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MLB 26-and-under power rankings, Nos. 25-21: Mets' lack of pitching holding them back; Marlins' young arms keeping them afloat

The Marlins, Blue Jays, Phillies, Giants and Mets make up the second-to-last tier of 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 fifth tier of teams: Nos. 21-25.

Full rankings: Nos. 30-26. Nos. 20-16. Nos. 15-11. Nos. 10-6. Nos. 5-1.

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25. New York Mets (total score: 12/30)

  • Young MLB hitters (5/10): C Francisco Álvarez, 3B Brett Baty, OF Mark Vientos, SS Ronny Mauricio

  • Young MLB pitchers (1/10): RHP Jose Butto, RHP Grant Hartwig

  • Prospect hitters (3/5): SS/OF Jett Williams, SS Luisangel Acuña, OF Drew Gilbert, OF Ryan Clifford, C Kevin Parada

  • Prospect pitchers (3/5): RHP Christian Scott, RHP Blade Tidwell, RHP Dom Hamel, RHP Mike Vasil

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Francisco Álvarez is going to be a monster. The 22-year-old catcher smacked 25 homers as a rookie last season, the most bombs by a first-year backstop since 2012. His framing metrics were phenomenal, and while his overall offensive game needs maturing, Álvarez looks like a true franchise catcher, and those are tough to find.

We’re a smidge low on the Baty/Vientos/Mauricio trio, though that’s probably unfair to Mauricio, who will miss the entire season after tearing his ACL in the Dominican Winter League. Vientos and Baty both hit the baseball with force, but they swing too often through pitches in the strike zone. This is a key season for that duo, which needs to prove it belongs on the next great Mets team.

Overall, 2023 was a good year for the Mets’ farm system, even beyond the obvious injection of talent from the Mets’ mini trade-deadline sell-off that netted Gilbert, Clifford and Acuña. Players such as Christian Scott, Dom Hamel and Jett Williams took significant, encouraging steps forward. Williams is a particularly fascinating prospect. Listed at 5-foot-6 and built like a Smart Car with biceps, he’s a cross between Jose Altuve and Tyler O’Neill who has above-average raw juice and an advanced approach. He started seeing some time at center field in 2023, in addition to his natural shortstop position.

Ultimately, though, while the Mets’ minor-league system is trending in the right direction, the uncertainty about the non-Alvarez young big-league hitters and the dearth of viable options on the mound currently at or even near the big-league level are holding the organization back from placing any higher in these rankings. — J.M.

24. San Francisco Giants (total score: 13/30)

While much has been made (rightfully) about San Francisco’s struggle to reel in the big fish in free agency, the organization’s bigger issue since the absurdity that was the 107-win 2021 campaign has been a failure to draft and develop enough reliable players to support the veteran core, especially on the hitting side. Bailey headlines a wave of position-playing youngsters who arrived in 2023 and have shown flashes of big-league quality but carry the same primary question: Can they actually hit?

And while Bailey’s reputation as a tremendous defensive catcher ensures a high floor for him moving forward, regardless of how his bat progresses, it’s harder to feel as confident about Luciano, Schmitt and Matos, each of whom carries various red flags regarding his viability as an every-day player moving forward. There’s also a trio of teenagers (1B/OF Bryce Eldridge, SS Walker Martin, OF Rayner Arias) with star-level upside in the lower levels of this system, but they are simply too far away to put much stock into just yet.

And then there’s Lee, who, along with Dodgers right-hander Yoshinobu Yamamoto, represents a fascinating outlier within this entire 26-and-under exercise. Like Yamamoto, Lee is entering his age-25 season — he’s less than a year older than Bailey, for context — but he arrives in MLB with an exceptional track record in a foreign professional league and a massive contract already signed. The hype surrounding a free agent of this magnitude is similar to that of a top prospect, but with far greater expectations due to his nearly $19 million average annual value. We’ll see how quickly Lee’s offensive skill set translates to MLB, but even if he charts a gradual progression similar to that of his former Kiwoom Heroes teammate Ha-Seong Kim, Lee too can become one of MLB’s most well-rounded players in short order. I’m bullish on him in the long haul, but he’s still something of a mystery box in terms of his overall impact as a major-leaguer.

There’s much more to be excited — and sure — about on the mound. Doval is one of the best closers in the National League, and he might still be getting better. Harrison could make a sneaky run at NL Rookie of the Year as arguably baseball’s best left-handed pitching prospect whose spot in the Giants rotation was secure the moment he arrived in camp. Winn has dealt with some elbow issues this spring, but if he’s healthy, his tremendous splitter could headline a sturdy mid-rotation profile. Black is the latest in a long line of San Francisco sinker-ballers who has emerged this spring as a real contender to crack the Opening Day rotation.

Beyond that group, recent top picks Carson Whisenhunt and Reggie Crawford are tracking as potential impact left-handers (roles TBD), while later-round sleepers Hayden Birdsong and Landen Roupp might also contribute in San Francisco sooner rather than later. While I think San Francisco should’ve pursued starting pitching more aggressively this winter if they truly want to compete, I understand the Giants’ inclination to ride with what looks like a solid foundation of young arms (health permitting). — J.S.

23. Philadelphia Phillies (total score: 13/30)

The Phillies’ recent run of success has been fueled by an active and aggressive presence in free agency, but that strategy has been supplemented by a wave of controllable young players under 30 such as Stott, Marsh, Rojas, Alec Bohm, Ranger Suarez and Cristopher Sanchez. For all of Philly’s financial might, having a third of your lineup — Stott at 2B, Marsh in LF and Rojas in CF — age 26 or under is solid footing, especially when all three players might still have untapped potential. Stott, in particular, has become an integral part of this Phillies core, providing high contact rates and phenomenal infield defense. If he starts driving the ball more, he’s an All-Star.

Kerkering was a revelation last season, rocketing up four levels of the minors before an MLB debut in September and a spot on the playoff roster. Relievers are volatile, but Kerkering’s truly elite slider gives him a phenomenal floor if he stays healthy. While there aren’t any other 26-and-under arms on the MLB roster right now, the Painter/Abel/McGarry trio remains promising even after a sticky 2023. Painter will miss all of this season while rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, but he looked like the best pitching prospect in the world the last time he took a mound. Abel inched up the MiLB ladder last season and projects to be a reliable mid-rotation starter whenever he debuts (likely sometime this season). And McGarry’s control abandoned him in '23, but he still has legit stuff that should play in a big-league bullpen.

Even though Philadelphia’s system is quite thin, that has more to do with (1) recent trades to acquire big-league talent and (2) not having a second-round pick in 2019, 2020 or 2022 than it does organizational incompetence. This entire franchise is in a much healthier spot than it was a few years ago, even beyond the recent MLB success. — J.M.

The Marlins, Blue Jays, Phillies, Giants and Mets make up the second-to-last tier of this year's 26-and-under power rankings. (Mallory Bielecki/Yahoo Sports)

22. Toronto Blue Jays (total score: 14/30)

  • Young MLB hitters (7/10): 1B Vladimir Guerrero Jr., SS Bo Bichette, C Alejandro Kirk, 2B Davis Schneider

  • Young MLB pitchers (2/10): RHP Alek Manoah

  • Prospect hitters (2/5): SS Orelvis Martinez, INF Spencer Horwitz, SS Addison Barger, SS Leo Jimenez, OF Alan Roden, OF Damiano Palmegiani

  • Prospect pitchers (3/5): LHP Ricky Tiedemann, RHP Yosver Zulueta, RHP Connor Cooke, RHP Hagen Danner

The Blue Jays were one of the most challenging teams to evaluate in this exercise. Bichette and Guerrero were the epitome of what you'd want a young core of a lineup to look like, but we blinked, and suddenly, the co-faces of the franchise are both just two years from free agency. We still strongly believe in their respective talents and would love to see Vlad Jr. return to MVP-caliber form, but we didn’t want to overrate the duo too much when neither is coming off his best season and their long-term future in Toronto is uncertain relative to many of the other 26-and-under superstars in the game. Kirk’s substantial regression following his breakout in 2022 also dampened our enthusiasm for this group of young big-league bats. That said, if Schneider sustains his Babe Ruth-esque production from 2023 over a full season, our optimism would be restored in a hurry.

And what in the world are we supposed to make of Manoah? Going into 2023, we were discussing him as someone who would be fronting Toronto’s rotation for years to come. It’d be harder to fall farther off-track than he did over the course of last summer, and now he’s dealing with shoulder trouble this spring. We don’t want to discount his talent too harshly, but considering that he’s the only 26-and-under arm currently projected to be on the Opening Day roster — and that might be on the injured list — it’s awfully hard to give Toronto even an average score in the young MLB pitching category.

Reinforcements are on the way, though. Tiedemann is one of baseball’s best left-handed pitching prospects, one who isn’t too dissimilar from Kyle Harrison, but a deeper depth chart ahead of him than what Harrison faces makes it less clear when we’ll see him in the big-league rotation. Zulueta, Cooke and Danner are all hard-throwing right-handers who could develop into valuable bullpen weapons for manager John Schneider.

On the offensive side, he’s not quite a Tiedemann equivalent, but the 22-year-old Martinez has a big year ahead of him after launching 28 home runs across Double-A and Triple-A in 2023. As the Blue Jays look ahead to a potentially Bichette-less future, Martinez’s development as a future impact infield slugger will be a vital one to monitor. — J.S.

21. Miami Marlins (total score: 14/30)

Miami has one of the more lopsided collections of young players, and that has been true for a while now. The Fightin’ Fish are simply teeming with talent on the mound, headlined by a genuine phenom in Perez, who will still be eligible for these 26-and-under rankings in 2029, and an ascendent Luzardo, who looked like one of baseball’s best southpaws in the second half last year.

This embarrassment of pitching riches is not just impressive on its own; it’s also necessary considering the natural attrition that takes place among young hurlers — the kind we’ve already seen this spring with injury interruptions to Cabrera and Garrett, each of whom was coming off a promising campaign. The Marlins have consistently acquired and developed impact pitching talent through every possible avenue — trades, the draft, the international free-agent market — and their success in this space helped power a surprise run to the 2023 postseason. It also gives Miami hope for continued relevance in the loaded NL East.

As for the hitters? Miami has roughly the exact opposite track record. It has been a downright disaster run of top draft picks and high-profile international signings on the offensive side, and the Marlins have generally failed to develop sleeper contributors from within. This has left the front office to instead trade for players such as Chisholm, Sanchez and Brujan, guys who were big-league ready at the time of acquisition. Unfortunately, we’ve seen inconsistent flashes of evidence that Chisholm and Sanchez can indeed be reliable, every-day players, with Chisholm struggling to stay healthy and Sanchez looking roughly hopeless against left-handed pitching. Each still possesses explosive natural ability, but it’s hard to give Miami the benefit of the doubt when it comes to getting the most out of their bats, so we’ll remain skeptical for now.

While having so many talented, young pitchers at nearly every level of the organization unquestionably makes the Marlins stand out in a meaningful way, that’s also far more volatile than boasting a bevy of high-caliber hitters. In turn, organizations with more hitter-heavy groups tended to score better overall, as you’ll see in the remainder of these rankings. — J.S.