Perhaps the best part of an otherwise meaningless spring training game (other than having baseball back in our lives), is seeing your team’s future up close.
For some, that future will come to fruition this season. Top prospects like left fielder Andrew Benintendi in Boston and shortstop J.P. Crawford in Philadelphia are set to make an impact in the majors for the first time.
This list looks at teams with the most young talent to offer. Ironically, it features a few teams that are already considered playoff contenders, such as the Chicago Cubs. That speaks to how well those organizations have been run. It’s not easy to win a title and have talent left over, or be young enough to think about a dynasty. But the Cubs have done just that.
Of course, there are also teams like the Philadelphia Phillies, who finally have something to look forward to after years of hopelessness. Rebuilding is a long and arduous process, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Without further ado, here are the seven best young lineups coming into the 2017 season.
1. New York Yankees
For the first time since 2007, the Yankees have a core group of young players with which they could build a playoff team. Let’s hope they do better here than they did with Joba Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy and Phil Hughes.
During his first extended time in the majors last season, catcher Gary Sanchez hit .299/.376/.657 with 20 home runs in 229 plate appearances last year. Though it’s likely impossible to replicate that pace over a full season, Sanchez has already proven that he’s capable of being a star.
As for Aaron Judge, the outfielder struggled at the plate in the majors last season but still managed to flash his power with four home runs in 94 at-bats. He also hit one off the scoreboard in a Spring Training game on Friday. First baseman Greg Bird is coming off an injury, having missed all of last season with a torn labrum, but his .871 OPS in 2015 signaled that he should be a long-term replacement for Mark Teixeira at first base.
Tyler Austin, another first baseman, is the biggest question mark of the four. He’ll be missing six weeks with a foot injury (more on that here) and the team will have to carve out playing time for him. But after tearing up AAA ball and holding his own with a respectable .758 OPS in the majors last season, the Yankees will have to find a place for him.
2. Minnesota Twins
Center fielder Byron Buxton seemed to break out of his funk in September of last season, hitting .287/.357/.653, a welcome shift from the disappointment of the earlier parts of the year. He also hit nine home runs in that month alone. The 23-year old was heralded as a five-tool player throughout his time in the minors and finally started to show it. If he can keep up his head of steam heading into this season, Buxton could be an All-Star sooner rather than later.
The Twins have some nice young players filling out the rest of their lineup as well. Third baseman Miguel Sano hit 25 home runs with a .227 ISO last season and will likely be in the middle of their lineup for a long time. Right fielder Max Kepler put up solid numbers last season in the power department and if his .261 BABIP regresses, he could be in for a nice season.
There’s even room for optimism at shortstop, where 23-year old Jorge Polanco slashed .282/.332/.424 last season. However, questions remain about his ability in the field as he accounted for minus-eight defensive runs saved last season.
3. Boston Red Sox
Here’s a terrifying fact: Outfielder Mookie Betts and shortstop Xander Bogarts are each only 24 years old.
Betts, arguably one of the best five players in baseball, posted a 9.6 Baseball-Reference WAR last season, slashing .318/.363/.534. He also went for 32 defensive runs saved in right field, leading the league. Bogaerts, on the other hand, made his first All-Star team last year, hitting .294/.356/.446. The shortstop also won his second Silver Slugger Award in just three major league seasons.
Boston will also have the help of left fielder Andrew Benintendi, considered by many to be the best prospect in baseball, for the full season. In a small sample size of 118 plate appearances last season, Benintendi hit .295/.359/.476. Expected to take over left field for Boston, Benintendi is an early favorite for AL Rookie of the Year.
4. Texas Rangers
The Rangers make it onto this list due to potential as much as anything else, which could end up being a problem for them. But it nonetheless counts. Infielder Jurickson Profar is 24 and hasn’t yet done anything in the majors to indicate he’ll live up to his potential, but he still ranks as a former top prospect. There’s always a chance that Profar’s talent will come to fruition, so at least for now, we have to consider him here.
There are also questions surrounding first baseman Joey Gallo. Mainly: what does he do besides hit for power? In AAA ball last season, Gallo hit 25 bombs and struck out 34.6 percent of the time. He’ll get more major league at-bats this season and he has to prove himself as something other than the next Chris Carter.
The Rangers do have some concrete young talent as well.
Right fielder Nomar Mazara posted solid numbers in his rookie season — Texas should be encouraged by his .266/.320/.419 slash line at age 21. Outfielder Delino DeShields’ numbers took a hit last season, but if he plays for a full season, there’s potential for 40 steals. Second baseman Rougned Odor is only 23 and coming off a season in which he slugged .502 and jacked 33 home runs.
And if the baseball thing doesn’t work out, there’s a career in career in boxing waiting for him.
5. Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies’ long, hard rebuilding process is finally starting to see show some solid dividends.
Shortstop J.P. Crawford is set to make his debut this season and expectations are high. He’s considered to be an all-around player with strong plate discipline and the ability to control the strike zone. Even after a disappointing 2016, expect him to be starting at shortstop for Philadelphia by the All-Star break.
Third baseman Maikel Franco has already established himself as a solid big-leaguer after a 25-homer 2016, though his slash line numbers dropped from 2015. There’s cause for concern when a player’s OPS drops from .840 to .733, but if his BABIP regresses up from .271, that could help clear things up.
Catcher Jorge Alfaro, a centerpiece of the Cole Hamels trade, could be a regular for Philly at catcher by the end of the year. In AA last season, Alfaro slashed .285/.325/.458 and flashed an impressive arm behind the plate.
Throw in the pipe dream of outfielder Mickey Moniak making his debut this year and Phillies fans can finally be excited about something.
6. Chicago Cubs
Despite winning last year’s World Series, the Cubs still qualify as young.
Catcher Willson Contreras slashed .282/.357/.488 last season and is only 24.
We’re also — hopefully — getting our first full year of outfielder Kyle Schwarber, who had an .842 OPS in 2015 and hit .412 in last year’s World Series.
Second baseman Javier Baez is 24 and put up 3.4 WAR last season. Shortstop Addison Russell is 23 and coming off a 4.3-win season. Even reigning NL MVP, third baseman Kris Bryant is only 25.
The Cubs are already the best team in baseball. The age of their core players only makes them more terrifying in the years to come.
7. Houston Astros
In shortstop Carlos Correa, the Astros can boast the best young player in baseball. Over his first full season in the big leagues, Correa slashed .274/.361/.451, hitting 22 percent above league average by wRC+ and posting 5.9 WAR. However, he’s just the beginning of Houston’s young foundation.
Third baseman Alex Bregman looked good in his 217 major league plate appearances last season, slashing .264/.313/.478. The 22-year old is expected to be a regular this season and could be joined in the infield midseason by Colin Moran. After refining his swing to shorten his path to the plate, Moran is expected to look more like the prospect who tore up AA in 2015 than the one who struggled in AAA ball in 2016.
Even outfielder Teoscar Hernandez could contribute in some form, though likely as a bench player. Hernandez was a near-league average hitter in 112 plate appearances in 2016, his rookie year, so there is reason for optimism on that front as well.