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The Top 25 MLB Players Under 25 Years Old, 2022 Edition

The league has plenty of potential superstars who are just hitting their stride. Who’s the best of the bunch? And who just missed the cut?

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

The major leagues are awash in young talent. In 2021, players under the age of 25 collectively produced a league-average slash line for the first time in MLB history, and many of MLB’s preseason MVP favorites for 2022 are still unable to rent a car without inducing “young driver” fees.

But which young dynamos are at the top of the class? Just as we did last season, The Ringer’s MLB crew—​​Michael Baumann, Zach Kram, Ben Lindbergh, and Bobby Wagner—ranked the top 25 players under 25 years old, first by creating individual lists and then averaging them to produce a final, unified, 100 percent accurate ranking. First, some ground rules:

  • Players must have already debuted in the majors to be eligible. This isn’t a prospect list; we’re sure that Bobby Witt Jr., Julio Rodríguez, Spencer Torkelson, and more will appear in this exercise next year, but they haven’t played their first MLB games yet.
  • Players must be in their age-24 seasons or earlier, as defined by baseball stats sites, which means the cutoff date for their 25th birthdays is July 1, 2022. (Sorry to Yordan Álvarez, who turns 25 on June 27 this year.)
  • We’re ranking players based on how well we think they’ll perform over the rest of their careers, from 2022 onward. Note that this isn’t a surplus value ranking, so contracts and service time don’t matter—but, depending on the voter’s preferences, factors like age, injury history, position, and past performance all do.

Due to age, underperformance, or injury, 13 of the 25 players from last year’s list fell off—but all of the top five are still eligible for this year’s list, so let’s get on to the rankings.

Honorable mentions: Aaron Ashby, Mike Soroka, Alejandro Kirk, Luis Patiño, Cristian Pache

25. Jesús Sánchez (Marlins OF)

Baumann rank: Not ranked
Kram rank: 21st
Lindbergh rank: 24th
Wagner rank: 25th

Argument for: Sánchez didn’t tout the same prospect pedigree as other position players ranked ahead of him, but it’s hard to ignore his 14 homers in 64 games in a pitcher’s park last season. His 31 percent strikeout rate last season is frightening, but if his power continues to prop up his overall batting line, then Sánchez could easily overtake more celebrated youngsters in the years to come. —Kram

Argument against: This is a very clear cut case of “For” and “Against.” The “For” is exactly as Zach has laid out—not many young prospects have 35 homer power. The “Against” is that he might strike out so much that he never sniffs that ceiling. It’s not unlike his new teammate Jorge Soler, a highly touted prospect who never got his swing-and-miss under control. The year Soler hit 48 home runs was the only year he eclipsed 1 full WAR. It’s a hard mold to stick in, and while I think Sánchez has a shot at doing it, it’s tough to count on. —Wagner

24. Emmanuel Clase (Guardians RP)

Baumann rank: 24th
Kram rank: 23rd
Lindbergh rank: 25th
Wagner rank: 24th

Argument for: Yes, he’s a reliever, yes, he’s got a PED suspension on his résumé, but let’s just peek at a screenshot from his Baseball Savant page.

At this point in the list, there’s a lot of uncertainty—former top prospects still hanging on to hype, recent debutants who haven’t shown much, and so on. We project and suspect. But we know Clase throws as hard as anyone in the league, we know he posted a 1.29 ERA in almost 70 innings last year, and we know the Guardians—who don’t give money out willy-nilly—signed Clase to a five-year extension after one full season in the majors. Even if he’s a reliever, we know he’s an impact reliever. —Baumann

Argument against: The case against Clase, as stated above, is that he’s a reliever—a really good reliever, but a reliever nonetheless. That’s why he’s this low on the list despite being among the best in baseball at his assigned job. If we wanted to nitpick—and what’s what we do here in “Argument against” land—we could note that although he gets grounders and weak contact, he doesn’t miss as many bats as one would expect from a fastball-slider guy who throws as hard as he does; the outlier among those sweet Statcast percentile ranks is the not-so-nice 69th-percentile strikeout rate, which would look even more pedestrian compared to his late-inning peers. (The average reliever in medium/high-leverage situations in the eighth and ninth innings last season posted a 26.6 percent K rate, right in line with Clase’s 26.5.) The other slightly concerning aspect of Clase’s profile is that the skill that’s helped him break out could cause him to break down. He’s already thrown the fourth-most 100-mph-plus pitches in the pitch-tracking era, and aside from the seemingly indestructible Aroldis Chapman, the top of the leaderboard is not littered with hurlers who’ve avoided major arm injuries. —Lindbergh

23. Jo Adell (Angels OF)

Baumann rank: NR
Kram rank: 25th
Lindbergh rank: NR
Wagner rank: 16th

Argument for: Not to sound like a Home Depot ad, but … tools! The concern with Adell was always that he wouldn’t be able to make enough contact to show off his many tools, and that was confirmed in his rookie year when he struck out in 41.7 percent of his plate appearances. That’s as bad as it gets, right there. But Adell showed a little more life in 2021, slashing that number to 22.9 percent. And while his quality of contact still isn’t where it needs to be, I’m not giving up on a soon-to-be-23-year-old outfielder with 98th percentile sprint speed and the ability to hit the ball out of a stadium. —Wagner

Argument against: I feel terrible for Adell, who was a top-10 global prospect a few years back and has been quite unlucky in his career. (How many players manage to hurt different parts of both legs on the same play?) But that hype is now three years old, and in the meantime not only has Adell kept getting hurt, he hasn’t hit. He’s only just turning 23 this week, and he wasn’t terrible last season. But he’s had multiple big league shots and I haven’t seen a top-25 performance from him yet. —Baumann

22. Triston McKenzie (Guardians SP)

Baumann rank: NR
Kram rank: NR
Lindbergh rank: 22nd
Wagner rank: 19th

Argument for: McKenzie is my 2022 breakout pick, so check out our predictions post for a detailed breakdown. In this space, suffice it to say that the right-handed rookie’s subpar full-season stats masked a major turnaround that followed a midseason demotion to Triple-A. McKenzie was the AL’s best pitcher over a span of seven starts in August and September, and although he seemed to run out of steam in his final few outings, he’s poised to put together an improved campaign with rates that resemble those of his sterling 2020 debut. The spindly starter could be Cleveland’s latest pitcher-development success story, which means he’s probably about to be known for much more than having one of modern baseball’s lowest body mass indexes. —Lindbergh

Argument against: I like McKenzie—I picked him for Rookie of the Year before last season—but he had a rough 2021. He missed his fair share of bats and stayed healthy enough to throw 120 innings. But he also had the second-highest walk rate among starters with at least 100 innings pitched (11.7 percent), and when opposing hitters got the bat on the ball they hit him pretty hard. Maybe he’s one tweak from figuring everything out and turning into Cleveland’s next great pitching project, but he has to improve his results before I’d rank him with the likes of Alek Manoah, Dustin May, or even Aaron Ashby. Baumann

21. Alex Kirilloff (Twins OF)

Baumann rank: NR
Kram rank: NR
Lindbergh rank: 15th
Wagner rank: 14th

Argument for: Kirilloff’s 2021 slash line is a lie. For one thing, the rookie played through a torn ligament in his right wrist that eventually led to season-ending surgery in July. For another, despite the injury, he hit better than his surface stats suggested: Kirilloff’s expected slugging percentage, based on his quality of contact, was 118 points higher than his actual .423 mark, the majors’ second-biggest gap. He also skipped Triple-A prior to his promotion. Given improved health, better batted-ball luck, and added experience, his stats should befit the big bat he’s capable of being.—Lindbergh

Argument against: Kirilloff projects as a below-average runner and fielder; FanGraphs prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen wrote before last season that Kirilloff was “trending toward first base” for his long-term positional fit. That means the 24-year-old has to absolutely rake to be a valuable player—which is why it’s so worrying that his on-base percentage last season started with a “2.” A .251/.299/.423 slash line isn’t going to cut it as a baseline for a corner bat, even with some natural improvement baked in. —Kram

20. Andrew Vaughn (White Sox 1B/OF/DH)

Baumann rank: 22nd
Kram rank: 20th
Lindbergh rank: 14th
Wagner rank: 23rd

Argument for: As a right-handed corner guy with—let’s kindly call it “limited”—defensive value, Vaughn has to mash to have a high placement on a list like this, and he didn’t do that last year. However, the 2019 no. 3 pick had a tough assignment: skipping straight to the majors from High-A (aside from some seasoning at the alternate site in 2020), and then learning the outfield with almost no notice for a contending team and a Hall of Fame manager more than three times his age. The good news is that he hit the ball hard, demonstrating elite max exit velocity and a high hard-hit rate en route to an above-average xwOBA. The acquisition of AJ Pollock leaves Vaughn’s path to playing time cluttered, but reduced defensive demands could help him focus on his batting bread and butter.—Lindbergh

Argument against: When thinking about Vaughn in the context of this exercise, it’s important to understand that we’re ranking players based on how we think they’ll perform from now until the end of their careers. Would I rather slot Vaughn’s bat into my lineup today than a lot of the other guys ranked above him? Yes. But there’s a very slim margin for error for a guy who, at 24, is essentially a DH. He will rake at his peak, but the back half of his career will pale in comparison to guys above him on this list who provide defensive value for much longer. —Wagner

19. Akil Baddoo (Tigers OF)

Baumann rank: 17th
Kram rank: 17th
Lindbergh rank: 21st
Wagner rank: 21st

Argument for: Look, I won’t pretend that I knew who Akil Baddoo was 13 months ago. And no, I didn’t expect the Rule 5 pick to sustain his hot spring and fast start to the season, which saw him homer off his first big league pitch, add a grand slam the next day, and bat .391 with four dingers over his first eight games. But Baddoo didn’t disappear after April, à la Chris Shelton in 2006: He hit even better in May and June, and maybe most encouragingly, he cut down on his early-season strikeout woes as the season wore on.

Baddoo is stretched in center, had a hard time hitting lefties, and did decline in the second half. But he’s fast and capable of hitting balls hard (82nd percentile max exit velocity) and making adjustments. He’s already demonstrated that he wasn’t a one-month wonder, and now he’ll have to prove that he wasn’t a one-year wonder, either. —Lindbergh

Argument against: Baddoo was a wonderful story last year for the Tigers. But I think he benefited a little more from luck in 2021 than we’d like to admit. He had a high batting average on balls in play (.335). And when you dig in deeper and see that his quality of contact was in the lower quartile of hitters according to Statcast data, that BABIP starts to look even luckier. Maybe Baddoo will prove himself as someone who outperforms his batted ball data. We’ll have to wait and see. —Wagner

18. Dustin May (Dodgers SP)

Baumann rank: 16th
Kram rank: 18th
Lindbergh rank: 17th
Wagner rank: 22nd

Argument for: For one magical month at the start of last season, May looked like one of the best pitchers in baseball. The red-haired righty had been effective for the Dodgers in a swingman role in his first two partial seasons, but despite his triple-digit heat and sexy spin rates, he was more of a grounder-getting sinker artist than a big bat-misser. Last year, he started throwing his whiff-inducing four-seamer and curveball more frequently, and the Ks came in bunches: 35 in 23 innings, against only six walks. And then, on May 1, he threw the fateful pitch that tore his UCL and led to Tommy John. Assuming a full recovery, he could pick up where he left off last spring as soon as this summer. —Lindbergh

Argument against: I came into this exercise extremely unsure of what to do with May. I was the high man on him last year, ranking him 18th while two of my colleagues left him off the list. I still think he’s one of the best young pitchers in baseball, I just wish he hadn’t blown his elbow out right as he started to round into form. Will his health and occasional penchant for giving up very hard contact make him more of a stretch reliever? That seems plausible the more time he misses, especially in a crowded Dodgers rotation. But I’m ready to welcome him back to the bigs with open arms, so this “Against” blurb is really more of a “We’ll see” blurb. —Wagner

17. Gavin Lux (Dodgers 2B/SS/OF)

Baumann rank: 15th
Kram rank: 19th
Lindbergh rank: 23rd
Wagner rank: 15th

Argument for: For all the advancements we’ve made in understanding baseball performance, an area that’s still a bit mysterious is how much effect positional uncertainty has on a player’s offensive performance. Lux played mostly second base in the minors before being shipped all over the diamond to get plate appearances with the Dodgers. And while the L.A. organization develops players with defensive flexibility as well as anyone, that doesn’t mean every player responds well to it. For every Chris Taylor, you have a Lux—a player without a natural fit in the field whose bat is lagging behind what you expected. Lux is still only 24, and he was as hot as hot can be at the end of last season. I’m willing to go down betting on a former 70 future value prospect developed by the best organization in baseball. —Wagner

Argument against: Lux isn’t so much a natural utility player as one forced to play multiple positions because he hasn’t yet found a defensive home. Nor has Lux proved he can hit major league pitching consistently. Here are his career wRC+ figures by month (only months when he had at least 40 plate appearances), on a scale in which 100 is average and higher numbers are better: 86, 70, 24, 124, 75, 71, 162. That 162 mark in September 2021—when Lux hit .360/.467/.500, 62 percent better than the league-average line—is reason for optimism. But it doesn’t quite make up for all the rotten months before it. —Kram

16. Alek Manoah (Blue Jays SP)

Baumann rank: 14th
Kram rank: 15th
Lindbergh rank: 16th
Wagner rank: 18th

Argument for: It will surprise no one that the world’s biggest Lance Lynn fan is also all in on a large, bearded right-hander who throws multiple fastballs. I’m not sure why Manoah wasn’t a bigger deal as a prospect—he was the no. 11 overall pick, after all. But when he got to the majors last May, nobody could really square him up. It’s a familiar skill set: a sinker and a four-seamer in the same velocity band, but with different movement patterns, plus a changeup and breaking ball to keep hitters off-balance.

Ordinarily, with a young pitcher you look to see what they can add in year two or three in the majors, but the blueprint Manoah’s following has been tried and tested many times over, and there’s no reason to believe it will stop working. —Baumann

Argument against: There’s very little not to like about Manoah. He will, barring injury, provide an incredible amount of value to whatever team he’s on. The only thing that keeps him from being higher on this list is that, as a pitcher, you have to set the league on fire to be anywhere near as valuable as a great position player. Manoah is going to be good for a very long time, but even Baumann’s beloved Lance Lynn has had only two seasons with 4.0 WAR or more. —Wagner

15. Keibert Ruiz (Nationals C)

Baumann rank: 21st
Kram rank: 11th
Lindbergh rank: 10th
Wagner rank: 20th

Argument for: I admit I might be personally biased in Ruiz’s favor because I traded for him in a long-term online simulation league this offseason. (Thanks for the deal, Baumann!) But there’s a reason I thought Ruiz was worth acquiring, as did the Nationals at last year’s trade deadline: With the universal DH in place, catcher is now the sport’s weakest offensive position, and Ruiz, a career .301 hitter in the minors, offers rare potential at the plate. —Kram

Argument against: Never in a million years did I expect I’d rank Ruiz 21st and be the low man on him. I see now that Zach is trying to pump up Ruiz’s value to make himself feel better about selling low on Cody Bellinger in our sim league. I thought Ruiz’s lack of MLB track record was cause for caution, but he’s been about a league-average hitter (106 OPS+) in his 104 big league plate appearances. The upside is obvious: A switch-hitting catcher doesn’t have to be a much better hitter than that to be his generation’s Yasmani Grandal. —Baumann

14. Ian Anderson (Atlanta SP)

Baumann rank: 13th
Kram rank: 13th
Lindbergh rank: 18th
Wagner rank: 12th

Argument for: Did Anderson take a step back in his second rookie season? I guess. But consider how high expectations have to be for a 24-start season with a 124 ERA+ to be a disappointment for a 23-year-old pitcher. The velocity’s still there, the changeup is still special, and Anderson is in a good situation in Atlanta, where he has a high standard to meet but doesn’t have to carry the entire team. —Baumann

Argument against: As the high man on him, it’s a bit weird to be writing the case against Ian Anderson. Last year, I had him 21st and this year bumped him up to 12th. That’s almost entirely based on the strength of the full list, and the hope that Anderson can regain the form that got him to the 93rd percentile of expected batting average in 2020, according to Baseball Savant. But it’s alarming that he regressed in his first full season in the majors, slipping all the way back to the 48th percentile of the same category. He’s giving up too much hard contact and not striking enough guys out to be elite. We’ll see if he can reverse that trend. —Wagner

13. Oneil Cruz (Pirates SS)

Baumann rank: 9th
Kram rank: 10th
Lindbergh rank: 19th
Wagner rank: 17th

Argument for: Cruz only barely qualifies for this list; he played two games for the Pirates at the end of last season and will start 2022 in the minors so Pittsburgh can manipulate his service time. Why do we rank him so high with such little track record? Because he’s 6-foot-7 (!) and a shortstop (!!) who can hit the ball as hard as Aaron Judge (!!!) and do things like this:

Kram

Argument against: The case against Cruz is the same as the case for him: He’s utterly unique. The 23-year-old’s one-of-a-kind shortstop profile makes him compelling, but it also injects extra risk. Cruz seems capable of playing short for now, but the Pirates appear determined to test him in the outfield, where he’d go from eye-catching to fly-catching. If The World’s Tallest Shortstop ends up in left field, his fun factor and ceiling won’t be the same. But if Cruz can refine his plate approach and create enough contact to cover his huge strike zone and fully leverage his power, the bat would probably play anywhere. —Lindbergh

12. Jarred Kelenic (Mariners OF)

Baumann rank: 19th
Kram rank: 9th
Lindbergh rank: 13th
Wagner rank: 9th

Argument for: I will not proceed into the 2022 baseball season with fear, like some of my colleagues. Nor will I allow my residual fear of high school hitters to cloud my judgment of Kelenic! Kelenic was awful in 2021—there’s no sense in sugarcoating it. But he posted a 143 wRC+ in Triple-A before his call-up was mired in service time manipulation controversy. Under 400 plate appearances of brutal baseball is not enough to condemn a top-five prospect who tore through the minors and overperformed at every level. This was his first time failing, but he has the kind of makeup you’d want to bounce back from that. —Wagner

Argument against: I know Kelenic got called up into a tough situation last year. I know how talented he is and how much he raked at the minor league level. But he hit .181/.265/.350 in 377 plate appearances. That’s a lot. If I thought he wasn’t capable of adapting I would’ve left him off this list entirely, but that’s just such a big data point I can’t ignore it. —Baumann

11. Jazz Chisholm (Marlins 2B)

Baumann rank: 8th
Kram rank: 16th
Lindbergh rank: 12th
Wagner rank: 13th

Argument for: Chisholm’s place on a list like this depends on what you’re looking for. I had him four spots higher than any of my colleagues, and if I were looking for utilitarian efficiency, I would have placed him lower. Because Chisholm’s game is not efficient: He hit just .248 last year, struck out almost five times as often as he walked, and was caught stealing an NL-leading eight times.

But what if you want a playmaker? Someone who’ll take risks, provide flashes of brilliance, and put asses in seats? What if Chisholm isn’t undisciplined, but just finding his limits? Maybe that’s not the smart way to look at baseball, but it’s more fun. —Baumann

Argument against: I think we were a bit spoiled by Chisholm’s hot start at the plate last season. He boasted a .969 OPS at the end of April and looked like a superstar—but from May on, his OPS was just .681, which ranked 123rd out of 130 qualified hitters. Chisholm is still a good all-around player: He certainly has potential at the plate, he’s fast, and he plays a shrewd second base (though he graded out horribly in 278 innings at shortstop last season). But in my view, he belongs closer to the likes of Lux and Baddoo, in the group of position players with shaky strikeout rates and questionable bats. —Kram

10. Shane Baz (Rays SP)

Baumann rank: 12th
Kram rank: 14th
Lindbergh rank: 11th
Wagner rank: 11th

Argument for: I’m a simple man. I see a pitcher with long, flowing hair, a very repeatable delivery, an easy 99 mph fastball, and a wipeout slider and I rank him highly. Baz has the kind of stuff to dominate any hitter, in any park, on any count, no matter the leverage. The subtle differences in pitch shape between his curveball and his slider, and his ability to know which of his three putout pitches to choose at any given moment suggest he’s much more mature on the mound than a lot of young flamethrowers. It’s young Matt Harvey–esque. —Wagner

Argument against: After the votes all came in, I was shocked to find myself as the low man on Baz—I had a whole bit on The Ringer MLB Show last year about how enamored I am of Baz’s abilities, so perhaps I overcompensated too far in the other direction. In any case, the one statistical argument against him is his workload, especially pitching for the Rays: No Tampa Bay starter qualified for the ERA title in either 2021 or 2020, and in 2019, veteran Charlie Morton was the only Ray to do so. Baz himself hasn’t reached triple-digit innings in any season as a professional. So no matter how great he is on a per-inning basis, he might not be able to amass as much overall value as the players ahead of him. —Kram

9. Trevor Rogers (Marlins SP)

Baumann rank: 11th
Kram rank: 12th
Lindbergh rank: 9th
Wagner rank: 8th

Argument for: Rogers isn’t just a big arm. In his rookie campaign, he not only struck out 28.6 percent of opposing hitters (in the same neighborhood as Zack Wheeler and Lucas Giolito), but he also managed to avoid damage even when opponents made contact. A fourth pitch might be nice, but you can get away with three if you’re left-handed, throw hard, and have a changeup. For my money, this is the best young pitcher in the majors today. —Baumann

Argument against: I agree that Rogers is the best young pitcher in the majors today—the question is how much that title is worth when starters are throwing fewer innings than ever before. Out of the top 10 players in overall fWAR last year, seven were position players and two were pitchers. (One was Shohei Ohtani.) In 2019, the ratio was eight position players to two pitchers; in 2018, seven position players to three pitchers. It’s just harder for pitchers to produce as much value in the modern game, to say nothing of their greater proclivity for injuries. So even the best young pitcher in the majors can’t move any higher up the list. —Kram

8. Dylan Carlson (Cardinals OF)

Baumann rank: 10th
Kram rank: 8th
Lindbergh rank: 8th
Wagner rank: 10th

Argument for: If you’re paying careful attention, you might have noticed that none of the players listed thus far has received even a single individual vote higher than eighth. There’s a clear divide, in our eyes, between the top seven U25 players and everyone else—but Carlson is the best of the rest, and that’s no small feat. The St. Louis outfielder has the sort of profile that could lead to his becoming perennially underrated, touting good tools across the board but lacking a standout skill: He’s a fine outfielder, if stretched too far when the Cardinals shove him in center; he’s athletic; he tallied a 113 wRC+ at age 22, albeit without tremendous power or on-base ability. He might be, in other words, the perfect representation of Cardinals baseball. —Kram

Argument against: Carlson is already a phenomenal player, and there are reasons to believe he’s just scratching the surface. The nit I’m going to pick with him, though, is that it seems like that power might never come. His swing is much longer from the left side, and as such he makes less contact on that side of the plate. I love his quick, compact right-handed swing, but he’s not going to access much power with that either. There is still some room left for him to slug a bit better gap to gap, but combined with his solid-but-not-great defense, I think the best version of Carlson doesn’t come close to the best version of some players above him on this list. —Wagner

7. Bo Bichette (Blue Jays SS)

Baumann rank: 7th
Kram rank: 7th
Lindbergh rank: 7th
Wagner rank: 7th

Argument for: A .300 hitter who strikes out “only” 20 percent of the time and steals bases to boot? In this economy? Did we mention he has 30-homer power, plays shortstop, and is famed for his flow? Bichette, who was caught only once in his 26 stolen-base attempts in 2021, isn’t as discerning at the plate and in the field: He’s a free swinger who makes a lot of errors and divides defensive metrics. But even the most pessimistic appraisal of his production marks him as an elite talent at a premium position. He’s not quite Fernando Tatis Jr. or Wander Franco, but that’s about the worst one can say. —Lindbergh

Argument against: There aren’t many rough edges in Bichette’s game. Plus he’s still young enough, and smart enough, and possessed of such uncommon hitting ability that he might be able to access another level by improving his results deep in the count. But let’s say this is what he is: a six-win player who hit 29 home runs last year and stole 25 bases in 26 attempts. That’s a star by anyone’s standards, just not a potential MVP. —Baumann

6. Luis Robert (White Sox OF)

Baumann rank: 6th
Kram rank: 6th
Lindbergh rank: 6th
Wagner rank: 6th

Argument for: I’m going to level with you: I’m in the bag for Luis Robert. I’ve bought into everything from the style, to the swagger, to the anonymous scout who said he was better than Mike Trout. Robert has more clear flaws in his game than anyone above him on this list, and even a few below him. He struck out a horrendous 32 percent of the time his rookie year, before shaving that down to a more-reasonable 21 percent in 2021. If he walked more, we could ignore that number. And it’s hard to tell whether he’s a good defender or just comically athletic. (Who cares? Ronald Acuña Jr. has been benefiting from that hazy distinction for years.)

No matter: In a perfect world, his proven strengths could put him in an MVP race as early as this season. —Wagner

Argument against: Robert rules. His plate discipline drools. Those facts can coexist, as they did after Robert returned from a torn hip flexor last August. Much was made of Robert’s 17 percent strikeout rate in almost 200 post-injury plate appearances, a massive improvement on a career rate that had topped 30 percent prior to that absence. But Robert’s post-recovery walk rate (3.6 percent) was still minuscule, and his extreme chase rate was virtually unchanged: He was missing less often, but he was still swinging at everything. Robert tied for seventh in WAR among position players in that span, but he hasn’t shown that he can keep up that pace through a full season while swinging away, or alternatively, rein in his hacking. I wouldn’t put it past him to do either, but his lack of selectivity is an obstacle that the younger and just-as-ultra-talented players above him don’t have to transcend. —Lindbergh

5. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (Blue Jays 1B)

Baumann rank: 3rd
Kram rank: 5th
Lindbergh rank: 4th
Wagner rank: 5th

Argument for: The full list of qualified batters to hit .300/.400/.600 or better in a season at age 22 or younger, since 1961: Vladito last year, Juan Soto in 2020, Bryce Harper in 2015, Albert Pujols in 2001, A-Rod in 1996. Guerrero was one of the most talented amateur hitters of the past 20 years, and over the past two seasons, he’s systematically answered every question about his skill set: conditioning, patience, ability to access power in games. See you in Cooperstown in 20-odd years. —Baumann

Argument against: Concocting arguments against any player in the top five is a fruitless exercise. They’re all incredible! But the easiest place to pick nits with Guerrero is his position, because the four remaining players are all shortstops or above-average outfielders, while Vladito has already been consigned to first base. And he’s not a good first baseman, either: outs above average graded him 31st out of 36 qualifiers last season.

The four players ahead of Guerrero on this list could all hit like MVPs while also providing defensive value; Guerrero can manage only the former, even in a best-case scenario. His best-case scenario is still amazing. But the ceiling isn’t quite as ridiculously high. —Kram

4. Ronald Acuña Jr. (Atlanta OF)

Baumann rank: 5th
Kram rank: 2nd
Lindbergh rank: 3rd
Wagner rank: 4th

Argument for: Sure, Acuña won’t start this season in Atlanta’s lineup because he’s still recovering from a torn ACL last summer, and sure, his team just won the World Series without him. But he provides a perfect counterpoint in the argument against Guerrero. Last year, Vlad produced a 166 wRC+, and since the start of 2020, Acuña checks in with a 157 wRC+. That means Acuña—who has pulled the neat trick of simultaneously reducing his strikeout rate while increasing his power—is not that far behind Guerrero’s otherworldly offensive performance at the plate, and he provides much more baserunning and defense.

Maybe Acuña won’t ever contend for a 40-40 season again, as he threatened in both 2019 (41 homers, 37 steals) and 2021 (24 homers, 17 steals in 82 games). But one fluke injury does not constitute a pattern of poor health, and Acuña’s ceiling remains as high as anyone else’s in the sport. —Kram

Argument against: Honestly, what unkind things are there to say about someone who’ll hit .280/.380/.550 regularly while stealing 30 bases a year and also displaying an energetic spark plug personality on the field? He’s just not quite at Soto’s or Guerrero’s level as a hitter, and he’s not a shortstop. There’s no shame in being the Gen Z Duke Snider. —Baumann

3. Fernando Tatis Jr. (Padres SS)

Baumann rank: 2nd
Kram rank: 4th
Lindbergh rank: 5th
Wagner rank: 2nd

Argument for: Since 1900, 16 shortstops have recorded at least 1,000 MLB plate appearances by age 22, with an OPS+ of 100 or better. Of those, Tatis is tied for no. 1 in OPS+ with Willie Wells. Here are the next six names on the list: Rogers Hornsby, Arky Vaughan, Carlos Correa, Alex Rodriguez, Vern Stephens, and Cal Ripken Jr. This is a 23-year-old shortstop who missed 20 percent of the season last year and still stole 25 bases and led the NL in home runs. This is A-Rod by way of Bo Jackson.

It’d be nice if Tatis stopped crashing his motorcycle, but calling him “injury-prone” is coward shit. Nobody on this list except Soto, who’s got a completely different skill set, can come close to Tatis’s upside. —Baumann

Argument against: It gives me no pleasure to argue against one of the game’s most magnetic and talented players, but unlike the other superstars at the top of this list, Tatis is sitting on the sidelines, which is not a new state of affairs for him. I guess I can’t call him injury-prone—see the blurb above—but can I call him, um, availability-averse? Tatis has lost more than a month to injury in each of his non-pandemic-compressed seasons so far, for a different reason each time. I’m not that worried about his motorcycle career, which is probably behind him, but the shoulder dislocations that hampered him last season could recur. On the field, Tatis’s only issue is erratic defense: He committed the second-most errors among shortstops last season after finishing fourth in that category in 2019. But the players toward the top of this list have so few flaws that Tatis’s IL stints stand out. —Lindbergh

2. Wander Franco (Rays SS)

Baumann rank: 4th
Kram rank: 3rd
Lindbergh rank: 2nd
Wagner rank: 3rd

Argument for: Yes, it’s aggressive to rank a just-turned-21-year-old who’s played 70 career major league games over a trio of charismatic cornerstones who’ve already racked up a combined five Silver Sluggers, four top-five MVP finishes, and two home run titles. But Franco is really that good. He’s about two years younger than Guerrero and Tatis and more than three years younger than Acuña, which means he has even more time to accrue career value. He possesses incredible contact skills and a good glove at short, and he seemingly mastered the majors so quickly after his late-June promotion that one has to pity the pitchers who’ll face him this year.

It takes a special talent to place second on this list. But it also takes a special talent to convince the Tampa Bay Rays to spend $182 million on one player over any number of years. Franco has deservedly done both. —Lindbergh

Argument against: Here are the career rates of home runs per 600 at-bats for the top five players on this list:

Tatis: 47
Acuña: 42
Soto: 36
Guerrero: 33
Franco: 15

As Franco matures, can he boost his doubles power to clear the fence more often? That’s the only reason he might not match the other top U25 players’ overall offensive outputs. —Kram

1. Juan Soto (Nationals OF)

Baumann rank: 1st
Kram rank: 1st
Lindbergh rank: 1st
Wagner rank: 1st

Argument for: As the only voter who ranked Soto first last year, too, I welcome with my open arms my colleagues who have joined me with the correct opinion. Did it help that he avoided major injury while Acuña and Tatis did not? Of course. But Soto also re-staked his claim for the top spot with another transcendent offensive campaign, particularly when he ran a .348/.525/.639 slash line in the second half.

Soto is the best U25 player because his best skill is better than anyone else’s. His career .432 on-base percentage is 32 percent better than the league average during his career. Ted Williams is the only player in AL/NL history with a better relative on-base percentage through age 22. The other names around him are all rather pleasant company, too:

Best Context-Adjusted On-Base Percentages Through Age 22

Player OBP vs. League Average
Player OBP vs. League Average
Ted Williams +34%
Juan Soto +32%
Shoeless Joe Jackson +32%
Stan Musial +25%
Mike Trout +24%
Ty Cobb +23%
Eddie Collins +21%
Jimmie Foxx +21%
Rickey Henderson +21%
Joe Morgan +20%

For the first time in years, Mike Trout no longer has the best projection for a position player this season. Soto unseated him. He’s a worthy holder of the title of best young player in baseball. —Kram

Argument against: Well, someone had to draw the short straw here. The case against Soto is, um … wait, what was it again? Oh, right. There isn’t one. He’s our unanimous no. 1 pick, so how damaging could the downside be? Until last season, the knock against Soto was that he had a below-average glove. Then he had a good year on defense too, after returning to the outfield corner he played during most of his (brief) time in the minors. Which leaves only one flaw: He’s not much of a base runner. He has middling speed (which also hurts his jumps in right), he doesn’t take the extra base often, and he’s liable to run into outs. That’s not nothing for a player who’s always on base—among qualified hitters, Soto was one of the 15 least valuable base runners last year—but we had to hunt hard for any sign of weakness. Worst case, Soto is on pace to be one of the best base cloggers ever. And it wouldn’t surprise me if he got better at baserunning, too. —Lindbergh