These days, kids rule the baseball roost.
For a second consecutive season, youngsters have dominated the fantasy baseball landscape. A quick glance at our Player Rater shows that five of the top 18 players are under the age of 25, significant in that the popular belief is that a player's prime tends to reside somewhere between the ages of 25 and 30. But many of these youngsters are not only scoring high spots on our Player Rater, they're actually performing at all-time-best levels. To wit:
• Mike Trout, who turns 22 years old on Aug. 7, will almost assuredly on that day become the first player in history to manage a .300 batting average with at least 50 career home runs and 50 stolen bases by his 22nd birthday.
• Yasiel Puig, 22, registered the second-most hits (44) of any player in his first calendar month in the majors, behind only Joe DiMaggio's 48 (May 1936).
• Manny Machado, who turned 21 on July 6, is on pace for 66 doubles, one shy of the single-season major league record set by Earl Webb in 1931.
• Matt Harvey, 24, this season became the first pitcher in the past 100 years to register at least 125 strikeouts with 25 or fewer earned runs in his first 17 career starts (that through May 7). Today, he has a 2.47 ERA and 0.99 WHIP and 10.32 strikeouts per nine innings ratio through 29 career starts.
Yes, this proves that the future truly is now, and in this space, that is literally true. As you might know, each summer, I pick an annual "All-20XX Team," which predicts the fantasy leaderboard four seasons from the current year. Today, we're turning the clock forward to 2017, picking that season's biggest fantasy stars.
This can be an inexact science. After all, past teams have selected Rocco Baldelli (2004, on the "All-2007 Team"), Scott Kazmir (2008, on the "All-2012 Team") and Tommy Hanson (2010, on the "All-2014 Team"). In my defense, had the crystal ball I ordered not gotten lost in the mail, I'd have gotten those picks correct.
Right or wrong, though, there's always a purpose to this long-term forecasting game: It's to help fantasy owners in keeper/dynasty leagues make critical roster decisions. There are so many ways one can approach predicting the future; this one helps isolate players with the highest long-term ceilings, whereas I'll have an updated midseason top 250 keepers later in the week to help those merely seeking the most consistent long-range investments.
Past All-20XX Teams
So now, let's predict the future, picking ourselves an "All-2017 Team." Use it the way I just described, or use it simply to debate the picks and point out how terribly, terribly wrong I'll be on many of them. As always, it's all good.
Just as with past editions, the "All-2017 Team" follows these guidelines:
• A full, 23-man, old-school Rotisserie roster must be selected: That means two catchers; one apiece at first base, second base, third base and shortstop; one corner infielder and one middle infielder (these selections are listed at their primary positions); five outfielders; a designated hitter (for this team, he must be an actual DH); and nine pitchers, broken down as seven starters and two closers. The 7/2 split is a new wrinkle this year; the volatility of the closer position dictates more emphasis on starters.
• Players are listed only at the position I believe they'll be playing in 2017. For example, I project Miguel Cabrera to be the Tigers DH by 2017, so that is the position at which I considered him.
• Players are picked based only upon how much fantasy value I believe they will have in the 2017 season and the 2017 season alone. This is by design, as it isolates players with the highest long-term ceilings. For those seeking players projected with the greatest overall value the next four seasons combined, I'll have a midseason dynasty top 250 out later this week as a partner resource.
• Only fantasy potential is considered. That means defense is irrelevant, outside of its impact on team decisions on player positions and playing time.
Now, presenting the "All-2017 Team," with players' ages as of April 1, 2017, in parentheses:
Catchers: Buster Posey (30) and Gary Sanchez (24)
At 30, Posey is the second-oldest hitter on the team, but bear in mind that the Nos. 2 and 3 catchers on our Player Rater, Yadier Molina and Joe Mauer, are … da-da-da-DAAAAA! … currently 30 years old. Look at Posey's statistics in the San Francisco Giants' past 162 regular-season games:
.342/.415/.569 rates, .416 wOBA, 25 HR, 103 RBI, 10.9 BB%, 13.2 K%
Four catchers in history managed at least a .330 batting average, 25 home runs and .400 wOBA in a season at the age of 26 or younger: Mike Piazza from 1995 to '97, Gabby Hartnett in 1930, Ivan Rodriguez in 2000 and Joe Mauer in 2009. At 30, Hartnett was the only one who had reached the down slope of his career, though it should be noted that his age-29 season was his best single year. That history of all-time great hitting catchers sustaining a high level of production into their age-30 seasons bodes well for Posey.
Sanchez's inclusion represents one of the closest calls on the team; Salvador Perez is awfully close. But the reason for Sanchez is this: His power potential might be the best of any catcher's under the age of 25, and he'll graduate to a ballpark (Yankee Stadium) that plays well for power. Anyone care to guess how long it has been since a catcher hit 30 home runs with 100 RBIs? The answer: Ten years, and in 2017, I predict Sanchez will snap what might by then be a 14-year drought.
Best of the rest
Salvador Perez (26): A .300-capable perennial hitter, will he become a 15- or 25-homer guy? The answer could earn him a swap with Sanchez.
Travis d'Arnaud (28): He'll hit, but the injuries are becoming a concern.
Matt Wieters (30): If not Sanchez, Wieters would be my 30-homer pick for 2017.
Mike Zunino (26): Perhaps vastly underrating hit-for-average, hit-for-power skills.
The sleeper: Tom Murphy (25). He's raking for Class A Asheville, batting .316/.410/.649, and has considerable power but is a bit of a free swinger. Still, that sounds a bit like the man ahead of him with the Colorado Rockies, Wilin Rosario, doesn't it?
Notable exclusion: Carlos Santana (30). He's as good a 30-homer, 100-RBI prospect as anyone currently at the position, but I've got him playing first base by the time he's 30 years old.
First Baseman: Eric Hosmer (27)
Let's go out on a limb, shall we? First base has historically been an easy position to fill, so when I'm forecasting the distant future at the position, what I want is a consistent, all-around fantasy force. I want the kind of player that Joey Votto was during his age-26 season of 2011, when he was the No. 4 man on our Player Rater. Hosmer has that kind of future potential … even if his present lacks luster. He profiles a high-average, decent-power, balanced-split, smart-on-the-base-paths player, or very much the kind of player who could enjoy a Votto-esque prime: That's a .300 batting average, 25-30 home runs, 12 stolen bases. To me, there is no clear No. 1 guy at first base; you could make the case for several. But I'm taking Hosmer, in large part because I think it provides his dynasty-league owners the most valuable, and least obvious, analysis.
Best of the rest
Paul Goldschmidt (29): I think he's a .280-35 annual hitter. But will he continue to run like he has in 2012-13? That's the key to his long-term future.
Chris Davis (31): The power is legit. But will the average begin to fade by 2017?
Prince Fielder (32): It's all a question of how his considerable frame holds up.
The sleeper: Freddie Freeman (27). I was sorely tempted to pick Freeman for the team, partly because by 2017, he should hit for a higher average than any of my "Best of the rest," and for as much power as Hosmer. But a quick look at him and nothing practically screams "MVP candidate." Then again, he's young, so he has time to take that next step.
Notable exclusion: Joey Votto (33). Injuries cost him nearly 50 team games in 2012, and 21 in 2009, and he hasn't hit for quite the power or shown the aggressiveness on the basepaths this year that he did as a 26-year-old. And four years is quite a bit of time for a player trending even slightly downward.
Second baseman: Jason Kipnis (29)
Two seasons' time has shown us that Kipnis possesses one of the best power-speed combinations of any second baseman; he has averaged 20 home runs and 34 stolen bases per 162 games played in the big leagues. Scouts also hinted he might develop more power in time, a forecast that seems fair if you consider that he has increased his fly-ball-plus-ground-ball rate (56.1 percent) by almost 5 percent this season. At a position traditionally thin in fantasy talent, Kipnis is a smart long-term investment, if only because he's the best bet for a 25/25 prime year of the bunch.
Best of the rest
Robinson Cano (34): With his swing, he could still be a .290-20 minimum hitter at 34. It'd help if we knew he'd stay in Yankee Stadium beyond 2013.
Jedd Gyorko (28): He's an underrated hitter who will be in his prime, but if he shifts to third base, he might have a hard time ever cracking the top five.
Delino DeShields Jr. (24): This spot could just as easily have gone to Jose Altuve (26), and by late 2015, the Houston Astros might be faced with that decision themselves.
The sleeper: Nick Franklin (26). He fits the definition of "sleeper" much less today than he did two months ago, but this pick is mostly about a player who has never gotten enough press for his 25/25 raw ability. He might always be streaky due to his high-strikeout ways, but his are at least not as extreme as, say, Danny Espinosa's. I buy Franklin's power/speed combo.
Notable exclusion: Dustin Pedroia (33) and Ian Kinsler (34). Kinsler has already shown a drop-off in stolen-base production in this, his age-31 season, and I fear that Pedroia might exhibit a similar trend in 2014. By 33-34, neither might be much more than a 10-steal guy, and if true, that's enough to make them somewhat less attractive in fantasy than the younger guys listed above.
Third basemen: Manny Machado (24) and Miguel Sano (23)
In addition to the doubles, Machado is on pace for 334 total bases, putting him on track to join an exclusive club of eight players who managed at least 300 at the age of 20. Five of those eight (Mel Ott, Ted Williams, Al Kaline, Frank Robinson and Orlando Cepeda) are in the Hall of Fame, a sixth has numbers that would normally assure induction (Alex Rodriguez) and a seventh is Mike Trout. That group averaged .325/.402/.569 triple-slash rates, 31 home runs and 108 RBIs at 20; they averaged .307/.381/.535, 30 and 105 at 24 (bearing in mind that Williams was serving in the military at 24 and Trout isn't yet 24). There's no doubting Machado's offense, and he's one of the game's five best defenders already. Argue all you want that he should return to shortstop once J.J. Hardy's contract expires after next season. I'd argue that the Orioles might prefer the status quo and could re-sign Hardy and still have a rock-solid infield left side come 2017.
As for Sano, few minor league prospects possess as much raw power as him, as he has averaged one home run per 14.5 at-bats with .300 isolated power since the beginning of 2011. Target Field plays well for right-handed power, and Sano could easily be a contender for the home run crown by 2017.
Best of the rest
Pedro Alvarez (30): I think he'll hit 150 homers between today and the end of 2017. He's a legit perennial contender for the home run crown.
Evan Longoria (31): This is an injury-history hedge, smart with a 31-year-old.
David Wright (34): Could still be a .290-20 hitter and smart enough to swipe 15.
The sleeper: Joey Gallo (23). I love this kid's raw power -- he has 26 home runs in 311 at-bats for Class A Hickory this season and .344 isolated power since being a 2012 supplemental first-rounder for the Texas Rangers -- but there's a huge difference between Class A and major league success. He's one to watch.
Notable exclusion: Brett Lawrie (27). A common misstep fantasy owners make while reading prospect lists is to overlook that defensive grades usually weigh in the rankings; Lawrie is a good such example. He's a player whose glove is so good, his reputation gets unjustly propped up, but the relevant fantasy analysis is that he's a .290, 25/15 potential prime-age player. And he's an all-out-effort performer with a checkered injury history at a young age.
Shortstops: Jurickson Profar (24) and Jean Segura (27)
The phrase "five-tool talent" gets thrown around a lot, but with Profar the label is apt. During his minor league career, he has averaged 16 home runs and 25 stolen bases per 162 games played, and his 11.7 percent walk and 83.8 percent contact rates say he's much more likely to develop into a .300 hitter during his prime than the .276 he hit in the minors. He's a slick defender with a good arm who's more than capable of playing shortstop daily -- be it for the Texas Rangers or another team -- and he has as high a ceiling as anyone in the game.
Segura is perhaps the most stable bet for annual .300 batting averages with 50-steal potential of anyone up the middle, and with what he has shown us this season, an ability to locate and drive his pitch, a 15-homer expectation isn't unrealistic. Putting him on the team runs the risk that he reverts to the player who averaged only 75 games played in the minors from 2009 to '11 -- a broken ankle and finger cost him time in 2009, a torn hamstring shelved him in 2011 -- but Segura has shown such an ability as a professional to quickly adapt, I'd hardly doubt him.
Best of the rest
Troy Tulowitzki (32): Again, health is the concern. He has appeared in 73.5 percent of the Rockies' scheduled games since his 2006 debut.
Xander Bogaerts (24): The Boston Red Sox just keep developing stud-caliber fantasy shortstops (Nomar Garciaparra, Hanley Ramirez …).
Starlin Castro (27): Age earns him the benefit of the doubt; now's a time to buy.
The sleeper: Carlos Correa (22). You've surely heard the Alex Rodriguez comparisons by now, and it's true that the No. 1 overall pick in 2012 has a massive ceiling. As an 18-year-old, he's hitting .324 with a 13.0 percent walk rate for the Houston Astros' Class A team in Quad Cities.
Notable exclusion: Francisco Lindor (23). Like Lawrie, much of Lindor's prospect appeal is that he's a dazzling defender. Keith Law said in his May top 25 prospects update that Lindor could be the next Elvis Andrus; and why isn't Andrus the "Notable exclusion" here, anyway? It's simple: It's because 30 steals without another elite category just isn't a Player Rater-topper.
Outfielders: Bryce Harper (24), Mike Trout (25), Byron Buxton (23), Giancarlo Stanton (27) and Oscar Taveras (24)
Were MVP forecasts for Harper this season premature? Perhaps, and if you're planning to grasp at straws seeking criticisms of his long-term future, any should start with his all-out play, marginally increasing his prospects of additional DL stints. But let's put all that aside: Harper is a Hall of Fame, 40/20 caliber talent who will be six months shy of his 25th birthday at the dawn of the 2017 season. He's without question, as things stand today, by far the player with the greatest odds of winning the 2017 National League MVP award.
Ah, but will Harper top our 2017 Player Rater? That is the question, and Trout's 25/40 annual potential between now and then makes him an excellent candidate to do so. The odds of these players ranking 1-2 come 2017 are outstanding, and you may feel free to pick 'em, if given the choice. I picked Harper, and it's only for this reason: History shows that players who produce as much as Trout does with the bat at a young age tend to ease off, even if only slightly, on the basepaths at an earlier career stage. Five players -- Cesar Cedeno, Andruw Jones, Vada Pinson, Alex Rodriguez and Darryl Strawberry -- managed at least 100 home runs and stolen bases through their age-24 seasons, and all of them experienced at least a small decline in stolen-base attempts somewhere between their age-23 and age-27 seasons. And if Trout is, say, a 25/30 player come 2017, he'll still be outstanding … but I'll take Harper's outside shot at a 50/30 year.
Speaking of Trout, if there's to be a "next," Buxton's your man. Just 19, Buxton has .333/.418/.533 triple-slash rates and 35 stolen bases between Class A Cedar Rapids and high Class A Fort Myers this season, his .429 wOBA 18th best among minor leaguers with at least 250 plate appearances (Mexican League excluded). Keith Law's No. 2 prospect in his May top 25 prospects update, Buxton should be patrolling center field in Minnesota and producing 20/40 seasons by 2017.
Stanton might be the riskiest pick on the team, if only because at the age of 23, he has already shown us enough of an injury history to warrant long-term concern. He has two DL stints on his résumé, and has missed many other games with various ailments -- knee, shoulder and hamstring problems among them. That said, he's as good a bet to lead the majors in homers in 2017 as anyone, an annual 40-homer threat with upside to 50; he has averaged 39 homers per 162 games played so far. And he's young enough to fix the health track record.
A nagging ankle problem has delayed Taveras' ascent to St. Louis, but there remains little question that he'll hit once he arrives. The man frequently compared to Vladimir Guerrero due to his outstanding plate coverage was a .320/.375/.553 hitter from the start of 2012 through May 12, the day he initially hurt the ankle, between the Double- and Triple-A levels. He'd be a prime pick to win the 2017 National League batting championship.
Best of the rest
Wil Myers (26): Think a right-handed Jay Bruce with more walks; .270-30.
Carlos Gonzalez (31): Will his speed remain by 2017? His contract at least gives him a high probability of still playing half his games at Coors Field.
Andrew McCutchen (30): If he's still stealing 25 in 2017, I've severely underrated him.
Yasiel Puig (26): He's doing this at 22. Imagine what he'll be at 26.
Jason Heyward (27): A mechanical tweak could restore his MVP potential.
Christian Yelich (25): 2013 stats aside, he's a future batting title contender.
Justin Upton (29): Another "age buys him patience" pick, I've nevertheless begun to cool on him.
Jay Bruce (29): Think a left-handed Wil Myers with … well, you get the idea.
Domonic Brown (29): His power has arrived, is legit and might even improve.
Billy Hamilton (26): He's on a 76-steal pace (and remember, Triple-A Louisville's schedule is 144 games), but 76 steals would still dominate fantasy leagues.
The sleeper: Oswaldo Arcia (25). He has a much more powerful bat than people give him credit for; he had .222 isolated power in his minor league career and profiles as a potential 30-homer hitter in his prime. By 2017, the Twins could have a lethal middle-of-the-order trio of Buxton, Sano and Arcia.
Notable exclusion: Ryan Braun (33). This has nothing to do with a potential upcoming suspension; it has to do with his age and the chance he won't still be stealing bases by 33. What if Braun's power dip this year isn't merely a product of his thumb injury but rather the beginning of a slight career decline?
Designated hitter: Miguel Cabrera (33)
No one in baseball possesses both his vision and raw power, and those are skills that are difficult to see having severely declined by 2017, his age-33 campaign. Even if he begins a downward slope, the Detroit Tigers can just shift him to DH more quickly, potentially stalling such a progression. To put Cabrera's career into historical perspective, consider that he'll conclude 2013 as only the 10th player to have managed at least a .300 batting average, 300 home runs and 1,000 RBIs through his age-30 season. Albert Pujols is one of the previous nine, but he's in the midst of his age-33 campaign; the other eight averaged 136 games played .291-29-92 numbers during their age-33 seasons.
Best of the rest: Jesus Montero (27). It's far too soon to write him off for his career, and once the Seattle Mariners make the correct decision of locking him in as their long-term DH, he could thrive. While Montero might never finish with a career on Edgar Martinez's level, he still has an excellent chance of concluding his run as one of the 10 best all time at the position.
Starting pitchers: Clayton Kershaw (29), Jose Fernandez (24), Matt Harvey (28), David Price (31), Stephen Strasburg (28), Julio Teheran (26) and Gerrit Cole (26)
It's testament to how well Kershaw has pitched at such a young age that he'd complete -- not just begin, complete -- the 2017 season just 29 years old. He's on track to be the major league leader in ERA and the National League leader in WHIP for the third consecutive season -- he was second in the majors in WHIP in both 2011 and 2012 -- and despite amassing 86 starts and 606 1/3 innings during that span, those ranking him third and fourth in the majors, his Los Angeles Dodgers have maintained his workload impeccably. To that end, since 2011, Kershaw has averaged 105.6 pitches per start, has only 39 times thrown 110 or more pitches, five times thrown 120 or more, and hasn't started on less than four days' rest once. There's no reason to forecast any sort of slide in the foreseeable future.
Fernandez and Harvey are the two youngsters who have burst onto the scene this season, and here's an amazing fact to illustrate the former's career promise: On Opening Day 2017, Fernandez will be only nine months older than Harvey was on Opening Day 2013. Fernandez is an ace-caliber 20-year-old whom his Miami Marlins have also impeccably maintained, which bodes well for his long-term future: He has thrown 100 or more pitches just four times in 18 starts, has never topped 107 and is on pace for a manageable 181 2/3 innings.
To illustrate the latter's promise, here's a key Harvey statistic: He has thrown four different pitches at least 10 percent of the time this season, and all four of them have resulted in an opponents' wOBA of .251 or less (fastball 55.9 percent usage, .251 wOBA; changeup 11.4% and .167, curveball 13.4% and .230 and slider 19.3% and .233). Harvey has four plus pitches and he's 24 today, so it's a no-brainer to predict he'll still be earning Cy Young votes come 2017.
Thirty-one years of age isn't a death sentence for a pitcher these days; Cliff Lee, the No. 8 starter on our Player Rater, is 34 years old with considerably more mileage on his arm. Price has only three years of 200-plus innings on his arm, and I choose to believe that his triceps injury was more of a blip than a sign that he's beginning to break down. After all, his fastball has shown a bit more life since his return, and he has 18 K's compared to zero walks in those three starts. He's a legitimate fantasy ace who should still be one four years from now.
Strasburg might endure an up-and-down career path, making him one of the riskier picks on the team, but he'll begin 2017 just 28 years old, in the midst of his prime, and his stuff is as good as that of any of the seven starters picked. Just look at his career numbers and try to argue he doesn't belong: 2.95 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 10.56 K's per nine, 4.06 K's per walk, 61.9 quality start percentage.
Teheran is the first "curious" pick of my starting pitchers, but I'm also a believer in patience, if the youngster has the skills to eventually emerge as a staff ace. Consider: He made my "All-2015 Team" and was a "Best of the rest" on my "All-2016 Team," so clearly this means I see him having a great 2015 and 2017, but suffering some small batted-ball misfortunes in 2016 that keep him from the very top at his position. (Kidding, kidding, kind of.) Teheran has a filthy breaking pitch -- charted as either a curveball or slider depending on source -- a good fastball and merely needs a little polish on his off-speed stuff in order to neutralize left-handed hitters to the point he'll take the next step into the Cy Young contender class.
And, finally, Cole is another pick that speculates upon skills rather than career-to-date results. Watch a few of his games: It's difficult to bet against a pitcher who can touch 100 mph with his fastball while sprinkling in the kind of slider that he has. Once Cole gets through this adjustment period of his big league career, perhaps he'll boost his disappointing strikeout rate, because he has genuine swing-and-miss stuff. Give him 200 K's and he belongs on this team … sooner than 2017.
Best of the rest
Felix Hernandez (30): He's here rather than higher simply due to mileage; he might have 2,500 innings and 370 starts on his arm by 2017. The last pitcher to have at least that many through his age-29 season was Bert Blyleven.
Shelby Miller (26): You could really pick and choose among him, Teheran and Cole; I just wonder about the need for a reliable third pitch.
Madison Bumgarner (27): Just watch the slider usage, as 33 percent of his total pitches thrown since 2009 puts a lot of stress on his arm.
Mark Appel (25): His Houston Astros should be competitive again by 2017, but I'd like to see him throw in the professional ranks before moving him higher.
Matt Moore (27): He has made past teams but narrowly misses the cut this year due to his decreasing fastball velocity (92.4 mph in 2013, down from 94.3).
Jarrod Parker (28): The sleeper of the bunch, it'd be nice to see him bump his K rate up closer to the 8.48 per nine he averaged in the minors.
Yu Darvish (30): Will he hold up over a longer period than past Japanese imports? With his stuff, there's little reason to doubt it.
Mike Minor (29): He's a fly-baller who has in the past shown occasional blips in his command. That's the only thing keeping him down here.
Zack Wheeler (26): To think, the New York Mets have two pitchers who profile as future front-of-the-staff starters.
Chris Sale (28): Can he hold up long-term with that delivery?
Taijuan Walker (24): Nice bounce-back year in Double-A, and ace-caliber.
Jordan Zimmermann (30): Oh, if only he struck out more hitters …
Dylan Bundy (24): He's far too young to discard just because of a Tommy John surgery. He's still every bit as good a prospect as there is in the minors.
Max Scherzer (32): He doesn't have a lot of mileage on his arm, at least, and he's a legitimate contender for the K crown for the next half a decade.
The sleeper: Michael Wacha (25). If you haven't watched it yet, go back to the archive and view his major league debut against the Kansas City Royals on May 30. That is the changeup that could soon earn Wacha an annual place among the top 10 fantasy starters … but he's a "sleeper" rather than something higher on this team because the Cardinals have an abundance of starters and might either need to move someone to the bullpen or in a trade elsewhere.
Notable exclusion: Clay Buchholz (32). It was nice to see him finally earning respect as a staff ace when he kicked off 2013 with nine wins, 10 quality starts and a 1.71 ERA in his first 12 games, but as has been par for the course during his young career, injuries derailed his year again. He now has five DL stints in his seven-year big league career.
Relief pitcher: Aroldis Chapman (28) and Trevor Rosenthal (26)
When it comes to forecasting the future of the closer position, here's some sage advice: Don't. There is no more volatile position in dynasty leagues, and when planning for the long haul, colleague Matthew Berry's advice to "never pay to saves" holds additional merit. Consider: Four years ago, Brian Fuentes (48), Joe Nathan (47), Mariano Rivera (44), Heath Bell (42), Francisco Cordero (39), Ryan Franklin (38), David Aardsma (38), Jonathan Papelbon (38) and Brian Wilson (38) made up the top nine rankings in terms of saves. Today, only Nathan, Rivera and Papelbon possess any great significance in fantasy leagues, and Nathan endured a Tommy John surgery and a year's absence between then and now.
That's why, when forecasting four years into the future, pick the relievers with both the best stuff and their managers' trust in prominent late-inning roles (and that doesn't necessarily mean closing). Chapman, despite having lost a couple of ticks on the radar gun this season, still has the second-highest average fastball velocity among relievers who have thrown 250 or more (97.6 mph). Though we've now witnessed consecutive springs in which his role came into question, the fact that the left-hander proclaimed his preference to close late this March offers a hint about his long-term role. I think this is it: He's a closer for good.
As for Rosenthal, his fastball has averaged 97.2 mph, fourth-fastest among relievers in that group, and he has thrown the fifth-most fastballs clocked 100 mph or faster (20). Mike Matheny clearly trusts him -- that he let Rosenthal bat with the bases loaded and a mere two-run lead on Sunday night underscores that -- and there's little doubt that Rosenthal's long-term upside dwarfs that of current St. Louis Cardinals closer Edward Mujica. There might be some chatter that Rosenthal will return to starting next spring, but his success in relief might make the urge to keep him there irresistible.
Best of the rest
Craig Kimbrel (28): Perhaps Rosenthal over Kimbrel is too bold, but I like bold. Kimbrel is so good, though, that at worst he's a top-three 2017 option.
Addison Reed (28): His command has experienced an uptick this year -- 4.67 K's per walk, up from 3.00 -- and there's more room for growth.
Rex Brothers (29): His successful audition in the role in June only provided a taste of his lofty long-term future.
Bruce Rondon (26): If we're betting on "stuff," he has it. He has thrown 62 of his 146 pitches this season clocked 100 mph or faster.
The sleeper: Yordano Ventura (25). Though he has outstanding strikeout potential, averaging 10.72 K's per nine between Double-A Northwest Arkansas and Triple-A Omaha this season, Ventura's sketchy command might make him more of a fit in a short-relief role than as a starter. He has the high-90s fastball and curve to dominate in a closer's role, if the Kansas City Royals choose that route.
Notable exclusion: Mariano Rivera (47). Hey, he said he was going to retire at season's end. Why wouldn't I trust him? If he changed his mind, it might be difficult to bet against him still succeeding, even at age 47.
Seriously, Kenley Jansen (29) is the pick here, and the primary reason for his exclusion is that despite his talent, he has yet to show us a full season's worth of success in the closer role. While he has shown no ill effects since undergoing heart surgery last winter, the fact that he has three DL stints on his résumé so far in his career, including one for a shoulder ailment in 2011, casts a little doubt on his long-term future. Come next April, I might regret having excluded him from the team.