Photo: Getty Images/Mike Ehrmann
Quick, who are the best players in baseball right now?Names like Josh Hamilton, Justin Verlander, Matt Kemp and Ryan Braun would probably come to mind.
But these four stars are in their prime or on the tail end of it.
Luckily there’s a deep crop of young guys ready to take their place right now.
Unless you’re obsessed with baseball chances are you haven’t really heard much about most of these players.
Let this be your crash course. (Note: stats are accurate as of games through May 24.)
Due to extremely small sample sizes and to avoid over hyping anyone we excluded rookies.
Hellickson is just another phenomenal Rays draft pick.
The 2011 AL Rookie of the Year has picked up right where he left off last year (4-1, 2.73 ERA in 2012).
If Hellickson can lower the number of long balls he gives up (21 in 189 innings last year, 9 already this season), he'll immediately enter elite status.
Jones was a top prospect for the Mariners when he came up to the bigs in 2006.
It's taken him a while to reach his full potential, but he's putting up MVP stats for the first place Orioles so far in 2012 (.311 AVG, 14 HR, 29 RBI).
Strasburg has lived up to all the hype.
As the leader of Washington's uber-talented pitching staff, he's lit up opposing hitters to the tune of a 2.21 ERA and an incredible 5-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio.
D.C.'s baseball future looks very bright.
Last year McCutchen became the first Pirates player to legitimately make an All-Star game out of merit and not solely based on baseball's minimum requirement of one player per team.
His .338 average, .900+ OPS, 7 home runs and great defence make him one of MLB's most exciting players to watch.
Beachy is baseball's best pitcher you've never heard of.
He averages nearly 7 innings per start and barely lets anyone get on base (.180 batting average against and a minuscule 0.90 WHIP).
Throw in a sub-2.00 ERA and the Braves look like they have another phenomenal young arm similar to those from their 1990s teams.
There is little CarGo can't do.
He hits for contact (.300 average), power (.550 slugging), can swipe a bag here and there (6-for-6) and play Gold Glove calibre defence anywhere in the outfield.
Luckily, the Rockies have already locked him up to a long term deal.
Stanton is all power.
He can throw lasers from deep in the outfield and more importantly, crush balls way over the fence (10 home runs so far in 2012 after belting 34 last season).
Once this 22-year-old figures out how to be a bit more patient at the plate (on pace for 150 strike outs), there's no stopping how great he can be.
Chapman took baseball by storm with his 105 mile per hour fastballs as a rookie in 2010.
Cincinnati had aspirations of turning him into a starter, but he's been so good out of the bullpen they don't see why they need to move him.
Chapman's amazing 2012 numbers: 0 earned runs, 14 base runners and 43 strike outs in 24 innings of work.
Joyce has been a pleasant surprise for the Rays.
He's become a consistent middle of the order guy. He won't hit for a high average, but his ability to get on base (.390+) and hit for power (.526 slugging) have been a welcome addition to a team that many thought would struggle to score runs in 2012.
Ogando is a big part of the Texas Rangers' pitching revolution.
The flame-throwing righty has been nothing short of fantastic out of the bullpen this year. He's only allowed 16 base runners and 3 runs in 25 innings while striking out 26 hitters.
Everyone expected Wieters to be the next Mike Piazza.
Not only did he start his career slowly but we've come to realise that great catchers are a rarity so expecting them to hit .330 and mash 40 home runs is a bit much.
Wieters still doesn't hit for a big average, but he has provided some solid pop (7 dingers) from the five and six holes in the lineup to go along with his great work behind the plate.
Some figured Gio's good numbers were a result of playing many of his games in cavernous Oakland Coliseum as a member of the Athletics.
But he's proven them wrong so far this year as a member of the Nats.
Stat line: 6-1 record, 1.98 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and a whopping 69 strike outs in 54 innings pitched.
Jackson is one of the few bright spots for the sputtering Tigers right now.
The 25-year-old is easily baseball's best leadoff hitter with a .331 batting average and .414 on base percentage.
He's also got plenty of pop (17 extra-base hit) and some decent speed (6-for-6 on stolen base attempts).
Sale is quietly becoming one of the game's best left handed pitchers.
After two great seasons out of the bullpen for the White Sox, he's made an easy transition to the rotation (2.50 ERA, 1.05 WHIP).
Only 23-years-old, this lefty will get a major pay day when he becomes eligible for free agency in a few years.
Castro is probably the only Cubs player management would deem untouchable in their rebuilding process.
He's off to a third consecutive .300 batting average season.
Castro is also just a few minor adjustments away (plate discipline, defensive footwork) from becoming a Derek Jeter-like star, i.e. athletic, top of the order shortstop with speed, a little pop and the ability to top 200 hits in any given year.
With the Giants' starting staff featuring veterans like Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, Bumgarner usually gets lost in the shuffle.
But at 22-years-old, he may be the most promising of them all.
Now in his third full season in MLB, Bumgarner's ERA is below 3.00 and he only walks around 5 per cent of hitters he faces.
With the Cardinals' staff reeling with injuries this season Lynn has quickly picked up the slack.
The 25-year-old, 250-pound right hander has been a force for St. Louis, winning seven games so far in 2012.
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