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These young stars are flying under the radar

August 18, 2018

We know all about Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies. We know about Matt Chapman, Juan Soto and Alex Bregman, too. At least once a day we're reminded how cool it is to be a baseball fan at a time when the game's best player is 27 (Michael Trout) and

We know all about Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies. We know about Matt Chapman, Juan Soto and Alex Bregman, too. At least once a day we're reminded how cool it is to be a baseball fan at a time when the game's best player is 27 (Michael Trout) and his closest competitor is 25 (Mookie Betts).
Here's the remarkable part about all of this: Those guys are just a small percentage of the breakout players we're watching this season. That list includes Aaron NolaEdwin Diaz and Blake Snell. Some of them have flown under the radar. Either their teams aren't having great seasons or -- and maybe this is it -- it's impossible to keep track of how rapidly the game is being transformed.
Let's consider nine under-the-radar young stars.
Johan Camargo, 3B, Braves
The Braves were connected to so many third basemen around the non-waiver Trade Deadline that it made you wonder about the 24-year-old already on their roster. When Camargo's opportunity came, he took advantage of it. He's already an elite defensive third baseman, and he entered Saturday with an .858 OPS since the All-Star break.

Harrison Bader, OF, Cardinals
Young players don't come with guarantees or timetables, and sometimes patience is a must. That patience has paid off for the Cardinals this month, with Bader entering Monday hitting .339 in August for one of baseball's hottest teams. He brings an element of speed that St. Louis hasn't had very often.

Victor Arano, RHP, Phillies
The Phillies' bullpen has been one of baseball's best since the All-Star break, and this 23-year-old multi-inning power pitcher is a big reason why. Arano entered Monday having allowed three earned runs in his past 22 appearances.

Isiah Kiner-Falefa, C, Rangers
Kiner-Falefa is hitting .333 since the All-Star break and has more than proven he's going to be an an exciting part of the Rangers' rebuild. As for his permanent position, that's a bit more unclear. Texas likes Kiner-Falefa's work behind the plate, but at 5-foot-10, 176 pounds, can he withstand the wear and tear at baseball's most demanding position?

Dereck Rodriguez, RHP, Giants
Rodriguez's right hamstring strain interrupts a tremendous rookie season. That he's the son of Hall of Fame catcher Ivan Rodriguez isn't even the best part of his story. Rodriguez was drafted by the Twins as an outfielder in 2011 and switched to pitching in '14. In 12 starts since his callup, he has allowed more than two runs twice.

Mallex Smith, OF, Rays
The Rays have used this season to help identify a core group of young players for the future. Smith is part of that group. Only three American League outfielders -- Betts, J.D. Martinez and Kole Calhoun -- have a higher Wins Above Replacement since the All-Star break. Only Martinez and Calhoun were higher in wRC+ entering the weekend.

Kyle Freeland, LHP, Rockies
Coors Field? No biggie. In 11 starts there this season, Freeland has a dazzling 2.22 ERA. Those numbers are indicative of how the 25-year-old left-hander has emerged as the Rockies' most consistent starter after a rookie season that prompted him to tweak his mechanics and repertoire (fewer fastballs, more changeups). He had a solid case for the National League All-Star team.

Sean Manaea, LHP, A's
Wait, didn't Manaea throw a no-hitter in April? Doesn't that disqualify him from an "under the radar" discussion? Of course not. In his third season, Manaea has developed into the ace the A's envisioned him being when he was acquired from the Royals for Benjamin Zobrist in 2015. In a season in which Oakland has used 13 starting pitchers, Manaea has been the rock around which the rotation is constructed.

Brandon Nimmo, OF, Mets
He belongs. That's one of the things the Mets have learned in a disappointing season. In his first full Major League season, Nimmo is among the NL outfield leaders in an assortment of categories, including WAR, wRC+ and wOBA.

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.