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Sunday, April 11, 2010
Top 25 players under 25: part one (No. 21-25)

By John Parolin and Derek Czenczelewski, ESPN Stats & Info

Starting today we are going to start unveiling our top 25 players in the majors under the age of 25.

The criteria to make the list:

- Must be under 25 years old on Opening Day 2010.
- Must have MLB experience.
- MLB results matter more than projected future stats or “talent” level. (If we were doing a list based on potential, Jason Heyward, Carlos Santana, Buster Posey and Austin Jackson etc. would be on this list).
- Our 25-man "team" must carry ordinary MLB requirements (two catchers, all positions and DH covered plus a bench and 12 pitchers).

We'll unveil the bottom 5 today and work our way up the next 4 days.

25. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, TEX, 24
2009: .233 BA, .290 OBP, 9 HR in 84 games.
-In danger of earning the dreaded lifetime prospect distinction, “Salty” should start behind the plate for the Rangers this season. His tools can’t be ignored, and legitimate power-hitting catchers are not easy to find. But legitimate power-hitting catchers do not have a .180 WHAvg, .371 SLG% nor an OPS of .661, and his 33% chase percentage and 31% K% do not help his case either. But every team needs two catchers, and this one is no different. A strong season from Saltalamacchia could do well to justify his spot on this list; otherwise, he’s a mere placeholder for the likes of Carlos Santana or Buster Posey in 2011.

24. Elvis Andrus, TEX, 21
2009: .267 BA, .329 OBP, .702 OPS, 33 SB
-Of the top 14 stolen base leaders in the American League last year, only Ian Kinsler (.327) and B.J. Upton (.313) had worse OBP numbers then Andrus. In a Texas system that should produce some top notch offensive talent in the next couple years (ESPN’s Keith Law ranked the Rangers’ organization as the number one farm system in baseball), Andrus can improve his runs scored and stolen base totals significantly if he can make better contact in the zone (.662 OPS on pitches in strike zone last year) and work some walks with a little more frequency (7.4% BB% in 2009). With Julio Borbon at the top of the order, there won’t be too much pressure on Andrus to produce offensively, particularly given his ability with the leather.

23. Asdrubal Cabrera, CLE,
2009: .308 BA, 68 RBI, 81 runs, 17 SB, .799 OPS
- Cleveland’s switch-hitting shortstop took some solid steps forward in 2009, but was still vulnerable against breaking pitches from both sides of the plate. Cabrera hit .125 on 198 curves and sliders on the inside part of the plate last season. Pitchers needed to work the inner third effectively, because Cabrera hit .333 on the outer third. However, even with the 49-point average jump from 2008, Cabrera’s OBP only saw a 15-point spike, and his walks percentage (7.6%) is still well behind the league average of 8.9%. However, he can get away with it at times because he’s so hard to finish off. Cabrera only strikes out in 31% of 2 strike at-bats, missing 17% of swings with 2 strikes, and won’t help pitchers early, chasing only 15% of pitches in non-2 strike counts. Those numbers will almost certainly help him improve on his walks percentage in 2010, showing why he’s a very viable option to lead off the Cleveland order.

22. Daniel Bard, BOS, 24
2009: 3.65 ERA, 63 strikeouts in 49.1 IP
- While Bard’s ERA might not impress you for a reliever, the 3:1 K/BB ratio certainly will. Daniel’s 100MPH fastball coupled with a crafty slider allowed him to effectively work out of jams, keeping 76% of inherited runners from scoring. 52 percent of Bard’s innings were completed in 1-2-3 fashion, and 22 percent of his outs recorded came via a 4-pitch or fewer strikeout.

21. Neftali Feliz, TEX, 21
2009: 1.74 ERA, 39 strikeouts and 8 walks in 31.0 IP
- Feliz had a tremendous, but brief stint in the majors this past season. In 20 appearances, Feliz held opposing batters to a .124 batting average. Feliz turned 2-strike at-bats into outs 89 percent of the time (league avg. = 72 percent). With a WHIP of .677 and a K/BB ratio of nearly 5:1, Feliz represents the Rangers as their closer of the future, and perhaps present.

Check back tomorrow for players 16-20.