Are you feeling old yet?
Actually, it's more than a feeling. Major league teams are investing in younger players like never before, starting with the amateur draft. The Nationals paid a record $15 million last August to sign Strasburg prior to him ever throwing a big-league pitch (which looks like a bargain now) and they'll have to break the bank again this year for No. 1 overall pick Bryce Harper, a 17-year-old kid. Small-market teams like Washington have to rely on young talent because the free-agent market is too costly for them.
Even high-payroll teams such as the Red Sox and Dodgers are putting an emphasis on young talent rather than chasing older and costlier free agents. The demand for aging veterans has further declined due to testing for amphetamines and performance enhancing drugs that once helped revitalize and extend careers. Additionally, general managers are using stats to prove how players' numbers typically go down as their age creeps into the 30s.
Fantasy owners shouldn't lean heavily on veterans either. Chipper Jones and Todd Helton may be household names that have produced for many seasons but they are on the wrong side of 35. Take this litmus test: if you have more than one player with a graybeard (see Jason Giambi) or with a fastball that tops out at 82 mph (see Jamie Moyer), then you are begging for declining bat speeds and chronic backaches.
To get you thinking younger, here are eight fresh faces you should be watching (I've included their birth years just to rub it in):
Carlos Santana, C, Cleveland Indians (born in '86): Forget about the 62-year-old rock guitarist and start thinking about Cleveland's switch-hitting catcher of the same name. Santana hit .316 with 13 homers and 51 RBI in 57 games for Triple-A Columbus. Since his call-up on Friday, he has batted third in the Indians lineup, belted his first major-league homer and withstood a collision at home plate from 285-pound Nationals outfielder Adam Dunn.
Justin Smoak, 1B, Texas Rangers ('86): Smoak accelerated quickly through the minors in '09 (.290, 12 HR and 57 RBI in 386 AB). In April, he replaced a struggling Chris Davis and has faired well enough to keep his job (.213, 6 HR and 24 RBI in 150 AB). Smoak's plate discipline (27 BB/39 K) has been especially good for a young hitter, excluding Sunday's five-strikeout day against the Brewers.
Mat Latos, SP, San Diego Padres ('87): Latos has a hard-cutting fastball in the mid to late '90s and a nasty slider. He's been scrutinized for his fiery temperament, but his numbers this season speak for themselves (6-4, 3.24 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 64 K in 72.1 IP).
Latos benefits from pitching in spacious Petco Park and he'll be better off the longer the Padres stay in the NL West hunt (they were in first place as of Sunday).
Mike Leake, SP, Cincinnati Reds ('87): Leake is a serious NL Rookie of the Year candidate even with Strasburg in the picture. He's 5-0 with a 2.68 ERA and 52 K in 77.1 IP. The former Arizona State star was the first pitcher to jump straight to the majors from college since Darren Dreifort did it with the Dodgers in '94.
Ike Davis, 1B, New York Mets ('87): The Mets went "out with the old" as in Carlos Delgado and "in with the new" with Davis, who is off to a good start in his rookie campaign (.253, 7 HR, 20 RBI in 178 AB). A first-round draft pick in the '08 draft, Davis mashed minor league pitching (.288, 22 HR, 92 RBI in 677 AB). He appears to be a fixture at first base in Flushing for many years.
Austin Jackson, OF, Detroit Tigers ('87): Jackson plays centerfield like his boyhood idol Griffey did, covering lots of ground and making superb catches. He's not the power hitter that Griffey was but the rookie brings his own set of skills to the Tigers leadoff position (.308 BA, .352 OBP and 10 SB in 250 AB).
Neftali Feliz, RP, Texas Rangers ('88): Feliz took the closer role from Frank Francisco early this season and he's done well (15 SV, 3.29 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 9.5 K/9). He may not keep the job the entire season but he's already exceeded all expectations.
Mike Stanton, OF, Florida Marlins ('89): Not to be confused with the Mariners relief pitcher of the '80s or more recently the Yankees lefty specialist, this Mike Stanton is a hitter. The 6-5 outfielder displayed awesome power in the minors, hitting 21 HR and 52 RBI in 52 games at AA-Jacksonville. In his June 8 debut, he went 3-for-5 with two runs scored. Stanton has a knack for striking out, so don't expect a high batting average at this stage of his career.