILion-o:

 

Featured Image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)

 

Seriously though. The kid is ready to come up. He’s a little wild, but that shouldn’t stop him. With 3.49 ERA, a 1.15 WHIP, and a 9.30 K/9 rate between Double-A and Triple-A this year, he’s got nothing left to proveunless you think that quaff is … enhanced.

 

9. Bo Bichette, 2B, TOR, Age: 21
Highest Level: MLB

 

Bo Bichette has said it best: There isn’t anything for him left to do. We know this because he recently said so. In fact, the Blue Jays slugger has asked his organization to tell him what else he needs to do. My guess is they are still trying to figure out how to answer that question. Since they couldn’t come up with a good one, they just brought him up yesterday. It’s about time because all this kid has done is hit. I don’t think he ends up a shortstop for the long run, but his bat will play just fine at second base. The son of Rockies great Dante Bichette is thriving in Triple-A, slashing .281/.333/.484 with eight dingers and 15 stolen bases in 54 games.

 

8. Forrest Whitley, RHP, HOU, Age: 21
Highest Level: AAA

 

Some are quick to point out that Forrest Whitley has been, for lack of a better term, terrible in 2019. I counter with, for lack of a better term, don’t be stupid. The kid is just 21 in Triple-A. In the Pacific Coast League, as a matter of facta known hitter-friendly league. One thing Whitley has in common with all the other pitchers on this list is that you can count on one hand how many plus pitches he has. The difference between him and any other pitching prospect is that it takes all your fingers to count them. Fastballplus. Changeupplus. Sliderplus. Curveballplus. Cutterplus. Let’s not get cute here. There is a world where he comes in the league tomorrow (if healthy) and is Josh Hader.

 

7. Jesus Luzardo, LHP, OAK, Age: 21
Highest Level: AAA

 

It’s possible that Jesus Luzardo could have been up a few spots higher if he hadn’t injured his shoulder and/or lat at different times this season. It’s pretty much been a lost season for the A’s left-hander. Still, as he’s shown now in two straight springs, he’s ready as soon as he’s healthy. Also, between the two injuries, he did not appear to lose anything with the shoulder injury, so that is a plus. Speaking of pluses, The Jesus has three of them: fastball, slider, and changeup.

 

6. Gavin Lux, 2B/SS, LAD, Age: 21
Highest Level: AAA

 

It is hard to put Gavin Lux’s recent torrid run in perspective. Most prospects who force their way into the majors early are pitchers. There is just a general ongoing need for pitchers on major league rosters. They’ll take anybody who looks like they are ready and on fire. With hitters, it’s usually more about service time. Unless a team is making a run with a clear offensive need to be filled, they’d rather wait until the playoffs to bring the prospect up or sit him out until May the following season. Despite having a 14-game lead in the NL West, the way that Lux is hitting isn’t leaving the Dodgers with that option. It would be a surprise not to see Lux up in the next few weeks. After all, the kid is pounding Triple-A to the tune of an insane .479/.550/.925 triple slash with 22 extra-base hits in 22 games. Yes, it is in the notoriously hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, but even this is exceptional.

Make no mistake: It’s not revenge. It’s a reckoning.

 

5. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 3B, TOR, Age: 20
Highest Level: MLB

 

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has an immaculate record. Some people don’t trust a guy with an immaculate record … I do … I have an immaculate record.

As I wrote in the Top 21 Under 21, Vlady’s spot at No. 5 says nothing about his potential. It is all about what he as actually accomplished on the field with the Blue Jays to date. So why is he higher than guys killing it in Triple-A (aka Lux)? Because he’s already been there, done that. As Vladito has shown us, an immaculate record doesn’t mean immediate success (sorry Alec Baldwin).

 

4. Mike Soroka, RHP, ATL, Age: 21
Highest Level: MLB

 

You don’t see too many pitchers have success in the show at 20 or 21. For a little bit of context, let’s compare one Hall of Famer still in the league, one almost Hall of Famer still in the league, and Mike Soroka at 21:

 

Age 21 MLB Season IP ERA WHIP K BB FIP
Hall of Famer 171.0 2.79 1.23 185 91 3.08
Hall of Famer (almost) 190.0 3.92 1.38 165 53 3.75
Mike Soroka 107.0 2.44 1.13 91 25 3.02

 

Other than the strikeout rate between the Soroka and the Hall of Famer, Soroka is outperforming both of these legends. Who might they be? Clayton Kershaw (Hall of Famer) and Felix Hernandez (almost Hall of Famer). This is not to suggest we put Soroka in the Hall right now, but I feel like for how good he has been, Soroka is often not given the proper respect for his performance at such a young age.

 

3. Fernando Tatis Jr., SS, SD, Age: 20
Highest Level: MLB

 

Outside of one very good 21-year-old, the junior Tatis is ahead of the game at this stage in our five-part list. His power/speed potential and performance put him near the top. To read more about Tatis, go to the Top 21 Under 21.

 

2. Juan Soto, LF, WAS, Age: 20
Highest Level: MLB

 

Juan Soto may have been the top player under 21, but that doesn’t carry over against the older kids. His mix of average/approach/power is still elite. What is holding him back, however, is a lack of speed. To read more about Soto, go to the Top 21 Under 21.

 

1. Ronald Acuna Jr., CF, ATL, Age: 21
Highest Level: MLB

 

Ronald Acuna can do it all. He’s not the best defender, but offensively, he’s about as good as they come. His walk and strikeout rates are moving in the right direction, his power has jumped, and he’s staying around .300. The one thing I don’t understand about Acuna is how few doubles he gets. With his speed and power, how can you only be on pace for 20 doubles? It could just be getting unlucky with balls in play, but he has enough speed to also stretch some singles.

Images by Justin Paradis (@FreshMeatComm on Twitter)

Travis Sherer

All Seattle Mariners fans have learned the future is all we have because the present is always too painful. I am Western Washington University alum, a local sportswriter, an official NCAA basketball statistician, a freelance radio and television production statistician, and a minor league standup comedian. Follow me @ShererTravis on Twitter.

  • Avatar Vrotus says:

    Re: Gore

    “What kind of MLB player would Mackenzie Gore be today? An inconsistent one… On some days, he’s brilliant; on others, he’s not.”

    I’d just like to point out the fact that his 1 bad start in AA has been his ONLY bad start all season, and he’s sandwiched it between two very good ones. I don’t think it’s fair to label him as inconsistent because he blew up his 2nd AA start and has been stellar in every facet elsewhere.

    • Avatar Travis Sherer says:

      Thanks for reading.

      I don’t think it’s unfair to say that Gore would be an inconsistent pitcher right now in the majors. I think the Padres would agree with me. If they thought he was going to be the picture of consistent dominance, he’d be at Petco Park right now. It has less to do his ability and more with his youth and experience.

      He has been very good at every level, but in games where you walk three guys in High-A or Double-A, you would give up as many or more runs in the majors. Sure, there aren’t many of those games for him, and in one of them he was still great, but that isn’t the point. The point is I have him as the 2nd best 20-year-old pitcher out there.

      Even in games where your stuff would look great in Double-A, you’d get tagged in the show. Or you’d get worked to the point that you only lasted 3-4 innings. It’s a whole different game.

  • Avatar J says:

    Luzardo’s a lefty.

  • Avatar M says:

    FYI, Drew Waters has disappeared. Others that were ranked below him in the U21 list repeat here.

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