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MLB 26-and-under power rankings: Evaluating all 30 teams by the young talent in their organizations, from the Rockies to No. 1

March 12th, 2024

The idea behind this project is simple: Rank all 30 MLB teams by the talent in their organizations age 26 and under.

Prospect lists and farm system rankings do a phenomenal job of highlighting the future impact players still developing in the minor leagues. But that exercise overlooks the importance of young talent already at the big-league level. Players aged 26 and under produced 246.2 fWAR in 2023, the second-highest total ever by that contingent. In other words, young big leaguers have never been so crucial.

This is the second year we’ve conducted this exercise, having introduced the rankings last spring at FOX Sports. After the inaugural run, we reflected on some of the biggest strengths and weaknesses of the project and looked at which teams proved us especially wrong or right. Ultimately, we opted not to change our methodology. Once again, each organization was assigned a grade in four categories:

  • Young MLB hitting

  • Young MLB pitching

  • Prospect hitting

  • Prospect pitching

In an effort to properly weigh the contributions of players already making an impact at the big-league level, the young MLB hitting/pitching categories were scored from 0-to-10, while the prospect categories were scored 0-to-5. This ensures that teams with more young MLB talent score higher on the whole than those that simply have a bevy of promising youngsters in the minors.

We also placed a greater emphasis on prospects expected to reach the majors at some point in the next two seasons. While promising youngsters thriving at the rookie levels and in A-ball are valuable in the grand scheme of things, the longer the road ahead of them, the less likely they are to become relevant to a team’s outlook. If a prospect-eligible player is expected to be on a team’s Opening Day roster — Evan Carter or Jackson Chourio, for example — we evaluated him as part of the young MLB group.

After assigning each team scores in the four categories, we added them up to produce a total 26-and-under grade, with 30 the highest possible score. Conversations with people in and around the industry helped inform our scores and when it came to breaking ties between organizations with identical totals.

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Players included in these rankings must be entering their age-26 seasons or younger, defined by Baseball-Reference as a player’s age on June 30, approximately halfway through the regular season. It’s an imperfect cutoff that produces some unfortunate and admittedly arbitrary outcomes — Yordan Alvarez (born June 27, 1997) is “too old” to be included, while Luis Robert Jr. (born Aug. 3, 1997) is not — but it’s a crucial one nonetheless.

Why 26, you ask? As much as we celebrate the phenoms who race to the big leagues in their early 20s, swaths of players on prospect lists and/or players still finding their MLB footing are in their mid-20s. Last season, hitters such as Nolan Jones, Spencer Steer, James Outman and Josh Jung all broke out in a big way as 25- or 26-year-old rookies. Orioles outfielder Heston Kjerstad, 25, or Cubs infielder Michael Busch, 26, could have a similar impact in 2024. As such, 26 seems like an appropriate upper limit for the age range when evaluating each organization’s core of young talent.

With that, there are some wonky side effects. For instance, Juan Soto, a 25-year-old set to hit free agency after this season, is included as part of the Yankees’ batch of young talent. However, in cases such as Soto and other arb-eligible veterans still 26-and-under, including Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr., we adjusted the teams’ ratings accordingly. If the spirit of the exercise is to focus on which teams have the strongest cores of talent secured for the long haul, we didn’t want to overreward teams for players reaching free agency in the near future.

Below, in addition to the scores for each category, we’ve highlighted a handful of key players from each team who fit in each bucket and contributed heavily to their organization’s place in the rankings. Let’s begin at the bottom of the list.

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For the second year in a row, the Rockies come in at No. 30 on our rankings. Despite the brilliant acquisition of a legitimate All-Star-level talent in Nolan Jones and a healthy collection of promising young hitters climbing the minor-league ladders, Colorado remains at the bottom due to a severe lack of useful big-league arms, let alone impactful ones. Chase Dollander, last year’s first-round pick, has the exciting raw ingredients to change that narrative in the coming years, but the Rockies’ pitiful track record of pitching development — and not-so-pitcher-friendly home ballpark — gives us very little hope that such a pattern will change in the foreseeable future.

Let’s stay positive, though: Jones is legit. Not only did he prove his offensive aptitude both against left-handed pitching and away from Coors Field in his breakout rookie season, but he’s also a tremendous defender with one of the best outfield arms in baseball. Advanced defensive chops are a theme among his up-and-coming teammates, too, but we’re not nearly as bullish on their bats. Brenton Doyle is an all-world defender in center field and just won a Gold Glove as a rookie, but he was also one of baseball’s worst all-around hitters (.593 OPS). Ezequiel Tovar is awfully smooth at shortstop and posted some gaudy counting stats (37 doubles, 15 homers as a 21-year-old), but his lackluster OBP skills might limit his offensive ceiling.

Beyond the Jones/Doyle/Tovar trio, there are some more intriguing bats on the way, with a range of offensive profiles to get excited about. But until this organization can collectively figure out how to acquire and develop pitchers who can consistently get big-league batters out — at altitude or not — it’s tough to be optimistic about the overall direction of the franchise. — J.S.

This feels a bit harsh considering everything else going on with this franchise, but we’re just keeping it real here. Like Colorado, Oakland has quietly assembled a solid crop of young hitters at the big-league level and/or close to it but simply does not have the requisite arms to support the offensive core. However, unlike the Rockies, the A’s have some high-upside hard-throwers expected to make an impact in 2024.

Both Boyle and Miller have followed unlikely paths to Oakland’s pitching staff. Miller’s career began at a small Division III school in Pennsylvania before he transferred to Division I Gardner-Webb, where his velocity started to spike enough to get him on draft radars. Since Oakland took him in the third round in ‘21, his stuff has evolved further to where he is now one of the hardest throwers in baseball and projects to be an elite bullpen weapon. While Boyle’s raw stuff has been widely touted since his days at Notre Dame, he was plagued by serious control issues that made his viability as a starter shaky at best. Not until arriving in Oakland via trade from Cincinnati last summer did he start throwing strikes consistently, and now he might break camp in the rotation. There’s volatility with both guys, but the ability to make an impact is there.

As for the bats, Gelof was fantastically productive as a rookie, albeit with some underlying metrics that suggest he shouldn’t have been quite that good. Ruiz will surely continue terrorizing opponents on the basepaths for years to come, but it remains to be seen how the rest of his game will evolve. Langeliers sure can catch, but can he hit? Soderstrom sure can hit, but can he catch? These are some of the on-field questions that will go a long way toward defining Oakland’s outlook moving forward. — J.S.

At the 2023 trade deadline, the Angels found themselves at a fork in the road. They could either do the rational thing — flip impending free agent Shohei Ohtani for a generational haul — or the bold thing — deal away the last few highly touted prospects in an already weak farm system to make one final push behind their two-way star. The Angels did the bold thing, which also turned out to be the wrong thing, and now, they have neither Ohtani nor the building blocks to compete in the next half-decade.

That this farm has zero pitching prospects of note two years after the organization chose pitchers with all 20 of its picks in the 2021 MLB Draft is an utter disaster. There is volatility in pitching, sure, but it’s a legit failure that the only real contributor from that class is 11th-rounder Chase Silseth (who is actually pretty good).

On the hitting side, one can gaze at the quartet of shortstop Zach Neto, catcher Logan O’Hoppe, outfielder Mickey Moniak and first baseman Nolan Schanuel through rose-colored glasses and see hope. But while those four have shown flashes in spurts, none has anything close to a track record (though we are big believers in O’Hoppe and Neto). And even if they all turn into every-day players, the dearth of young arms makes it incredibly difficult to envision a world in which Mike Trout experiences success in Orange County. — J.M.

The Rockies, A's, Angels, Astros and White Sox make up the bottom tier of this year's young talent rankings. (Mallory Bielecki/Yahoo Sports)

27. Houston Astros (total score: 11/30)

  • Young MLB hitters (6/10): SS Jeremy Peña, C Yainer Díaz, INF Grae Kessinger

  • Young MLB pitchers (2/10): RHP Hunter Brown

  • Prospect hitters (2/5): OF Jacob Melton, INF Zach Dezenzo, INF Will Wagner, OF Joey Loperfido

  • Prospect pitchers (1/5): RHP Spencer Arrighetti, LHP Colton Gordon, RHP Misael Tamarez, RHP Rhett Kouba

We had Houston No. 1 on our rankings last year, so what in the name of Humberto Quintero are the Astros doing down here? Well, there are two main reasons for their fall, the biggest being the “graduations” of Yordan Alvarez, Kyle Tucker, Cristian Javier, Bryan Abreu and Luis Garcia. That’s two of the league’s best 13 hitters by wRC+, two legit starting pitchers and an elite reliever. All five remain Astros, yet they have grown too gray for this exercise.

But that’s not the only reason for Houston’s slide. Yes, the Astros continue to win division titles and reach the ALCS — which is the whole point, to be clear — but this organization is far from the developmental juggernaut it used to be. At the big-league level, both Jeremy Peña and Hunter Brown took steps back in ‘23, looking more like complementary pieces than impact contributors. That stagnation was somewhat offset by the emergence of rookie catcher Yainer Díaz, who should be Houston’s backstop for the next half-decade.

Unfortunately, Díaz might be the last “next big thing” to hit Minute Maid Park for a while; this farm is bone dry. The punishment from the can-banging, sign-stealing scandal — no first- or second-round picks in 2020 or 2021 — was a crushing blow that prevented Houston from adding high-end talent through the draft for two years. That sanction, a series of win-now trades and a good deal of organizational turnover following the departure of former GM James Click days after the team’s 2022 World Series victory have pushed Houston’s system into the bottom five.

Certainly, the ‘Stros are in better position than the teams near them on this list, but they desperately need to reinfuse their organization with young talent if they are to ensure that the greatest stretch in franchise history keeps rolling. — J.M.

26. Chicago White Sox (total score: 12/30)

If not for Luis Robert Jr. and Colson Montgomery, the White Sox would be dead last in our rankings. Those two in this organization are like that meme of a $2 million Bugatti in a raggedy driveway, though Andrew Vaughn probably doesn’t like that comparison.

Robert finally tapped into his power/speed potential last season, whacking 38 bombs and swiping 20 bags, while also being one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball. He is a perennial All-Star talent with another gear to discover if he sophisticates his approach.

Montgomery is considered one of the best 15 or so prospects in the sport, an immensely talented left-handed bat with advanced plate discipline. He’s also a shortstop in name only, and most experts believe a move to third is inevitable. He leads an otherwise iffy system that was bolstered somewhat by the additions of Edgar Quero, Nick Nastrini and Jake Eder during last summer’s sell-off. Still, the infrastructure of this organization is so far behind the times that industry experts encouraged a general “rounding down” on most White Sox prospects who journey up the system. New GM Chris Getz has a ton of work to do. — J.M.

This content was originally sourced and posted at Yahoo! Sports – News, Scores, Standings, Rumors, Fantasy Games »
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