We appear to be in a golden age of ... low ages. Major League Baseball is being influenced by the 25-and-under crowd in a profound way, and a wave of prominent prospect promotions has only added to the equation.
"I don't know where it's coming from," said Cubs manager Joe Maddon, whose lineup routinely features five guys 25 and under, "but it's impressive. There are some really nice young players."
With that in mind, and with the Esurance All-Star Ballot voting reaching a crescendo, let's put together an All-Star-worthy squad of guys 25 and under.
All numbers here are from the start of the weekend.
First base: Anthony Rizzo, Cubs Age: 25 years, 317 days .301 AVG, .416 OBP, .555 SLG, 12 HR, 20 2B, 39 RBI, 168 OPS+
Rizzo will turn 26 on Aug. 8, and yet he's a wily veteran in that precocious Cubs infield. He's also the heart and soul of this entertaining young lineup. Rizzo has followed up his breakout 2014 season beautifully, compiling one of the highest OBPs in the Majors. There was a time when he struggled against lefties, but now he's raking them to the tune of a 1.079 OPS.
Second base: Joe Panik, Giants Age: 24 years, 232 days .309 AVG, .375 OBP, .463 SLG, 6 HR, 16 2B, 2 3B, 26 RBI, 138 OPS+
Really tough call here between Panik and the Cardinals' Kolten Wong, as they're both among the better offensive performers at this position and are good defenders. But Panik's numbers, to date, are just a touch better. That he puts up those numbers in the face of a slew of bad "panic" puns only makes him all the more impressive. The way Panik rose to the occasion and ably filled a gaping hole at second base was a big key to the Giants winning another title. This year, a lot of people expected a BABIP-related regression from the sophomore, but his plate discipline and contact rates have prevented that from happening.
The AL shortstop scene is predominantly a light-hitting bunch at the moment, so it won't take long for the 20-year-old Correa to establish himself as the league's superior shortstop if he keeps this up. There is little to suggest he won't.
Third base: Manny Machado, Orioles Age: 22 years, 350 days .303 AVG, .361 OBP, .521 SLG, 14 HR, 14 2B, 1 3B, 38 RBI, 11 SB, 142 OPS+
So, as many of you have pointed out to me here and elsewhere, Machado was erroneously unmentioned in the initial posting of this piece. It was a mistake, Manny! Mea culpa, Manny!
Truth is, I was going to take Kris Bryant over him in the slightest of statistical edges, started to discuss Nolan Arenado and just flat-out forgot to mention Manny before filing the column Friday.
And boy, did Machado make me pay. Machado went 8-for-14 with two doubles and four RBI over the weekend, while Bryant went 0-for-13. That one weekend alone was enough to push Machado's OPS well past that of Bryant, and I feel bad enough about the perceived diss that I'm just going to give him this spot on this prestigious roster outright.
After having both his 2013 and '14 seasons end with knee surgery, Machado has bounced back in a big way and made it hard to believe he's not even 23 yet. We should still give credit, though, to Bryant for performing well under intense national scrutiny and to Arenado for his fearless defense and numbers that are actually better away from Coors Field than they are in it.
Mea culpa, Manny! Nice weekend.
Catcher: Salvador Perez, Royals Age: 25 years, 42 days .284 AVG, .296 OBP, .462 SLG, 10 HR, 10 2B, 29 RBI, 107 OPS+
Go ahead and get on Royals fans for their overboard support of Omar Infante on the All-Star ballot, but you can't blame them for backing Perez. That he is the leading vote-getter even among Royals is telling. This is just a purely likeable young talent with leadership qualities. It's still astonishing that Perez started 143 games behind the plate in the regular season last year, then caught every inning of October, then went on to the Japan All-Star Series -- and his knees lived to tell the tale. He's followed up that heavy workload with another stellar offensive and defensive season for the AL Central leaders.
Yes, I know there's a prominent name missing from this group. Give me a sec, will ya?
Earlier this season, Trout became the youngest in history to reach 100 homers and 100 stolen bases. Moreover, he seems to have addressed the strikeout issue that was the one blight on his 2014 MVP season. We've got a long way to go, but he's again in the AL MVP conversation again this year.
As for Stanton, well, even though Nori Aoki has surpassed him in the voting tally, this guy is still a monster masher who deserves a starting spot in the NL lineup, let alone this imaginary one. He leads the Majors in homers and RBI, with, as of this writing, five of the top seven exit velocities and two of the top four home run distances measured by Statcast™ this season. He's a strong defender, too.
And then there's Pederson, who is the early favorite for NL Rookie of the Year even with Bryant in the mix. Pederson was an 11th-round Draft pick, which is amazing considering he's now one of the game's most exciting players on both sides of the ball.
In 2015, we've seen that the Harper hype that preceded his 2012 arrival was very much deserved.
Alas, health is still a hangup for Harper, as he's recently Harper dealt with knee and now hamstring issues. Lucky for him, AL rules apply to all All-Star Games, so we've got this DH spot to give his body a bit of a break. But in all seriousness, here's hoping Harper's latest physical setback does not provide any major limitations on what has, to date, been a transcendent season for him.
Starting pitcher: Cole, Pirates Age: 24 years, 286 days 11-2, 1.78 ERA, 210 ERA+, 1.066 WHIP, 4.41 K/BB
Sometimes people have to be reminded that Madison Bumgarner is still just 25. He could retire tomorrow, and his status as an October legend would still be very much secure.
That said, because this is a discussion about 2015 performance, specifically, I've got to ride the Cole Train. This spot could just as easily go to Gray, Miller has blossomed into a legitimate No. 1-type arm in his new home in Atlanta and Michael Wacha is in the conversation, as well.
But if Cole's numbers don't already win you over, perhaps this pitch will:
Closer: Trevor Rosenthal, Cardinals Age: 25 years, 23 days 21 saves in 22 chances, 0.59 ERA, 9.8 K/9, 0.96 WHIP, .178 AVG against
After some regression last year following his involvement in the 2013 run to the NL pennant, Rosenthal has established himself as one of the best closers in the game, regardless of age, this season. Though he's dealt with arm soreness in recent days, he's been a lockdown weapon for one of the best bullpens in baseball -- a major key to the Cardinals' continued competitiveness.
A few more honorable mentions:George Springer, 25, has been swinging a hot bat for the first-place Astros; Kevin Kiermier, also 25, has been a big defensive asset for the first-place Rays; Andrelton Simmons' reputation as the best defensive shortstop in baseball is well-established, and he's only 25; the 25-year-old class also includes Eric Hosmer, Freddie Freeman and reigning AL batting champ Jose Altuve; and the 22-year-old Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts have begun to find their rhythm with the Red Sox.