"He's as old as Turner Field." ... "He wasn't even born when Atlanta won the World Series." ... "He debuted on Earth the same year Bartolo Colon debuted in the Majors." ... "He's the same age as L.A. Confidential." ... "I'm so old!"
This is just a sample of some of the responses to Monday's news that the Braves were calling up No. 19 overall prospect Ozzie Albies, who became the first big leaguer born in the year 1997.
Behind these reactions is the likely feeling that such an occurrence had come much quicker than expected. Indeed, the Braves all along have been aggressive with Albies, who was born Jan. 7, 1997 (roughly four weeks after the release of Jerry Maguire) and got his first taste of Triple-A as a teenager.
But brace yourselves, fans. There's more where this came from. This week's Toolshed looks at top-100 prospects born from 1998-2000 and predicts who are headed to the Majors first and when, who are furthest behind and some potential dark horses who could move quickly.
MacKenzie Gore (No. 29, Padres), Bo Bichette (No. 30, Blue Jays), Leody Taveras (No. 32, Rangers), Mickey Moniak (No. 33, Phillies), Juan Soto (No. 42, Nationals), Jay Groome (No. 48, Red Sox), Sixto Sanchez (No. 52, Phillies), Ian Anderson (No. 57, Braves), Matt Manning (No. 70, Tigers), Anderson Espinoza (No. 83, Padres)
Quickest to Majors: Bichette -- The 19-year-old has pushed himself into this spot as potentially the first player born in 1998 to reach the Show. Not only is he the only one here who's played at Class A Advanced, he's thriving with the bat and should continue to move quickly. He leads all full-season Minor Leaguers with a .390 average -- a number that's gone up during his 20 games at Dunedin -- and sits third with a 1.051 OPS. He's gone from the No. 66 overall pick in the 2016 Draft to the No. 30 prospect in baseball. Only Gore is ranked higher here, and he's made only three professional starts. Bichette is on a trajectory worth betting on.
Dark horse: Taveras -- In 2013, the Rangers pushed Nomar Mazara to Class A Hickory for his age-18 season, only to see him hit .236 with 13 homers and a .692 OPS in 126 games. Three years later, he was a 20-year-old making his MLB debut. Texas has followed a similar path with top prospect Taveras, who's hitting .250 with six homers, 16 steals and a .658 OPS in 103 games with the Crawdads. This isn't an apples-to-apples comparison, of course. Mazara has more pop than Taveras, who in turn has better speed and is likely to stick in center field. But it does teach us something about what the Rangers are willing to do when they like a prospect and think he's ready for a challenge. Don't be underwhelmed by the numbers right now. The skills are there, and the Rangers may try to test them quicker than most expect.
Farthest away: Espinoza -- There are several choices here. Gore is the lone 2017 Draft pick. Groome has missed most of the season with an oblique injury and has struggled at times in Class A. But we'll stick with the Padres' No. 6 prospect. Espinoza would've been an easy choice for "Quickest to Majors" since he's the only one who entered 2017 with a full season under his belt. But a forearm injury kept him off the mound for the first half of the season, and recent Tommy John surgery will likely knock him out for all of 2018 as well -- a stark reminder on the dangers of projecting pitchers. By the time he's back on a Minor League mound, it's possible that he could be teammates with Gore and passed -- in terms of level -- by everyone else on this list. The 19-year-old right-hander was once on the fast track. Now, he's dropped from No. 25 to 83 in MLB.com's rankings and will have much to prove once he comes back.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (No. 6, Blue Jays), Hunter Greene (No. 21, Reds), Royce Lewis (No. 31, Twins), Fernando Tatis Jr. (No. 58, Padres), Adrian Morejon (No. 80, Padres), Shane Baz (No. 87, Pirates)
Quickest to Majors: Guerrero -- This would be the easy choice, even if Guerrero wasn't already at Class A Advanced right now. The Blue Jays' top prospect has taken extremely well to his first full season, hitting .307/.408/.443 with seven homers in 90 games between Class A Advanced Dunedin and Class A Lansing. He's also shown an advanced approach, walking more times (55) than he's struck out (47). He'll continue to add power as he matures, and that should end up being his loudest tool. Most who have seen Guerrero play in 2017 walk away in disbelief that he's only 18. (He doesn't turn 19 until March 16 next year.) Albies spent his entire age-18 season at Class A Rome, so Guerrero could continue to move even quicker. The Braves infielder did skip Class A Advanced, however, and move straight to Double-A as a 19-year-old. If Guerrero continues to improve in the Florida State League, don't be surprised if Toronto moves him to New Hampshire early next year. Also don't be surprised if the organization uses his lackluster defense to slow down his hype train the closer he gets to the Majors in a similar way to what the Red Sox once did with Rafael Devers.
Dark horse: Morejon -- Morejon has earned above-average grades for his fastball, curve and changeup, and his control in his first stateside season has been nothing short of stellar with three walks in 40 1/3 innings. Throwing strikes is a good way to move quickly up the ladder. What's more, the 18-year-old left-hander came to the Minors with pro experience, having made six starts in the Cuban National Series as a 15-year-old in the 2014-15 season. The Padres are big believers in the southpaw, and they'll be ready to put him to a bigger test over a longer season starting in 2018. We could've gone with Tatis, who has more experience at Class A Fort Wayne than his fellow Padres prospect, but what Morejon has done in such little time tips the scales.
Farthest away: Baz -- There's a temptation to put Greene here because it may take some time for the Reds to figure out which of the two paths (pitcher or shortstop) is best for his Major League future. There's also the possibility that Greene could start one way and transition to the other if things don't work out, setting him back. However, it's not a good idea to bet against the package of tools possessed by this year's No. 2 overall pick. Instead, it could be a longer road for Baz, the 12th overall selection. The 18-year-old righty has five pitches, four of which have earned above-average grades, and he's got the high-90's velocity to dream on. But he's had some issues with control in the past, and those haven't gone away in the pros with seven walks in 11 innings in the GCL. There's plenty of belief that he can iron those out as he matures, but it'll take time, likely keeping him from the some fast track a some of his 1999-born peers.
Kevin Maitan (No. 44, Braves)
Quickest to Majors: Maitan -- Maitan is currently the only top-100 prospect born in 2000. Signed by the Braves for $4.25 million out of Venezuela last year, the 17-year-old shortstop has played 22 games in his first Minor League season, all coming stateside with nine in the Gulf Coast League and 13 with Rookie-level Danville. Like Albies, he's an especially gifted switch-hitter but is bigger at 6-foot-2 and shows more power than his more seasoned Atlanta counterpart. The Braves might be the most aggressive system in the game right now, so it's possible Maitan moves up quickly should his skill set translate immediately to the pros. But even if he follows Albies' path, he's still unlikely to make the Majors until 2020 at the earliest.
Dark horse: Daniel Flores -- Not a top-100 prospect, but Flores is worth mentioning as MLB.com's top 2000-born international signee from the recent signing period. The 16-year-old catcher is considered advanced in his work behind the plate, especially with his arm, and he's got a chance to grow into some power as he develops. He's already ranked No. 6 in the Red Sox system and the No. 10 catching prospect in the game. He's a year behind Maitan developmentally, but the tools are there for some quick leaps.