As the Baltimore Orioles hope to ride the backs of their young core right into postseason contention, the competition in the American League East are producing talented young players of their own. How do the young Orioles stack up against their peers? Behold, the definitive ranking of the most talented players in the American League East aged 25 or younger.
1.Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Toronto Blue Jays, First Base, 23 years-old
Like his dad did about 25 years before, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has taken not only the American League East, but the entire league by storm with his prodigious power and superlative offense arsenal. Only 23 years-old, Guerrero has already slugged 104 home runs in his career and finished second in the Most Valuable Player voting in 2021 to the incredible Shohei Ohtani.
Guerrero’s best season came in 2021, when he hit .311 with 48 home runs, 111 RBIs, and a 1.002 OPS (on base percentage plus slugging). That season, Guerrero finished third in the entire leave with 6.6 offensive WAR (wins above replacement).
Guerrero is under the Blue Jays’ control for three more seasons and will become a free agent after the 2025 season. It would behoove the Blue Jays to explore signing Guerrero long term, as there will undoubtedly be a line of teams lining up to sign him to a long tern deal. Until then, Guerrero will continue to terrorize Orioles’ pitchers, as he has done during his short but successful career.
2. Adley Rutschman, Baltimore Orioles, Catcher, 24 years-old
After languishing for several years in the American League East basement, it is great to finally see the Orioles making some noise. And that all starts with 24 year-old catching sensation, Adley Rustchman.
Baseball’s number one prospect heading into 2022, Rutschman immediately impacted the Orioles during his rookie season, batting .254 with 13 home runs, 70 RBIs, and an .806 OPS. Perhaps more importantly, Rustchman emerged as a leader behind the plate and compiled an impressive 5.2 WAR on the season.
Baltimore Orioles: Ranking the best under-25 players in the American League East
Rutschman has already earned significant accolades, as several media outlets have referred to him as the best catcher in the entire league. As great as he was in 2022, there’s only room to grow. The sky’s the limit for the Orioles’ young star. And it doesn’t hurt that he has developed a reputation as a great hugger.
3. Alek Manoah, Toronto Blue Jays, Starting Pitcher, 24 years-old
Toronto Blue Jays ace Alek Manoah was terrific in 2021 and even better in 2022. The 24 year-old went 16-7 with a microscopic 2.24 ERA in 31 starts, averaging nearly one strikeout per inning. Manoah also compiled 5.9 WAR, good for fifth in the majors and finished third in Cy Young voting behind the great Justin Verlander and Dylan Cease.
Manoah has also demonstrated that he is not afraid to ruffle the feathers of his opponents, calling Yankees’ ace Gerrit Cole “the worst cheater” in baseball history and challenging Cole to a fight if he has any problems with Manoah’s Jays. Manoah, who the Jays control for another 4 seasons, will be a force in the American League East for a long time.
4. Bo Bichette, Toronto Blue Jays, Shortstop, 24 years-old
Joining teammates Guerrero and Manoah in the top five is 24 year-old shortstop Bo Bichette of the Toronto Blue Jays. Bichette’s best season came in 2021, when he hit .298 with 29 home runs, 102 RBIs, and an .828 OPS. That season, Bichette was also worth 5.9 WAR, was an All-Star, and finished twelfth in the American League MVP race.
Bo Bichette is one of several young stars making their home in the American League East.
Because 2021 was so dominant, Bichette’s 3.6 WAR 2022 season–which is still a fantastic year–could be considered a down year for him. However, Bichette still hit .290 with 24 home runs, 93 RBIs, and an .802 OPS for the Jays. This included Bichette’s incredible performance against the Orioles in a double-header on September 5, 2022, where the hard-hitting shortstop went 6-10 on the day, hitting three home runs, scoring three times, and driving in 7 runs. Unfortunately for Orioles fans, they will have to deal with Bichette for several more years as a fixture in the young Jays’ lineup.
5. Shane McClanahan, Tampa Bay Rays, Starting Pitcher, 25 years-old
Shane McClanahan is the ace of the Tampa Bay Rays (at least with Tyler Glasnow out), who reached the postseason in 2022 after going 86-76. And McClanahan was a big part of that.
In 2022, the left-hander went 12-8 with a 2.54 ERA and 194 strikeouts (4th in the league) in only 166.1 innings. A native of Baltimore, McClanahan was dominant in his lone postseason start this year in Cleveland, pitching 7 innings of two run ball in a tough loss to the Guardians. McClanahan was worth 3.5 WAR in 2022, and is projected by Fangraphs to earn 4 wins above replacement in 2023. He will be a dominant fixture in the Rays rotation for years to come.
6. Wander Franco, Tampa Bay Rays, Shortstop, 21 years-old
The consensus top prospect heading into the 2021 season (1 spot ahead of Adley Rutschman), the 21 year-old shortstop excelled in his first taste of major league baseball in 2021 (only 70 games), hitting .288 with 7 home runs, 53 runs scored, and an .810 OPS while earning 2.4 WAR. Recognizing his potential following this strong season, the Rays inked Franco to a 11-year extension, ensuring he would remain in Tampa through 2033.
American League East: The Best Players 25 & Under
In his first full season, Franco struggled with injuries, but still posted a solid 2.3 WAR while hitting .277 with 6 home runs, 46 runs scored, and 33 RBIs. However, Fangraphs projects the star shortstop to rebound in 2023, assuming health, with a 5.4 wins above replacement season. And despite a rough 2022, the former number one prospect, who turns 22 on March 1, 2023, will be anchoring the middle of the Rays infield in 2023 and beyond.
7. Alejandro Kirk, Toronto Blue Jays, Catcher, 24 years-old
Another Blue Jay!? Yes, another Blue Jay.
The diminutive Kirk (he is only 5’8″) was the starting catcher for the American League in the 2022 All-Star game. And it was well-deserved. Kirk hit .285 with 14 home runs and 63 RBIs, while posting a solid .787 OPS and a sterling 3.8 WAR.
Kirk is a terrific contact hitter, posting the fourth-lowest strikeout rate in the major leagues in 2022. Perhaps this is more anecdotal than analytical, but whenever watching an Orioles/Blue Jays game in 2022, he always seemed to effortlessly flick balls to the outfield for base hits. That’s just what he does.
Despite the solid season, Kirk was at the center of trade rumors coming into the 2022-23 offseason, as the Jays have two solid replacements for him in Danny Jansen and Gabriel Moreno. But for now, the 24 year-old All Star is set to begin his fourth season in Toronto and appears poised to be catching for the Blue Jays for years to come.
8. Gunnar Henderson, Baltimore Orioles, Third Base/Shortstop, 21 years-old
The 2019 draft for the Baltimore Orioles, where they selected Adley Rutschman, Gunnar Henderson, and Kyle Stowers with their first three picks, could prove to be the turning point for the franchise and the catalyst for Mike Elias’s success with the team. Baseball America has already recognized as much.
The Baltimore Orioles feature a bevy of talented players under the age of 25.
And while Rutschman, the number one pick in the draft, rightfully takes most of the headlines, Gunnar Henderson steamrolled through the Orioles’ system after being taken as a high school senior to debut for the Baltimore Orioles last season. In only his second at-bat, Henderson blasted a titanic, solo home run off of Guardians’ right-hander Triston McKenzie, announcing he was here to stay.
In just 34 games with the Orioles, Henderson hit .288 with 4 home runs, a .778 OPS, and earned 0.8 WAR. Currently Fangraphs’ top prospect, Henderson is projected to be worth 4.2 WAR in 2023. With incumbent Jorge Mateo likely starting the year at shortstop, the left-handed hitting Henderson figures to bat in the top of the lineup at third base–and should be there for several years to come.
9. Grayson Rodriguez, Baltimore Orioles, Starting Pitcher, 23 years-old
The consensus number-one pitching prospect in baseball, the Orioles’ talented right-handed pitcher has his eyes set on debuting with the Orioles at the start of the 2023 season. In fact, Rodriguez came oh-so-close to debuting for the Orioles in 2022 before a grade-2 last strain essentially ended his season, save for a few starts in September.
The former first-round draft pick has excelled at every level in the minors for the Orioles: he went 10-4 with a 2.68 ERA as a 19-yearold in Single A in 2019 before breezing through Double A in 2021 (Rodriguez did not pitch in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic), going 6-1 with a 2.60 ERA and a robust 13.67 strikeouts per nine innings. In 2022, Rodriguez was just as good in Triple A Norfolk before the injury, going 6-1 with a 2.20 ERA and 12.53 strikeouts per nine innings.
Baltimore Orioles prospect Grayson Rodriguez is primed to terrorize the American League East for seasons to come.
Fangraphs projects Rodriguez to go 8-8 with a 3.81 ERA and over one strikeout per inning in 2023 with the Orioles. Under team control through at least 2028, Rodriguez figures to be the best, if not one of the best, pitchers in the Orioles’ rotation for a long time.
10. Anthony Volpe, New York Yankees, Shortstop, 21 years-old
You had to figure a Yankee would make his way onto this list, and Anthony Volpe, the Yankees’ top prospect and 10th prospect in MLB, slots in at number ten.
New York’s first round pick in 2019, Volpe steamrolled through the minors in 2021 and 2022, finishing the year at AAA. In 2022, split between AA and AAA, Volpe posted a .249 batting average with 21 home runs, 65 RBIs, 50 stolen bases, and a solid .802 OPS.
Volpe is so good that our own FanSided writers have pondered whether he is good enough for the Yankees to pass (for a second offseason in a row) on superstar shortstop Carlos Correa in free agency. Correa remains a free agent, but the Yankees have not been mentioned as a serious suitor thus far. It looks like Volpe is the Yankees future shortstop, and should be playing short in the Bronx for several years.
Honorary Mention – Gabriel Moreno, Toronto Blue Jays, 22 years-old
Ten is a nice round number, so Gabriel Moreno at 11 just missed the cut. But the young and talented catcher, who will likely accede to the starting catcher position if Kirk is traded, debuted with the Jays last year and posted an impressive 0.7 WAR in only 25 games. At my mid-season iteration of this article, it would not surprise me to see Moreno crack the top ten.
It should come as little surprise that the Orioles are not the only team with significant 25-and-under talent in the American League East. The Toronto Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Rays are built to contend with the Orioles for much of the decade, with stars such as Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Alek Manoah, Bo Bichette, Wander Franco, and Shane McClanahan. With the Yankees and Red Sox everlasting ability to sign big-name free agents (something I would like to see the Orioles do to supplement their young core), the Orioles’ upswing is coming at a time when the American League East will remain as tough as ever. Oriole fans are in for a fun decade of baseball, but a decade that is far from guaranteed to produce a division championship.