Posted by: Larry Smith Jr. | June 7, 2010

MLB, Its Many Young Stars, and the 2010 Draft

Today is the day of the 2010 MLB Draft and provides another occasion for teams to restock their cupboards and gear up for future success.  It also provides another round of excitement for fans of Major League Baseball, which really is at a high point right now when it comes to having an influx of young of talent into the league.

Last year Joe Posnanski wrote an article about how there was simply a dearth of great players in his childhood.  He identified his childhood as 1975-1980 and stated that there were many great stars that were leaving their prime or at the end of their careers, but that there were very few true Hall of Fame talents that were having their peaks during his childhood.   On multiple occasions he has offered this tidbit as a reason for the recent spate of mediocre Hall of Famers, hypothesizing that many of the baseball writers that vote for the Hall are about his age and grew up around the same time, and wish to immortalize the stars of their childhood even if those stars don’t truly compare to the stars at other periods in the league history.

For those people whose childhoods began roughly three years ago, they seem destined to have the anti-Posnanski childhood.  Obviously there is some danger in hype, and the history of baseball is littered with high draft pick failures (Brien Taylor, Ryan Anderson), careers that flame out prematurely for any number of reasons (Nick Esasky, Juan Gonzalez), and guys that simply don’t live up to their pedigree (Bryan Bullington, Scott Moore).   However, after a brief lull that followed the retirement and/or decline phases of the careers of many 90s and early 00s stars such as Barry Bonds, Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, et al., as well as the moderate disintegration of the steroid cloud that hovered over the era in which they dominated, it appears that there has been a legitimate reintegration of young star power into the league.  It is a list so long that it can turn into a lengthy trail of bullet points:

* – Tim Lincecum, a (soon-to-be) 26 year old with two (deserved) Cy Young Awards, two strikeout titles (both by rate and raw number) who currently leads the league in strikeouts.  Still only in his fourth full season.

* – Joe Mauer, a 27 year old with one (deserved) MVP, three batting titles (as a catcher!), a year when he won the “triple slash crown” (2009), who has walked more times than he’s struck out in four consecutive seasons, and who is already in top 25 all-time for runs saved defensively at Catcher in spite of only having been in the league for five full seasons heading into this year.  I’ve written before that I think he has already done enough to get into the Hall of Fame if he retired tomorrow.

* – Prince Fielder, a 26 year old former Home Run champion that already has three 30+ homer seasons, two 40+ homer seasons, and a .542 career slugging percentage to match with an OBP north of .380.  In his four full seasons he has only missed twelve games, meaning fans can essentially count on seeing him play every day.

* – Felix Hernandez, a 24 year old starter who already has established himself as a durable starter with electric stuff.  He has over 8 K/9 in his career and an ERA south of 3.50.  In his four full seasons he’s never pitched less than 190 innings.

* – Justin Verlander, a 27 year old fireballer with one strikeout title whose durability is even greater than that of Hernandez, Verlander has pitched four full seasons and only once had an ERA greater than 3.66.  He’s a former (deserved) Rookie of the Year.

* – Miguel Cabrera, a 27 year old slugger that already has a home run title and five 30+ homer seasons.  Cabrera has two .400+ OBP seasons, and in six full years in the league has never slugged below .510.  He has only missed 19 games in his six full years, which means that like Fielder fans can count on seeing him in the game every day for the most part.

* – Hanley Ramirez, a 26 year old slugging shortstop who has two 50+ steal seasons, a batting title, two .400+ OBP seasons, and three 20+ homer seasons to his credit.  In four full seasons in the league, Ramirez has only slugged under .540 once.  He also won a (deserved) rookie of the year award in 2006.

The list could go on, and note that nobody on that list plays for the Tampa Bay Rays, whose entire team is virtually composed of young future stars, particularly in the rotation.  Simply in 2010 alone the list of first-time Major Leaguers to hit the scene is amazing.   Jason Heyward was a much ballyhooed prospect coming into the season.  He opened the year on Atlanta’s opening day roster and hit the pavement running and has not yet stopped.  The 20 year old is 272/400/522 with slightly below average defense.   Mike Leake went straight from college to the Majors at age 22 with no minor league experience at all and has yet to register a loss as of the first week of June!  I’m well on the record for not caring for/paying attention to wins and losses as pitcher statistics, but not recording a loss for a regular member of the rotation this deep into June is impressive on its own, and doing so in your first year in the Majors having never even played in the minors before is exponentially more impressive.   Leake’s “official” record is 5-0, and he’s actually been worth slightly more than two wins to the resurgent Reds with his 2.22 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, and 3.1 BB/9.  He’s even proven that he can hit Major League pitching:  Leake is 417/440/458 in 29 PAs.  Detroit’s Austin Jackson is 23 years old and has gone 325/369/439 thus far in his first taste of Major League action while playing above average defense.

Neftali Feliz played last season but this is his first full year in the bigs and he already leads the league in saves (Another statistic that I don’t really support, yet it is still impressive that a rookie could lead it), a K/9 of 9.6, and a K/BB of 4 while allowing less than a base runner per game.   The Rangers also promoted Justin Smoak roughly a month ago.  The Giants promoted Buster Posey last week and this week we will see the debuts of Stephen Strasburg in Washington, Mike Stanton in Florida, and Brad Lincoln in Pittsburgh.

Simply put, this appears to be a dawn of a new era of stars in Major League Baseball and it is truly a refreshing thing to see.  The anti-Posnanski kids will have no shortage of great players to grow into adulthood watching as they continue on with their careers and let their career marks get etched into the books.    Which brings us back to draft day today, where the Washington Nationals, again with the top pick in the draft, are almost certain to select 17 year-old phenom Catcher Bryce Harper.   Harper is another so-called “can’t miss” player whose bat is considered to be so advanced that they’re considering moving him to the Outfield simply to get him to the Majors even faster.   If Harper is all that he’s cracked up to be — And it may take as long as ten years before we find out — The fact that he is so young gives him a leg up on the quest to retire as the best player in a quarter century (post Bonds era), a quest that would include essentially all of the above mentioned players.   Whether he does or doesn’t, until he either establishes himself or flames out, he provides another confluence of hope and hype that gives baseball another potential big name to add to their improbably growing list of young A and B list stars.  It is definitely a good time to be a baseball fan right now.

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Responses

  1. Very significant article for us ,I think the representation of this article is actually superb one. This is my first visit to your site.

  2. I agree with you Bill, and your son is very lucky. I do think that while part of the problem DEFINITELY is the MLB and its marketing (or lack thereof), another part of it is just the “diversification of the entertainment portfolio”, for lack of a better way to put it. More people are into more niches than they may have been in years past, and there has been something of a dilution of the household name, or even information that is commonly known.

    That said, hopefully the MLB can do a little bit of a better job on their end to help give these guys a push, because they’re really coming upon an exciting time and ought to take advantage of that.

  3. I completely agree. We are witnessing a very exciting, “Changing of the Guard.” My older son is just about seven years old and already a big baseball fan. Now, as he gets older, he’ll be able to follow one of the most dynamic generations of stars baseball has ever seen.
    Somehow, though, Baseball as an entity still hasn’t seemed to quite figure out the marketing aspect of this “product.” There are still lots of people out there who don’t know who, for example, Joe Mauer is. Compare that to the 1950’s when a player of his talent and stature would be a house-hold name across America.
    Nevertheless, for us baseball fans, it’s a great time to be alive.
    Excellent post, Bill (ondeckcircle.wordpress.com)


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