Editor’s Note: This post was written by new Fantasy Baseball Dugout contributor Eric Mercer. He’s a fan of the Blue Jays and blogs for us from the Great White North. Follow him on Twitter.
There are numerous young players in the majors that are about to make, or have already made, an impact. A few years ago, or even last year, these players would have been classified as prospects. Since these players are so young, and haven’t shown consistent reliability, they can be acquired at a cheap rate. Or at least a cheaper rate than their production warrants. These players are the building blocks for their respective franchises, and they can be extremely valuable to any fantasy squad, especially ones participating in keeper leagues. This list of five (more to come) is mixed of pitchers and hitters, some quite notable and others are on the up and coming, this is not a list of the top five best players under 25.
Clayton Kershaw, SP, Dodgers: 23 yrs
Holy. I don’t like to reiterate player’s achievements usually but with Clayton Kershaw I feel it is necessary. He is an all-star and has a Cy Young award under his belt and only 23 years old. He had reasonable numbers as a rookie, when he was 20. But in his three years since then he has been virtually untouchable, every year he has posted a sub-3 ERA. Last year he pitched over 230 innings, had a 2.28 ERA, 0.977 WHIP and struck out 248. Have I mentioned that this kid is only 23!?? ?
Yahoo! has him ranked 14th overall which is quite high for a pitcher generally. Amongst pitchers he comes in at number one, which is exactly where I expect him to be drafted. Roy Halladay and Justin Verlander carry bigger names but Kershaw rivals the best. He went 21-5 with a K/BB rate of 4.59. In every aspect of fantasy baseball Kershaw will help you, even in wins despite being on the Dodgers. I am usually against taking pitchers in the first couple of rounds, but I would definitely have to bend my rule for Kershaw if I am in a position to take him this year.
For four more young talents to target in your fantasy baseball draft,
Brett Lawrie, 2B, Blue Jays: 22 yrs
How much can be said about the Blue Jays 22 year old phenom? In 150 at-bats last year Lawrie crossed the plate 26 times, had 8 doubles, 4 triples, 9 homers, 25 RBI and swiped 7 bags to go along with a .293 avg and a whopping .953 OPS. For playing one quarter of the season those are pretty incredible numbers. Lawrie enters spring training locked into playing the hot corner from day one. This, in addition to Lawrie moving up in the lineup (he batted 9th last year), will cause his offensive production to increase tenfold.
Yahoo! seems quite sold on Brett Lawrie becoming a major force in the bigs this year as they rewarded him with a 49th overall rank. This might seem quite high but the alternatives for third base ranked below Lawrie consist of Youkilis (too much time on the DL) and Michael Young (who is getting old, 35). If you take a flyer on Lawrie as your third baseman for the upcoming season you will not be disappointed.
Dee Gordon, SS, Dodgers: 23 yrs
Dee Gordon only played 56 games last season but he left an enormous impression. He swiped 24 bags in 56 games. This season Gordon will be the everyday shortstop and leadoff hitter for the Dodgers. He could steal over 70 bases this season. Gordon can also hit for contact to go along with his speed, mostly slashing the ball (no homers last season). His slash line for last season was .304/.325/.362. Don’t expect much in terms of SLG or OPS, but expect a high average and lots of stolen bases and runs scored.
Gordon is the definition of a sleeper. Yahoo! ranks him 147th overall, and 11th among SS. He is the perfect player to compliment a top SS in deeper leagues. He gets lots of hits, gives his teammates numerous opportunities to drive him in (although the Dodgers sometimes lack offensive support, only 644 runs scored last season) and he will steal tons of bases. I would look to take Gordon as a second SS, or an IF spot on your roster. He allows you to pick power guys in your draft because of his speed.
Eric Hosmer, 1B, Royals: 22 yrs
Hosmer completed his rookie campaign last year which consisted of playing 128 games at first base for the royals. His slash line over that span was .293/.334/.465. He doesn’t walk a whole ton, but for a rookie that’s expected. Hosmer hits for power, 19 homers, 27 doubles and 78 RBI’s. He didn’t play in April last season but ended the year batting in the clean-up spot, something he didn’t do for the first half of the season. As the Royals everyday first baseman and clean-up hitter, expect Hosmer to increase his production of RBI’s as well as homers. The .293 average is also extremely positive; he racked up 153 hits in 128 games last season. Hopefully he will maintain that rate in his second year on the job.
Yahoo! has him ranked 68th overall, which is high; but he is ranked 14th in terms of first baseman which shows the depth of that position. I suggest you skip over the likes of Teixeira (22), Sandoval (38) and Konerko (50) and draft Hosmer later which enables you to pick players that lack depth at their position earlier on.
Jeremy Hellickson, SP, Rays: 24 yrs
Hard to think that the AL Rookie of the Year winner last season is the oldest on this list, but that speaks to the depth of young talent in the majors right now. Hellickson finished the year with a 2.95 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and struck out 117 in 189 innings. As a rookie Hellickson had a 4.2 WAR, which puts him tops among all rookies (next closest was Ivan Nova at 3.5).
Hellickson is ranked exceedingly low considering the enormous year he just had, but that is better for us as we can snag him in later rounds. Yahoo! ranks him 194th overall, which puts him 47th on the depth charts for starting pitchers. He could be drafted as your fourth or fifth pitcher and be as good as your second or third. Hellickson is poised for another big year, especially since he put up those numbers in the AL East, and is now continually getting better.
To reiterate, this list is not of the top players that are under 25 years old. Instead, it is merely young talent that will help your team win. Other young notable talent includes Madison Bumgarner, Mike Stanton, Jason Heyward, Stephen Strausburg, Matt Moore, Mike Trout, and Craig Kimbrel.