The table below purports to show everybody in baseball last season who was 22 or younger; who showed some pop, with a minimum of nine or ten home runs*; and who started the season at double-A or higher. Twenty-two seems to be the age by which players who are on a fast track get their first exposure to the big leagues, and so a player in that age cohort with any sort of power profile, if he began the season at AA or AAA, made it to the show in 2014, with the lone exception of Kris Bryant. (But don’t tell his agent.) Bryant is the only player in the table who did not play a game in the majors. That doesn’t mean I waved him in, just that there was no one else like him. A couple of high-profile, very young sluggers didn’t make the list–I’m thinking of Joey Gallo (TEX) and Corey Seager (LAD)–but they began their seasons in high-A ball.
I thought three columns for three levels of ball was enough, especially since I was planning to aggregate the numbers. (The values under the MLB, AAA and AA column headers are the number of games played at a level.) Aggregating numbers from different minor-league levels in the same season is done all the time by Baseball Reference, but I may be the first person ever given a spreadsheet tool to play with who thinks it’s a good idea to merge ML and high-minors numbers. I simply don’t know a way to look at these players side by side in one place, unless via the numbers that we have. All the rest is hype. Players who are the same age are not launched on their major-league journeys on the same day. Finding a spot on the field for a given 22-year-old is a very contingent affair. Bryant is a good example, but even those players who managed to produce some major-league numbers in 2014 started earlier or later in the season, depending on external circumstances. Since luck may determine that Player A has a body of major-league work that Player B lacks, I chose not to privilege Player A’s numbers.
So that’s my disclaimer: I crunched some numbers that don’t usually get crunched. The numbers that you are about to see, you are unlikely to see anywhere else. Take them for what they are.
(The order in the table above is by birth date.)
I highlight Arismendy Alcantara’s row in the table because I think he deserves more notice than he often gets. The prospect rankings prior to the 2014 season had him at 100 (Baseball America), 89 (MLB.com) and 83 (BaseballProspectus.com). Those are the highest numbers, and thus the lowest rankings, of any player on the table who made any of the three top-100 lists. (Note the rank column, which contains the latest rankings, which might be earlier than 2014. Baseball Reference prints these rankings on each minor-league player page.) Nineteen of the twenty-one other players on the table have a better ranking than Alcantara.
This might be a good moment to pause and consider what Alcantara and also Baez and Soler accomplished last season. Apart from Bryant, Soler has the highest OPS in the table. Baez’s 32 home runs, 9 with the Cubs, trail only Bryant’s 43 (at AA and AAA), Trout’s 36 and Pederson’s 33 (all at AAA). In this collection of current and future stars, Alcantara is fifth in hits, third in doubles, first in triples, seventh in home runs and fourth in stolen bases. Alcantara had 69 extra-base hits in 2014. In this gathering, only Bryant with 78 and Trout with 84 had more.
Alcantara was a shortstop who, last season, moved to center field to escape the logjam at middle infield. Since then, people seem to want to emphasize his versatility, as though he’ll need a collection of fielder’s gloves to fulfill his destiny as a supersub. I prefer to see him as a small guy with explosive power, a bat you want in the lineup. Alcantara is more than versatile: he can hit enough to play left field now that center belongs to Dexter Fowler (a valuable on-base guy). Many fans will remember the bomb Alcantara hit into the Pepsi Porch (upper deck) at Citi Field in the Futures game in 2013. Then there was this one off of the light tower in Colorado Springs last year just prior to his call-up to the Cubs. If Alcantara wants a model for a player with smallish stature but with speed and power that translates into a successful career, I can think of a few, like Jimmy Wynn or Ron Gant or Jimmy Rollins or even Alfonso Soriano. Another slender fellow, Lou Brock, in his first year with the Cubs in 1962, hit one over the wall in straightaway center (475 feet) against the Mets when they still played at the Polo Grounds.
Alcantara could evolve into a base thief. (Here’s some video evidence of that.) Early in his career a player figures out what he can be and wants to be, but not at twenty-two.
* Chris Owings had only six home runs. I don’t remember why he made the cut, but note his relatively small number of games.