Young Talent Inventory
We are sitting in a historic bubble of young talent. About a year ago a reporter (John Tomase) asked me an extremely interesting question: Why do you think that there are so many great young players around right now? I replied in my usual annoyingly cautious fashion that I didn't know whether there was or was not an unusual amount of young talent around at the moment, but then later I decided to study the issue.
Conclusion: There is no doubt that there is an unusual amount of great young talent around right now. Arguably, there is more outstanding young talent around right now than at any other moment in baseball history -- not more per team, but there are more teams. The moment at which there had been the most young talent in baseball, before 2007, was 1964. Among the players in 1964 who were 25 years old or younger and already doing some good work in The Show: Dick Allen, Ken Berry, Jim Bouton, Lou Brock, Gates Brown, Wally Bunker, Johnny Callison, Rico Carty, Dean Chance, Tony Conigliaro, Willie Davis, Larry Dierker, Al Downing, Sammy Ellis, Dick Ellsworth, Ron Fairly, Bill Freehan, Jim Fregosi, Dave Giusti, Dick Green, Jim Ray Hart, Alex Johnson, Deron Johnson, Jim Kaat, Mickey Lolich, Jim Maloney, Dick McAuliffe, Tim McCarver, Sam McDowell, Dave McNally, Tony Oliva, Claude Osteen, Milt Pappas, Gaylord Perry, Vada Pinson, Boog Powell, Pete Rose, Ray Sadecki, Ron Santo, Willie Stargell, Mel Stottlemyre, Luis Tiant, Joe Torre, Pete Ward, Don Wert, Zoilo Versalles and Carl Yastrzemski. That was greatest explosion of young talent in baseball history -- until now.
Who is the best young player in baseball? A deceptively tricky question, in that it requires us to combine two unlike factors -- youth and talent -- into one measurement. C. C. Sabathia is certainly a better pitcher right now than Felix Hernandez, but Sabathia was 26 in 2007; Hernandez was 21. Does Hernandez' youth outweigh Sabathia's production? Alex Rios is probably a better player right now than Jeff Francoeur, but Francoeur is three years younger. Both players are 1) clearly still young, and 2) clearly very good. How do you balance Francoeur's additional youth against Rios' additional accomplishments?
You just have to pick a method and roll with it. We're not talking here about
Why 33 years old, rather than 30? I tried it the other way and it doesn't work. Suppose that you have a 27-year-old player and a 24-year-old player of the same accomplishment...Jose Reyes and Albert Pujols, or Justin Verlander and Josh Beckett, or Edwin Encarnacion and Felipe Lopez. The 24-year-old
Fielder has a "score" in our system of 323, but since the numbers are only relevant one to another, I'll skip those from now on. But I will list their ages, so that I don't have to comment on that ... ages are as of June 30, 2007.
The Indians had Hall of Fame center fielders for most of their first 55 years, in Tris Speaker, Earl Averill and Larry Doby. It's been awhile. Kenny Lofton has had a fantastic career, and I wouldn't dismiss the notion that he deserves Hall of Fame consideration, but he's bounced in and out of Cleveland like a bad penny, chopping up his career into little parts until he wound up as the premise of a moving company commercial. Let's hope that doesn't happen to Grady.