Baseball, Sports

Fair or Foul: The 2021 Under-23 Opening Day Lineup

Opening day of the 2021 MLB season is less than two weeks away. It is truly unbelievable that one year after COVID-19 kicked in, the baseball world would be on track to start a full 162-game season right on time April 1. 

What is equally amazing is that senior veteran players such as Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, Adam Wainwright and more are still suiting up every game for their teams. But this time, we will look at the very best on the other end of the age spectrum: the youngest of the young across the league. Let’s take a look at the starting lineup, plus a starting pitcher and relief pitcher, of players age of 23 or younger.

Some of these players may not necessarily be in the majors when April arrives, but the goal of this lineup is to highlight the very best of the young players in the game.

Catcher: Luis Campusano (22, San Diego Padres)

This position is usually lacking in depth both in the majors and on the top prospects list. However, Campusano certainly presents with the biggest upside of any of the rising stars at his position. Aside from being built like a tank at 5”11 and 232 pounds, his arm strength is scouted above average and his hitting improved in each minor league season before reaching the majors in 2020.

First Baseman: Andrew Vaughn (22, Chicago White Sox)

Vaughn is only 22 until April 3, but he still qualifies for this team. He was just drafted in 2019, and he already scouts to rake like former White Sox slugger Paul Konerko. While he does not run well, he does not need to — his hitting and power are already rated at 65 and 60, respectively. Having only played one minor league season, this is incredibly impressive.

Second Baseman: Gavin Lux (23, Los Angeles Dodgers)

Here we have the first of a few players to already have a decent amount of major league experience: Lux appeared in 23 games in 2019, and then 19 in 2020. His hitting has yet to take off while his fielding continues to look great. As soon as his bat and his glove are at the same level, the Dodgers’ wealth of talent will grow to even newer heights.

Shortstop: Fernando Tatís (22, San Diego Padres)

The first three positions may have been filled by prospects, but that is by no means the rule. Tatís may only have 143 games under his belt, but the 154 OPS+, .582 slugging percentage and 39 home runs he’s earned prove he may be worth the $340 million he is set to start making. He is the face of the franchise, and this is unlikely to change.

Third Baseman: Spencer Torkelson (21, Detroit Tigers)

We now move from the players with one of lengthier resumes to one who has not played a single game in professional baseball. The No. 1 pick from the 2020 draft never batted under .320 or slugged under .700 in his three seasons at Arizona State University. Torkelson will likely need at least all of 2021 to prove himself in the minors. But if that goes well, he will get his ticket to the majors punched very quickly.

Outfielder: Jarred Kelenic (21, Seattle Mariners)

Kelenic may be the most balanced prospect in the league, and thus presents with the highest upside when he comes to the league. But we know that will not be on Opening Day 2021, thanks to team president and CEO Kevin Mather leaking such info to a rotary club. Nevertheless, Kelenic has above average hitting for contact and power, along with baserunning and fielding.

Outfielder: Julio Rodriguez (20, Seattle Mariners)

The Mariners take up two-thirds of this outfield with another highly touted prospect. Rodriguez does not run or field like Kelenic, but he sure does hit like him. Rodriguez is hopefully just one year behind his teammate in development, but that means Seattle’s 2022 outfield may be him, Kelenic and Kyle Lewis.

Outfielder: Juan Soto (22, Washington Nationals)

While this lineup will feature a designated hitter, coming up next, the group of position players could only be rounded out with the best hitter in the league. With more than 300 games played, a .972 OPS and almost as many walks as strikeouts, this generation’s Ted Williams continues to prove he deserves such a moniker.

DH: Wander Franco (20, Shortstop, Tampa Bay Rays)

I needed a DH for this team because Franco could not be left out — he has Tatis to thank for that. He is scouted at 80 for hitting, the elite level and highest possible rating, along with having above average power, fielding and baserunning. I would love to swap him with Torkelson, but for positional needs, Franco makes the team as the DH.

Starting Pitcher: Sixto Sánchez (22, RHP, Miami Marlins)

Miami’s rotation is very young, and Sánchez is the clear leader of that core. While the baseball world needs to see a full season of starts and innings from him, his triple-digit fastball, mixed with his slider and changeup, makes for a lethal repertoire. If Miami’s hitting prospects follow suit, Sánchez will lead his team back to contention.

Relief Pitcher: Garrett Crochet (21, LHP, Chicago White Sox)

In 2020, Crochet joined an exclusive list of players to make the majors with little to no professional experience. While he will probably not be closing games in 2021 thanks to the signing of Liam Hendriks, Crochet can become a lethal eighth-inning man. His fastball touches 102 mph, and he has three pitches to complement it. Any hitter who faces him should be terrified.

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