After fans demanded to “let the kids play”, it looks like the Royals are going with a lineup full of youngsters in 2023. The Royals could be days the Royals start as many as eight players in their age-26 season or younger - Kyle Isbel (26), Nate Eaton (26), Michael Massey (25), Vinnie Pasquantino (25), MJ Melendez (24), Nick Pratto (24), Drew Waters (24), and Bobby Witt Jr. (23).
Is going so young necessarily a recipe for future success? I went and looked for teams in the past that featured lineups with at least seven hitters in their age-26 season or younger with at least 300 plate appearances that season. In the past 40 seasons, there have been 15 teams that featured such young lineups - five of them were in the last five years. Let’s see how they fared.
The Twins began their youth movement in 1982 - the first year they began play in the Metrodome, a park conducive to developing hitters with a short porch in right. After losing 102 games that year, they began improving as they were able to sort out the good hitters (Kent Hrbek, Gary Gaetti, Tom Brunansky) from the young hitters that wouldn’t pan out (Randy Johnson, Lenny Faedo, Houston Jimenez). Future Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett would join the core in 1984 and Greg Gagne would join in 1985. The Twins would make a surprise run at the post-season in 1984 in a weak division (the Royals won with 84 wins with a youth movement of their own) and would be World Champs with this group by 1987.
The Mariners had been a seemingly cursed franchise, and were trying for the first winning season in 1987 after ten unsuccessful tries. They had collected a good crop of young hitters - first baseman Alvin Davis was 1984 Rookie of the Year, second baseman Harold Reynolds stole 30 bases in rookie year in 1986, third baseman Jim Presley was coming off a 27-home run season. The older players they did have were still in their prime - left fielder Phil Bradley and slugger Ken Phelps. They felt so good about their outfield depth they traded away three promising outfielders - Ivan Calderon to the White Sox, Dave Henderson to the Red Sox, and Danny Tartabull to the Royals - three deals they would soon regret. Perhaps had they hung onto those players, they would have had more success. Instead, the team won just 78 games in 1987 - still a franchise record at the time - but the team wouldn’t have their first winning season until Ken Griffey Jr. arrived in 1991.
The Brew Crew won the pennant in 1982 with a slugging team known as “Harvey’s Wallbangers”, but two years later they lost 94 games and had to rebuild. By 1987 they had rebuilt with a young team built on speed, finishing second in stolen bases and second in runs scored. With two future Hall of Famers in Robin Yount and Paul Molitor around the youngsters, the Brewers won 91 games - third most in the American League. The team was competitive the next few seasons with some of that core - B.J. Surhoff, Rob Deer, and Mike Felder - but could not reach the playoffs.
This is the gold standard for developing young hitters. The Indians had been the laughingstock of baseball for decades, as captured in the 1989 film “Major League.” But the team developed a stable of young hitters in anticipation of a new ballpark opening by 1994. They dealt pitcher Tom Candiotti for young outfielders Glenallen Hill and Mark Whiten. They traded All-Star Joe Carter for prospects - second baseman Carlos Baerga and catcher Sandy Alomar Jr. They stole Kenny Lofton from the Astros in a deal for catcher Eddie Taubensee. Paul Sorrento, blocked in Minnesota by Kent Hrbek, was acquired for two relievers. Combined with volatile slugger Albert Belle, they were a promising lineup. Two years later, they would be joined by Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez and by 1995 they were in the World Series.
Montreal was a development machine in the early 90s under Dan Duquette and that came to fruition by 1993 when the team won 94 games with by far the youngest lineup in baseball. The only position player over the age of 28 to get a plate appearance was utility infielder Randy Ready, who hit 159 times. Five hitters - Larry Walker, Moises Alou, Marquis Grissom, Sean Berry, and Delino Deshields - were above average by OPS+, and Darrin Fletcher and Wil Cordero would go on to become All-Star players. They would go on to post the best record in baseball at the time of the strike in 1994, but ownership broke the team up after the work stoppage.
1999, 2002 Twins
The Twins were just as bad, if not worse, than the Royals in the late 1990s, finishing with the worst record in baseball in 1995. But they developed a core of hitters and promoted them in the minors together so they learned to win with each other. First baseman Doug Mientkiewicz, second baseman Luis Rivas, shortstop Cristian Guzman, third baseman Corey Koskie, catcher A.J. Pierzynski, outfielders Jacque Jones and Torii Hunter, and designated hitter David Ortiz had some 90+ loss seasons initially, but by 2002 they were in the playoffs.
The Indians broke up their team full of sluggers in the early 2000s, and in 2002 they broke a string of eight consecutive winning seasons, and they bottomed out in 2003 with 94 losses. Shrewd trades brought young players like first baseman Ben Broussard, second baseman Brandon Phillips, outfielders Coco Crisp, Milton Bradley, and Jody Gerut, and designated hitter Travis Hafner to Cleveland. The group was near .500 the next season, then won 93 games in 2005.
The Cubs embarked on a big rebuild project under Theo Epstein in 2011, and that process culminated in a championship in 2016. The post-championship team was younger as prospects like catcher Willson Contreras, second baseman Javier Baez, and centerfielder Albert Almora replaced older veterans (Miguel Montero, Ben Zobrist, and Dexter Fowler, respectively). The Cubs won 90+ games in each of the next two seasons, but eventually the talent pipeline dried up and ownership did not keep the lineup together.
Well these aren’t all success stories. The Rangers went young in 2018 with some promising young prospects, but many of them turned out to be duds. Joey Gallo and Jurickson Profar didn’t quite live up to potential, and Ronald Guzman, Rougned Odor, Delino DeShields, and Nomar Mazara all flamed out pretty quickly. Five years later, and the Rangers are now looking to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in free agency to get out of the cellar.
2018 White Sox
The White Sox also embarked on a major rebuild, losing 100 games in 2018 with a young lineup. Many of the hitters proved to be just role players, but infielders Tim Anderson and Yoan Moncada would be a part of a core that would win 93 games by 2021.
2019 Blue Jays
The Blue Jays had one of the top-ranked farm systems in 2018, and the next year saw the rookie seasons of top prospects Danny Jansen, Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Toronto also picked up Teoscar Hernandez in a trade with Houston and unleashed his potential, while developing Lourdes Gurriel Jr. Not everyone panned out - Cavan Biggio quickly regress and Brandon Drury didn’t develop until last year with the Reds - but the Blue Jays had a core that took them to the playoffs in 2020 and 2022.
The Orioles were very young and very bad in 2019. Nearly all of the young hitters they played in 2019 were not regulars by 2022, when the team did turn things around. But they did find outfielder Anthony Santander, who smacked 33 home runs last year, and they didn’t get bogged down by long-term deals with veterans, leaving plenty of at-bats available when good young hitters eventually came up.
Young lineups since 1983
|Team||Players||Rank in runs||Record||Within five years|
|Team||Players||Rank in runs||Record||Within five years|
|1984 Twins||Tom Brunansky, Randy Bush, Gary Gaetti, Kent Hrbek, Houston Jiménez, Kirby Puckett, Tim Teufel||11th out of 14||81-81||1987 Champs|
|1985 Twins||Tom Brunansky, Gary Gaetti, Greg Gagne, Kent Hrbek, Kirby Puckett, Mark Salas, Tim Teufel||11th out of 14||77-85||1987 Champs|
|1987 Mariners||Mickey Brantley, Alvin Davis, Mike Kingery, Jim Presley, Rey Quinones, Harold Reynolds, Dave Valle||10th out of 14||78-84||First winning season in 1991|
|1987 Brewers||Glenn Braggs, Juan Castillo, Rob Deer, Mike Felder, Ernie Riles, B.J. Surhoff, Dale Sveum||2nd out of 14||91-71||92 wins in 1992|
|1992 Indians||Sandy Alomar, Carlos Baerga, Albert Belle, Mark Lewis, Kenny Lofton, Paul Sorrento, Mark Whiten||11th out of 14||76-86||1997, 1997 AL Pennants|
|1993 Expos||Moises Alou, Wil Cordero, Delino DeShields, Darrin Fletcher, Marquis Grissom, Mike Lansing, Larry Walker||7th out of 14||94-68||1994 NL East title|
|1999 Twins||Chad Allen, Cristian Guzmán, Torii Hunter, Jacque Jones, Corey Koskie, Doug Mientkiewicz, Todd Walker||14th out of 14||63-97||2002-04 AL Central titles|
|2002 Twins||Cristian Guzmán, Torii Hunter, Bobby Kielty, Dustan Mohr, David Ortiz, A.J. Pierzynski, Luis Rivas||9th out of 14||94-67||2003-04, 2006 Central titles|
|2003 Indians||Josh Bard, Milton Bradley, Ben Broussard, Coco Crisp, Jody Gerut, Travis Hafner, Brandon Phillips||13th out of 14||68-94||2007 ALCS|
|2017 Cubs||Albert Almora, Javier Báez, Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras, Ian Happ, Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber||2nd out of 15||92-70||2017-18, 20 playoffs|
|2018 Rangers||Delino DeShields, Joey Gallo, Ronald Guzmán, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Nomar Mazara, Rougned Odor, Jurickson Profar||7th out of 15||67-95|
|2018 White Sox||Tim Anderson, Nicky Delmonico, Adam Engel, Yoán Moncada, Omar Narváez, Daniel Palka, Yolmer Sánchez||12th out of 15||62-100||2020-21 playoffs|
|2018 Cubs||Albert Almora, Javier Báez, Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras, Ian Happ, Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber||4th out of 15||95-68||2017-18 playoffs|
|2019 Blue Jays||Cavan Biggio, Brandon Drury, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Teoscar Hernández, Danny Jansen, Rowdy Tellez||12th out of 15||67-95||2020, 2022 playoffs|
|2019 Orioles||Hanser Alberto, Richie Martin, Renato Núñez, Rio Ruiz, Anthony Santander, Pedro Severino, Dwight Smith Jr.||11th out of 15||54-108||83-79 in 2022|