2017’s baseball season will be played without David Ortiz (who knew when and how to leave the sport: with his star still shining bright), and David Ross (ditto; a home run in his last bat while winning a World Series).
Soon, Albert Pujols will join them. He still hits home runs, but he is 37 and is recovering from his latest surgery. Ichiro Suzuki hit .291 last year with more playing time, but he, too, is close to the finish line at age 43. This year could be the final days for Adrian Beltre when he reaches 3,000 hits and awaits a call from Cooperstown. And does Bartolo Colon have another dozen wins to entertain us. Or, maybe, he’ll leave us with another home run –his second in 20 years.
Where will the future Stars come from? They are already here. This is a starting lineup of players 25 years old or younger, and the bench strength behind them. They will continue to fill positions with stars and stadium seats with butts.
P = Michael Fulmer: AL Rookie of Year. Established himself on a staff with Verlander. Good ERA (3.06) and WHIP (1.119). Room to grow and not always facing the other team’s Ace.
C = Gary Sanchez: 2nd in ROY voting. 20 homers and 42 RBI in a third of a year (53G). He won’t triple those numbers in a full year, but he will have a good OBP, too. He’s not Yogi, but a great start.
1 = Greg Bird: Good start in 2015 (11 homers and 31 RBIs in third of a year). Injured in 2016. Good size (6’4’’, 220) for position and power hitting.
2 = Rougned Odor: Improved BA over 3 years; significant rise in power (30 to 70 EBH). Long career possible. Ask Jose Bautista if he’s tough (Jose caught Odor’s fist with his face).
3 = Kris Bryant: Improved everything (home runs, RBI, RS, BA, OBP, Slg) –after ROY season. Improves every year: college, ROY, now MVP. Sky’s the limit.
SS = Corey Seager: ROY and 3rd in MVP. Best of a half dozen SSs in MLB. .308 BA and 71 EBHs. Another BIG SS (6’4”, 215).
OF = Mike Trout: The best player in baseball, period. 5 full years in MLB: MVP twice; 2nd three times. Hits for average and power; drives in and scores runs; steals bases. BA over .300; OBP over .400; Slg over .500. Signs autographs. Roy Hobbs, Jr.
OF = Mookie Betts: 2nd in MVP to Trout. Hits .300, 78 EBH, steals bases, 100+ RS and RBI, and Gold Glover. 3 more years like first 2 and he + Trout will share MVPs for a decade, plus. Your grandchildren will ask: “What were they like?”
OF = Bryce Harper: 2015 MVP: hit .330, led NL with 42 homers (81 EBH), and OBP. Dropped in everything in 2016. Said he was not injured. Expect a big rebound or an explanation why not.
Bench = Pitchers: Aaron Sanchez: Arrived in 2016; 15 – 2 record, ERA: 3.00 (led AL), WHIP 1.167)….Noah Syndergaard (pictured): Almost a big star, even outside NYC; 14 – 9, in 30 starts; 2.60 ERA; 218 Ks in 183 IP; K/BB = 5.07; if he goes up a notch or two, no team could afford his contract….Carlos Martinez: a solid pitcher coming into his own; 16 game winner, 3.04 ERA)….Roberto Osuna: a young closer, helping Haap and A. Sanchez go 35 – 6; 2.68 ERA; 36 SV; WHIP 0.932; 10 K per 9 IP.
Position Players: Willson Contreras (C) played half-time and showed promise: decent BA and power; the more he plays, the better he’ll get; right?….Javier Baez (2B) another Cub youngster playing part-time; 421 AB, 14 HRs, .273 BA; fine fielder; the more he plays, the better he’ll get, right?….Manny Machado (3B) good and getting better; decent BA (.294), good power (37 HRs, 78 EBH); 3 times in top 10 in MVP voting.
Shortstop: there are 5 more good ones plus C. Seager….here they are alphabetically: Xander Bogaerts: another hitter for the Red Sox, a la Nomar? Hit .294 with 21 HRs, over 200 runs scored or driven in….Carlos Correa: ROY in 2015; another young one to watch; 20 HRs and 96 RBI…. Francisco Lindor (pictured): at age 22, an All-Star, Gold Glover, 9th in MVP voting; hit .301; electric….Addison Russell: more youth; 21 HRs and 95 RBIs; needs to up his BA, but soon he and Baez will be a fixture at 2B and SS….Trea Turner: played CF in 2016 to get him into the lineup; now he goes to SS, a more natural position; in half of 2016, he HIT: .342 BA, 13 HRs, stole 33 bases; another one to watch.
Outfielders: Gregory Polanco: 6’5”, 230 lbs, a big arm in RF in Pittsburgh (Roberto 2.0?); some power: 22 HRs and 86 RBI; I think he’ll get a lot better….Kyle Schwarber (pictured): forget his half year in 2015 (except his 16 HRs) and 2 games in 2016; by the World Series, he was OK to bat; he hit .412 in 17 ABs; in the post-seasons of 2015-16, he HIT: .364/.451/.727 with 5 HRs in 44 ABs; Wow….Christian Yelich: 2016 was the best of his 4 seasons; .298 BA, 21 HRs, 62 EBH, 98 RBIs.
A reason why the Cubs won the World Series last year? Of the 24 players on this list of 25 years old and younger stars, 5 of them are Cubs.
Baseball’s torch is not held by Big Papi anymore. But it is in, and will remain in, good hands. Whose? Mike Trout or Kris Bryant? Or someone who has not yet peaked? (Why am I thinking of Mookie Betts?)