A strange, yet exciting phenomenon has swept Major League Baseball over the past few years. Suddenly, the superstars I grew up worshiping are aging, becoming little more than role players. Some have even retired and begun broadcasting (looking at you, Nomar).
However, as strange as it is watching your childhood heroes falling off in terms of athletic ability, MLB fans have had the distinct pleasure of watching a historically talented crop of young players burst onto the scene over the past couple of years. There is an incredible amount of talented players who may be on their way to Hall of Fame caliber careers but who are just barely old enough to legally purchase alcohol. Some can’t even rent a car. These exciting players are making a name for themselves so early in their careers that it will be fun to watch them grow and develop as they mature into seasoned veterans.
The iconic examples of this new youth movement are Mike Trout and Bryce Harper. Trout and Harper burst onto the scene almost simultaneously, posting historic numbers to each win the Rookie of the Year Award in their respective leagues. They are poised to make an impact on MLB for decades to come.
While these players have already broken into MLB at a high level, other very good youngsters have also been picked up on national radar. The Baltimore Orioles faced the dilemma of finding room for 20-year old shortstop Manny Machado, who proved he was ready to be promoted to the big leagues. In order to accommodate him on the roster, the Orioles shifted him over to third base, a position he has since become comfortable with, ultimately being named their 2013 starting third baseman.
Another team that has benefitted from a young player is the San Francisco Giants. Catcher Buster Posey has made a name for himself at age 26 as an offensive force and a brilliant mind behind the plate. The Giants would do well to make sure he is preserved as much as possible so that his talent can benefit their team for years to come.
However, catchers historically decline at a much younger age than most players, due to the constant strain put on their knees while catching. The Giants will have to make a crucial decision when Posey reaches what should be his prime in a few years. Should they keep him behind the plate where he is a defensive stud, or should they ensure that his bat will be in the lineup for even longer by stationing him at first base, minimizing impact on the knees?
Young pitchers also present an interesting case for their teams. The most prominent incidence in MLB was with 24-year-old Stephen Strasburg in 2012. Strasburg was dominant for much of the season, but midway through September, the Nationals decided it would be best to shut him down for the rest of the season, including the playoffs, due to his mounting innings count. The Nationals elected to control Strasburg, preventing a further injury to his already-repaired elbow, in order to ensure Strasburg is a force for the team going forward.
The Reds’ phenom Aroldis Chapman dominated the National League as Cincinnati’s closer in 2012. The flame-throwing 25-year-old righty lit up the charts last season, causing the team to consider converting him into a starter for 2013. After much debate, the Reds elected to preserve Chapman’s talent, leaving him in the bullpen. This is a smart decision considering recent history. For example, the Red Sox’s 2011 lights-out setup man, Daniel Bard, was tested out as a starter in 2012 to disastrous results. Now, Bard finds himself in AA trying to figure out what went wrong.
It is incredibly exciting for teams to have budding superstars on their rosters. However, teams need to be prudent and exercise restraint when considering how to incorporate their youngsters into the team.
Above all, it is essential to do what is best for the player so that their careers can blossom and last for many years to come. If a team overworks their young stars, injuries become much more likely and neither party will benefit.
Overall, these players and many others in similar situations will be extremely fun to watch over the next few years as they become the new generation of MLB superstars