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MLB 26-and-under power rankings, Nos. 15-11: Minnesota's Royce Lewis, Boston's Triston Casas lead young cores on the rise

The Twins, Red Sox, Cardinals, Yankees and Cubs make up the next tier on this year's list

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 third tier of teams: Nos. 15-11.

Full rankings: Nos. 30-26. Nos. 25-21. Nos. 20-16. Nos. 10-6. Nos. 5-1.

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15. Chicago Cubs (total score: 16)

The Cubs moved up and down a bit across several iterations of these rankings, but ultimately, they fell smack dab in the middle due to an excellent farm system without quite enough proven big-league contributors to put them above the other teams in this tier. We will learn a lot about these players this season. Can the ultra-versatile Morel settle into one position — third base, it seems — and continue slugging in the middle of the lineup? Will Amaya start to look like the catcher of the future, or is he destined to tag-team with veterans such as Yan Gomes for the long haul? And after the Cubs traded some high-profile lower prospects to acquire him from the Dodgers, can Busch translate his gaudy MiLB stats to the big leagues now that he’ll finally get consistent at-bats? These questions will go a long way toward determining if these players are foundational building blocks or simply useful role players.

On the mound, Assad is a proven swingman whom teammates think awfully highly of. Wicks is entering his first full season in the rotation and projects as a mid-rotation workhorse whose ceiling will depend on his ability to coax more whiffs from big-league hitters. Wesneski has a lot to prove after an up-and-down sophomore campaign. While this trio will surely log a bunch of innings this year, their upside appears fairly capped.

It’s more likely that the next Cubs superstar is still prospect-eligible. Several trades, a few top draft picks and a rapidly improving player development infrastructure have made Chicago’s farm system one of baseball’s best. PCA, Alcántara and Caissie — all acquired in trades — boast varying collections of star-level tools. Each needs to refine his overall offensive game to be a viable option in 2024, but they could help form the Cubs outfield for the foreseeable future. Horton and Shaw — Chicago’s first-round draft picks in 2022 and 2023 — are looking like spectacular selections who could help even sooner than the trio of outfielders. The pending debuts of all of these youngsters over the next season or two will be big news on the North Side and should help clarify the core of the next great Cubs team. — J.S.

14. New York Yankees (total score: 16)

Let’s get Soto out of the way. As a 25-year-old set to hit free agency this winter, Soto muddles this whole exercise. In baseball, the words “young” and “controllable” are often used interchangeably, but not in Soto’s case. He helps the Yankees’ ranking — duh — but we didn’t let his generational offensive ability vault New York to a perfect score in the young MLB hitting category because there’s a solid chance he’ll be wearing another uniform next season.

Good thing the rest of this offensive contingent is sturdy. We’re high on Wells, whom we see as an every-day catcher with strong left-handed power that should be a sublime match for Yankee Stadium’s right-field porch. Volpe performed admirably as a rookie and is a strong bet to improve at the dish as he gains more experience. Dominguez’s Tommy John surgery scuttled a highly anticipated debut, but he remains a future cog in the Yankees machine, even though he’s probably a good player and not the transcendent one many projected him to be when he signed as a 16-year-old. Peraza and Cabrera have both seen their stock drop over the past 365, but they have more than enough runway to still bounce back and contribute in the big leagues.

Jones, a long-limbed, 6-foot-6 outfielder who reached Double-A last season, is a true wild card. If you like him and his elite exit velocity numbers, you think he’s a lefty-hitting Aaron Judge. If you don’t like him and his red-flag K rates, you think he smells a bit too much like Steven Moya. Jones and his supersonic ceiling were a big reason the Yanks didn’t end up with Dylan Cease, as GM Brian Cashman declined to include Jones in any trade package.

But this organization, at least developmentally, is all about pitching. The Yankees have proven themselves adept at getting the most out of their young arms, many of whom have been shipped off in trades for established talent. And even though Cashman traded Michael King, Drew Thorpe, Randy Vazquez and Jhony Brito to get Soto, the Yanks held on to Warren, Hampton and Beeter, all of whom should contribute this year. — J.M.

[Read more: AL East preview: What’s in store for the Yankees, Rays, Jays, O's and Red Sox in 2024?]

13. St. Louis Cardinals (total score: 16)

While a rib injury will delay the start of Nootbaar's season, this is still an incredible collection of 26-and-under position players to have in a projected starting lineup for a team expecting to contend for a postseason spot. It helps to have veterans Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt as anchors, sure, but the Cardinals have quietly brought along an awfully impressive group of young bats to support the established corner infielders and what is now a hilariously old pitching staff.

Walker and Gorman each have stupendous raw power. Gorman — or, as I like to call him, Gen Z Dan Uggla — has tapped into it more consistently thus far, but Walker is still one of the youngest players in the big leagues, and he showed an improved ability to elevate the ball as his rookie season went on. When healthy, Nootbaar is an OBP machine who can play a capable center field — a tremendously valuable player. Winn has terrific tools as a rocket-armed shortstop with easy plus speed; we’ll see how much he can actually hit. All in all, we view this as one of the strongest young offensive cores in baseball, and the Cardinals’ score reflects that.

While the lack of MLB-ready arms limited St. Louis’ ability to climb these rankings any further, there’s a decent amount of depth in the upper levels of the system that could develop into viable options sooner rather than later. The Rangers obviously don’t regret trading prospects for Jordan Montgomery, but Roby is looking like a big-time get for the Cardinals, not to mention Saggese, whose bat would be getting much more hype in an organization that didn’t already feature such a crowded infield picture.

Finally, if you aren’t yet familiar with the name Victor Scott II, now’s a good time to change that. It’s not just that he’s one of the fastest players in organized baseball; it also looks like he’s going to hit enough for that to matter in a very real way. Scott’s preposterous stolen base total (94!!!) across High-A and Double-A last season was possible only because of how consistently he was able to reach base with his slash-and-dash style. It’s unclear when center field will open up for him in St. Louis, but whenever he arrives, he could become a must-watch in a hurry. — J.S.

12. Boston Red Sox (total score: 16)

For as bad as the vibes have been in Boston over the past calendar year, and even with the challenges that lie ahead in the unforgiving AL East, there’s a lot to like about the foundation of this roster, particularly on the offensive side. Casas was one of the most productive hitters in baseball in the second half last year and might just be his generation’s Joey Votto. That’s a pretty good guy to build a lineup around, especially when said lineup has Rafael Devers secured for the long haul.

Duran quietly broke out amid Boston’s slog of a season, though it’s unclear if he profiles best as Boston’s go-to leadoff guy or more of a down-lineup spark plug. While Grissom will start the year on the injured list due to a strained groin, it’s no secret how highly the Red Sox think of him after he was the lone player acquired for Chris Sale. Finally, that Boston was able to add both Valdez and Abreu in the 2022 Christian Vazquez trade could prove to be one of Chaim Bloom’s niftier moves — even if he’s no longer around to see the players develop.

On the farm, Mayer, Anthony and Teel represent one of the strongest trios of hitting prospects in baseball, at three up-the-middle positions no less. Teel’s development will be especially crucial this season, considering how weak the Red Sox currently are behind the plate. Anthony finished 2023 with more buzz than Mayer, but both possess All-Star ceilings if it all clicks.

The recent extension of Bello is a massive organizational win after several years of struggling to develop homegrown pitchers, but the Sox will need a lot more than Bello if they want to compete in the AL East again anytime soon. While new GM Craig Breslow made a handful of smaller moves to bolster the pitching depth this winter, there’s a whole lot more work to do before this pitching staff resembles that of a true contender. — J.S.

How high is Royce Lewis' ceiling with the Twins if he can stay healthy? (Gregory Hodge/Yahoo Sports)
How high is Royce Lewis' ceiling with the Twins if he can stay healthy? (Gregory Hodge/Yahoo Sports) (Gregory Hodge/Yahoo Sports)

11. Minnesota Twins (total score: 16)

  • Young MLB hitters (6/10): 3B Royce Lewis, 2B Eduoard Julien, 1B Alex Kiriloff, OF Matt Wallner

  • Young MLB pitchers (5/10): RHP Jhoan Duran, RHP Louie Varland

  • Prospect hitters (3/5): INF Brooks Lee, INF/OF Austin Martin, OF Emmanuel Rodriguez

  • Prospect pitchers (2/5): RHP Simeon Woods Richardson, RHP Matt Canterino, RHP David Festa, RHP Marco Raya

The top three rookie hitters in 2023 by wRC+ were all Twins: Lewis, Wallner and Julien. That’s not a bad place to start. Lewis, the 2018 No. 1 overall draft pick, was particularly instrumental in ending Minnesota’s historic, 18-game playoff losing streak, as he ripped two homers against the Blue Jays in Game 1 of the wild-card round. After battling through two ACL tears, his ascension on the sport’s biggest stage was an incredibly gratifying moment. And now, with those injuries in the past and multiple All-Star games in his future, Lewis is set to join Byron Buxton, Pablo Lopez and Carlos Correa as the faces of the Twins.

Wallner was superb in 254 plate appearances in 2023, but he probably needs to up his contact rate to let his massive raw juice play. Julien, at least at the plate, is more of a sure thing, but he lacks an obvious defensive home. Where the Quebec native ends up positionally, be it second base, a corner outfield spot or DH, will also determine where top hitting prospect Brooks Lee slots in whenever he gets the call. Lee was a college shortstop who has slid down the defensive spectrum a bit since he was picked in 2022, but he remains projected as an every-day hitter.

Minnesota is similarly sturdy on the mound. Duran is a top-five closer in MLB whose fastball averaged 102 mph last season. The 26-year-old is one of the few relievers you can count on year after year after year. And Varland is an under-the-radar pick to click as a late-blooming 15th-rounder who looks like a competent back-end starter. Woods Richardson, Canterino and Festa will all contribute as depth starters who could tick up if moved to the bullpen. Granted, it’s not an overwhelming assortment of young arms, but this coaching staff has been very good at getting the most out of pitchers recently. — J.M.