MLB 26-and-under power rankings, Nos. 10-6: Reds' young hitters, Dodgers' young pitchers among baseball's best

The Reds, Dodgers, Brewers, Padres and Tigers round out the top 10 of this year's young talent rankings

Yahoo Sports’ 26-and-under power rankings are a remix on the traditional farm system rankings that assess the strength of MLB organizations’ talent base among rookie-eligible and MiLB players. While focusing on strictly prospects can be a useful proxy for projecting how bright an organization’s future is, it fails to account for young players already contributing at the big-league level.

By evaluating the strength of all players in an organization entering their age-26 seasons or younger, this exercise aims to paint a more complete picture of each team’s young core. These rankings value productive young big leaguers more heavily than prospects who have yet to prove it at the highest level, and years of club control are also part of the evaluation, so as to not overrate the value of players who might leave in free agency in the next couple of years.

To compile these rankings, each MLB organization was given a score in four categories:

  • Young MLB hitters: scored 0-10; 26-and-under position players and rookie-eligible hitters projected to be on Opening Day rosters

  • Young MLB pitchers: scored 0-10; 26-and-under pitchers and rookie-eligible pitchers projected to be on Opening Day rosters

  • Prospect hitters: scored 0-5; prospect-eligible position players projected to reach MLB in the next 1-2 years

  • Prospect pitchers: scored 0-5; prospect-eligible pitchers projected to reach MLB in the next 1-2 years

Here's this year's full list, from the Orioles to the Rockies. (Mallory Bielecki/Yahoo Sports)
Here's this year's full list, from the Orioles to the Rockies. (Mallory Bielecki/Yahoo Sports) (Mallory Bielecki/Yahoo Sports)

We’re counting down all 30 organizations’ 26-and-under talent bases from weakest to strongest leading up to Opening Day, diving into five teams at a time and highlighting their key players in each category.

Next up is the second tier of teams: Nos. 10-6.

Full rankings: Nos. 30-26. Nos. 25-21. Nos. 20-16. Nos. 15-11. Nos. 5-1.

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10. Detroit Tigers (total score: 17)

While much about the Tigers’ future still hinges on Torkelson and Greene reaching their substantial ceilings as former top prospects, both Carpenter and Meadows emerged as unexpectedly compelling outfield options in 2023 and will look to prove themselves further this season. Olson enjoyed a similarly subtle breakout on the mound and now projects as a stable back-end starter, an excellent outcome for a former 13th-round draft pick acquired in exchange for two months of Daniel Norris.

As for Tork and Greene, we’re far more bullish on Greene to provide star-level production considering his more balanced offensive profile and ability to play center field, but let’s not push aside the former No. 1 overall draft pick too quickly. Torkelson’s overall value might always be limited by his position and strikeouts, but he still hits the ball harder than just about anyone, and he’s still just 24 years old. He could absolutely become an All-Star first baseman.

Below the bigs, this organization has taken some significant steps forward in player development recently, and that has begun to pay off with a promising wave of talent scheduled to arrive in Detroit this season. Jung is tracking similarly to Keith as a lefty infield slugger with questionable defensive chops but more than enough bat to compensate for a shaky glove. Malloy fits a similar description from the right side.

The most important name to know is Jobe, a 21-year-old righty who has a legitimate case as baseball’s best pitching prospect — yes, even ahead of Paul Skenes — and could soon validate the No. 3 pick used on him in the 2021 draft, a decision many in the industry viewed as risky considering his demographic as a high school right-hander. Jobe could soon join 27-year-old southpaw Tarik Skubal — another ascendent arm talent — atop a rapidly improving Tigers rotation. With several veterans brought in this winter to bolster the roster, Detroit could certainly surprise in the AL Central in 2024 if enough of these talented young players take the next step. — J.S.

9. San Diego Padres (total score: 17)

  • Young MLB hitters (8/10): OF Fernando Tatis Jr., C Luis Campusano, OF Jackson Merrill, 3B Graham Pauley, INF Eguy Rosario

  • Young MLB pitchers (3/10): RHP Jhony Brito, RHP Randy Vasquez, LHP Adrian Morejon, RHP Woo-Suk Go, RHP Luis Patino, RHP Alek Jacob

  • Prospect hitters (3/5): C Ethan Salas, OF Jakob Marsee, 1B Nathan Martorella, INF Marcos Castanon

  • Prospect pitchers (3/5): LHP Robby Snelling, RHP Adam Mazur, RHP Dylan Lesko, LHP Austin Krob

Can Tatis rediscover his MVP form at the plate following a relatively lackluster return to action in 2023? His exquisite defense at his new position in right field ensured that he was still providing a ton of value, but a 113 OPS+ — even with still elite underlying batted ball data — was undeniably underwhelming after the jaw-dropping 160 OPS+ Tatis produced from 2019 to 2021. Before his numerous injury and suspension-related derailments, Tatis appeared on track to join the discussion of the best position player in MLB. Now we’re left wondering if he’s merely a great player — still ridiculously valuable, of course — and if we’ll ever see that sensational peak again.

No matter how you project him going forward, Tatis remains a huge part of San Diego’s high mark in these rankings. Yet the most remarkable thing about San Diego’s placement is that even after making a boatload of blockbuster trades for star veterans over the past half-decade — including one for Dylan Cease just last week — the Padres have kept their farm system loaded with sky-high upside through savvy drafting and big investments in the international amateur market. They’ve routinely nailed picks at every stage of the draft and pushed their productive prospects to the point that they can help either in the big leagues (like Merrill this year) or as valuable chips in the next blockbuster trade.

San Diego’s decision to trade Juan Soto as a way to reallocate financial resources also helped restock the upper-level pitching depth in a meaningful way. But while Vasquez and Brito should contribute this year, the real upside on the mound remains in the minors, where Snelling and Lesko are primed to break into the inner circle of premier pitching prospects in 2024 — and we know the Padres won’t hesitate to push them toward the big leagues if they’re showing they can handle it.

Heading into 2024, there’s a ton of pressure on San Diego to bounce back from last year’s catastrophically wayward campaign. Beyond Merrill, the surprise Opening Day center fielder, it’s unclear how many of these 26-and-under players will make an impact this season. But we’re finished doubting San Diego’s ability to regenerate intriguing talent on a regular basis. — J.S.

[Read more: MLB Seoul Series: What to watch as the Dodgers and Padres kick off the 2024 MLB season at the Gocheok Sky Dome]

Is Fernando Tatis Jr. merely a great player — or one of the best position players in baseball? (Gregory Hodge/Yahoo Sports)
Is Fernando Tatis Jr. merely a great player — or one of the best position players in baseball? (Gregory Hodge/Yahoo Sports) (Gregory Hodge/Yahoo Sports)

8. Milwaukee Brewers (total score: 18)

Although he has yet to make his big-league debut, Chourio falls into the MLB bucket following the $82 million extension he signed this winter and the recent news that he indeed will be on Milwaukee’s Opening Day roster. Barely 20 years old and with only six Triple-A games to his name, it is simply astonishing that Chourio has already reached this point, regardless of what happens next. When he makes his debut, he will become the first player born in 2004 to reach the big leagues, and there’s a strong chance we won’t see another one the rest of this season (and possibly even next year as well).

Should Chourio chart a similar path to another Venezuelan phenom who debuted at age 20, Ronald Acuña Jr., and quickly blossom into an all-around megastar, this already favorable ranking will have undersold Milwaukee considerably. And if Chourio is merely a solid big-league center fielder in the early stages of his career before breaking out down the line, that’s still a terrific player to build your team around.

It’s not all about Chourio, though. In his first year as a Brewer, the younger Contreras brother proved that his 2022 All-Star campaign was no fluke, making huge strides defensively and continuing to hit at an exceptional level for his position. The list of catchers you’d rather have for the next decade is short.

The trade of Corbin Burnes unquestionably hurts in the short term, but Brewers fans won’t have to wait long to see the return for their former ace start to make an impact. Ortiz’s exceptional infield glove and plus contact skills will get a healthy amount of playing time in 2024, and Hall’s electric stuff from the left side should be a treat to watch in whatever role he is deployed.

And there’s more on the way. Milwaukee is deep in prospect reinforcements at the upper levels. Misiorowski’s command needs significant refinement, but his raw stuff, on full display in last year’s Futures Game, is truly bonkers. Black is a speedy OBP maven with gaudy all-around stats dating to college who should get some big-league at-bats at some point this year. Quero is one of the most well-rounded catching prospects in the game — not that the Brewers need him that badly with Contreras in the fold. Trade bait, perhaps?

For all the mixed signals given by Milwaukee’s offseason — and the untimely injury to star closer Devin Williams — this Brewers team has more than enough young talent to stay relevant in the NL Central. We just don’t yet know who will be leading the charge. — J.S.

[Read more: NL Central preview: What's in store for the Cubs, Cards, Brewers, Reds and Pirates in 2024?]

7. Los Angeles Dodgers (total score: 18)

It’s all about the arms. Even before the Dodgers signed Yamamoto for $325 million, they would’ve graded out toward the top of the scale on pitching. Miller, Stone, May, Hurt and Sheehan would all be crown jewels in other organizations, but in Los Angeles, they’re overshadowed by an overwhelming avalanche of more established talent. Miller is the one most likely to ascend to All-Star status, as the University of Louisville product is armed with two different fastballs in the upper-90s to go with three secondary offerings. Stone was named the club’s fifth starter to start the season this week. He’ll use a mid-90s fastball and a plus-plus changeup to prove that he deserves to retain a rotation spot even after Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler come off the injured list.

But we still have to talk about Yamamoto because so much about him is so unprecedented. The advent of advanced pitch-tracking technology made the Dodgers confident that his pitch shapes would translate well from Japan to MLB, but there’s still so much risk with any pitcher, let alone one who has yet to throw an official big-league pitch. His deal is a hefty chunk of change no matter how you cut it, but if everything breaks right, it might give the Dodgers one of the best hurlers in the world for the next decade.

Things aren’t as rosy on the offensive side. James Outman had an enormously successful 2023, but he has aged out of our rankings, turning 27 in mid-May. Lux tore his ACL in spring training a year ago, missed the whole season and was moved off shortstop in favor of Mookie Betts a few weeks ago. He’s still set to start at second, but it’s hard to deny that his stock has fallen, though optimism remains regarding his offensive potential. Vargas, meanwhile, is coming off a disappointing rookie season and likely won’t see too many regular at-bats as a sophomore.

It’s always tricky to evaluate Dodgers prospects because so many of them are eventually used as trade fodder to acquire impact big leaguers. And as things stand now, the bulk of the highest-upside talent remains in the lower levels of the minors. But the industry as a whole agrees that Los Angeles’ organization is relentlessly at the forefront of player development. The system remains in the upper half of the league, despite the club picking in the back half of drafts for the past decade. All of Cartaya, Pages, Knack, Frasso and Ryan are talented, but none is “untouchable.” — J.M.

[Read more: NL West preview: What's in store for the Dodgers, D-backs, Padres, Giants and Rockies in 2024?]

6. Cincinnati Reds (total score: 19)

No team featured more MLB debuts in 2023 than the Reds, who introduced 16 (!) players to the big leagues, many of whom now represent what looks like one of the deepest young cores in baseball. Marte’s recently announced 80-game PED suspension muddies the waters somewhat, but we’re still looking at an absolutely loaded lineup of potential rising stars. Before his suspension, Marte was expected to be the every-day third baseman, and he still projects to be long-term.

For now, veteran signing Jeimer Candelario is expected to slide over to third base, clearing more consistent at-bats at first base for the powerful Encarnacion-Strand, whose slugging prowess could make this ascendant Reds lineup even more dangerous. Steer, a natural infielder who accepted a move to the outfield to ensure that his bat could stay in the lineup, quietly led all rookies in plate appearances in 2023 and finished second in hits behind only Corbin Carroll. He’s a steady right-handed bat who is well worth his defensive shortcomings.

Let’s get to the headliners: McLain and De La Cruz are a delightful odd couple in the middle infield, with the 5-foot-8 McLain packing a serious power-speed punch at second while the 6-foot-5 De La Cruz is a not-so-short shortstop with spectacular physical abilities unrivaled by his peers. With top-of-the-scale raw power from both sides of the plate and a compelling case as possibly the fastest player in the big leagues, De La Cruz’s ceiling is entirely undefined for all the right reasons. He still has much to prove at the plate to fully actualize his potential from a production standpoint, but at just 22, there’s plenty of time for him to make those adjustments. McLain, heralded since he was a high school star in Southern California, is more of a sure thing and, when healthy, looked like Cincinnati’s best player in 2023.

Beyond Opening Day starter Frankie Montas, whom Cincinnati landed on a sizable, one-year, free-agent deal, it’s not hard to envision four rotation spots being occupied by 26-and-under arms. Greene is the most famous of the bunch as one of the hardest-throwing starters on the planet, albeit one who is still curating his secondary offerings to aid his overall run-prevention efforts. Abbott and Lodolo each excelled as rookie southpaws over the past two years, and they’re primed to take another step forward in 2024. And while he has yet to throw an official pro pitch outside of spring training, Lowder — last year’s seventh overall draft pick — could assert himself as an upper-echelon pitching prospect by the end of this season.

While all the prospect graduations have thinned the talent in the minors a bit, to have this many 26-and-under every-day players and rotation members in the big leagues is an exceptional achievement, especially considering that this team lost 100 games just two years ago. In many respects, the Reds are an excellent example of how this 26-and-under project can better elucidate a team’s future outlook than traditional farm system rankings. — J.S.