Who are the next wave of superstars in Major League Baseball? That’s what we are about to dive into, as we go position-by-position, looking for the best players who are 25-years old or younger (as of April 1, 2020). Obviously, things will be slightly skewed to those who have already reached the Majors and produced, but minor leaguers and their upside will not be ignored.
To kick things off, we will start with the talent behind the plate. The most grueling position in the game, it is often tough to find a player with tremendous offensive upside because teams will move them out from behind the plate in order to keep them healthy. That said there are three potentially impactful players at the position today, with a few others who could emerge. What does the future of the position look like? Let’s take a look:
1) Will Smith – Los Angeles Dodgers
Age – 25
He’ll play 2020 at 25-years old, and it’s hard to argue against him for the top spot on this list. That’s not to say that he’s a perfect player, but he burst onto the scene in 2019 and made his presence felt:
.253 (43-170), 15 HR, 42 RBI, 30 R
The major question facing him will be in his average, and whether or not he can take the necessary steps to ensure he maintains at least a .250ish average. Just consider these numbers:
- Strikeout Rate – 26.5%
- Oppo% – 18.2%
- Fly Ball Rate – 53.7%
A pull heavy, fly ball hitter, if the home run rate slows (23.1% HR/FB) the average will plummet. That said, the power is for real and if he’s slugging 30 HR no one is going to complain about a .240ish average. Even with this profile, just a little bit better luck (.264 BABIP) would also go a long ways.
2) Adley Rutschman – Baltimore Orioles
Age – 22
The 2019 first overall selection, Rutschman could be placed on the fast-track. The best way to summarize his upside is to look at our recap when we awarded him a “B+” grade and declared him the best catching prospect in the game:
The first overall pick in the 2019 draft, Rutschman has a chance to move quickly through the Orioles system. In 155 PA last season across three levels he hit .254 with 4 HR and 26 RBI, though he started slowly before getting going at Low-A (he hit .325 with 1 HR in 77 AB at the level). The biggest question for any young catcher is going to be if he can successfully split his focus, providing both defense and above average production at the plate.
It could take time for Rutschman to adjust, but most believe he’s going to be able to. He showed a tremendous approach in his first taste of professional baseball (6.3% SwStr%, 12.9% walk rate), and the power should quickly present itself. At a position full of questions, Rutschman should quickly develop as one of the elite as soon as he arrives.
3) Carson Kelly – Arizona Diamondbacks
Age – 25
Finally out of Yadier Molina’s shadow, Kelly has the Diamondbacks considering moving Daulton Varsho to another position. That speaks volumes, with Varsho also under consideration for this list.
While Kelly hit .245 with 18 HR over 365 PA last season, there are a lot of positives to take away from the performance (especially the average). Just consider these numbers:
- Strikeouts – 21.6%
- Walks – 13.2%
- Hard% – 48.7%
- BABIP – .271
In other words he showed a strong approach (8.6% SwStr%, 25.0% O-Swing%) and tattooed the ball when he made contact… It’s easy to be excited and it wouldn’t be shocking to see him emerge as a Top 5 catcher before long.
4) Sean Murphy – Oakland A’s
Age – 25
Murphy made his MLB debut in 2019 and while it wasn’t an extensive audition, hitting .245 with 4 HR over 60 PA isn’t a bad first impression. The more important numbers came at Triple-A, where he hit .308 with 10 HR over 140 PA.
There’s no question that he brings a solid approach, including a 7.8% SwStr% in the minors the past two seasons, the question is whether or not the power is truly starting to develop. In the minors the past two seasons he’s totaled 57 extra base hits over 483 PA, so it’s possible he emerged as a 16-20 HR threat. With his approach, that would make him a perennial Top 10 option at the position.
5) Danny Jansen – Toronto Blue Jays
Age – 24
Jansen was a bitter disappointment in 2019, hitting .207 with 13 HR over 384 PA. You have to wonder how much of his struggles was due to focusing on his defense/developing a pitching staff, as opposed to his performance at the plate. The underlying numbers certainly justify a significantly better average:
- SwStr% – 8.8%
- O-Swing% – 29.7%
- Hard% – 42.6%
It’s easy to point towards a .230 BABIP as the reason for his struggles. Throw in the potential to hit 16-20 HR and what’s not to like? The biggest issue could be playing time, with Reese McGuire potentially stealing AB. That said Jansen’s upside is too high and it would be easy to push him above Murphy on these rankings.
Others Considered – Francisco Mejia (SD), Daulton Varsho (ARI)
Make sure to check out all of our 2020 prospect rankings: