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Toolshed: Lessons of dream lineups

Takeaways from grouping game's best prospects by their ages
Dodgers infielder Gavin Lux headlined Toolshed's dream lineup of 22-year-old prospects. (Gregory Bull/AP)
May 5, 2020

The scientific method ends with a conclusion. Consider this that conclusion. Toolshed spent the previous six Tuesdays formulating and dissecting the perfect lineup of prospects for each major age group. Eligibility for each set was determined by a player's age coming up on June 30, roughly the midpoint of a regular

The scientific method ends with a conclusion. Consider this that conclusion. 
Toolshed spent the previous six Tuesdays formulating and dissecting the perfect lineup of prospects for each major age group. Eligibility for each set was determined by a player's age coming up on June 30, roughly the midpoint of a regular season -- the same date used by Baseball-Reference in its age calculations. Players were only considered at their primary positions, except for the case of each squad's designated hitter. The lineups led to some hard decisions, easy calls and -- in some very limited cases -- some deeper digging to fit a Minor League talent in each spot. The result were six talent-loaded rosters, the likes of which aren't often found outside of the Arizona Fall League or All-Star Futures Game.
But what were the takeaways? First, let's revisit the lineups for each age group. Rosters are listed by the Toolshed preferred batting order with the right-handed and left-handed pitching options to follow. Likely starting pitchers are shown in italics with links to the original pieces.

The teenagers: DH CJ Abrams (SD), SS Wander Franco (TB), RF Julio Rodriguez (SEA), LF Kristian Robinson (ARI), CF Riley Greene (DET), 3B Luis Toribio (SF), C Francisco Alvarez (NYM), 1B Joe Naranjo (CLE), 2B Aaron Bracho (CLE); RHP Simeon Woods Richardson (TOR), LHP Blake Walston (ARI)
The 20-year-olds: 2B Xavier Edwards (TB), SS Bobby Witt Jr. (KC), RF Jarred Kelenic (SEA), 3B Nolan Gorman (STL), 1B Triston Casas (BOS), DH Brett Baty (NYM), C Ivan Herrera (STL), CF Alek Thomas (ARI); RHP Luis Patiño (SD), LHP Matthew Liberatore (STL)
The 21-year-olds: SS Royce Lewis (MIN), LF Dylan Carlson (STL), RF Jo Adell (LAA), DH Oneil Cruz (PIT), C Luis Campusano (SD), 1B Michael Toglia (COL), 2B Jeter Downs (BOS), 3B Isaac Paredes (DET), CF Cristian Pache (ATL); RHP Sixto Sanchez (MIA), LHP MacKenzie Gore (SD)
The 22-year-olds: CF Luis Robert (CWS), SS Gavin Lux (LAD), C Adley Rutschman (BAL), 1B Andrew Vaughn (CWS), 3B Nolan Jones (CLE), LF Alex Kirilloff (MIN), DH Carter Kieboom (WAS), RF JJ Bleday (MIA), 2B Vidal Brujan (TB); RHP Dustin May (LAD), LHP Jesus Luzardo (OAK)
The 23-year-olds: DH Daulton Varsho (ARI), 2B Brendan Rodgers (COL), 3B Alec Bohm (PHI), C Joey Bart (SF), LF Trevor Larnach (MIN), 1B Ryan Mountcastle (BAL), SS Nico Hoerner (CHC), RF Yusniel Díaz (BAL), LF Kyle Isbel (KC); RHP Nate Pearson (TOR), LHP Tarik Skubal (DET)
24-and-up: RF Monte Harrison (MIA), 2B Nick Solak (TEX), 1B Evan White (SEA), 3B Bobby Dalbec (BOS), DH Bobby Bradley (CLE), C Sean Murphy (OAK), LF Kyle Lewis (SEA), CF Austin Hays (BAL), SS Mauricio Dubón (SF); RHP Michael Kopech (CWS), LHP Brendan McKay (TB)
Who'd win in a tournament?: You might have noticed many in the sports world making brackets to get our athletic fixes, and when you create this many lineups, the mind automatically wonders who would win if we pitted them against each other. We have six lineups, meaning a straight bracket wouldn't make sense unless two teams unfairly got byes. For the hypothetical, call it a round-robin instead. Everyone plays each other once. The four teams with the best records qualify for semifinals. It isn't a perfect thought exercise -- none of the rosters have bullpens or more than two starters, for that matter -- but if it gets anyone through a little bit of quarantine time, have at it. 
Anything can happen in baseball, especially in a tournament setting rather than a full regular season, but who should be the Las Vegas favorite going in? That would probably be the 22-year-olds. That boasts the only lineup featuring one of's Top 100 prospects at every spot. The group also sports No. 2 (Lux), No. 3 (Robert) and No. 4 (Rutschman) to lead off its batting order, and No. 12 (Luzardo) on the mound. From an experience standpoint, Lux, Luzardo, May and Kieboom already have made the The Show, and the first three even saw time in the Major League postseason. Sure, there are significantly less-experienced players just entering their first full seasons, but Rutschman, Vaughn and Bleday all have the skills and college pedigrees to climb their respective ladders quickly. Skilled pitchers like Gore, Pearson or McKay could be big problems for any lineup, but good luck finding a weak spot among the 22-year-olds.
Does that make 22 the prospect sweet spot?: Right now, yes, but not just off a fake tournament alone. Using that same June 30 cutoff, the average age for the Top 100 this season is 21.47. The mode is 22. In fact, 27 of the Top 100 would be playing 2020 at age 22. The age group with the next-closest total is 21 with 21 players fitting that bracket. What makes 22 the sweet spot? It's basically the perfect mix for prospects. Internationally signed players and high-school Draft picks have built up enough of their careers to show scouts and evaluators their true potential. They've been in the Minor League system long enough to close in on the Majors and be right on the cusp of graduation, making them both Major League-ready and prospects at the same time. Meanwhile, the 22 group also encompasses top college talents who are just entering the Minors and haven't had the chance for their stocks drop against professional talent over the course of a long summer. Their standing could rise too, of course, but at least for some, a high Draft pick will be their best standing in the game over the course of their careers. That's the nature of the Draft and player development.
Youth has potential: The one thing the younger groups have going for them, at least when we talk in the abstract, is potential. The teenage group has some strong talents, but it might stand out more for those who aren't yet household names. We could look back on that group in a few years and see that it was much more loaded than it currently looks. For that to happen, players like Toribio, Bracho and Walston would have to take major jumps. That can occur. Breakouts happen all the time in the Minors, and oftentimes, all that's needed is experience. For example, none of those three have played above Class A Short Season yet. Even Franco needed to perform at Class A Bowling Green and Class A Advanced Charlotte before he became the top overall prospect. Until results come in, the talk around younger prospects is based on potential, and that alone falls short of potential mixed with results. That's how come five-tool wunderkind Dominguez didn't make the cut. If he can flash multiple skills on an actual Minor League diamond, he'll make a huge jump in the prospect rankings. For now, he sits at No. 54 behind Rodriguez, Robinson and Greene, each of whom has had some level of Minor League success already.
Older doesn't mean better: The common belief might be that the older a prospect is, the better at baseball he is. But if we consider 22 to be the tipping point, then the groups who are 23 and older face some doubts of their own. Indeed if the 21-and-younger crowd is defined by the questions they face about their potential, then the more senior set is defined (and subsequently held back) by their unsatisfactory answers. Look at the 23-year-old group. That imaginary lineup would be so much stronger if it could claim Gleyber Torres, Yordan Alvarez and Rafael Devers (to name three), but it can't because all three have exhausted their prospect eligibility. Instead, those who fill their places haven't followed the same trajectory for myriad reasons. Mountcastle has to find a defensive home. Bart faced multiple injuries in 2019. Diaz has faced inconsistency at Double-A. Those substandard answers get even tougher with the 24-and-up group, for example, on contact rates for Harrison, Dalbec and Bradley. If anything, this exercise is a reminder that if a prospect still has eligibility past his age-22 season, it requires some deeper understanding of why he hasn't knocked down the door yet and what he needs to achieve to finally make that happen.
International vs. Draft-eligible divide: One other trend to notice as these dream lineups get older is the difference in their makeups. The younger groups feature more international players while the older ones are dominated by drafted prospects. The dichotomy comes down to the way both groups enter pro ball. Most renowned international prospects sign when they're 16 or 17 on July 2. (There are some exceptions for Cuban defectors who sign at older ages.) Five years later, they might only be 21, but they have four Minor League seasons under their belts. There are plenty of answers about what types of pro players they'll be. Take those same five years for drafted high schoolers, and they're 23. For college juniors, they're 26. Prospect fatigue can set in much quicker for international players. On the flip side, an earlier start also means they can reach the Majors at a younger age. Beyond Torres, Alvarez and Devers, it's crazy to think Nationals postseason hero Juan Soto is only 21. He's younger than what we would deem a peak prospect. Even the oldest internationally signed players on the current Top-100 list are those entering their age-22 seasons, like Luis Robert (from Cuba), Vidal Brujan and Jazz Chisholm. That's worth remembering next time you look at a Top 100 mixed with younger international signees and older drafted types.

Which farm systems boast the most dream lineup prospects: This shouldn't be used as some sort of metric to measure the Minor League strength of organization. has our Farm System Rankings from this past offseason for that. This is more for fun, and what it actually reveals is that talent is spread decently well across Major League systems. The D-backs, Orioles, Indians, Padres, Mariners, Cardinals and Rays each had four representatives across the six teams. The Red Sox, White Sox, Tigers, Marlins, Twins and Giants had three apiece. Exercises like this one reward top-heavy systems and hide any issues with depth. Perhaps the Cleveland fan base can take the most optimism from this, however. The Tribe ranked 21st in's Farm System Rankings, but are right up there with the Rays and Padres of the world here. Adding to that optimism is the fact that two of the organization's four were in the teenaged group, meaning there's still plenty of room for growth from the likes of Bracho and Naranjo. Something else to look forward to upon the eventual return of baseball.

Sam Dykstra is a reporter for Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB.