Richard Justice

Future is now: Young Stars boon for baseball

Future is now: Young Stars boon for baseball

SAN DIEGO -- It's probably symbolic of something larger that David Ortiz played his 10th and final All-Star Game at this moment in baseball history. He has a front-row seat to a sport that's being transformed right in front of our eyes. Here's to youth and energy. Here's to amazing talent, too.

"Now the face of baseball are guys that are 21, 22, 23 years old," Ortiz said. "That tells me that this game is in unbelievable hands and has a great future."

On Tuesday night in the 87th All-Star Game presented by MasterCard, Ortiz was in the middle of the youngest starting lineup any American League All-Star team has put on the field. That lineup helped the AL beat the National League, 4-2, at Petco Park.

Along the way, it made an emphatic statement about the state of a sport.

"It's amazing," said Red Sox center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr., who is 26. "It shows how good our game is going right now. You go hard. You work hard. You have the opportunity to play in an All-Star Game."

The AL starting lineup had eight position players who averaged 24.8 years per man, an All-Star record. None of the AL's starting position players is older than 26. Two of them -- Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts, both of the Red Sox -- are 23.

And Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer, who was named the game's Most Valuable Player after collecting a home run, single and two RBIs, is 26 despite having played in two World Series already.

Hosmer receives All-Star MVP

As baseball began saying its goodbyes to Ortiz, one of the all-time greats, the presence of all those gifted young guys was a striking and common theme.

"You see what's coming up for the next couple of years, and it's pretty awesome," Orioles third baseman Manny Machado said.

Machado spoke like a veteran, because he made his debut four years ago at 20 and has already played 534 Major League games and made three All-Star appearances. He's also just 24 years old.

"It's just awesome to be part of this group," Machado said. "It's going to be pretty good for a couple of years. We could be together for a long time."

Baseball people have an array of opinions about why this is happening. One theory is that Mike Trout and Bryce Harper's quick success prompted some organizations to rethink the developmental track for young guys.

Harper doubles to left-center

Another is that we've just gotten lucky. We're fans at a time when the game is in a special place with its young talent.

"It really shows the kind of baseball that guys are playing, the competitiveness in high school, college," Rangers left-hander Cole Hamels said. "They pull guys out and are able to develop them into superstars really quick. Guys are really taking on the style of big league baseball and having a great time playing. They're coming in bigger, faster, stronger."

Here are other numbers:

• This is the second straight year the two teams had just four All-Star starters 30 or older. That's the smallest number ever.

• Fifteen All-Star starters were 27 or younger, breaking the previous record of 12 in 1969.

• In all, the game had 34 players 27 or younger and 18 players 25 or younger.

• Finally, there were 34 first-time All-Stars, the third-most all-time, trailing only 2013 (39) and '11 (35).

That youth movement isn't unique to the All-Star Game. This season, 83 players who are 23 or younger have played in the Major Leagues.

As for these young stars in the All-Star Game, if any of them were rattled by one of baseball's biggest stages, it didn't show.

"Well, it's just incredible the young players that are out there and their level of talent," said Royals manager Ned Yost, the AL skipper for a second straight year. "I've always loved young players. I've always loved their energy, their excitement. We had four first-time All-Stars, and this is a phenomenal experience for these young guys. It's so cool [that] once you go one time you ... want to go again because it's so much fun."

The NL had young talent, too, with five starting position players 26 or young sprinkled through a lineup that had Ben Zobrist (35), Carlos Gonzalez (30) and Buster Posey (29). San Diego's Wil Myers, 23, was the designated hitter.

Ortiz understands that now the game belongs to the young guys or soon will.

Papi on final ASG appearance

"When I see the way guys like Mookie, Bogaerts, [Bradley] prepare, the way those kids prepare, it's like, 'Wow,'" Ortiz said. "I watch them, how serious, how personal, the way they take care of business, the way they want to be out there every day."

Ortiz's point is that if this is the future, it probably couldn't be in better hands. As fans, we're the ones who get to sit back and watch the show.

"It's good for baseball," Trout said.

Richard Justice is a columnist for Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.