Experts predict MLB's next great superstar

June 20th, 2022

With so many young, emerging stars populating Major League rosters, it’s challenging to pinpoint who might be baseball’s biggest star a few years into the future. In honor of Young Stars Week on MLB Network, which runs through June 24 and will feature in depth discussion and analysis of the next generation of stars, we asked a panel of reporters to debate which player, among the up-and-comers who have yet to make an All-Star Team, might be the Next Big Thing.

Alyson Footer, editor/moderator: I know we probably say this every year, but it does feel like we have more young, emerging stars than ever. Maybe it’s because of how many rookies were on the Opening Day rosters. Maybe it’s because so many prospects who were hyped prior to their debuts are giving us reasons to keep watching them, now that we’re more than a third of the way through the season.

Before we dive in and dissect the players, let’s do a quick rapid fire -- who’s the first player (who has not yet made an All-Star team) that comes to mind if you have to pick who might be the biggest star in the game in five years?

Mark Feinsand, executive reporter: I know it might sound crazy to say this given that he plays in Tampa Bay, but I feel like Wander Franco is the guy. The hype around him has been crazy, he’s on a team that contends annually, and he has that superstar aura we look for in these guys. Now he just needs to stay healthy.

Andrew Simon, editor/writer/researcher: I'll go with Julio Rodríguez. The talent is obviously there, the production is getting there, and if we're considering star power, he also has the sort of magnetic personality that could make him one of the faces of the game.

David Adler, researcher/reporter: Bobby Witt Jr. And it won't even take five years. I'm all in on him. Love the swing, love the tools, love everything.

Feinsand: I can’t argue with Julio. We’ve seen the Mariners produce the biggest star in the game before, but I do think he will need to be on a contender to get the big national exposure come October to really take that jump.

One executive told me this year that Witt is already the most athletic player in the game. The K.C. part is what stopped me from taking him over Wander.

Adler: I just hope that Witt is so good, it won't even matter where he plays.

Footer: I'm a big believer in the theory that hitters often are only as good as the hitters around them. When a player crushes nightly in the middle of a subpar lineup, that stands out to me. That's what I keep thinking when I watch Witt.

Feinsand: The problem is that we’ve seen great players (cough, Mike Trout, cough) get lost without the postseason exposure. To me, that’s a big factor in becoming a true superstar.

Simon: The thing is, he's kind of already doing it! The start was slow, but in 32 games since May 13, he had a .911 OPS entering the weekend -- as a 22-year-old shortstop!

Feinsand: To be clear, all three of these guys are studs. Any one of them could wind up in the next 10 All-Star Games. I just think Wander’s team being an annual contender gives him the best chance to shine under the bright lights.

Adler: I also see the good parallels between Trout and Witt. Witt has a little Trout in his swing -- there was that side-by-side MLB did at the beginning of the season. They both have that easy power with their bat path. There's the way Witt uses his speed to make things happen -- he's the fastest player in the game right now by sprint speed -- which is what Trout did when he was a rookie. So if you think Witt is like Trout at all, that's probably a good thing.

Feinsand: Now that’s the expert analysis we’re here for: Being like Mike Trout is a good thing. 

Footer: You heard it here first, folks. 

Feinsand: That said, if we’re talking about being a superstar, is it? Trout has clearly been the best player in the game for the past decade. But is he the biggest star? I would say no. Heck, he’s not even the biggest star on his own team!

Simon: But how much of that is postseason and how much of it is personality? That's why I nominated J-Rod. Trout is Trout, and that's plenty, but it takes someone who really enjoys the spotlight. J-Rod might be that guy -- same for someone like Jazz Chisholm Jr

Adler: True, but if you want to be the biggest star, you have to be really, really good first. And I truly believe Witt will be really, really good.

Footer: I do see Julio possibly having a leg up just from the personality standpoint. I envision him really embracing the attention, which is part of the battle when adjusting to the big league spotlight. Rather than it wearing on him, it could help him by having that kind of pizzazz.

Feinsand: That’s why I noted that I believe all three of these guys we’re talking about are really, really good. Multiple All-Star appearances in all of their futures. But being the biggest star in the game takes more than that.

Wander also signed the long-term deal, which will make him the face of that franchise for more than a decade. I know it’s the Rays, but they are a great organization that will give him the chance to play in the postseason. That’s important in this discussion. We don’t know where Julio or Witt might be playing in six years. Could be Seattle and Kansas City, but it could just as easily not be.

Adler: Yeah -- another guy I was thinking of was Adley Rutschman. Same thing with him.

Feinsand: Catchers are also tough. Buster Posey was never the biggest star in the game, and he won three World Series titles. That position just doesn’t get the love.

Footer: I do want to touch on the pitching side, as well. Emerging stars who come to mind are Hunter Greene, MacKenzie Gore, Alek Manoah. I think Greene is going to end up as something special. Not many young pitchers have that kind of maturity and perspective when they're just starting out. When he was getting absolutely steamrolled earlier this season, it didn't seem to affect him too much. I can envision him being a rock during the postseason when the pressure's on (though he might be doing it in a city other than Cincinnati).

Simon: Seeing him adjust his approach in real time and start getting some good results after a bumpy start has been extremely encouraging.

Feinsand: I couldn’t be more all-in on Alek Manoah. That guy is a stud.

Simon: Agreed. This a guy who seems to thrive under pressure and in big spots.

Adler: He's got the energy too.

Footer: And Manoah has the advantage of being on a team that appears to be going nowhere but up, up, up.

Feinsand: In his first 32 career starts, he was 17-3 with a 2.59 ERA and 195 strikeouts in 187 1/3 innings. Manoah is already there. Now he just needs to have people in the United States learn who he is.

Simon: This is the number I look at for him: In three career starts at Yankee Stadium, he has a 1.53 ERA. 

Feinsand: I was just about to say the same thing, Andrew. He entered the weekend 2-0 with a 1.52 in four starts against the Yankees, 3-2 with a 1.47 against the Rays and 2-0 with a 1.50 against the Red Sox. The AL East doesn’t faze this kid one bit. Not an easy division for a kid in his early 20s. 

If the Blue Jays make some noise in the postseason, he will be a huge reason why. And that will translate into him becoming a star.

Adler: I do think Greene has a chance to be a big star, too -- just how hard he throws. Throwing 100 mph is like an instant way to get eyes on you. But Cincinnati may not be the place for him to do it.

Feinsand: Greene has the big fastball and a great vibe about him. I can see him becoming a big star, for sure. I’m not sure being with the Reds right now will help that, though.

I don’t want to leave Gore out of this conversation. He has blossomed this year on a really good Padres team. The biggest issue I have with him in this star conversation is that he plays on a team with Fernando Tatis Jr., Manny Machado, Yu Darvish and some other big names.

Adler: Also, I don't know if Gore has the standout stuff of a 100 mph fastball or the bulldog aura that Manoah has. He'd have to turn into a Clayton Kershaw type. But there's only one Kershaw.

Simon: Importantly, though, Gore is a reminder that things can change a lot, in a hurry. Last year he was so lost the Padres didn't call him up even when their rotation was in total disarray ... now he's the NL ROY frontrunner.

Feinsand: It’s always tricky with pitchers in this conversation, because the injury factor is such a big part, too. Four years ago, I would have tabbed Luis Severino as one of the rising stars in the game. Then he missed two years.

Footer: Where does the group think Jeremy Peña fits into this discussion? He wasn’t really on our radar entering the season, but now he has a really good chance to win American League Rookie of the Year honors.

Adler: It's kind of cool that the Astros can lose Carlos Correa and just have another potential star shortstop ready to go.

Simon: Talk about being able to handle pressure. You know you're stepping into some big shoes and you come out and perform like that. It's really impressive stuff.

Feinsand: Peña falls into the same category to me as Gore. Might get lost a bit on a team with Justin Verlander, Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez, etc. If he has a monster postseason and carries the Astros, then things could change.

Adler: Also, though we’re debating players already in the big leagues, let’s give an honorable mention to one pitcher who’s not up yet: Jack Leiter. I think he could be the one.

Footer: Let’s wrap this up with ranking your top three position players and pitchers who have the best chance to be baseball’s next big star. Go!

Feinsand: Hitters: 1. Wander, 2. J-Rod, 3. Witt 

Pitchers: 1. Manoah, 2. Gore, 3. Greene 

Adler: Hitters: 1. Witt, 2. Wander, 3. Julio

Pitchers: 1. Greene, 2. Manoah, 3. Gore 

Simon: Hitters: 1. Julio, 2. Witt, 3. Wander

Pitchers: 1. Manoah, 2. Greene, 3. Gore