Despite the fact that I own and operate a website about Major League Baseball, I actually don’t watch MLB Network all that much. I don’t have a great answer as to why–maybe I’m mentally programmed to gravitate towards ESPN to such a degree that even though I’ve stopped watching ESPN for the most part unless a live sporting event is going on, I can’t conceive an alternative exists. But MLB Network programming, when I watch, is usually fine. Sure, you’re going to get a lot of Brian Kenny’s “new converts are the loudest disciples” approach to sabermetrics, but you’re also going to get a lot of content that doesn’t make you want to gouge your eyes and ears out.
Anyway, in anticipation of this week’s slate of games being played on MLB Network, the cable channel tweeted about their “Young Stars Week”, surely a concocted marketing ploy along the lines of when NBC Sports Network advertises games between the Buffalo Sabres and Anaheim Ducks as “Wednesday Night Rivalry” but one where they could easily work their way backwards. There are a ton of really great young players in baseball. Pretty much every team has at least one.
Let’s run down the selections in reverse order from Friday to Monday.
- For Friday’s Astros at Angels contest, MLB Network went with Astros third baseman Alex Bregman. Bregman is one of two obvious Astros candidates, along with shortstop Carlos Correa, and while Correa may be better, Bregman is more on the rise than the more established Correa. Either way, MLB couldn’t really have gone wrong either way. And that’s not even considering Angels two-way sensation Shohei Ohtani. Of course, MLB could try marketing Mike Trout, but at 27, he’s on the old end of “young”.
- On Thursday, with the Reds and Cubs playing, MLBN is spotlighting Cubs second baseman/roaming infielder Javier Baez. While Javy Baez Fatigue is fair and largely understandable, this is probably the right pick, especially with Kris Bryant on the Disabled List. Baez is on an unsustainable tear but he’s also charismatic and entertaining (partially because walks are productive/boring and he has no plate discipline whatsoever) so I get it.
- On Wednesday, with the Phillies heading to Washington to face the Nationals, MLBN selected Phillies outfielder Rhys Hoskins. Presumably, MLBN wants to market a player who might make the playoffs, hence no Bryce Harper, which I understand. Aaron Nola technically would be on full rest that day, but since he isn’t the projected starter, Rhys Hoskins is the correct pick.
- Tuesday is Indians/Red Sox, and honestly, who couldn’t you pick here? Jose Ramirez, Francisco Lindor, Andrew Benintendi…there is no shortage of candidates. But Mookie Betts, as the top Red Sox youngster (i.e. the top youngster on the more marketed team), is hard to dispute.
- For Monday’s game, contested between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Los Angeles Dodgers, MLB Network decided to promote Max Muncy.
This is a Cardinals blog, and not a MLB blog per se, so for those unfamiliar with Max Muncy–he’s having a terrific breakthrough season, primarily as a first baseman, for the Dodgers. He seems like a perfectly pleasant guy and he’s exhibiting shocking levels of power for such an unacclaimed player. Also, he turns 28 on Saturday.
Now, to be clear, Max Muncy is not “old”, nor will he be on Saturday. But by the standards of “young stars”, he is. Remember a little while back when I said Mike Trout, the Best Player In Baseball, is too old to be a young star? Mike Trout is nearly a full year younger than Max Muncy.
No, seriously though, this happened.
Max Muncy as the marketed player only makes sense if you assume MLB Network operates like one of those NFL survivor pools where you can only pick a team once. “Can’t waste the Patriots this week, the Steelers are too good to take the risk, gotta just pick whoever is playing the Browns!” But guys can be marketed as much as you want (side note: I don’t think you’re supposed to pick the Patriots over Steelers, I just haven’t paid attention to the NFL for a few years and know the Browns are bad).
Here are the eight most marketable young players in this series, using my arbitrary mental configurations of greatness and youth.
- Manny Machado: He’s only been a Dodger for a month and he probably won’t be one next year, with Corey Seager returning next season and thus making the highly coveted soon-to-be free agent somewhat redundant, but Machado is among baseball’s highest star potential players, and as he will likely be a major story in a few months anyway, MLB might as well get a jump start on marketing the (barely) 26 year-old.
- Cody Bellinger: He’s not having as dominant of a season as he did in 2017, but Bellinger, who turned 23 last month, still has distinct superstar potential for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
- Harrison Bader: Is he good? Probably. Is he this good? Probably not. Is he exciting? Oh myyyyyyy yes. The 24 year-old rookie outfielder has become a human highlight reel and while he’s going to have occasionally lackluster days at the plate, his speed and overall defense make him a potential dynamo regardless.
- Paul DeJong: DeJong, who turned 25 this week, is far less famous than some of the sport’s other young shortstops (I mean, the Dodgers have two of them), but this just means he has potential to grow.
- Kolten Wong: Kolten Wong at his best is the most exciting player in the majors. Also he’s two months younger than Max Muncy.
- Yasiel Puig: At this point, I just feel like dunking on MLB Network for how many players younger than Max Muncy there are.
- Marcell Ozuna: Ditto #6, but more St. Louis-y this time.
- Joc Pederson: He should probably be higher. But I proved my point and kinda checked out.
As a baseball fan, I want baseball to market itself better. Just sell this series as The Manny Machado Show and call it a day.