Baseball, more so than any other sport, exemplifies the value of building a team within. Sure, you have the mega-contracts for free agents and teams buying a World Series, but a team can emerge as a contender just as likely with homegrown players. The Washington Nationals are a prime example of such, currently leading their division and on their way to the playoffs. Guys like Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, Jordan Zimmermann, Ross Detwiler, and Ryan Zimmerman were drafted by the Nationals and are vital parts to their ongoing playoff push.
This is a piece I've created that aims to look into the future as I discuss the prospects I think will be making the biggest splash over the course of the next five years. A lot of guys we have become accustomed to seeing on a baseball field play at an elite level will be leaving - sooner than we think. Derek Jeter is close to 40-years-old, Chipper Jones is going to retire at season's end, and God knows how old guys like Albert Pujols really are. We have already seen a number of prospects come up and make an impact in the bigs - especially this year. A lot of teams are jumping the gun, calling up prospects swiftly to see what they've got. We are seeing young stars develop before our eyes, through growing pains and triumph. Some of the guys you'll see me write about here have yet to make their debut, but expect to see them in due time. Some may take even more time, we may not see a player until three or four years from now. It's all about how well these guys perform, how easily they are able to make a name for themselves in the minors. Until then, baseball nerds like me will be keeping an eye on them.
Dylan Bundy (19-years-old) Baltimore Orioles (AA)
Dylan Bundy has only been playing professional baseball for five months and he's already made quite a name for himself. In less than a year, he has shot up the Orioles farm system. He was just recently called up to the Bowie Baysox - the double A affiliate for the Baltimore Orioles. He started the season in single A and was promoted to the advanced level of single A. The 19-year-old phenom started off his professional career, after being drafted 4th overall in 2011, by not giving up a single hit to the first 40 batters he faced. Allowing only one walk and striking out 21, Bundy quickly established himself as one of the best pitching prospects in baseball. There's virtually no chance he gets called up to Balitmore in September, but a year from now, if he continues his spectacular play, he could be knocking on the door. Look for him to begin his MLB career in 2014
Keep an eye on Danny Hultzen (Seattle Mariners), Mike Montgomery (Kansas City Royals), Brad Peacock (Oakland Athletics), Shelby Miller (St. Louis Cardinals), Julio Teheran (Atlanta Braves), Jameson Taillon (Pittsburgh Pirates)
Salvador Perez (22-years-old) Kansas City Royals (MLB)
Here's an example of a guy that has already begun making a name for himself in the majors. Perez was called up last season a year ago at this time and instantly proved he could swing a bat, garnering 148 at-bats and hitting a very impressive .331. Rarely do you see a young player get locked up before his arbitration years, but Perez was able to ink a five-year extension that could be worth up to $26.75 million in February. Not bad for someone with less than 150 at-bats. A month after signing his extension, it was announced that Perez would need to have knee surgery to repair a tear. He missed the first three months, but finally made his 2012 debut at the end of June. To the delight of Royal fans everywhere, he picked up right where he left off as he is currently hitting .307 in 127 at-bats with six HR. He's still very young and has a good throwing arm for a catcher, if the Royals are to contend within the next decade, Perez will be a vital part of that.
Keep an eye on Travis d'Arnaud (Toronto Blue Jays), Yasmani Grandal (San Diego Padres), Mike Zunino (Seattle Mariners), Tommy Joseph (Philadelphia Phillies), Wilin Rosario (Colorado Rockies), Devin Mesoraco (Cincinnati Reds)
Anthony Rizzo (23-years-old) Chicago Cubs (MLB)
You'll be hard-pressed to find another young first baseman in baseball with a brighter future than Anthony Rizzo. Rizzo is going to be forever associated with Theo Epstein, the new president of baseball operations for the Cubs, as he was the first big name prospect to be showcased in Wrigley Field under the Theo era. In fact, it was Theo Epstein who drafted the 23-year-old in 2007 for the Boston Red Sox and subsequently traded to the San Diego Padres as part of the Adrian Gonzalez deal. Jed Hoyer, the general manager of the Padres at the time, is now the GM of the Chicago Cubs. Teaming now with Epstein, the two of them set their eyes on Rizzo and brought him to the north side of Chicago. Since day one of this season, Cub fans and the media have been clamoring to see Rizzo don Cubbie blue for the first time. To their credit, unlike last year when he was rushed to the majors, Rizzo was given some time. He struggled mightily last year in the spacious Petco Park, but since his Cubs debut in late June has excelled. He had three game-winning RBI in his first five games and hit his first professional walk-off HR in July, en route to the National League Rookie of the Month award. He has the potential to be a 30+ HR type of hitter and the face of the Cubs for years to come.
Keep an eye on Eric Hosmer (Kansas City Royals), C.J. Cron (Los Angeles Angels), Chris Carter (Oakland Athletics), Brandon Belt (San Francisco Giants), Freddie Freeman (Atlanta Braves), Paul Goldschmidt (Arizona Diamondbacks)
Delino DeShields Jr (19-years-old) Houston Astros (A+)
There aren't a lot of prototypical lead-off hitters in baseball today. Delino DeShields, son of a former big league player, could be that man for the Houston Astros. Drafted 8th overall in 2010, DeShields has broken out in 2012 and made the strides the Astros were hoping for. He really struggled last year in the minors, his first year out of Rookie Ball, but has earned his first promotion as he begins his advanced single A career. Hovering around the .300 BA mark all season long has given DeShields the opportunity to showcase his amazing speed as he has stolen 83 bases so far this season. With 10 HR, 5 3B, and 22 2B, DeShields has shown quite a bit of pop with his bat as well. This is one of those guys that can turn a single into a double, a double into a triple, and a triple into an inside-the-park HR. It's going to take a few years for DeShields to get called up to Houston - he'll have to show he can put up consistent numbers in the minors. That being said, Houston is one of the worst teams in baseball and God knows the fans are going to be aching to see him up and stealing some bases sooner, rather than later.
Keep an eye on Dustin Ackley (Seattle Mariners), Jonathan Schoop (Baltimore Orioles), Jason Kipnis (Cleveland Indians), Cory Spangenberg (San Diego Padres), Kolten Wong (St. Louis Cardinals), Charlie Culberson (San Francisco Giants)
Manny Machado (20-years-old) Baltimore Orioles (MLB)
Less than a week ago, Manny Machado was in the minor leagues, now he's already gotten his first career 2 HR game in the majors. He's got the look and build of a future all-star and is causing a bit of a stir already in his short MLB career. His first career hit was a triple and he may have the staying power the Orioles were hoping to see out of their top hitting prospect. Between him and the aforementioned Dylan Bundy, the Orioles could have a very bright future. It's a team that has already showed improvement this year and may continue to do so with these young players trickling into the majors. It remains to be seen if he is going to stay at 3B for his career or eventually make the move to his natural position at SS. Either way, he has the raw talent to excel at either position and develop into a superstar.
Keep an eye on Zack Cox (Miami Marlins), Will Middlebrooks (Boston Red Sox), Mike Olt (Texas Rangers), Nolan Arenado (Colorado Rockies), Mike Moustakas (Kansas City Royals), Miguel Sano (Minnesota Twins)
Billy Hamilton (21-years-old) Cincinnati Reds (AA)
Much like Delino DeShields Jr, Billy Hamilton has what it takes to become the next great lead-off man in baseball. He's one of the biggest stories in minor league baseball this year as his speed has proven to be potentially record breaking. Hamilton, who currently has a whopping 132 stolen bases in 110 games, has expressed a desire to break the stolen bases record. If he reaches first base, everyone in the stadium knows he'll be on the move. This is a guy who scored an inside-the-park HR this year, scorching around the bases in just 13.8 seconds. This is unprecedented speed that doesn't come along very often. If he can put his bat on the ball and get on base, he could be on his way to a very special career. It's unlikely we'll see him playing in the majors this year, but next year is very likely and a full-time load in 2014 seems imminent.
Keep an eye on Jurickson Profar (Texas Rangers), Pedro Ciriaco (Boston Red Sox), Jean Segura (Milwaukee Brewers), Andrelton Simmons (Atlanta Braves), Junior Lake (Chicago Cubs), Josh Rutledge (Colorado Rockies)
Mike Trout (21-years-old) Los Angeles Angels (MLB)
There's not another player in baseball who is as complete as Mike Trout, I just won't hear it. It's no secret how highly I think of this guy, I've already gushed about him on this website with this article. He's a rookie that has already wrapped up the Rookie of the Year award and is neck and neck with an established superstar in Miguel Cabrera for Most Valuable Player. Mike Trout is doing things on the field we may never see again. It's unheard of to see a player this young dominate the game like he has and he's only going to get better. He showed the maturity and baseball IQ to make adjustments since his struggles in 2011 and it seems as though major league pitching has attempted to make their own adjustments, but to no avail.
Bryce Harper (19-years-old) Washington Nationals (MLB)
Bryce Harper is one of the more compelling players in all of baseball. At just 19-years-old, he's already been named to an all-star team and is in the running for National League Rookie of the Year. His numbers aren't as eye-popping as Trout's, but the two of them will always be associated with each other as they were both called up in 2012 on the same day. He's had an up and down few months in the bigs, but has shown plenty of promise for a bright future and shown that the Nationals made the right call in promoting him to the show. His maturity has been called into question since day one and he'll have to develop a better baseball IQ to really establish himself as a top star. But keep in mind, this is someone who is playing in the MLB, as a teenager, while accumulating experience for himself at a new position in the outfield. He's going to have his peaks and valleys, but they're going to pay off. It won't hurt that in his first season, he's going to (most likely) get some playoff experience under his belt.
Giancarlo Stanton (22-years-old) Miami Marlins (MLB)
If it wasn't for Mike Trout, I would be heralding Stanton as the most promising young player in all of baseball. I'm not sure there's a stronger player in the MLB (ask the left field scoreboard he damaged in Miami about that) and it's safe to say I think VERY highly of this guy. My preseason predictions had him pegged as NL MVP and although he is going to fall short of that bold standard I presented for him, he's still putting together a very nice 2012 season. He missed a large chunk of the season while on the DL with knee surgery, but has since returned and continued to crank the ball out of the ballpark. Before his surgery was announced, Stanton (an all-star this year) was all set to participate in the Home Run Derby - a competition I had chosen him to win. I fully expect him to contend for the MVP award next year and for the next decade.
Keep an eye on Starling Marte (Pittsburgh Pirates), Bubba Starling (Kansas City Royals), Bryce Brentz (Boston Red Sox), Wil Myers (Kansas City Royals), Gary Brown (San Francisco Giants), Jorge Soler (Chicago Cubs)
I can't wait to follow the careers of these young studs and it's what makes the game of baseball so exciting. It's the layers of talent and watching as someone emerges and his talent comes to fruition. For every bust, you have a superstar that surpassed every expectation presented to him.
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