Best active player at every age, from 19 to 42
Mike Trout is 28 years old today. Happy birthday, Mike Trout! It seems a bit insane that Mike Trout would be approaching 30 years old, doesn’t it? Trout has been a phenom for so long that you almost forget he ages like the rest of us. Not that he shows it: He’s somehow better every year. That, definitively, is not like the rest of us.
Trout is obviously the best player in baseball who is 28 years old; he might be the best player ever at 28 years old. But this got us to thinking: Who’s the best player in baseball right now at every age? The youngest player to play baseball this year is 19; the oldest is 42. Let’s go age by age.
A few caveats:
• We’re talking about who is having the best year in 2019, not who has had the best career.
• All a player has to have done is play one game this year. You’ll see why we added this one rather quickly.
• We are referring to a player's age on Aug. 7, 2019, the day you’re reading this. Some players' “player-age” -- how they’re referred to on Baseball Reference, say -- is a little different. We’ll go with today’s birthday.
All right. Let’s all feel old together.
19: Elvis Luciano, Blue Jays. Luciano is currently on the 60-day injured list, but he made it into 20 games this year. How many games has your 19-year-old nephew made it into?
20: Juan Soto, Nationals. Apologies to Juniors Vladimir Guerrero and Fernando Tatis, but Soto was the best 19-year-old last year, and he’s the best 20-year-old this year.
21: Ronald Acuna Jr., Braves. His contract extension with the Braves in the offseason could actually keep him with the team into his 30s, if you can believe that. It’s good to be the Braves. Teammate Mike Soroka just missed being the second-place choice here; he turned 22 on Sunday.
22: Rafael Devers, Red Sox. He was 20 when he joined the Red Sox, and here he is, two years later, leading the American League in hits, doubles and extra bases. He and fellow 22-year-old Gleyber Torres are going to be facing off in that rivalry for the next decade.
23: Chris Paddack, Padres. Cody Bellinger turning 24 in July messes this up a little bit -- Paddack has been amazing, but it still feels a little early to put him here. Still, there aren’t many in this particular age range. Alex Verdugo? Jack Flaherty?
24: Cody Bellinger, Dodgers. If he hasn’t hit his peak yet, what in the heck is going to be like at 27? Sorry, Pete Alonso (who is somehow older than Cody Bellinger), Carlos Correa and Shohei Ohtani, but man … How is Cody Bellinger already this good shortly after his 24th birthday?
25: Alex Bregman, Astros. Lots of terrific choices here, from Joey Gallo to Francisco Lindor to Josh Hader. But Bregman has become an inner-tier MVP candidate in the last year.
26: Mookie Betts, Red Sox. Boy, is there a ton of candidates here, as you might expect at age 26. With apologies to Javier Baez and Matt Chapman and Manny Machado and many others, Betts is the sort of superstar we’d never stop talking about if Trout didn’t exist.
27: Christian Yelich, Brewers. He has ascended to the best version of himself with Milwaukee and has surpassed division-rival Kris Bryant at this spot.
28: Mike Trout, Angels. Second place is probably Nolan Arenado, but it’s not particularly close.
29: Jose Altuve, Astros. He gets stiff competition from teammate George Springer, and if you went with Freddie Freeman here, you’d get no strong argument.
30: Chris Sale, Red Sox. Remember back in April when you heard people saying he was cooked? Anthony Rizzo just misses here: He turns 30 on Thursday.
31: Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers. Is this the most competitive age on this list? You’ve got Kershaw, J.D. Martinez, Stephen Strasburg (wow), the three best closers of the last decade (Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen) and, even though he’s having a somewhat down year (though not lately), Paul Goldschmidt. But being Clayton Kershaw breaks all ties.
32: Michael Brantley, Astros. Brantley, now that he’s healthy, is having the superstar year we were all expecting to happen every season: This is the best year of his career.
33: Charlie Blackmon, Rockies. When healthy, Corey Kluber might take over this spot, but Blackmon has more than rebounded after a minor step back last year.
34: Justin Turner, Dodgers. Yuli Gurriel is hot on his heels, but Turner’s second half of his career has been truly amazing.
35: Max Scherzer, Nationals. That Scherzer, a man who has won three Cy Young Awards already, would be having the best season of his career the year he turns 35 is truly remarkable. In any other context, what Zack Greinke is doing at this age would blow you away.
36: Justin Verlander, Astros. Like Scherzer, Verlander is a pitcher who has only gotten better as he has gotten older. And also like Scherzer, it might just be getting him to the Hall of Fame. Respect for Edwin Encarnacion and Hunter Pence here as well.
37: Shin-Soo Choo, Rangers. He just turned 37 in July, which puts him at this age and ahead of Robinson Cano, Ian Kinsler, Oliver Perez and Adam Wainwright.
38: Curtis Granderson, Marlins. You have two choices here, neither of them good: Granderson or the Phillies’ Pat Neshek. Granderson is having a rough year, but he, unlike Neshek, is not currently on the injured list. So at this current point, that’s enough. Getting old is rough, all.
39: Nelson Cruz, Twins. He may someday be the best hitter at 49. Respect for Albert Pujols here, too, of course, still playing every day at 39.
42: Fernando Rodney, Nationals. With Ichiro retired and Bartolo Colon out of the game, Fernando Rodney is the last hope for fortysomethings in baseball. (Until Bartolo returns, anyway.)