Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
In the "old" days, a young ballplayer slowly worked his way through the minor league system until he was ready to play at the major league level.
These days ... not so much.
If a player is talented enough, teams appear to be willing to teach a rookie while he plays for the parent club.
For fantasy owners, this presents a problem because without a decent minor league history to reference it's much harder to know whether a young phenom will succeed in the big leagues.
There are 43 players on current major league rosters who are age 22 or younger. They include such well-known names as Mike Trout and Bryce Harper. (Editor's note: Remember when there was a debate as to which of these two hitters was better?) And a pretty good pitcher you may have heard of - Jose Fernandez.
Let's evaluate some of the other young talent.
Rougned Odor, 2B, Texas (20-year-old) - Most of the Arlington area hype has surrounded the injured Jurickson Profar, but Odor played solid ball in the minors after being signed in 2011. He's a bit overmatched at the major league level and as pitchers have adjusted, his numbers have dropped in each succeeding month. At such a young age Odor still has plenty of time to improve, but he should not be on any current fantasy rosters.
Javier Baez, 2B/SS, Chicago Cubs (21) - His swing reminds me of a combination of Gary Sheffield and Manny Ramirez. It doesn't hurt the comparison with two great hitters that he blasted three home runs in his first three big league games. He's just one of many young and talented hitters in the Cubs organization and if they all mature together it should be dynamic offense in a few seasons. Baez isn't a high average hitter, but he is a power hitter and there aren't many 25-30 home run hitting middle infielders. He has immediate value as a second baseman and more if he eventually moves to shortstop.
Mookie Betts, OF, Boston (21) - Betts is a career .314 hitter in the minors who steals 20-30 bases. He's gotten a taste of the majors (41 at-bats) and hasn't been completely overmatched, batting .244, but only striking out five times. He probably won't help fantasy owners this season, but we might like him at the top of a 2015 Red Sox batting order in front of Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz and Yoenis Cespedes.
Manny Machado, 3B, Baltimore (21) - Machado is going to be a star. He was already on his way last season at the ripe old age of 20 until sidelined by a knee injury. A delayed start to his 2014 season and batting .220 in May could have soured some fantasy owners, but he's returned to form, batting .333 with a .912 OPS since July 5 (25 games).
Taijuan Walker, SP, Seattle (21) - Walker's minor league record was solid, though unspectacular with a 9.6 K/9 and a 3.65 ERA, but he's struggled with health in 2014 and the start of his season was delayed until just a couple of weeks ago (right shoulder). He owns a 93 mph fastball, but we're not sold yet.
Gregory Polanco, OF, Pittsburgh (22) - Polanco exploded onto the scene in June 2014, a la Yasiel Puig last season, hitting safely in his first 11 games and batting .365. He's since calmed down and is batting .268 through 51 games. He was tearing it up at Triple-A Indianapolis and has a solid future as a 20-20 outfielder.
Oscar Tavares, OF, St. Louis (22) - Taveras has been up with the Cardinals for 40 games and has little to show for it. A home run in his debut has been followed by just one more long ball in the next 39. He's no George Springer and the jury is still out.
Michael Wacha, SO, St. Louis (22) - Although his won/loss record is just 5-5 this season as compared to 4-1 last year, Wacha's numbers are very similar. He's posted a 2.79 ERA (2.78 in 2013) and 1.118 WHIP (1.098 in 2013). He simply hasn't gotten much help from his teammates on offense. The future is still bright for Wacha, he just needs to be a bit more consistent.
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