In the year 2021, baseball is a young man's game. Young players come up from the minors and have an immediate impact more than ever before. Juan Soto batted cleanup for a World Series champion at age 20. Ronald Acuna Jr. flirted with a 40-40 season at age 21. At age 22, Bryce Harper became one of only 17 players in the Expansion Era to post a 195 OPS+ or better.
These days the best teams feature at least one bona fide superstar who isn't yet old enough to rent a car. Young, cheap players who provide immense value are the sport's most valuable commodity, and teams are better at player development than ever. Case in point: 23 players age 22 or younger have put up a 125 OPS+ since 2000, more than the previous three decades combined (20).
Because young players are so vital, we here at CBS Sports have compiled a ranking of the 25 best players under the age of 25. Here is how we came up with our rankings:
- We researched (scouting reports, statistical data, etc.) and compiled our own personal top 25 lists, which were then averaged together to build the master list.
- Players are ranked based on expected 2021 performance only. We did not consider projected long-term value or contract status.
- To be eligible for our rankings, players must be 24 or younger on June 30, 2021.
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With all that in mind, here is the official CBS Sports ranking of the top 25 baseball players in the world under the age of 25 going into the 2021 MLB season.
1. Fernando Tatis Jr., Padres
Sign a $340 million contract and you get the top spot on our top 25 under 25 list. Well, no, that's not what happened, but Tatis is worthy of the No. 1 spot. He's a brilliant all-around talent who greatly improved his defense last year while still providing MVP-caliber offense. If there's a knock on Tatis, it's that we've yet to see him do it in a full 162-game season. Injuries limited him to 84 games in 2019 and last year was a 60-game season. That's nitpicking though. Tatis is already a top-10 player in the game and it feels like he is only scratching the surface of what he can do. 2021 season age: 22
2. Juan Soto, Nationals
A case can be made Soto is the best hitter in baseball period, not only among players yet to turn 25. He has been historically good in his three MLB seasons. Here's where Soto ranks among the 77 players with at least 1,000 plate appearances through their age 21 season:
- Batting average: .295 (23rd)
- On-base percentage: .415 (5th)
- Slugging percentage: .557 (4th)
- OPS+: 151 (6th)
The five hitters with a better OPS+ than Soto: Mike Trout (166 OPS+), Ted Williams (161 OPS+), Jimmie Foxx (156 OPS+), Rogers Hornsby (155 OPS+), and Ty Cobb (153 OPS+). Five of the best hitters to ever live, basically. Soto is roughly the same age as college kids drafted in 2020. Yeah, he leaves something to be desired defensively, but he's a transcendent offensive talent. Very, very few players throughout history have been this good this young. 2021 season age: 22
3. Ronald Acuna Jr., Braves
As far as I'm concerned, you could rank the top three players on this list in any order, and it would be defensible. They're a cut above everyone else, so don't take Acuna being in the No. 3 spot as a slight. No shame in ranking behind Tatis and Soto. Acuna is a dynamic all-around talent who fell three stolen bases short of a 40-40 season a year ago, and has improved his walk rate from 9.2 percent in 2018 to 10.6 percent in 2019 to 18.8 percent in 2020. It's amazing the Braves were able to sign Acuna for a mere $100,000 as an international amateur free agent in 2014. 2021 season age: 23
4. Bo Bichette, Blue Jays
Bichette has appeared in 75 big-league games to date, or less than half of a regulation season. Even so, it's hard to overlook his results, which include a .307/.347/.549 slash line, a 137 OPS+, and 16 home runs. His swing-happy approach will result in some ugly walk-to-strikeout ratios, but his barrel awareness and defensive ability should make him a valuable building block and a blast to watch. In a sense, think of Bichette as the American League's answer to Javier Baez. 2021 season age: 23
I'm not sure he'll ever hit 38 home runs like he did in 2019 again -- that seems to be a juiced ball (and Baltimore Orioles) aided homer total -- but Torres is a precocious young hitter who has cut his strikeout rate from 25.2 percent to 21.4 percent to 17.5 percent in his three MLB seasons. He's also shown a knack for producing in big spots, be it runners in scoring position (career .316/.375/.575) or high-leverage situations (career .341/.386/.604) or the postseason (career .342/.432/.605). Torres has been error-prone at shortstop early in his MLB career, though he's yet to play a full 162-game season at the position, and the adjustments he's made at the plate suggest he has the baseball acumen to get better in the field. 2021 season age: 24
6. Ozzie Albies, Braves
Albies tends to get overshadowed by Acuna, but make no mistake: he's a heck of a player himself. Although he's just now entering his age-24 season, he's already amassed 60 home runs and 40 stolen bases (on 49 attempts) for his career. Albies is also a high-grade defender at the keystone, making him a well-rounded contributor. The biggest knock on Albies is that he's a generous swinger who offered at nearly 60 percent of the pitches he saw in 2020. He'll likely have to learn to be a little more disciplined as he ages, but for now it's hard to hold it against him given his results. 2021 season age: 24
7. Rafael Devers, Red Sox
Despite being a big-name Red Sox player, I feel like Devers flew under the radar a bit in 2019. He led the big leagues in extra-base hits (90) and total bases (359), and he did that while posting a much better than average 17.0 percent strikeout rate. Devers is not the most disciplined hitter in the game (he chases out of the zone at one of the highest rates in the league), but he has a freakish ability to get the fat part of the bat on the ball no matter where it's pitched, and drive it with authority. He had a down year in 2020 (he was hardly the only player to do so) and isn't going to win any Gold Gloves at the hot corner, but the offensive upside is immense. We've already seen it in 2019. 2021 season age: 24
It was a small sample, but Hayes managed a 92.8-mph average exit velocity and a 93.7 percent in-zone contact rate as a rookie in 2020. The only other players in the 90-90 club (min. 75 plate appearances) were Mookie Betts, Robinson Cano, DJ LeMahieu, and Anthony Rendon. It is rarified air, and Hayes is an all-world defender at the hot corner as well. The Pirates are going to be very, very bad in 2021 (and probably in 2022 and 2023 as well). Fans can at least look forward to watching Hayes on an everyday basis. He is worthy heir to Andrew McCutchen's throne as the latst homegrown Pirates star. 2021 season age: 24
9. Luis Robert, White Sox
Robert is something to behold. He's a strong right-handed hitter with a fast bat who launched 11 home runs and eight doubles in 202 trips to the plate last season, yet he's also a graceful center fielder whose sprint speed and defense ranked in the 96th percentile or better, according to Statcast's metrics. Robert had an uneven rookie season: his impressive 1.015 OPS in August gave way to a horrid .409 mark in September. He'll need to make some adjustments, particularly with his approach, in order to get back on the right side of things. If he does, he's a star. 2021 season age: 23
10. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Blue Jays
The general perception is Vlad Jr. has been a disappointment to date, and relative to the prospect hype, yeah, that's fair. It also should be noted his career 109 OPS+ is a top-25 mark among players with at least 700 plate appearances through their age-21 season in the Expansion Era. He's been really productive relative to most players this age. Guerrero doesn't have much (any) defensive value and he needs to elevate the ball more often to turn his elite exit velocities into extra-base hits (Vlad Jr., Giancarlo Stanton, and Pete Alonso are the only players with multiple batted balls over 118 mph the last two years), but the plate discipline and innate bat-to-ball ability are stellar. There is a monster lurking within and the bet here is Guerrero joins the ranks of the game's elite hitters very soon. 2021 season age: 22
11. Eloy Jimenez, White Sox
Jimenez can hit, as demonstrated by his career .276/.321/.527 slash line to date. He'll enter this season having homered 45 times in his first 730 plate appearances, and he has the kind of strength that could result in him leading the league in long balls someday. While Jimenez doesn't walk frequently, and his defense can be charitably described as "bad," he did improve upon both his strikeout and whiff rates in 2020. Jimenez will likely shift to DH at some point in the near future, but he has the bat to make it work. 2021 season age: 24
12. Kyle Tucker, Astros
It took a couple false starts to get there, but Tucker used last season to remind folks that the Astros' other top-five pick in the 2015 draft has some skills, too. He did a little bit of everything: he hit the ball hard (his average exit velocity was over 91 mph); he walked an acceptable amount (around eight percent); he kept his strikeouts in check; and he stole eight bases on nine tries and played good defense. He's a well-rounded player, in other words, and he's ready to be the face of the Astros' outfield now that George Springer is elsewhere. 2021 season age: 24
13. Julio Urias, Dodgers
Urias makes our age cutoff by six weeks and he's lived a baseball lifetime already. The southpaw has been a prized prospect, a 19-year-old rookie (Urias and Felix Hernandez are the only 19-year-olds to start an MLB game in the last 30 years), he's undergone major shoulder surgery, and last year he closed out a World Series. He's done a lot in a short period of time. Urias has four pitches and is an analytics darling thanks to his big spin rates and track record of suppressing hard contact. He has yet to spend a full 162-game season in an MLB rotation and that should happen this year as he continues his ascend toward ace status. 2021 season age: 24
14. Sixto Sanchez, Marlins
It used to be that you could bet against every small right-handed starter and you'd win often enough to come away in the black. Times are changing, however, and even if they weren't, Sanchez seems like he would be an exception to the rule. In seven starts last season, he posted a 129 ERA+ and a 3.00 strikeout-to-walk ratio while pumping mid-to-upper-90s fastballs as part of a broad arsenal. It's fair to still have reservations about his workload (he's thrown more than 100 innings in a season only once, in 2019), but he has the means to front the Marlins rotation for years to come. 2021 season age: 22
15. Trent Grisham, Padres
Grisham put the 2019 National League Wild Card Game behind him with aplomb by hitting 10 home runs and swiping 10 bags as part of his first season with the Padres. Overall, he batted .251/.352/.456 and won a Gold Glove for his work in center field. If Grisham can repeat those efforts over a full season, he's going to make some All-Star Games beginning sooner than later. 2021 season age: 24
16. Jesus Luzardo, Athletics
Had Luzardo recorded three more outs last year, then 2020 would've gone down as the second time in his career he'd thrown 60 or more innings in a season. That stat sums up his situation as well as any could. He's a talented, polished southpaw with a seemingly bright future who has been hampered by physical and workload limitations. It shouldn't surprise anyone if Luzardo takes a big leap forward one of these days, just by virtue of finding a way to throw 150-plus innings. 2021 season age: 23
17. Yordan Alvarez, Astros
In 2019, Alvarez slugged 51 home runs in 161 games between Triple-A, MLB, and the postseason. Dual knee surgeries sabotaged his 2020 season, but Air Yordan remains on the very short list of the best power hitters in the sport. He's an exit velocity monster (Alvarez had an average 92.2-mph exit velocity in 2019, putting him in the top six percent of MLB) and he doesn't chase out of the zone either. Alvarez forces you to pitch in the zone and he'll hit a mistake a mile. Few players on this list have as much offensive upside. Injuries and poor defense knock him down the list. 2021 season age: 24
18. Mike Soroka, Braves
A freak Achilles injury sabotaged Soroka's sophomore season a year ago. In 2019, as a 21-year-old rookie in the Year of the Dinger, he made 29 starts and posted the lowest home run rate among qualified starters (0.72 HR/9) thanks to his hellacious turbosinker. Soroka's slider is nothing to scoff at, though the sinker is his moneymaker, and it is a truly elite pitch. On average, major leaguers slug .463 against sinkers. Against Soroka's sinker in 2019, they slugged .414. By all accounts Soroka is doing well with his Achilles rehab and will pitch close to a full season in 2021, and there is every reason to believe he'll again be a ground ball machine and home run suppressor. 2021 season age: 23
As a rookie last year Bohm ranked sixth in baseball in win probability added (a cumulative stat) despite being 155th in plate appearances. Translation: Bohm was insanely clutch. He provided multiple big hits down the stretch and helped keep the Phillies in the postseason race into the final weekend. His defense at third base leaves something to be desired and he might settle in as a 20-homer guy rather than a 30-homer guy, but the bat plays. The Phillies have not drafted and developed an All-Star position player since Dominic Brown (true story). Bohm should be the next and soon. 2021 season age: 24
20. Wander Franco, Rays
On raw talent, Franco would rank near the top of this list.. Because this list is geared toward 2021 production, , either for service-time reasons (yup) or developmental reasons (possibly). He's a switch-hitter with power and an approach that is advanced far beyond his years, and he has the defensive chops to remain at shortstop long-term. A special prospect indeed. 2021 season age: 20
21. Dustin May, Dodgers
Visually, few pitchers in the sport are as impressive as May, who touches 100 mph with a sinker that runs all over the place. His cutter and curveball are quality pitches as well. May doesn't miss as many bats as you'd expect -- his 19.6 percent strikeout rate and 8.4 percent swing-and-miss rate were below the MLB averages last year (23.4 percent and 11.4 percent, respectively) -- and he's on the outside of the Los Angeles rotation at the moment, so he may not get regular starts. The stuff is plenty good though, and by all accounts May is the next great homegrown Dodgers starter. 2021 season age: 23
22. Ian Anderson, Braves
Anderson had a heck of a run to begin his big-league career: in six starts last season, he struck out 41 batters in 32 innings and allowed just seven earned runs (1.95 ERA) on 21 hits. He did that while showing off a three-pitch mix that included a healthy dosage of changeups and curveballs, both of which generated whiffs nearly 40 percent of the time. There's a lot to like here, in other words. We would just like to see him issue fewer walks and dominate over a larger sample. 2021 season age: 23
23. MacKenzie Gore, Padres
When the Padres summoned Ryan Weathers, a very good prospect in his own right, and let him make his MLB debut in last year's postseason over Gore, it raised some eyebrows. Gore is an elite prospect, arguably the top pitching prospect in the game, and San Diego passed him over in their biggest games of the year. Reports indicate Gore had mechanical issues at the alternate site (his delivery is complicated with a big leg kick), hence the non-call-up. He has reportedly ironed those out, however, and the combination of stuff and command look an awful lot like a Clayton Kershaw starter kit. The Padres added to their rotation in a big way this offseason but it's hard to see Gore not impacting the 2021 team in some capacity. 2021 season age: 22
24. Victor Robles, Nationals
This may prove to be an underrank. Robles is, undoubtedly, a skilled center fielder and baserunner who has swiped 35 bags on 48 career tries. He's only a season removed from homering 17 times as a 22-year-old, and it's at least theoretically possible that he taps into his offensive upside more heading forward. He's here because it's also possible, and perhaps even likely, that he remains a bottom-third hitter who endures because of his ample secondary value. 2021 season age: 24
25. Adley Rutschman, Orioles
The Orioles used the No. 1 pick in the 2019 draft on Rutschman, who has all the makings of a future franchise player. He's a switch-hitting catcher with power and patience, he's an outstanding defender said to be deeply invested in the success of his pitching staff, and he's long been touted for his makeup and leadership skills. Rutschman is the best catching prospect since Buster Posey back in 2008, and although the learning curve can be steep for young players behind the plate at the MLB level, it shouldn't take him long to become one of the game's premier backstops. Look for the O's to summon Rutschman at midseason, which will give him just enough time to make noise in the AL Rookie of the Year race. 2021 season age: 23