The Next Generation of Baseball Superstars Is Already Here

  • Yasiel Puig Dodgers

    Ron Reiring/Flickr Creative Commons

    Yasiel Puig

    One of the great tragedies of the 2015 MLB season has been the absence of Yasiel Puig for much of the league’s opening stanza. Injuries kept the Cuban import out of the lineup from late April to early June, robbing fans of one of baseball’s most astonishing talents.

    Nothing that Puig does is understated. He crushes home runs into the Los Angeles night, punctuating the feat with bat flips and stares. He’ll misread a ball in the outfield, only to recover and gun an unprepared runner down with a laser from right. Puig is a walking highlight factory who plays with flash and flare, the type of talent who inspires people to watch more baseball.

    While he’s still dealing with a language barrier, Puig spreads the fun through pictures on his Instagram page, where you can find videos of him going for helicopter rides and playing foosball with teammates.

    image via Ron Reiring/Flickr Creative Commons

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  • Bryce Harper Washington Nationals

    Patrick Smith/Getty Images

    Bryce Harper

    Fans outside a player’s home base tend to resent guys pegged as “the next big thing,” and Bryce Harper is no stranger to that title. The Nationals phenom was one of the few high schoolers in recent memory to transcend the lull of baseball scouting, garnering the type of coverage typically reserved for standout hoops prodigies.

    Harper took plenty of flak entering the league, showing up draped in eye black and playing with a motor on permanent overdrive. But even the most cynical Harper hater would have to admit that he’s a heck of a talent, turning in multiple All-Star seasons before he was even old enough to drink.

    He continues to build as we speak, as he’s already hit more many home runs in 2015 than in his best full season to date. Love him or hate him, Harper is a star who has the gifts to become a legend, and he’s well on his way at the ripe age of 22.

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  • Mike Trout 2015

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    Mike Trout

    Some guys are so good that they don’t need the extracurricular activity to resonate with the fans. Mike Trout is the poster child.

    What has he done in four seasons (and counting)? Nothing major–just appear in three All-Star Games, win Rookie of the Year, capture one MVP, and finish runner-up for the highest individual honor twice. That’s future Hall of Fame type stuff; it’s not hyperbole to suggest we might be watching the preliminary stage of one of the best all-around players ever.

    The cherry on top is his down-to-earth nature. Trout still resonates with people back home in Jersey–and with sports fans in general–because he hasn’t forgot where he came from or the teams he rooted for as a child. That’s why he was DMing Adam Schefter trying to get the scoop on where Marcus Mariota would land on NFL Draft night. He’s a mega-star, but it hasn’t changed him much.

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  • Giancarlo Stanton

    Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    Giancarlo Stanton

    Chicks dig the long ball–or so I’ve heard–and nobody doles out tape-measure blasts quite as often as Giancarlo Stanton. You’re talking about a guy who hit a grand slam so hard it knocked out part of the scoreboard at Marlins Park.

    Every time Stanton steps to the plate, there’s a chance you could be watching his next vaporization of opposing pitching, and that alone is worth tuning in for. The Marlins clearly agree that he’s something special–they gave him the most lucrative contract in sports history in the offseason, locking him up to a $325 million extension.

    He’s among the more style-conscious players in today’s game as well, getting some shine from publications like GQ for his fashion sense. Even the protective guard he wears on his helmet–added after taking a vicious fastball to the face–had a capital G worked into the frame at his request. No opportunity to look fly should go to waste.

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  • Chris Sale sidearm

    Jon Durr/Getty Images

    Chris Sale

    The good news for Chris Sale opponents is that he hasn’t yet made the playoffs since debuting in 2010. The bad news for Sale’s opponents is that if and when he gets there, they’re in for a world of pain.

    Sale stands out from a crowd of talented young pitchers thanks to his frame and delivery. The 6-6, 180 pound lefty mixes four pitches with an unorthodox, side-arm release, baffling hitters on his way to one of the best strikeout rates in the majors. Not only is Sale one of MLB’s best young arms, he’s also one of the most distinct.

    Baseball is served well by an increased focus on long-term health, but a side effect of that is a lack of unique pitching styles in up-and-coming talent. Sale stands alone in this regard; you’ll never mistake him from anyone else on the mound, particularly after he strikes out 10-plus batters on your favorite team.

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  • Yasiel Puig Dodgers
  • Bryce Harper Washington Nationals
  • Mike Trout 2015
  • Giancarlo Stanton
  • Chris Sale sidearm

Major League Baseball has given a couple significant farewell tours over the past few seasons, with players like Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter riding off into the sunset. As the last remaining stragglers from their generation fade off, the door is opening for a new crop of baseball stars to begin their own legacies.

Not all up-and-comers gain adulation from the fans in the same form or fashion. While Rivera quietly built a legacy of fear and respect through his dominance, others from this now-extinct era paired their on-field talent with gregarious personalities and unique style. As an example of this phenomenon, look no further than Ken Griffey Jr., whose beaming smile and monstrous home runs convinced a new generation of fans to turn their hats backwards.

In today’s day and age, resonating with the fans can come from a variety of places. As always, production and highlights reign supreme, but there are ways to reach the modern fan that didn’t exist in the past. Social media has given players an avenue to give their supporters a 24/7 window into their favorite athletes, providing “access” like never before. You can go behind the scenes for workouts, style, and everything else going on in an athlete’s life.

One thing links all these guys, however: talent. There’s nothing that can replace a spectacular diving catch, walk-off home runs or highlight throws from deep in the hole at short. Fans grow attached to fun personalities, but love for the sport is universal. Game recognize game. With that in mind, remember, the Next Generation of Baseball Superstars Is Already Here.

Follow Kyle on Twitter at @kyleneubeck

image via Jim McIsaac/Getty Images